Glastonbury. It's not billed as the greatest festival in the world for nothing. It's steeped in a history and tradition dating back to September 1970 when just 1500 people paid £1 to watch T-Rex headline the then single stage event. Since then, of course, it's grown into an unstoppable force; the highlight of the annual musical calendar and arguably the most spectacular event of its kind anywhere on the planet today. Encompassing so much more than just a simple music festival, those five days of insanity between the final Wednesday and Sunday of June offering revellers the opportunity to literally escape reality for its duration.
With 2012 being a 'fallow year' on host site Worthy Farm, any fears this year's event might struggle to recapture the public's attention in what's become an increasingly saturated market were quickly allayed. Staggeringly, a record number of punters snapping up 135,000 tickets in under two hours before even a single band was announced. Impressive going, even by Glastonbury's reputable standards. From Wednesday 26th to Sunday 30th June, festival organisers Michael and Emily Eavis promised a party like no other and this year's extravaganza did not disappoint.
What's more, with The Rolling Stones finally giving in to Michael Eavis' request to make their debut on the Farm, it promised to be an even more momentous occasion than usual. With fluctuating weather forecasts predicting a mixture of sunshine and rain, Drowned In Sound's Dom Gourlay (DG) and Mark Muldoon (MM) packed their suncream and wellies and headed down the M5 at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning. Over the next five days, DiS will see some of the finest festival sets it's witnessed, become propositioned by girls dressed as electric toasters and crawl on its hands and knees into an underground dance venue known as The Rabbithole. And that's before we even get onto the otherworldly Shangri-La with its Administration Angels performing individual assessments on entry before deciding whether you'll be sent to Heaven or Hell.
As with every single Glastonbury, the rumour mill is rife about possible special guests, both Daft Punk and The National being strongly (and wrongly) touted from the moment we arrive. As the weekend progresses, more names find themselves thrown into the mix. Atoms For Peace, David Bowie and Beady Eye all feature prominently in the weekend's most loose-tongued guessing game with only the latter actually playing an unannounced set early Friday morning. Although Fatboy Slim turns up several times as does Thom Yorke. Elsewhere, celebrities are spotted with wilful abandon from bonafide A-Listers (Wayne Rooney, Kate Moss, Katherine Jenkins) to assorted members of the TOWIE and Made In Chelsea casts. There's also a couple of reported incidents of celebrities behaving badly which we won't go into here, although on another note, crime figures are down 33 per cent from 2011's event with just 150 arrests by Sunday lunchtime.
After Wednesday evening's familiarisation tour of the site's numerous bars and areas, DiS is spoilt for choice musically once the live action kicks in the next day. Nottingham noise specialists Six By Seven treat the assembled throng at the Spirit Of '71 stage to a sneak preview of as-yet unreleased seventh long player Love And Peace and Sympathy, playing the record in its entirety from start to finish. Suitably impressed and staying out all night to get lucky, the Beat Hotel is our next and final port of call where Totally Extinct Enormous Dinosaurs' Italo house flavoured DJ set turns the venue into a heaving mess of sweaty and occsionally half-naked bodies resembling something normally seen in a gym. Hot and bothered after a long night, we traipse back to camp through the mud - thankfully the last time Wellington boots will be required this weekend.(DG)
The following lunchtime, we're treated to excellent performances by two of the country's finest up-and-coming outfits. Birmingham's Swim Deep play shimmying soundscapes that sound like Billy Duffy guesting with the Beach Boys on the likes of 'Stray' and 'King City', even throwing in a polished and totally unexpected take on forthcoming album Where The Heaven Are We's cover star Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. Fellow Midlanders Dog Is Dead also look like a band ready to make the step up to bigger things in the coming months. Having played the BBC Introducing Stage three years ago, they grasped their opportunity in the vast confines of the John Peel tent with consummate ease. While it's former singles 'River Jordan', 'Glockenspiel Song' and 'Teenage Daughter' that get the crowd swaying along incessantly, it's new song 'I'd Never Hit You Back' that sounds like it could be the one that breaks them through to the mainstream over the coming months.(DG)
Over on West Holts, Goat are an entirely different proposition to anything likely to be seen this weekend or year even. Imagine George Clinton conducting a Swedish equivalent of the Manson Family through Gong's back catalogue and you're somewhere close. We observe Josh from The Horrors grooving belligerently down the front. If it's good enough for him it's good enough for us. While the term 'guilty pleasures' is often overused in a condescending manner, it would be difficult to describe tabloid pop poppet Rita Ora in any other way. Nevertheless, last year's self-titled debut was the pop album of 2012, and in 'Hot Right Now' and 'How We Do (Party)' she possesses two undisputed bangers capable of turning the Pyramid Stage area into a mass of air-punching, bouncing souls. Which of course they do.(DG)
