Sunday, September 05, 2010

SWSL Glastonbury 2010 Diary

(First two instalments here and here.)

Friday 25th June

I awake to grumblings of discontent at the fact that our neighbouring cafe was pumping out dance music all night. But let's face it, complaining about night-time noise at Glasto aligns you with those who moved into the yuppie flats next to the Point in Cardiff and got one of the UK's finest venues shut down. Plus, who goes to a festival expecting a good night's sleep?

The early morning application of suncream is becoming routine. But it's clearly not hot and sweaty enough for some people, Rob and Neil announcing they're off for a sauna. Can't think of many things I fancy less - a trip to Milton Keynes with The Hoosiers, perhaps.

The porch of Martin's tent is strewn with empty beer cans like ribs and femurs at the mouth of a monster's lair.

A couple of the things at Shangri La I gather I've so far missed out on seeing: a miniature Japanese karaoke bar where the saki flows freely, and a shrine to U2 complete with puppets.

"I don't like what you're doing with that sheep. You're not from New Zealand, are you?" At 80, ROLF HARRIS (Pyramid Stage) may be exactly twice as old as the festival, but his eyesight isn't so bad that he can't spot someone mistreating an inflatable baa-baa in the crowd. Trooper that he is, he's on antibiotics and has overcome a recently misplaced voice to teach us that "bastard" is a term of endearment in Australia and to get the whole field jigging along to 'The Irish Rover'. 'Sun Arise' strikes an incongruously serious and powerful note, but for most of those assembled the draw is obviously 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' which bookends the set, the closing "British" version set to the tune of 'Land Of Hope And Glory'.

We're at Glastonbury, the sun's out and everyone's smiling and laughing - the pack of blokes in Top Gun T-shirts, the women toasting one of their number's birthday with bottles of bubbly, someone dressed like Jimmy Krankie...

Rolf's crowd has largely melted away by the time FEMI KUTI takes to the Pyramid Stage, and that does the son of the father of Afrobeat a profound disservice. He and his band are tight and fast, whipping up a rhythmic intensity with lots of brass. Some songs are about overindulgence, something with which Glastonbury crowds are only too familiar, but the chorus of "Stop AIDS, fight AIDS!" comes from painful personal experience, Fela having succumbed to the disease in 1997. This is a vibrant celebration of life, though, not a downbeat meditation on death, and the overall effect is to quicken the heartbeat and raise the spirit - much like the umbrella which, caught on the breeze, ascends gracefully into the air above our heads.

As regular readers of SWSL Glastonbury write-ups (if there are any) will know, I have a pathological aversion to jugglers. But even I have to concede that this one - spinning around at the top of a ladder - is quite impressive. Must be the Burrow Hill going to my head.

Unusual and pedantic use of capitalisation, more than a bit pretentious, beloved by the cooler-than-thou blogging fraternity (of which I'm very definitely not a part) - suffice to say I was already suspicious of 4AD's tUnE-yArDs (West Holts Stage). So I'm very pleasantly surprised to discover that live, at least, Merrill Garbus and her merry crew of percussionists are really rather good, capable of inspiring agitated movement among sunhatted fifty-somethings as well as chinstroking among the indielligentsia. The ukelele-toting Garbus is an innovative musical auteur and magpie in a similar vein to Micachu, who bedazzled me at last year's bash. When a sample misfires, she smiles a what-the-hell smile and jumps about anyway, before being flanked by gold-catsuited dancers for set-closing new song 'Do You Want To Live?' Yes, Merrill, to see you again.

"This is a love song. It's called 'Litigation'." Welcome to the world of MARIACHI EL BRONX (West Holts Stage), where mariachi and Morricone meet Tarantino to shoot up and shoot out. 'Holy' is about "vengeance" and 'Silver Or Lead' about "Pablo Escobar and Jesus", Matt Caughthran tells us, his drawl making him sound like the blind recording studio owner in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It's not all doom and gloom, though, with Caughthran enthusing about the festival: "There's nothing like it in the States". I've had the foresight to procure a plate of chilli and nachos beforehand, for the princely sum of £7.50, but it all adds to the experience.

