Glastonbury Part 2: Friday
Wherein me and Sean Thomas, despite in no way making contact throughout the weekend, act like we totally did, and bring you a collaborative effort…
Read Part One of our Glastonbury content here.
Simon Jay Catling:
Friday begins with a headache and a sweaty tent. It’s fairly accepted at foreign festivals that if you go to bed at 5am you’ll still be up by 9 owing to the heat, but I’m not sure anyone’s ever experienced this at Glastonbury until this weekend. It’s scorching already, and there’s an almighty queue for the showers…oh lord. I lie outside my tent for a bit and ponder whether to join the rest of Team Hospitality for Rolf Harris and my first taste of the Pyramid Stage, but I did my novelty old dude watching last night with Boy George. It’s not until lunchtime when I traipse through the busy site to the West Holts Stage for tUnE-yArDs and Mariachi El-Bronx. You could stay at West Holts and have the weekend of your life to be honest, it is predominantly Good Stuff - even with the withdrawal of Mos Def - and the Brothers bar is nearby, don’t mind if I do.
Much like on her album, Merrill Garbus - aka tUnE-yArDs - is a slightly ramshackle proposition live; prone to mistakes, loop pedals cutting out and songs grinding to a halt. Also, like on her album, these mishaps work in her favour, honest flaws that charm a not insubstantial crowd; there’s real energy in her lo-fi constructed yodels and ukelele rhythms too mind, whether with band or without. Two folk near me dressed as Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and The Ultimate Warrior stop grappling for a moment and watch on impressed as ‘Hatari’ emerges as the highlight of the set, Garbus’ looped vocals swelling and forming a deliciously thick texture not apparent in some of her other songs. I even have a bit of a dance (and I don’t dance often y’know.)
“Let’s here it for Mariachi El Bronx” calls out their own lead singer Matt Caughthran. “My, the ruddy well cheek of it,” you might think, except that a year on, The Bronx’ completely bizarre decision to take on Mexican Mariachi music shows no signs of waning, and hey, they’re “the first mariachi band to play Glastonbury,” so they proudly claim. It’s a hoot, Caughthran clearly relishes the size of a crowd - featuring more than a few sombrero wearers - that’s greatly increased from tUnE-yArDs, and introduces each song with gusto whilst his band look cool as fuck behind him; not easy to do when you’re wearing all-black and it’s about 30 degrees.
If only my cider was so collected under scrutiny, it’s gone flat and ‘orrible, this bag of wine ain’t much cop either. The joys of festivalling on a shoestring. Never mind though, because it’s only “DiS favourites’” Phoenix playing the Other Stage next! They’re another group who retain effortless composure when all around are melting and, as they bounce straight into ‘Lisztomania,’ vocalist Tomas Mars knocks over his mic stand with an exaggerated swing - Phoenix are on for a real home run. The group’s punchy electro-pop reflects the afternoon’s general jovial atmosphere: a girl caught on camera jokingly goes to get her knockers out, there’s much singing along and a ripping ‘1901’ sees Mars in the crowd to girlish screams not heard for an indie band on these shores since Damon Albarn back in his Britpop pomp (we’ll get to him later on.) But, if I’m here, who the sam hell’s gone to watch Snoop Dogg and Dizzee Rascal on the Pyramid Stage? Why Sean of course!
Snoop Dogg is getting into the swing of things as I arrive at the Pyramid Stage, dropping every classic hit you'd expect, alongside some more recent R&B pop collaborations you might not. His onstage charisma is certainly something a few artists this year could well learn from, including Dizzee Rascal who is decent but rather lacking in audience interaction. Gone are the days of his pioneering grime, but he's still an artist aware of his past and happy to remind us of it - 'Stand Up Tall' gets spliced rather frantically with a totally OTT take on 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' and 'Fix Up Look Sharp' sits equally at home alongside 'Bonkers' as it ever did 'I Luv U.' And whilst many might resent his chart successes, it's to his credit that he pulls it off quite so well, and with such a huge grin on his face. The boy in da corner dun good.
SJC: Feeling flush post-Phoenix I’ve decided to wander along the old railway line - the tree-covered path that links up every nook and cranny of the south side of the site. I find myself reclining in the Small World tent with a handful of other blissful stragglers, sheltering from the sun. Then fall asleep. Bugger. Coming to, I head onwards toward Arcadia for a bit of an eye opener, something I certainly get. Arcadia, I believe (but could be wrong,) is new this year and has the feel of a discarded Terminator set. A raised metallic stage blows forth fire intermittently whilst currently prancing back and forth on it is a skeleton of a man in knee-high green socks. This mixture of Mighty Boosh meets jungle turns out to be The Correspondents and it’s pretty good really, the couple of hundred bobbing their heads away in front of me would attest to this, but then they are mashed. Then I get exciting news…which means I have to go to and watch The Big Pink…two things which should never appear in the same sentence…
ST: On the Other Stage, Hot Chip are proving this writer's pick of the weekend. The opening signs are good but things get truly epic when the hits come fast; 'One Life Stand' forces spinal hairs to stand to attention, 'Ready For The Floor' is a different beast from its recorded version yet is instantly as lovable, 'I Feel Better' is accompanied by a steel drum band and 'Hand Me Down Your Love' is that perfect mix of heart breaking vocal and upbeat energy that makes bands such as Pet Shop Boys and New Order so revered. The only shame is that the set is a mere 45 minutes long and not a headline slot.
