Back from my 17th trip to Worthy Farm. I arrived in England during the mini heatwave. On Wednesday it was 34 degrees. Thursday was perfect. There was some drizzle at the weekend but all in all one of the easiest years weather-wise.
I managed to get through the gate early (9:30 Wednesday morning) and this gave me plenty of time for all the other, wonderful stuff, of which there is so much at Glastonbury. I really wished it would be on for a week so that I could fit in even more.
Of course there were schedule clashes. Friday was the worst. I would have wanted to be everywhere. Particularly sorry to have missed Kris Kristofferson but it could not be helped. And so on to the highlights:
1. THE YOUNG 'UNS
When I first came across theYoung 'Uns I did not like them that much, but they have grown on me. Turning point was probably when I saw them as guests on the Unthanks' 'Mount the air' tour. This may well have been their finest hour. I had goosebumps from the moment they started with their fabulous cover of Billy Bragg's 'Between the wars'. They are funny and entertaining too, and were exactly in the right place and time in this year when protest songs are suddenly cool again.
They were the first act on the West Holts stage on Saturday. A very special moment. Rain had returned to Glastonbury and it was a bit misty and drizzly. Sounds strange but it was absolutely right for their laid back set. They play instrumental music. Seem very nice people too. Guitarist Mark really connected with the audience with his chilled out comments. I felt like I was tripping on ice cream and caffeine. I got their album 'The Universe Smiles Upon You' as a souvenir – highly recommended.
3. SHARON SHANNON
To be honest, Sharon could be my number one every year. It is just that she is so consistently excellent that there is less of an element of surprise. She is always a highlight. You look around you and see the Acoustic Tent completely full and everybody smiling from ear to ear. The band consisted of Jim Murray, Jack Maher and Sean Regan. And there is no denying the magic of the 'Galway Girl', especially now that they twin it with 'Music for a found harmonium'. Absolutely top stuff.
4. JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
One day the rest of the world will wake up to what a genius this man is. I hope JTE will get this recognition sooner than the man he is named after, Townes Van Zandt. There was not a huge crowd at this gig, but everyone there seemed a fan. Ideal circumstances really – no walkers and talkers. Justin played songs from his new album as well as 'One more night in Brooklyn', 'Rogers Park', 'Harlem River Blues', 'Memphis in the rain'. Nice chat in between songs as well. An expected highlight; he delivered.
5. THE PRETENDERS
Opening the Others Stage on Friday. It has been a thing online where people talk about longest time between seeing bands. I last saw the Pretenders when they played support on the original 'Joshua Tree' tour, so that was thirty years ago. Chrissie Hynde is the undisputed coolest woman in rock. And with that back catalogue of hits you just cannot go wrong. Highlights were 'Hymn to her', which she dedicated to Michael and Emily, 'Message of love' and my favourite, 'Back on the chain gang'. Chrissie's chat was fun too. She talked about how 'I'll stand by you' gets used in reality TV shows: “...which I don't watch, but I heard about it”.
6. BILLY BRAGG's RADICAL ROUND-UP FEATURING RALPH McTELL, LOUISA ROACH from SHE DREW THE GUN and STEVE KNIGHTLEY (SHOW OF HANDS)
The Radical Round-up happens every afternoon on the Leftfield stage. It is Billy Bragg with three guests, who take turns singing songs and chatting on stage. I attend one every year and have seen great guests over the years (Frank Turner, O'Hooley & Tidow, Lisa O'Neill). This year I went particularly because I wanted to see Steve Knightley, who was great. Protest songs are back on the menu, but Steve has never stopped writing them. Louisa from She Drew The Gun was really impressive. Her song 'Poem' got the longest applause, causing Billy to remark that it IS really a competition and he wondered if Steve could better that. Billy also said that he loves what Louisa does with her band, but that it works really well solo, and I agree. When he introduced Ralph McTell and was thinking that he had the same name as the man who sings 'Streets of London', only to realize that it was himself. He sang the song in question and it was beautiful.
7. FOO FIGHTERS
This is how it is done. Pure rock'n roll. All hail Dave Grohl. He walked on stage on his own, apologizing for being two years late. He said he had watched Glastonbury on TV two years ago, sat in his wheelchair with his broken leg, and he thought that Florence & the Machine were amazing and that she always should have been the headliner anyway. Thousands let out a collective “Awwww...” I thought we were going to get a Florence cover, but alas. Later did play a great cover of Queen's 'Under Pressure' though, with Taylor Hawkins singing up front and Dave going behind the drums. There was no funny intro film, no balloons, guests, wristbands or any sort of gimmickry. The screens were only used to show sweaty long-haired musicians. They were intend on breaking the curfew and the on-TV-swearing record and they did both. Nice to be able also to put a face to Chris Shiflett, whose Walking The Floor-podcast I have been listening to a lot. I saw only two shows on the Pyramid stage this year and am very glad this was one of them. I got into a good spot, between the pit barrier and the sound tower, where the sound was perfect and I could watch the stage rather than the screens most of the time. Fabulous fireworks afterwards.
Every festival there is a band that makes me feel proud of my adopted home country and this year Altan was that band. I recently stood behind Ciarán Tourish in the queue at Nick's Coffee in Ranelagh. I realized that it had been two years since I last saw Altan in concert and at that point I made up my mind to catch them at Glastonbury. They were excellent, only there set was cruelly short.
