Thursday 30 June 2016

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation...

Earworms of the Week - Glastonbury edition

Well, it's hard to know where to begin with reviewing Glastonbury.  In the past, I've done long write-ups of everything I've seen, and occasionally too, everything I've eaten.  Since that's probably not really of interest to anyone, and because I also can't be bothered with spending the time writing that up (even if I can remember it).... how about this year, I just document my 14th Glastonbury in the shape of some earworms?  Yeah?  My wife ignores all these posts anyway....

"Mr Blue Sky" - ELO

Some of my friends were very, very excited to see ELO announced on the bill this year.  Sunday afternoon on the Pyramid Stage is very much the legends slot, and over the years I've seen some brilliant acts here: Brian Wilson, Neil Diamond, Shirley Bassey, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie.... and Jeff Lynne's ELO seems to fit right in..... except that I'm a bit meh about them.  I know Mr Blue Sky, and it's a pretty decent song, but there seemed to be some expectation that I would know loads of these songs, even if I thought I didn't.  Well, let's just say that this wasn't quite the same as watching Chic on the West Holts stage here a couple of years ago, when basically every song they played was a stone-cold classic that you didn't even realise Nile Rodgers had been involved with.  ELO for me were nothing like that.  Alright, so as well as this song, I sort of recognised Living Thing, Evil Woman, Sweet Talkin' Woman, Don't Bring Me Down.... but they just sound insipid to me; like a slightly crappy, over-produced version of the Beatles.  Jeff Lynne isn't much of a showman either.  Fancy playing this song in front of about 100,000 people in the drizzle of the muddiest Glastonbury ever and not make a comment about the humorous juxtaposition.

"It's Christmas" - LEKIDDO, the lord of the Lobsters!

Lekiddo is rapidly becoming a Glastonbury institution.  Apart from playing maybe 15 gigs across the festival at a number of completely different stages, he was also the proud recipient of a five star review in the Guardian last year.  He's exactly the kind of act that makes Glastonbury so different and so special.  I saw him twice this year, and at the Rabbit Hole on Thursday night, his audience included about ten people in full shrimp costumes.  I'm not joking.... they brought shrimp costumes to Glastonbury as a salute to their hero ("many are called, few are frozen....").  His set hasn't changed all that much.  There seem to be some new songs, but they sound pretty much the same as the old ones. Lekiddo himself is his usual irrepressible self; so ridiculously joyous and downright weird that you have to stop and wonder what on earth he does in the real world when he's not at the festival.  Children's parties, maybe?  Too weird for that?  A bit too Euro-disco sexy?  Hm.  Well, he's here.... and as he does every year, he plays his Christmas single.  I think he releases it every Christmas too, perhaps in the hope that it will one day go viral and he'll be playing megadomes.  It feels like a longshot, you have to say, although look at this gushing review of the single in the Guardian

As they say: Lekiddo, it has to be said, is an unusual candidate for the country’s chief festive songsmith. For a start, he claims that his moniker arose from a time eight years ago when he was chosen by the world’s lobster population to represent them: ““I realised that the crustaceans shall inherit the kitchen,” he says, matter of factly. “The lobsters knew that I knew this, so they chose me as their lord, and now I go around spreading lobster love.”

All together now, “Scam scam, scam-a-dur-dam-ba-dam/Scheme-scheme, scheme-a-deer-dim-da-dur”

Utterly bonkers.  I think in a good way.  I saw him twice this year, and people were dancing and laughing both times, so he must be doing something right.  I enjoyed him more than ELO, anyway.

"You're In A Bad Way" - Saint Etienne

Sarah Cracknell is now 49 years old, and you'll be delighted to know is as fragrant as she always was. It's been drizzling all day, the festival site is a bog and the Sunday evening crowd is tired after a long, long festival and the slog up the hill to the Park stage.  And you know what?  Saint Etienne's brand of soothing, sophisticated pop is pretty much just what the doctor ordered.  A joy.  I don't think I need to say very much more than that really, do I?

