Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Glastonbury 2010 - Part Two

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Welcome back to the Glastonbury review, which is starting to feel a little weighty. It was going to be two parts, but even I am not self-obsessed enough to subject you to 5000 words about what-I-did-on-my-holidays all at once. If you missed the first bit, it's here. Then read on...


There are no words to describe what it is like to wake up in a tent that is already being battered by unrelenting sunshine. If you take this feeling, stir in a pinch of hangover, sprinkle liberally with dry-mouth, add a huge lug of needing-a-piss and shake well, then you will end up somewhere close to how I felt on Saturday morning. One soon becomes uncomfortably aware that the sun is just as much an enemy as the rain at major festivals. My companion and I crawl from the tent, gasping and lolling, looking for all the world like something from a poor remake of Deliverance. A breeze passes across the site. There is a moment of relief before the blaze returns. Saturday has begun.

Saturday actually begins properly (after a rather tasty fruit salad) with another visit to the Two Door Cinema Club. This time they are playing The Other Stage, but their indie-pop is still as tight and catchy as it was on Thursday night in a tent not far from here. From this point, we take the short walk, pausing only for cider (it has been a full eight hours…), to the Pyramid Stage for what had promised to be a personal highlight: The Lightning Seeds. I happen to know that one of the chaps who runs this here website hates this band with a passion bordering on the insane. I, on the other hand, love them. Thinking back to my early days as an impressionable indie kid with no girlfriend (not directly related to liking The Lightning Seeds) and too much time on his hands (so to speak), they had everything. Crap hair, crap clothes, crap lyrics, but truly stupendous danceable tunes. Their appearance on this year’s bill made me whoop in public, as I would finally get to see them and appease my inner na├»ve self. Add to this the thrill of their playing Three Lions in the midst of England’s inevitable march to World Cup glory, and it was all shaping up nicely. It comes as a shock, therefore, when they’re not actually that great. They do play all their hits, but somehow the big bombastic sound is missing. At one point a trio of young ladies with violins is added to the ensemble, but even this cannot detract from the idea that the sound is a bit flat and doesn’t have enough power to render their pop gems in full magnificence. The lowest point is an ill-advised acoustic version of Marvellous, which proves to raise the apathy level amongst the small crowd. When Three Lions is eventually trotted out, it serves only as the backdrop to a sing-along. It could as easily be on tape. A shame for me and for my 14 year-old self. Tom Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again.

This disappointment laid aside, we toy briefly with the idea that watching Jackson Browne could be good. It is, however, far too hot to be outside for too long, and so we head for the cool shelter of the Acoustic tent to watch The Leisure Society. They put in a solid set of folky-goodness, which is unlikely to make me seek them out, but also unlikely to make me write anything bad about them in reviews. It happens in front of me. I snooze. We relocate to watch Wild Beasts. This is a band about whom I knew very little until about a week ago, when the album somehow found its way into my basket in a record shop. The lead singer wins the prize for worst dressed man of the weekend for his jacket, but this barely registers as the intriguing combination of deep, resonant voice and falsetto combine to produce a truly unique experience. It’s very easy to get transported elsewhere listening to this band, and the audience responds well with howls of respect at the end of each track. This band are already in the ascendency, and if this set is anything to go by, they’re not finished yet.

We cross the site, briefly avoiding a man dressed as a dog with fully functioning leg-cocking provided by a water pistol, and find ourselves at the West Holts stage. We find a spot as far away from the Brothers cider bar as possible and sit to watch counter-culture legend Devendra Banhart. He puts on a superb show, with the crowd rocking and swaying to every note. The backing band frames his vocals perfectly, and the general hippy ambiance is going strong, not least when he unexpectedly launches into a brilliant reworking of cheesy pop classic Tell It To My Heart. Sunshine and the eternally youthful sound of Mr Banhart. Perfect. From here we trot back over to the Acoustic stage for another of the weekend’s highlights, a performance from British folk legend (I do not use this word lightly) Al Stewart. For those of you who do not know Al Stewart’s music, I urge you to stop reading and go to your local music emporium and refuse to leave until they service you with a copy of Year of the Cat. There’s nothing more wonderful than Al Stewart’s silky voice on this record, singing songs infused with the childlike wonder we all secretly wish we still had. This is the second time I have watched Al, and I have never seen anyone more charming. Between songs Al waxes lyrical about the French civil war, the complex metaphors present in every song (he informs us that the next one is about lovers but that he has turned them into aeroplanes because it’s more interesting) and the reasons why he is so delighted to be back at Glastonbury. It is disarming and wonderful. When he finishes with the title track from the aforementioned album, he leaves the stage to cheering that does not die away until he returns for a well-deserved encore. You owe it to yourselves to find this man if you have not already.

As swift gear changes go, moving from Al Stewart to The xx is undoubtedly one of the swiftest of my festival career to date. This band are about as dark as you can get. Everything onstage is either black or, starkly, white. The band are sulky, they too are dressed in black. For a moment, a scene wonders through my head of a rehearsal where one of them has purchased a pink guitar. I will not bother writing this scene out for you. But I digress. The xx are pretty impressive, a synthesis of The Cure and Jean Michelle Jarre, and they move through their set with a languid ease. Islands produces an enormous cheer from this packed tent, and the moments keep coming as drum-machine-player (what is the proper name for one of those?) Jamie Smith hammers away as one possessed at the touch-sensitive pads in front of him. The set builds to what could well be a crescendo, but sadly is not.

It takes a few seconds to dawn that their closing number is a cover of Florence and the Machine’s ubiquitous You’ve Got The Love. This is not a wise choice of cover: the song’s selling point is its vocal range, and The xx are not a band built upon that. As the song continues, shrill warbling sounds from off-stage are rising in the mix. It becomes clear what is happening seconds before Florence (sans Machine) bounds onstage to help out. I am not a fan of Ms Welch particularly but, judging by the reaction from the crowd, I am in the minority. I have seen videos of Beatlemania, and this sound is the closest I have heard to it in real life. It is deafening. She trills her way through one final chorus with the band, there are hugs, and then silence as they leave the stage. Everyone is grinning and talking about what has just happened.

Myself and my companion are already hot-footing it to the nearest pie stall. Pies are great festival food: that’s another thing that I learnt this year. Then there’s a brief dalliance watching The Pet Shop Boys, who are awesome. It is my one regret that I did not hang around longer than Go West, New York City Boy and Always on my Mind. I will bite the bullet and see them next time they tour.

But our feet are now already carrying us towards Midlake on The Park Stage. Midlake are label mates of Fleet Foxes, which is instantly clear when you hear their albums or see them live. The set is brilliant for about three songs, but soon it becomes slightly repetitive. The set twinkles on occasion, but the stand-out moments are rare. We move on.

The night is spent raving in Arcadia. A giant metal spider as big as a building spits fire into the sky. Women dance on it, throwing various other flaming objects into the air. Later, we visit The Village Disco, a motley collection of young men who dress in brilliant costumes, have a disco on a trolley and play a rather disjointed array of music with entertaining quips in between. At one point even later, My Companion falls off a half-buried 4x4 and injures himself. Glow sticks are everywhere and the cider flows like… cider. We stagger home as the birds are singing. The tent is already heating up with the familiar funk and my last thought as I fall asleep is to dread the hangover.

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