Austin psych gazers The Black Angels also create a frenzied vibe culminating in another first at Glastonbury 2013; an all-inclusive and disconcertingly violent moshpit. But then when you've a back catalogue including the incisive likes of 'Bad Vibrations' and 'You On The Run' at your disposal, anything's possible. Tom Tom Club may count the legendary Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth among their number, but it's groundbreaking club classic 'Genius Of Love' that gets everybody moving like it's 1981. New song 'Downtown Rockers' celebrates the CBGBs scene that helped make their other band, leading to a rousing 'Psycho Killer' for the finale.(DG)
Slightly more subdued are the crowd at Alt-J. Not a peep can be heard during acapella moments like 'Ripe & Ruin', which is the perfect outcome, of course. There’s a lot of mutual appreciation at play here, crowd and band willing each other on. Not that the couples near DiS need any further encouragement to slow dance during their still great Kylie/Dr. Dre mashup. On a stage where the sound had been getting blown around everywhere for the Hives earlier in the day, Alt-J’s innovative compositions are (with the exception of a limp 'Dissolve Me') replicated wonderfully here.(MM)
Sitting through the final few numbers of the frankly awful Lumineers set while waiting for Foals makes us appreciate Yannis Philippakis and co. even more, and as anticipated his band deliver in every possible way. Choice cuts from Total Life Forever and Holy Fire dominate the set, 'Spanish Sahara' and 'Providence' proving particularly anthemic, while the oldest song they play this evening 'Two Steps Twice' finds itself extended beyond its normal length while the energetic frontman is eventually returned to the stage after a kamikaze swan dive - guitar and all - into the baying front rows.(DG)
As Foals finish there’s just 15 minutes to hot foot it over to West Holts in order to see Chic featuring Nile Rogers. A perfectly reasonable task, if it wasn’t for the reported 30,000 people who have got there before you. After two songs the sound just isn’t connecting for the people only just inside the field.(MM)
Fortunately, there’s time to grab a drink and still make it up to see the whole of The Horrors set at the Park Stage (or as I take to calling it, the BBC 6 Music stage). Seeing The Horrors is an idea that apparently nobody else has pursued on site. Despite thanking the sparse crowd for showing up, they seem indifferent that we have. As the band openly acknowledge, there’s a lot of great alternatives to watching them right now. They then set about doggedly ensuring they don’t bother to give the small number of people that have shown up a set that seems to hold those that have shown up slightly in contempt. It’s by no means a fiasco, it could be more favourably described as a solid set. But it feels pedestrian. There’s no effort to forge a connection.(MM)
It's Beth Gibbons and Portishead though that steal the show - and possibly the whole weekend - with a dazzling performance that not only makes us yearn for more than just the rare festival show these days, but also that long-awaited fourth album. At one point nervously asking the audience whether her vocals are alright, the enigmatic chanteuse needn't have worried as this career-spanning set encompassing all three records from a haunting 'Glory Box' to an elongated noise infused version of 'The Rip' expresses beyond words why Portishead are still held in such high esteem. An untitled new song is played halfway through, its pulsating rhythm owing much to Berlin's electronic scene of the Seventies which maybe hints that the new record isn't that far off. However, on an evening rife with horrible clashes (The Horrors, Arctic Monkeys, Chic and Simian Mobile Disco all playing at the same time), I retire smugly to my canvas abode knowing the right decision was made.(DG)
Saturday morning brings with it an early start in the shape of New York-via-Melbourne four-piece Scott & Charlene's Wedding. Currently signed to Fire Records, forthcoming long player Any Port In A Storm looks set to be one of this year's finest. The only downside being the ridiculously small turnout that's here to see their Pavement-meets-The Clean's scuzz rock tear the William's Green stage a brand new rectal passage. Fellow Aussie trio Jagwar Ma also deliver one of the weekend's finest sets that wins over an initially ambivalent crowd. Fusing elements of dub heavy psychedelia, ambient shoegaze and West Coast influenced harmonies, closing number 'The Throw' might already be one of 2013's best singles, but here in the cavernous confines of the John Peel tent it takes on a gargantuan presence all of its own. In summary, a revelation and quite possibly another band with their eyes set on bigger stages in the future.(DG)
Having released his first record nearly 13 years ago, stylish troubadour Ed Harcourt could be described as a veteran performer. However, with this year's excellent Back Into The Woods having reignited a spate of critical interest, he plays to an exceptionally large crowd in the mid-afternoon sun on the Park Stage. Backed by an impressive cast of performers including singer/songwriter Catherine AD and beatboxer Shlomo at various points, his set is nothing short of perfect in this setting, the likes of 'Loneliness' and 'Born In The 70s' full of angst yet delivered with the greatest of intention casting a summery vibe over the Park's grassy knoll.(DG)
Glasgow's Holy Esque are another band who've been attracting a fair wave of attention this past year. Playing the hard-to-find BBC Introducing Stage, tucked away in the far corner of the dance village, their spirited take on anthemic rock designed to be played in buildings far more expansive than this. The word 'legend' is bandied about too widely, yet Elvis Costello has rightly earned the accolade thanks to a 24-album-career spanning five decades. Though it's the singles that initially launched him like 'Oliver's Army', 'Pump It Up' and 'I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea' that go down a storm to a busy Pyramid Stage audience, many of whom are no doubt here to reserve their places for tonight's main attraction.(DG)
