Because I was volunteering, I didn't get to see as many acts as I normally would, but still managed to catch quite a lot. And a surprise appearance by Bruce!! Who would have thought...... I spent all of last week at Glastonbury Festival and have not quite come down yet. My 19th time at the festival, and the first time volunteering. This had many plusses. The downside is missing stuff. I was particularly sorry to miss Primal Scream and Jack White. Still, I got to see loads, including The Boss himself!
Noel Gallagher says that Glastonbury "will change your life", and I do believe that it does. The site is beautiful and the atmosphere indescribable. Most important for me however remains the music. These were the highlights:
1. ROSEANNE REID, Acoustic
Roseanne Reid is a Songwriter with a capital S. I stumbled across her album ‘Trails’ when doing my research, and marked this as a must-see. Roseanne’s early set at the Acoustic Stage drew a respectable and especially appreciative crowd, just as her friend the late great Justin Townes Earle had done a few years earlier. She talked about JTE and covered his song ‘Harlem River Blues’. Roseanne is from Edinburgh (her father is a Proclaimer), but sounds universal. Teddy Thompson produced her album; Steve Earle guests on it. Roseanne sang, played guitar and some harmonica. She chatted a little in between songs and it was all very down to earth. This is the Glastonbury that BBC viewers do not get to see. A real privilege to be there and I now count myself a fan.
2. JESSE MALIN, Strummerville
I have been aware of Jesse Malin for years, but never got to see him live before. Jesse did a few slots at the festival. I caught him Thursday afternoon at Strummerville, a small stage in a wooded area, run by the Joe Strummer Foundation. The stage is at the bottom of a natural slope. There was a considerable turnout. Jesse seemed surprised to see everybody sitting down. “I guess we’re all hippies now”, he said. He was accompanied by an excellent musician on guitar and keys. Jesse came ‘out of’ the tiny stage, which almost resembles a Punch and Judy show, and walked amongst the crowd. He covered the Pogues’ ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ and finished with ‘Wendy’, a most joyful song. The atmosphere was great and I just wish the set had been longer.
3. PAUL McCARTNEY, Pyramid
I lost count of the amount of times I changed my mind on who to see: Paul McCartney or the Waterboys. It felt disloyal not to go and see the Waterboys, and I was never a Beatles fan. In the end I went for Paul, mostly because Richard Thompson, who was due to play before the Waterboys, had cancelled, and the attractive Acoustic Stage double bill had suddenly halved. At 21:00 a photo stream started on the big screens, from baby Paul to the present day. It set the tone for the show, which had a “This is your life” feel. I liked the way Paul chatted in between songs, talking about George and John. His band were good too, but the first hour of the show did drag. I completely respect musicians playing what they want, and I have no time for people who “just want to hear the hits”, but I did find myself standing there thinking how I had enjoyed the Stones, who I had watched from the exact same spot, ten times more.
The vibe picked up with ‘Ob La Di, Ob La Da’. Then Paul announced a guest from “the West coast of America”, Dave Grohl. They did ‘Band On The Run’ together, which is the one song I really wanted to hear. I love it. By then I had forgotten that my legs were tired. Then Paul said he had another surprise, “from the East coast of America”. At that point my mind went “Nooooo, it can’t be...!” And on shuffled Bruce Springsteen – my number one hero who I had not seen since 2016. As far as Glastonbury moments go, this was The One. Apparently there had been rumours, but I had hardly been online and was unaware. Paul and Bruce played ‘Glory Days’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ together, and it brought a smile on my face that is still there now.
After that Paul could do no wrong. He played ‘Let It Be’, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Helter Skelter’ and best of all ‘Live And Let Die’, with fantastic fireworks. Bruce and Dave came back for a guitar jam at the end of the 38 song set. Impressive.