A rare lull in proceedings means an opportunity to catch some of the mouthwatering Portugal v Brazil clash in the West Holts Bar. But with Brazil having already qualified and Portugal as good as through thanks to their 7-0 trouncing of North Korea, it turns out to be a sterile affair enlivened only by regular yellow cards and our being surrounded by excitable Portuguese.

Our friend Luke has seen the weather forecast and apparently decided he'd like to come and, as is often the way with him, just happens to know the guy who installs the big screens for the Pyramid Stage. He's been told he's "almost certain" to get in - and for Luke, that's quite enough.

I've heard tell that THE TUBELORDS (Queens Head Stage) are rather a natty little beat combo, but mine ears doth protest at the proliferation of squeaky-clean mall-emo riffs, woahs and the yeahs and all these youths barely out of short trousers singing along with arms aloft. Be off with you, you young rapscallions, and listen to some Black Flag.

Hark, what's that I hear drifting over from the Pyramid Stage? A chant of "Ole ole ole ole!" Is that really the best you can muster, Mr Dogg?

Glastonbury, that allegedly white middle-class festival, is caught in the middle of a rap battle. In the gangsta corner, waxing lyrical about women and weed on the Pyramid Stage, is the aforementioned Snoop, while flying the flag for the second coming of the daisy age is former Jurassic 5 man CHALI 2NA, who appears on the West Holts Stage with the backing of BREAKESTRA and fellow guest vocalist AFRODYETE. It's limb-loosening stuff by and large, but funk has a habit of bringing me out in a cold sweat at the thought of Jamiroquai and looking around at the paltry crowd it's evident that gangsta rap has won the day.

Passing the Queens Head Stage, my ear is caught by a Geordie accent. Who be these? DETROIT SOCIAL CLUB, whose MySpace page lists a cacophony of influences all the more ridiculous when you realise, as the Guardian did, that they're basically "Kasabian fronted by Richard Ashcroft". If that implies oafish rock and a cock of a frontman (David Burn dislikes the latter term, telling Q he prefers to be described as "a vibe creator"), then so it should. One song has the chorus "You'd be nothing without me" - there's nothing quite so endearing as grossly unjustified arrogance, is there?

And here's someone else trying to exude confidence but floundering - a street performer whining to disinterested passers-by in a nettled voice: "I'm telling really good jokes here - give me something to work with, I need a good crowd"...

The World Cup, Femi Kuti, tUnE-yArDs, the odd vuvuzela - my Glastonbury has already had a distinctly African flavour. And here, right on cue, are arguably the continent's most mainstream Western champions, the band who've brought Afrobeat to Mondeo Man's iPod. Two years ago VAMPIRE WEEKEND (Pyramid Stage) failed to impress, but I've come around to their charms since then, seeing them as something of a Trojan horse. 'White Sky' and Ezra Koenig's gymnastic oohs gets us underway, then it's recent single 'Holiday' and then 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' - all sprightly and lapped up with relish by the crowd. A shame I have to leave before 'Cousins' and 'A-Punk', but y'know, the grass is always greener...

First stop the Queens Head Stage for FANFARLO, the pocket Arcade Fire busy trying to make hay before the real deal return to action. Last year's quietly bold gambit Reservoir doesn't seem to have caught on, sadly, despite songs of the quality of 'The Walls Are Coming Down' with which tonight's set opens and which sounds a Beirut-esque romantic rallying cry. 'We Live By The Lake' is introduced as being about frontman Simon Balthazar's childhood in rural Sweden - but if there's any justice he (and his band) should have seen the back of splendid isolation.