"Courting the Squall" - Guy Garvey

Lovely Guy is a Glastonbury hero.  Some bands (I'm looking at you, The 1975) take to the stage in white suits that tell you that they have popped straight onto the stage from their tour bus and will be leaving straight after their set.  That's not Guy Garvey's style.  You just know that Lovely Guy will take to the stage in muddy boots and trousers and wearing a raincoat.  He's one of us.  He hasn't been onsite all weekend this time around because of other commitments, but you just know that he's going to milk the festival for everything it's worth whilst he's here.  He has an easy charm with his crowd.  To be fair, as it always has done, this mostly consists of repeatedly asking us if we're okay.  But that's okay because you know he means it.  At one point, he decides to award a prize for the best waltzers in the crowd, and searching his pockets for a prize, he tosses them his packet of fags.  He's not fancy or fussy, but he's genuine to his core.  His whole set tonight is taken from his debut solo album, "Courting the Squall", and we don't get so much of a sniff of an Elbow song... but that's okay too, because the album is good and because it's nice to hear him doing his own thing.  He's the last act that we see before we make an early exit from the site, and I have to say that I couldn't have asked for anything better.

"Goddess on a Highway" - Mercury Rev

I haven't got the energy to go and see Adele on Saturday night.  I don't have anything against her, and I'm not one of those people who spend all their time on internet forums moaning about the Glastonbury bill and how the headliners just aren't right for the festival (last year was a new low when that guy, who had never been to Glastonbury before, started that petition to try and stop Kanye West playing.  What's wrong with these people? There a literally hundreds of other things you could be doing at the festival instead, and who exactly are you to determine who is and isn't an appropriate act? If Oasis played every year, it would be pretty bloody boring, wouldn't it... and that's basically what they mean, isn't it?).  Adele is the biggest selling act in the world and she's also that other rarity: a female headliner.  She has every right to play here, but I want to take the opportunity of her drawing a massive crowd to do something else entirely.  I've seen New Order before, so I head up the hill to the Park Stage to watch Mercury Rev.  We're camping in Worthy View this year, which is way over the top of the hill at the very back of the site past Strummerville, and the Park is a pretty good staging post on the way back up to the tent (for pretty much the same reason, I also find myself sitting around the campfire at Strummerville for the very first time in the 14 times I've been to this festival).  Besides, I've got a couple of Mercury Rev albums and their spaced-out rock seems like a good way to wind down the day.  They're both very loud and really very good indeed.  Over the weekend, I got to see a number of bands that are highly rated.... people like Blossoms and The 1975.... and I have to say that Mercury Rev blow those guys off the stage in terms of songwriting and sheer musicianship. Yes, they've been doing this for a long time, but they're actually really pretty bloody good at it.  Some of their tunes are brilliant too, not least this song, which is a proper classic. As we walk back up the hill to our camp, you can hear the sounds of the massive sing-a-long from Adele's set, and as we look back down across the festival site, we can see the whole Pyramid Arena light up with mobile phones as Adele asks everyone to hold them up and we just have to pause and admire.  It looks amazing, and the effect is even better as I walk a bit further and catch a waft of True Faith along the way.

"Sharp Dressed Man" - ZZ Top

I saw ZZ Top in about 1991 at the Milton Keynes Bowl, and it must be said that I don't think the band have changed very much since then: they certainly look the same, and I'm pretty sure the setlist is pretty much the same too.  They have a pretty big crowd for a Friday afternoon too, with a fairly significant number of the audience wearing comedy beards and carrying inflatable guitars.  It's that kind of a gig.  They sound bloody good too: people forget that Billy Gibbons is an extremely talented guitarist, and when you have songs as good as this, Legs and Gimme All Your Loving... well, you should be playing to massive crowds.  I'm not sure that you could get away with some of those lyrics now, but there's no denying that they sound absolutely brilliant.  Good enough that I'm thinking of digging out my old copy of "Eliminator", anyway.  This is totally the riff from the Rolling Stones cover of Chuck Berry's "Route 66" though, eh?