SJC: The Park Stage is rather lovely, the lay of the land and position of the stage makes the whole place seem like a natural amphitheatre and the sun’s just on its way down behind the stage - it’s a shame The Big Pink are playing at this time really. They still sound like Bonehead from Oasis attempting a Jesus & Mary Chain remix, but no matter ’cos I’m not here for them. There’s a special guest on next, and the anticipation is thrilling (bar one person who upon seeing that it’s not The Strokes bluntly remarks “right, I’m off.”) It’s actually quite easy to get to the front post-Big Pink; my - like everyone else’s - eyes, are transfixed on the stage as roadies wheel out a piano and a moog, “well it’s not The Strokes then” I quip to far too much surrounding laughter than is warranted. Maybe they’re just nervous. Then, “IT’S JONNY GREENWOOD’S GUITAR!” someone bellows into my lughole and, as I turn around to look at this tunnel-mouthed fellow I glance at the crowd behind me. It’s swollen unbelievably, there’s people as up as the top fence separating the Stone Circle, whilst below me red-faced students jostle for position. One roadie, clearly enjoying himself, plays a couple of chords from ‘True Love Waits’ and the place goes nuts. Not going to be Chris Martin either then. Finally (well, actually bang on time) Michael Eavis himself strides on and announces “two superstars,” at which point a funny little man who looks like he’s arrived straight from a Wimbledon preliminary tournament walks out on stage; he’s pretty unremarkable looking apart his messy shock of hair and drooping, lazy eye. He’s Thom Yorke, and he’s decided that on Glastonbury’s 40th anniversary he’s going to play some tunes for us.
I’m not sure what the parameters are for a ‘Glastonbury moment’ but it’s safe to say that, as jaws drop from those who’d no inkling and the Radiohead front man sits down at the piano to seduce ‘The Eraser’ from its rigid frame, this smashes them. Even better, the BBC aren’t here to film it, this one’s ours: those who’ve crammed into The Park. A few photographers are about, sure, but the clearest images of it will live in our memories. There’s a sense of reverence during each song, a pin-dropping silence that at one point causes Thom to turn round to us quizzically and ask “you lot still here?” We are Thom, but to be honest it’s all a bit breathtaking. It gets even better when, after a moving ‘Cymbal Rush,’ Jonny Greenwood sidles on stage; he gives the crowd nothing more than a grimace but he might as well have been carried in on a throne for the reception he gets. Then the Radiohead songs start coming: ‘Weird Fishes,’ ‘Pyramid Song,’ ‘Idioteque,’ stripped down but still wonderful before, with a grin between them, the pair re-create scenes that took place fifteen minutes walk away in 1997 and 2003, with two mass sing alongs of ‘Karma Police’ and ‘Street Spirit.’ With a wave they leave, forty-five minutes up far too quickly…our day complete…
Except, as we all walk/float down the hill, there’s still the matter of Gorillaz. Things don’t start well when Snoop Dogg doesn’t appear for opening track ‘Welcome To The Plastic Beach,’ the disappointment in the crowd is palpable, and as things progress you feel it’s not wholly improving. Damon Albarn’s playing front man far more than he should be having to, strutting up and down the same boards he did so euphorically twelve months previous; but this time round his group are supposed to be behind the music and not in front. It’s a sign that, for all the excitement surrounding the tonight’s many collaborators, not many of the Pyramid Stage crowd know how the songs they collaborate on actually go. An expected passive physical presence becomes very much Damon vs. the crowd as he begs and implores them to get on side. It’s a shame, because Gorillaz performance isn’t actually bad, I think it says more about the increasing reliance for a Glastonbury headliner to have hit singles so that the sushi eating part of the crowd that won’t leave this stage all weekend (and who you can find sitting in fold up chairs right up to the second barrier,) can sing along. Gorillaz have five or six of these, and they do go down well - the supreme Bobby Womack brings ‘Stylo’ to life whilst De La Soul make a strong claim for collaborators of the set on both ’Feel Good Inc.’ and ‘Superfast Jellyfish.’ It’s the hip-hop artists that impress overall, Bootie Collins fills Mos Def’s shoes with aplomb, and Bashy and Kano make the most of their window on ‘White Flag.’ The rock luminaries? Well, Lou Reed shuffles on, making Bono’s excuse not to play this weekend look flimsy, whilst even Mark E. Smith looks just lost, rather than lost in his own head - though he still finds time to fiddle with Paul Simonen’s amp. It’s evident that the lack of great fanfare that Reed, in particular, was expecting has knocked them a bit, and all the while Albarn’s looking more and more concerned until he snaps and finds himself begging for the crowd to sing along to album track ‘To Binge.’ Snoop Dogg’s eventual late show on ’Clint Eastwood’ saves a day that shouldn’t need saving. Gorillaz have the quality of tunes and profile collaborators on show, but they meet a spoon feed reliant audience that don’t know enough of the former, and as confidence starts to ebb from the usually defiant Albarn, those chanting lyrics to ‘Parklife’ become ever louder…