4. BEANS ON TOAST, Bandstand
Beans On Toast possibly loves Glastonbury Festival even more than I do. He has written several songs about it. This year he was going to do a gig every day. He promised that they would all be different and that there was a loyalty reward if folks attended all five. I saw his first show, at the Bandstand in the middle of the market area, near the Cider Bus. This was on the Wednesday, when the festival licence only allows for very small PAs. Beans is popular and the crowd was sizeable. Thankfully I was close to that small speaker. Beans chatted, did requests and made everybody feel better about life, as he always does. I sat next to a drunk ex-army guy, who was new to this music and said it really spoke to him. This is Beans’ strength. Suddenly he will pull out a song and you feel that he knows what your life is like. He played his song about Bristol music fan Big Jeff, and asked us all to pray “or whatever it is you do” for him. The set finished with ‘On And On’: The evening sun shone on the crowd, Beans was beaming and everybody sang ‘Life goes on, and on and on and on and on. Life goes on’. This is what I had hoped the end of restrictions would feel like. Perfect.
5. SAM FENDER, Pyramid
Sam Fender was Friday’s sub-headliner, and he drew and enormous crowd. I was in the Pyramid pit for this show and it was a momentous occasion. I did not know Sam’s music until I checked him out prior to the festival. His band sound like the ‘Born To Run’-era E Street Band, complete with saxophone and glockenspiel. A big sound, combined with anthemic songs: Perfect for the Pyramid stage. ‘Seventeen Going Under’ was a standout moment, but the entire set was strong and high-powered. With so many pop and hiphop acts on the main stages of Glastonbury, and acts that just dance to backing tracks, it was reassuring to see a young musician with a proper band, playing live.
6. FERRIS & SYLVESTER, Strummerville
Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester are a blues duo, whom I first saw at Strummerville in 2019. I liked them immediately. They now have a debut album, ‘Superhuman’, under their belt, and this time they performed as a four piece, with a drummer and keyboard player. They are a brilliant live act. Issy has a powerful voice; a kind of Robert Plant-like howl. Plant is a fan apparently. Archie is an ace guitar player. They were due to play a bigger slot at the Avalon stage, and are also going to be at Cambridge Folk Festival this year, but time is precious at Glastonbury and I was glad to catch them on the Thursday. The duo have since announced that they are expecting a baby, who had its first Glastonbury. How nice.
7. GRAINNE DUFFY, Acoustic
Grainne Duffy is a blues singer and guitarist from Co. Monaghan, who deserves to be much better known than she is. I had seen her once before, quite some time ago, and had liked it, but Grainne’s show at the Acoustic stage this year was a big step up from that. Accompanied by a three piece band, she produced a big sound, which ensured that the crowd continued to grow as the show progressed. There was no sitting down for this gig; great audience participation.
8. DAKHABRAKHA, Pyramid
I first came across DakhaBrakha at a festival in 2008 and have been a fan ever since. They are really hard to describe: Powerful, very percussive, theatrical, Slavic. Watch their Tiny Desk Concert to get an idea of this extraordinary music. They are from Ukraine and played the Pyramid stage early on Sunday. The band have been touring in the U.S. recently, and I am presuming we got a shortened version of those concerts. There were video projections for every song; some animation, but also footage of war-torn towns. The band did not talk much, apart from thanking us for our support, but the images brought the message home. Here we were, in the sunny countryside having the time of our lives, whereas elsewhere in the world there is war. A sobering moment. Impressive set.
9. MIK ARTISTIK, Croissant Neuf Bandstand
It is said that at Glastonbury, it is harder not to see Mik Artistik then it is to see him. I did indeed stumble across the punk/funk/electric comedy phenomenon (as per the Guardian) last time, and this time I sought him out. He drew a very large Wednesday afternoon crowd at the Croissant Neuf Bandstand. Mik was late (“I am three years late!” he shouted as he arrived), but did not take long to set up. He was accompanied by his Ego Trip (a guitarist and a bass player). He played some of his better known songs, ‘Plastic Fox’ and ‘Sweet Leaf of the North’, but a lot of the show was improvisation; Mik just singing whatever he fancied, insulting members of the audience, and most of all making fun of himself. Comedy aspects aside, Mik is a great singer and his shows are great entertainment.