Far less deserving of a decent-sized crowd, for instance, are THE BIG PINK (Park Stage). I bought A Brief History Of Love on the promise of more Jesus-&-Mary-Chain-go-electro bliss like excellent single 'Velvet', but that proved to be far and away the best thing on it. Live they're worse still, clunky and clod-hopping. It's telling that 'Velvet's awful follow-up 'Dominos', for which everyone's waiting and which predictably ends the set, is the highlight.

Sorry to Dizzee, Hot Chip and The Black Keys, but I'm afraid there was nowhere else I was going to be when rumours of the identity of tonight's Park Stage special guest got around. THOM YORKE's Radiohead performed one of the most famous sets in the festival's history in 1997, with the extraordinary OK Computer already looking like a classic less than two months after release, and so it's entirely fitting that he should put in an appearance. In front of what I'd safely assume is the Park Stage's biggest ever crowd, with people perched on shoulders and roofs, he begins in low-key fashion with tracks from solo album The Eraser. But then out comes Jonny Greenwood and suddenly we're into Radiohead territory, working backwards through the glories of an impeccable back catalogue - 'Arpeggi/Weird Fishes', 'Pyramid Song', 'Idioteque', 'Karma Police' and 'Street Spirit' - each song getting a successively more astonished and delirious response. 'Karma Police' is prolonged by the crowd, belting out "For a minute there I lost myself" with such gusto that Yorke starts playing again. With the sun setting, it's a beautiful collective moment. Sorry, I seem to have something in my eye...

After the Lord Mayor's show, it's BROKEN BELLS (Park Stage) aka Danger Mouse and James Mercer of The Shins. An unlikely combination, to be sure, but one which turns out to be far less interesting than you might imagine. Ultimately, they're like a dull version of Mercer's band, with the meek sound produced bearing little relation to the number of bodies on stage. Infinitely more diverting is watching the lairy drug casualties flailing and falling around like they've been possessed.

I overtake a mum with a kid on each hand: "And we're going to pass by a band called The Flaming Lips, who Delilah saw when she was 12 weeks old and they were in the New Bands Tent". Who says this is a middle-class festival?

To anyone I told THE FLAMING LIPS (Other Stage) would most likely be a disappointment because I couldn't see Embryonic coming across well live, my sincere apologies. How could I possibly have forgotten about the Lips' live show? Balloons, a glitter gun, a massive orang-utan, flashing images of lady parts, Steven Drozd's high-pitched squeak of "Thank you!", drummer Kliph Scurlock leading us in making animal noises and sound effects for 'I Can Be A Frog', Wayne Coyne rolling out over the heads of the crowd in a transparent ball... It's a multi-sensory assault, a recreation of a 1960s freakout. There's some music too - nothing at all from The Soft Bulletin, but a fabulous 'She Don't Use Jelly', a devastatingly heavy 'See The Leaves' (yes, I admit - Embryonic is much better live...) and a glorious 'Do You Realize?!' to close. Particularly telling is the reaction of the four off-duty security staff in front of me, the unlikeliest-looking Flaming Lips converts you'll ever see, who start out bemused, progress through exchanging grins and shakes of the head and end up bellowing their approval.

Back up at the Park Stage, THE XX are just wrapping up. It may just be that I've joined late and so am towards the back, but the delicate beauty of 'Infinity' is destroyed by chatterers. Not that I'm too disappointed, though - the treat of a full set in the John Peel Tent tomorrow awaits.

Brothers Bar is a hub of night-time activity. Their tutti frutti perry - containing strawberry, lemon, toffee apple, blackberry and passion fruit flavours and actually invented by last year's festival-goers - is a crime against cider, but it's late, I'm thirsty and it's alcoholic. The music's bad and my "proper hot dog" is overpriced but, thanks to Messrs Yorke and Coyne I'm in no mood to care.

Bands or performers I would have liked to have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / the elements / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: Dizzee Rascal, The Magic Numbers, Hot Chip, The Black Keys, Peggy Sue, Josie Long, Simon Munnery, Nick Doody, Phil Kay, Rufus Hound

1 comment:

About said...

wonderful title for your blog :)