9. SETH LAKEMAN
I am a fan so I knew what to expect, but that did not make it any less fun. Wildwood Kin were there and joined Seth on songs from his last album 'Ballads of the broken few'. It's Seth's own band that brings the magic though, particularly drummer/bodhran player/vibe master Cormac Byrne. 'Lady of the sea' has now replaced 'Kitty Jay' as my favourite Seth song live.
10. ALSARAH & THE NUBATONES
I know this band from Songlines CDs and their excellent Tiny Desk Concert. I had to trek to the Gully stage in the Silver Hayes (dance) area to see them. Alsarah and her sister Nahid were born in Sudan and lived in Yemen prior to moving to the U.S. There are five band members altogether, including a wonderful oud player. Their sound is completely unique – to my ears anyway. The gig was sparsely attended, but everyone there was really into it and the band gave it their all. Happy to have caught them, even if it meant missing Beans On Toast.
11. BILLY BRAGG
I had hummed and hawed for weeks. I felt I should go to see Radiohead because everyone rates them so highly, even though I never really got into them. In the end I went for Billy's headline show at his own stage (this also meant that I still had time to catch the Mavericks at the Avalon afterwards). I didn't speak to anyone who went to Radiohead so don't know if I made the right decision, but I thoroughly enjoyed this show anyway. Billy Bragg songs are like clothes. Keep them long enough and they can be used again. 'Sexuality' was dedicated to the DUP, 'Scousers never buy the Sun' is topical once more and the show ended with a lovely version of 'I keep faith' from the 'Mr Love and Justice' album. He also played 'The milkman of human kindness', which I actually remember him playing the very first time I saw Billy live at Pinkpop, a whopping 33 years ago!
12. LAURA MARLING
A darling of the critics who I never 'got'. It was a last minute decision to go and see her, because she fitted, and because I thought I'd better see another show at the Pyramid. It was lovely. Great band, backing singers, lovely presentation, beautiful dress – all nice. The screen was showing mainly female fans who seemed to know all the songs word for word. Must investigate further. A pleasant surprise.
13. NAPALM DEATH
Death metal is not my cup of tea, but I welcome variety and this seemed a fun thing to go and check out. I got there early and sat down in the grass (there was grass this year!) to read the Glastonbury Free Press. The previous band, the New York Brass Band, were still on, and just then band came through the crowd in procession with many fans following, singing 'You can call me Al'. I was sitting there surrounded by metalheads and couldn't help thinking, “Where else would you get it?”
Napalm Death were loud yet sympathetic. Singer Mark Greenway explained what the songs were about, which was helpful. 'Dear slum landlord' is a title that stuck with me. The band said that it was a pleasant surprise for them to be there and I felt the same about seeing them.
14. BO NINGEN
Noise rock from a Japanese band now based in London. I had seen these last year when they supported Primal Scream. They are unlike anything I have seen and heard before. I won't rush out to buy a CD but a great spectacle to undergo live.
15. EMILY BARKER
Keeps reinventing herself. Her latest album has soul and funk influences and this is what she brought to the Acoustic Stage. A very full sound; lovely singing.
This was my alternative to Ed Sheeran. I missed Shaggy's afternoon show at West Holts, but saw him Sunday night when he was the final act on the Gully stage. Got a great spot on one of the viewing platforms at the back. The place was jammed with other Ed escapees. Mr Boombastic delivered a fun show, with 'It wasn't me' the standout. Quite tiring, as Shaggy demands lots of audience participation, from 'Sunny day'-waiving to a reggae variant (up and down) and bumping and grinding etc.
17. LIAM GALLAGHER
Due to being at Jeremy Corbyn's talk at Leftfield I got to the Other Stage for Liam much later than I had planned. As a result I had to watch from quite far back where the sound was blowy. I thought the new songs actually came across better than the Oasis stuff. For the new songs Mr Rock'n Roll was joined by backing singers and a brass section. 'Wall of glass' is a great song. This show would probably have ended up much higher on my list if I had been a bit nearer to proceedings.
18. SHOWHAWK DUO
Acoustic guitar duo who specialize in techno classics. Sounds odd but it works. This was on the Thursday, when only some stages are operating and as a result the Williams Green tent was chockers. A fun atmosphere. They finished with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', which really is a modern folk song. I mean, it is very long, very complicated, yet thousands who were not even born when it was written can sing along word for word. Must see if there is a clip of this on YouTube.
19. DAWN PENN
A grand dame of reggae music, best known from the hit 'You don't love me (No no no)'. She played Sunday night at the Gully, before Shaggy. Very nice atmosphere. You could get stoned on the air and everybody was up for a last hurrah. I realized that reggae is the only music I feel very comfortable dancing to.
20. LITTLE MAMMOTHS
Up and coming band from London I had come across during my research. They played the Rabbit Hole on Thursday. A bit Gaslight Anthem-ish, with a very nice pedal steel. Check out their song 'Waitresses and barmaids'.
Biggest disappointment: MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
This was about the fourth time I thought, “I must try her”, probably because I like her dad so much. Note to self: I do not like Martha Wainwright – skip her next time. In fairness, she had the impossible task of following Sharon Shannon, but even so... uninspiring.
Am now looking forward to catching up on what I missed on the iPlayer. 720 days to go until the next Glastonbury Festival...