That doesn't stop Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie berating them for their apparent lack of enthusiasm to the songs his band play from new record More Light. It's left to 'Loaded' to wake those more interested in the ensuing headliners from their slumbers, and when heavily tipped sisters Haim join them for a three-song finale of 'It's Alright, It's OK', 'Rocks' and 'Come Together', there are smiles all around both on and off stage.(DG)
I can’t imagine there’s many people on site wrestling with whether to see Chase & Status or Fuck Buttons headline the Saturday night. In the end, career-best new single 'Lost & Not Found' - seemingly purpose written for Glastonbury - is the deciding factor. Chase & Status’s music is brutally effective in this environment. Over 70 minutes the efficiency at which they keep achieving maximum crowd euphoria is dizzying. The stage design is slick too, one assumes they lost money on the production.(MM)
The next band need little by way of introduction. With over 50 years, 24 albums and 100 singles to their name along with some of the most renowned performers ever to grace a stage among their ranks, it's little wonder The Rolling Stones' appearance at Glastonbury will go down as one of the most eagerly anticipated in the festival's history. Indeed, without wishing to sound disdainful, one can't but help feel a degree of sympathy for any act pitted against them on one of the many other stages this evening.
Opening with one of the most perfect four-song salvos these eyes and ears have ever had the pleasure of witnessing; 'Jumping Jack Flash' into 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll (But I Like It)' followed by 'Paint It Black' then 'Gimme Shelter', already just 15 minutes in this has the potential to be one of the greatest sets ever. Nevertheless, the odd blip occurs, none more so than Mick Jagger's clumsy reworking of Beggars Banquet's 'Factory Girl', entitled 'Glastonbury Girl' especially for the occasion. Former guitarist Mick Taylor joins them for two songs including a near ten-minute version of Let It Bleed's 'Midnight Rambler, while Keith Richards takes lead vocals on both 'You Got The Silver' and 'Happy'.
It's on a blistering rendition of 'Sympathy For The Devil' and 'Brown Sugar's soulful climax that almost the entire population of Worthy Farm sing together in unison. Returning with an encore of 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' and '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction', Jagger and co. are all knowing smiles and cheeky grins, their work done for the evening. While gripes ensue afterwards about what they didn't play, surely even the most ardent Stones fan must realise that a two hour set encompassing half a century's worth of material is bound to be littered with omissions.(DG)
One of this year's most secluded venues is the Crow's Nest, and with the likes of Steve Mason, Jagwar Ma and Toy all announcing not-so secret late night sets there over the course of the weekend, DiS makes its way to the highest point of the site to catch the latter. Precisely 40 minutes later, we're feeling a tad overwhelmed, such was the sheer force of Toy's sonic attack. All that remains to be said is if Tom Dougall and co. can replicate their live sound in the studio, that forthcoming second album will be mindblowing.(DG)
For a certain Sunday mid-afternoon set at the John Peel tent, the chap next to us spends 70 per cent of the performance with his fingers wedged in his ears. It’s James Blake, who this writer has recently changed his mind about because his second album is a bit less, to use the technical term, wanky, isn’t it? It isn’t even until the following afternoon when we remember the early description of him as being like Ross from Friends when he gets his keyboard out. The tent’s bass, then, has been turned up to ‘somewhat painful’. What it lacks in visual stimulus is made up for by the music, which is commanding enough. The swelling, intensifying nature of his songs, particularly during 'The Wilhelm Scream', overpowers the crowd. It’s a triumph. We would have liked to have heard 'Take A Fall For Me' though, James. It is good.(MM)
Sunday is 'locals day' where all Glastonbury and its surrounding villages' residents receive free day tickets, consideridably swelling numbers on what is also by far the hottest day of the weekend. This means DiS hotfoots it across to William's Green even earlier for Palma Violets' eagerly anticipated second set of the weekend. Greeted by a wall of camping chairs and people sat on walkways in front of the stage (why do people do that then complain when trodden on?), we take our vantage point by the left hand speaker for what turns out to be the most frenetic performance of the entire festival. Playing songs from their fair-to-middling debut LP, Palma Violets justify the hype to some degree if only based on their live show. Associate and sometime roadie/merch seller Harry Violent is brought on stage for the final number and by the end, members of the band are in the crowd with pints of water hurriedly handed out by security to the sweaty and bruised down the front.(DG)
One can't help but feel sorry for electronic bloke Barbarossa. Squeezed in between both Palma Violets and The Vaccines' guest slots, he plays to a mostly disinterested crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of the latter. Kudos though for trying to win them over, and even though announcing the words, "This is my last song. Enjoy the Vaccines" receive the biggest cheer so far, he can rest safe in the knowledge more friends than enemies were made before his departure.