"Knights of Cydonia" - Muse

Muse are predictably brilliant on Friday night.  They're technically astonishing and they have a long list of outstanding songs to draw on.  There's a reason that they're the only one of this year's Pyramid headliners that I choose to watch... but I have some reservations.  The first is that, just as with their albums, I find that a little bit of Muse goes a long way.  They're a fantastic band, but their music can be so involved that it just becomes exhausting to listen to.  A two hour set?  Well, that's enough soloing and conspiracy theorising for anyone, isn't it?  The other reservation?  Perhaps it's a bit selfish and self-absorbed of me, but I like bands at Glastonbury to respond to the fact that they're at Glastonbury.  You don't need to go overboard about it (I'm looking at you, James Hetfield...and you Bono), but it's nice to acknowledge where you are and that it's not just another gig for you.... well, maybe it is just another big gig for a band like Muse, but it really feels like it too.  Matt Bellamy appears to have picked up some weird sort of trans-Atlantic "thankyouverrymuchhaahhh" thing that he uses at the end of every song in lieu of actually talking to us like a normal human being.  They're very impressive --- oohh! fireworks! --- but maybe a little emotionally un-involving.  That being said, I don't think I hear many better songs than this one, which closes their set without an encore.  It's an absolutely barking mad song, but it's all the more brilliant for that.  I did hear the girls in the tent next to ours discussing how it was such a shame that Matt Bellamy was a bit too small and pinched to be good-looking though.  There's no pleasing some people, eh?

"Moving On" / "Sometimes" - James

James are a brilliant choice of band to open the festival on the Other Stage on Friday morning. They're more than an hour later on as the crew desperately try and put woodchip down onto the sodden ground in front of the stage, but when they do arrive, they are introduced by none other than Michael Eavis himself... who seems to perhaps be a fan.  They're a funny, awkward band and they proceed to play a very typical James set.  The large crowd is probably hoping for a Greatest Hits festival set, but James have always been cussed, and they've been recording some great stuff over the last couple of years, and it's absolutely no surprise to me that they are keen to play some of it.  Sure, they don't play Sit Down, but for my money the mix the set up pretty well.  When they play Sometimes, I'm so overcome that I have to actually wipe away the tears that suddenly mist up my eyes.  It's such a beautiful, profound song and it reminds me so much of being a student in Venice in 1994.  "Sometimes, when I look deep into your eyes, I swear I can see your soul".  That is one of the most beautiful things I think you can say to someone, and it gets me almost every time they play it. They play songs like Come Home, Laid, Tomorrow, Curse Curse, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), but their newer stuff really stands up to scrutiny too: Moving On is a beautiful reflection on life and death inspired by the death of Tim Booth's mother, and it's another heartbreakingly lovely song with a killer chorus.  Tim Booth seems to enjoy himself too, enthusiastically crowd-surfing and coming back onto the stage with a smear of mud on his cheek.  He's not quite one of us in the way that Guy Garvey is, but in his own particular way, he's having fun.  A great start to the festival by one of my favourite bands.