10. FIRST AID KIT, Other Stage
I have never seen First Aid Kit at one of their own concerts, yet every time I see them at a festival I end up loving their show. Klara and Johanna have had an even longer break from performing than other musicians, as they went on a hiatus in 2019. They had a different band with them this time. They lost their pedal steel player. Other than that the formula was unchanged: The Swedish specialty of crystal clear vocals and great pop songs. They also covered Don Henley’s ‘The Boys of Summer’. The girls really looked the part too in colourful Nudie-style suits.
11. ROBERT PLANT & ALISON KRAUSS, Pyramid
This was at the top of my must-see list. It was good, but a bit underwhelming. Last time Robert Plant played the Pyramid, he was the highlight of the entire festival for me. This show naturally focussed on his duet albums with Alison Krauss, though the set included ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘The Battle of Evermore’ and ‘When The Levee Breaks’. It was all very understated, perhaps not ideal for the Pyramid stage. Robert engaged with the audience, but Alison gave no inclination that she was aware where she was. She neither spoke nor smiled. I am still happy I caught this gig, but I did feel it was a little bit of a waste to have Robert Plant standing on stage shaking maracas for lengthy periods of time.
12. NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS, Pyramid
Noel Gallagher was in the same situation as Paul McCartney: The majority of the crowd want to hear the songs from his old band. Noel however was very clear about this matter and explained what was going to happen: “I’m going to play a few more tunes that you don’t give a shit about. They’re for me. But if you stick around, after that there’s going to be a lot of very happy people in bucket hats”. So this was very much a gig of two halves.
The solo material was okay, but not as catchy as Liam’s, if I may say so. Then Noel said, “Right, you’ve made it. Enjoy the rest of the show” and we got ‘Whatever’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Half The World Away’ and more. The final song definitely classified as a quintessential Glastonbury moment: Thousands of people singing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. It felt like being part of a giant choir. It was the best singalong of the festival, better than ‘Let It Be’, because everybody knows the entire song, not just the choruses. You are some songwriter Noel Gallagher.
13. JUST MUSTARD, John Peel
Just Mustard are indie noise/shoegaze band from Dundalk. Think My Bloody Valentine crossed with Mazzy Starr. They have recently released their second album. ‘Heart Under’. The band opened the John Peel stage on Sunday, to a sizeable crowd. Come to think of it – I saw no poorly attended shows at all this year. After the two year break people were so up for it; it was busy everywhere all the time. I was new to Just Mustard and loved their gig; getting drowned in jangly noise is a great way to spend a Sunday morning. I am going to check out their album.
14. HIROKI OKANO & NIGEL SHAW, Toad Hall
Hiroki Okano has been on my radar for some time. He plays Glastonbury every year, and I had spotted him on the Clashfinder before, but did not manage to make it to a gig until this year. Hiroki Okano is an ambient musician from Japan, who has a wealth of albums available on iTunes. Nigel Shaw is from Devon. The two musicians met at Glastonbury Festival in the 1990s and have been collaborating and playing the festival ever since. They both played a variety of instruments, with flute and percussion standing out.
15. SKUNK ANANSIE, Other Stage
Skin and Skunk Anansie headlined the Pyramid stage in 1999, purely on the strength of their music, well before it became desirable to have headliners that tick boxes (female, black). I had never seen the band and was excited to have the opportunity now. I was not alone. The visual impact Skin made when she got on stage was something else: Day-glo green suit, mohican-style headpiece. The band’s line-up is unchanged since the 1990s, augmented by touring member Erika Footman on keyboard and vocals. This was a loud, fun and powerful show. Many people I spoke to singled this out as one of their favourite sets of the festival.