Here’s the second Glastonbury highlights post. The first one was here:
Who: Page and Plant
Where: The Pyramid Stage
I was twelve when Led Zeppelin played their last shows in the UK at Knebworth. I had been at Birmingham Odeon on Christmas Eve 1984 with my friends Kev and Tess for Robert Plant’s first major homecoming show post Zep. I have a distinct memory of him singing one of the more atmospheric numbers, the stage swathed in dry ice whilst a roadie drove a radio controlled Santa around his feet. I’ve seen him regularly since then, many times at Glastonbury and even saw Jimmy Page play with Paul Rodgers in the Firm (least said about that the better, probably).
This is the one and only time I’ve heard Kashmir performed live though and it was on a sunny afternoon at Glastonbury. Plant was bending his voice like a Muezzin, calling to prayer. We had reverted back to the Golden God, with leather kecks. Jimmy’s guitar sounds a little rough around the edges at times, something that it often has a tendency to do occasionally, especially at the O2 gig. The rhythm section do a pretty good approximation of Jones and Bonzo. What transforms the song is the Egyptian Orchestra that kicks in around the 5′ mark. The geography is a bit iffy (Egyptian orchestra playing a British band’s song about a region of the Indian subcontinent which was written in the Sahara desert but so what). It is a fantastic version that worked brilliantly in the hot afternoon sun. You can see where we are standing if you look closely for a flag with a Wolverhampton Wanderers wolf’s head on it.
In retrospect the early day slot was given away too easily. This was headline status material.
Where: A clearing in a bunch of trees
One of the things I most like doing at Glastonbury is going for a wander to see what there is around. Bored with the main stages, I went for a walk and came across a stage set up in a clearing. There was a band playing very much in the vein of the Orb, all dub and little fluffy electronic clouds. They weren’t the best band in the world, they weren’t going to change my musical outlook but as a way of spending an hour, cleansing the musical palette, Hallucinogen were great. I’ll hasten to add I was stimulant free with the possible exception of some organic dry cider.
I went back home, searched in the internet and downloaded their “In Dub” album. It is still a really enjoyable piece of background music. I haven’t seen them since, haven’t dug into their work and don’t particularly want to. I want to remember the way they were in that clearing in Somerset.
Who: Flaming Lips
Where: The New Bands Tent
One of the other things that I like about Glastonbury is to dip your toes in to artists that may be of interest to you. I had been aware of Flaming Lips for a few years but didn’t feel sufficiently emboldened to go to their gigs or buy one of their records. However in 1999, “The Soft Bulletin” was starting to garner “album of the year” accolades.
I dropped by the New Bands tent on the Saturday afternoon to catch their set. It was an eyeopener. Bands had largely lost their theatricality in the rather dour (for me anyway) post Britpop years. The Lips were a cornucopia of delights though. Puppets, cameras and screens, confetti guns, gongs – there was a hell of a lot going on. The quality of “The Soft Bulletin” material shone through along with singer Wayne Coyne’s engaging choir leading schtick. It was a winning combination for a neutral walking into a show that was new to them in an alien environment.
We went on to see The Flaming Lips a few times over the years and they have delivered every time, along with a wilder and more out-there shows. Indeed, we saw them at Ally Pally for another run through of “The Soft Bulletin” in 2011. This was a truly epic performance and we were down in the crowd when Wayne went for a ride in his hamster ball.
Here’s the Lips in all of their glory with their arrival on stage, Wayne’s rollabout and “Race For The Prize.”
Where: The Pyramid Stage
So it was 1997, the first of two apocalyptic weather years. We had arrived on the Thursday and it had rained persistently for 72 hours. The ground was sodden and the mud was some sort of special variant that had adhesive powers only to be matched by weetabix when you’ve left it in the bowl in the morning and have come to clean it when you got in from work – more fool you!
The Saturday afternoon was a run of fag end of Britpop dross – Dodgy, Cast, Ocean Colour Scene. I think I’d recharged my batteries with an afternoon nap and we’d talked about our evening plans. My mates wanted to see Kula Shaker – not on your life! I made my way over to the Pyramid stage on my own to see what transpired to be possibly the most iconic of Glastonbury headline sets.
“OK Computer” had only been released a few weeks earlier but was already being acknowledged as a classic album. This was the first UK date since the LP had landed but the buzz was huge. There was a sense that “Paranoid Android” was different, redolent of an earlier era.
The band started with the stage in darkness with simple lighting. This was a gimmick free set up – no fancy props, just white spotlights mostly, not without some sound problems but nothing like those that the Prodigy had encountered the previous evening. But there was a sense within the audience that they wanted this. They wanted the band to succeed and they desperately wanted something to transcend the miserable weather and the dog tired weariness that it created. The running order of songs was perfect for the occasion but opening with “Lucky” was a masterstroke. The band slowly emerged, elementally breaking through the rain and the mist. It was on a par with Bowie opening with “Wild Is The Wind” three years later.
For better or for worse, Radiohead have since moved away from their more rockist roots. A setlist made up of their current material wouldn’t have sustained the crowd’s interest in 1997. But for this night, meaty but nuanced guitar rock was what was needed. A sense of electricity took the band and the audience along together. I recall looking across and the steam rising from the body heat of the crowd was caught in the cross lighting. It sounds revolting but really it just enhanced the sense of this being an extraordinary evening.
It was immediately clear in the aftermath of the show that this had been something special. The energy sustained us for the rest of the weekend. The weather was replicated the following year and despite the best efforts of Blur (then in their Pavement post Parklike phase), I’d had enough by the Sunday afternoon. I packed my bags and headed home, tired and bored with the whole experience.
Here’s hoping that 2016 is a sunnier vintage.