"Queen of Denmark" - John Grant

The John Peel tent has been moved slightly up the hill this year, near an entirely new area called the Wood and mostly out of the sludge that used to make it famous.  We take the long hike from the Leftfield, right the way across the back of the Pyramid as Madness are playing to a huge crowd, through the Wood and then out at the John Peel in plenty of time to catch John Grant.  There are only about three or four acts on the bill that I was determined to catch this year, and that gave me a load of freedom to wander around and just watch whatever grabbed my fancy.  I was never going to miss John Grant though.  He was brilliant when I saw him in Sheffield a couple of months ago and he was probably the act I was most looking forward to seeing at the festival this year.  He's a hard act to explain to people who haven't heard his music, but I like his intensely personal (and often very funny) lyrics and his beautiful bass voice.... he was struggling with a cold here, but he was clearly drawing so much energy from the crowd that he was determined to give everything a go and hope for the best.  As he feared, he wasn't able to hit the big parts of this song, but the crowd took up the reins and picked up the mantle, allowing John Grant to bring the whole thing gloriously home.  Grant was clearly buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of his crowd and it was truly a beautiful thing to be a part of.  Magical.  Although I had been drinking cider.... no.  I'm pretty sure he was that good.  On Sunday, as we walked back into the site from a trip to drop our bags off in the car, Sarah stopped to queue up to use the toilets.  When we caught up with her a bit later, she was beside herself with delight because the person who was in the portaloo directly before her was... John Grant.... I asked if she stopped to say hello, but apparently it wasn't really the moment.  She did reveal that she was pleased (and slightly relieved) to discover that he left the toilet in an acceptable state.  Imagine!

"Between the Wars" - Billy Bragg

I woke up at about 6am on Friday morning when my phone sent me a push alert from the Guardian informing me of the result of the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.  I read it, swore loudly and then rolled over to get some more sleep.  As Billy Bragg said later in the day, this was Schrodinger's Referendum... as long as we were at the Festival, we were neither in or out of the EU.  I say every year that I want to spend more time at the Leftfield tent, but this year I had more reason than ever to want to hear soothing things to make me feel better about the state of the world.  I did a bit better this year, amongst other things watching a very interesting debate with some junior doctors and Mhairi Black, the 21 year old SNP MP (Black talked about how the Labour MPs in Scotland thought they had safe seats and that their constituents would always vote for them, so they spent their time in Westminster and didn't bother campaigning because they were complacent.  The SNP was able to exploit this.... it's impossible not to feel the same way about some of the remaining members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the way they currently seem to feel that the wishes of their members are not as important as their own ambitions...)  As ever though, the main draw of the Leftfield was Billy Bragg himself.  The man is a Glastonbury legend, and I must have seen him performing here dozens of times by now, usually several times at each festival (I think my personal best is 5 times in one festival).  I wanted Billy to help me make sense of the shape of our country; he is the milkman of human kindness and I really needed an extra pint.  He didn't disappoint.  Although he's famously political, actually most of his songs are about people and about love; when he spoke, he often spoke about the need for unity and the need to pull together and not let things drive us apart - he was quite wry about the fact that, just as the Tories were at their weakest, of course the Labour party was choosing just that moment to begin tearing itself apart.  Lots of his songs make me a bit emotional - New England, Levi Stubbs' Tears, Sexuality - but it was when he played Between the Wars that I think there wasn't a dry eye in the house.  I make no apology for putting the whole lyrics here:
I was a miner, I was a docker
I was a railway man between the wars
I raised a family in times of austerity
With sweat at the foundry between the wars

I paid the union and as times got harder
I looked to the government to help the working man
But they brought prosperity down at the armoury
We're arming for peace, me boys between the wars

I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man

Theirs is a land of hope and glory
Mine is the green field and the factory floor
Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers
And mine is the peace we knew between the wars

Call up the craftsmen, bring me the draftsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent to any government
That does not deny a man a living wage

Go find the young men never to fight again
Bring up the banners from the days gone by
Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars
Ah, so painfully apt as we seem to lurch towards a more chaotic, racist and intolerant society.

It was a good festival.  Muddy and tiring, but also inspiring and uplifting too.  The best thing I saw over the weekend?  Well, these guys captivated me for an hour in the circus tent and they were simply awe-inspiring


Roll on 2017.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't at Glastonbury, didn't see any footage of Billy Bragg on telly over the weekend, but like you I have had Between The Wars on heavy internal-iPod rotation since last week.