A Young man's game: Glastonbury Diary 2009, Friday
Part two of DiS's monolithic attempt to process the UK's biggest fest. Part one can be found here
Wake up at the blessedly late hour of 11am to the steady clip clop of a mild downpour, which gives up the ghost around noon. Though there were some other brief patches, ‘tis this particular block of Friday precipitation that gives lie to the suggestion in the papers that it was another wet Glastonbury. It was boggy in places, but honestly, the obsession with Glastonbury mud is insane – the cloud cover was nice, it stopped everyone being fried come 9am, and DiS didn’t even bother with wellies, just a heavy pair of boots. Various clippings up on the Press Tent wall all feature photos of the two or three people who decided they’d go for an attention-seeking e-coli bath; it’s tedious and inaccurate to suggest this was the norm – why not just print a stock photo of 1997 every year and be done with it? Suppose maybe it makes people not there feel a bit better, but are we really so dim a nation that we need such reassurance? Possibly – it’s striking walking through the campsite in the morning that the English are the only one of the many nationalities represented who feel the need to emblazon the name of their country on their flags. Probably put there by their mums.
Ahem. So we wander over to see pleasant murder balladeer John Smith on the Acoustic Stage. Not the most memorable man in the world (a murder balladeer probably shouldn’t be pleasent), but he incorporates a few lines of ‘Billie Jean’ into stark, drum-heavy closer (and set high) ‘Winter’. It’s around now as more information filters through the signal blockade that the conspiracy theories about Jackson faking his death to get out of the O2 shows starts fading around the campsite and we process the fact the King Of Pop really is dead. Sigh.
Start the day proper with Regina Spektor, who looks pleased as punch to be here, corpsing her way through ‘That Time’, and unafraid to leave the new Far comparatively untouched in order to blitz through favourites from purists’ hate record of choice Begin To Hope. Which sounds great, breaking through the murk and inciting an early day singalong with Spektor's sunny smile and closing double whammy of ‘Samson’ and ‘Fidelity’.
Physically seeing the gleaming smiles and hyperactive leaping of The Maccabees does much to alleviate the stygian gloom of their Arcade Fire-alike Wall Of Arms album, while Orlando Weeks’ pausing the gig so we can all appreciate the belated arrival of the sun is a nice touch. 'Love You Better' makes us feel all emotional as it brings the show to a light-drenched climax. Nice to see they drew a much bigger crowd than the weary sub-Libertine-isms of follow up act The View, who we sort of caught by dint of hanging around to buy some food; their days are mercifully numbered.
Skream & Benga‘s appeal rather hangs on how you feel about a high energy dubstep set at 5.15pm; this being Glastonbury a lot of people are really, really, REALLY up for it, but seriously, a later slot would have been nice. Or earlier drugs, whichever. That said it was an accessible, generous set, with even the soberest of rubberneckers won over by the dropping of ‘In For The Kill’.
Fairly sure that by this stage not one surprise act remains so, which gives lie to Emily Eavis’ suggestion that somebody was so massive a stampede not seen since the last buffalo stomped the plains of North America would ensue if the general public were to find out who it was. Unless Muse blindsided everyone and played the special guests slot on the Queen’s Head. Er, no. Anyway, so flimsy is the veil of secrecy around The Dead Weather that having not even released any music yet, they still don’t even have to bother announcing who they are upon turning up. Believe it or not they – gasp – play the blues. Gnarly, distorted, vampire blues. The reason they’re dressed in head to toe black is no doubt down to the fact that even the snarling Alison Mosshart is but a pawn to Jack White, who probably decides everything down to mealtimes. He’s an admirable tubthumper (yadda yadda yadda, better than Meg, though ‘technical’ drumming is not the point of her), but it’s amusing the extent to which he inadvertantly dominates proceedings. The handful of songs he howls through murky distortion get by far the best reception, with the final track – where he relieves blokey from the Raconteurs and picks up a guitar – absolutely incendiary. Basically the best bits are when Jack White sings and plays guitar. I bet you are all shocked.
There was something a bit underwhelming about The Specials at Bestival last year; maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the OTT voiceover introduction suggesting that they were going to singlehandedly take down the BNP, maybe it was that they didn’t play ‘Ghost Town’. Whatever the case, the mid-evening sun is shining, a magnificent, generous array of singles flash and skip over the teeming field, Terry Hall tells us 'Message To Rudi' is called "Fuck the BNP", we cheer, ‘Ghost Town’ happens; it feels like this festival has well and truly started. Though randomly DiS’s friend bumps into the band’s drum tech after, who reveals the band weren’t too happy with the performance – when she says she enjoyed it then in a rather surreal moment said tech texts Hall, who returns fire with almost puppyish delight. Awww.
Neil Young is 63, doesn’t appear to be able to walk too well, and has to have his guitarist put his axe on for him, presumably inferring some problem with his arms or back. But he can rock like an army of snotty young punk guitarists – it’s actually kind of bizarre seeing him switching from a little frail-looking to hunched over, legs akimbo and spinning about as he sets fire to the night with another incendiary spray of guitar. For such an ornery old fella, it’s a surprisingly crowd-pleasing set, heaps of Harvest and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere material, virtually nothing post-Ragged Glory. There’s a vague feeling that if he’s hardly going through the motions, Glastonbury is perhaps just another stop on a world tour for him, though possibly this is just the vague hope of him playing 'Beat It' being dashed. None of this dents the awesomeness, in any case – that reedy tenor still sounds amazing, and the way he flings his woodsman physique into every titanic solo as if he’s trying to exorcise the sky itself is truly heartstopping. Not to mention he basically plays a set of some of the best songs every written: ‘Hey, Hey, My My (Into The Black)’, ‘Heart Of Gold’, ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’... admittedly the last does come souped up with so many choruses and solos one can only conclude he’s taking the piss or short-term memory loss has entered the fray, but it’s still AWESOME, as is his now customary set-closer, a demolition of The Beatles’ ‘Day In The Life’. Favourite moment is when he goes to the pain of imitating the final chord with a short and basically quite pointless glockenspiel solo at the end. Woof.
As everyone who has ever said anything every about Glastonbury will tell you, it isn’t just about the bands, and we wander off to the Cabaret for a bit to sup nuclear-strength pear cider, quaff various other substances, and stare in bemusement as Glenn Wool attempts to offer a serious rant about the evils of bankers while so shitfaced he can barely stand.
Had heard a lot about Trash City, and it was astounding looking – bits of demolished aircraft that breathe fire are pretty cool, I guess – but the momentum this year seemed to be with the Shagri-La field: a slightly damp series of chipboard buildings by day, a post-apocalyptic style hive of Blade Runner-style dystopia by night, tiny clubs full of backward moving clocks and rusty coins cluttered down seedy backstreets; sauna-filled hotels; grotesque fashion shows; a large dome that seemed to just be a generic techno club; an alleged club you could only get into with a tattoo that nobody ever seemed to find. Awesome. For reasons too convoluted to explain, DiS and friend end up spending the hours of between around two and five working the door of Shangri-La’s secret bar, a surreal but deeply fulfilling experience that involved cackling maniacally as we turn away anybody we deem incapable of seeing straight (with the heroic exception of one NME journalist who, um, well, we just thought it would be funny to let in).