There can be little doubt The Vaccines are currently the best band on the planet at what they do. No frills, no holds barred guitar-based pop with actual hooklines and choruses that make no excuses for their continue existence. For anyone that's seen them this summer the set is pretty much the same as before. Which doesn't make the likes of 'All In White', 'Wetsuit' and 'No Hope' any less appealing. New song 'Melody Calling' finds itself sung back word for word having been a staple of their live set since May, while a closing 'Norgard' leads to William's Green's second pile up of sweaty bodies in as many hours. Future Pyramid Stage headliners? Why ever not.(DG)
The rebirth of Vampire Weekend attracted one of the festival's largest crowds to the Pyramid Stage. And rightly so, too. Playing a set mainly culled from their self-titled first record and new album Modern Vampires Of The City, their eclectic mix of Afrobeat, math rock and punk-tinged pop seems quite appropriate for the sunny Sunday teatime slot afforded them. Highlights come thick and fast, a sprightly 'Hannah Hunt' and euphoric climax of 'Walcott' proving particularly tasty. Just around the corner, Editors appear to be going through a transitional phase at present. Line-up changes coupled with a new musical direction mean there's a tentative air around the Other Stage during their set. Opting to follow a formula of old song/new song throughout, it's the likes of 'An End Has A Start' and 'Papillon' that predictably gauge the loudest response. Fair play to them though for closing with epic newbie 'Honesty', which is met with more than a few lighters in the air by the end.(DG)
One of the biggest anomalies on this year's bill had to be the inclusion of Smashing Pumpkins. Aside from being renowned as unpredictable at best, their placing near the top of the Other Stage bill just below headliners The xx was something of a bold move. Even back in the days with the classic line-up of Corgan, Iha, Wretzky and Chamberlin their live shows often tended to veer from the sublime to the unwatchable at the drop of a hat. So it gives me immense pleasure to report Billy Corgan and co. effortlessly pull off their first trip to Glastonbury since 1997. Taking to the stage like ducks to water, Corgan in remarkably jovial mood throughout, they play a set heavy on material from comeback albums Zeitgeist and Oceania, and while the likes of 'Today', 'Bullet With Butterfly Wings' and 'Disarm' find themselves greeted like old school friends, the newer songs sound anything but out of place. At one point we're even treated to an impromptu cover of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity', and while nothing is aired this evening from breakthrough long player Gish, it's little more than a minor gripe for what was a glorious return to form on one of the most daunting stages of all.(DG)
Yeah so, I’m uncertain about how exciting watching The xx headline the Other stage will be. This is music at its best when you close your eyes, and whilst previous tours have proved they can replicate their recorded output live, the question remains as to why anybody would bother showing up to see/listen to it, and whether or not it is deserving of a headline slot on the Other stage. On the other hand, maybe the sound innovation that even Jamie Smith in isolation has been responsible for since 2009 makes them more than deserving of this slot. In a summer that’s seen them tour Europe with their own music festival it’s surprising to hear them so genuinely overwhelmed by the occasion tonight. Lead single and set closer 'Angels', which to this writer always sounded limp and indistinctive on the record actually comes into its own in a field, and things all get a bit overwhelming during this and 'Shelter', meaning the set carries a genuine emotional punch.(MM)
Tired and weary and just about ready to drop, DiS finds itself persuaded by friends to partake in a little roots reggae courtesy of Jamaican stalwarts The Congos. They're on fire too, proving not for the first time this weekend that age has no boundaries where music's concerned. Which leaves us with nothing more to say other than Glastonbury 2013 you've been wonderful. Only 360 days to go until next year.(DG)