This time next week I’ll be back at Glastonbury for the first time in 12 years. The difference will be that is that my daughter will be there. I’d stopped going for a number of reasons. Initially money was the primary reason, as the festival was a relatively big expense in the baby years that meant we would go without something more necessary. Also it knocked out 3 or 4 days of valuable annual leave. Then as we got a bit more financially stable, I’d held off because my daughter was saying that she was desperate to go but my instinct told me that we would be both a little overwhelmed by the occasion – me from a responsibility perspective and she from an exhaustion perspective.
This year feels right though. I’m going with zero expectations. If we get to see some bands that I like great but the weekend will be mostly about her experience. I’d also started to get a little jaded with the whole festival thing as I got older so this may be just the tonic. Let’s see. There’s a crowd of old friends going together so hopefully it will be fun.
Anyway, I thought it would be opportune to look back at a few personal Glastonbury highlights from days gone by. These are all from festivals that I went too rather than watched on BBC. They aren’t necessarily the best, but occasions that stick in my memory.
Who: David Bowie
Where: The Pyramid Stage
Okay let’s get the obvious one out the way first (or at least one of the obvious ones). Anyone who follows my blog will know that I’m a Bowie fan. Every year there was the perpetual “so and so” is playing set (especially in the days before the headliners were announced in advance). Prince was the constant performer who sadly never made it and never will. Bowie was a repeated possible headline act but never made it.
But in 2000, Bowie came back almost 30 years after his first appearance. It was a wonderful performance, clearly an occasion that meant something to him and he pitched his set perfectly with some choice selections from his vast repertoire. The stunner was the opening song though.
To walk on stage to sing a ballad, a ballad that for the first six years of its life as a Bowie song was an album track and on its release got to the heady heights of number 21 in the charts was a brave brave move. “Wild Is The Wind” is a beautiful song and one of my favourite Bowie tracks. Inspired by Nina Simone’s version, the pacing of the song just allowed him to drift out on stage, almost under the radar. The holding of the microphone, the poise was just classic DB. The clincher was when the band stopped for the “don’t you know it’s life itself”. Immediately the crowd was rapt and if there was any danger that they weren’t going to be on his side, it dissipated in an instant.
Here’s the setlist:
It’s mostly hits all the way but there are a few picks for the fanboys and fangirls: “Station To Station”, “Afraid Of Americans”, “Stay” etc. Just a perfect setlist for such a memorable occasion. The expectations were high and Bowie exceeded them.
Who: The Chemical Brothers
Where: Outside of the dance tent at the start of the song, inside of the tent by the end of the song
We’d just missed the rave scene by a few years. Therefore when we first set foot in the dance tent at the start of the nineties, it was a vaguely confusing experience. We had come from a scene whereby dancing was mostly something you did in front of girls, hoping for a positive reaction (which generally didn’t happen) or as bunch of blokes throwing shapes to some eighties classic such as “I Travel”. In hindsight, both were equally embarrassing.
The dance tent we walked into featured a bunch of people facing a DJ who was conducting proceedings from the upper deck of bus. Very strange and not what we used to from our clubbing days in the Midlands or Liverpool.
Fast forward a couple of years and the dance tent was a much more serious proposition, a full on marquee with a decent sound system. Myself and my mate Stu ventured down there to see what the fuss was about during a lull in the afternoon to escape a rare Glastonbury heatwave.
We loitered on the periphery of tent and heard the bass line start. “The brother’s gonna work it out.” The guitar started, the drums crashed it and the keyboard pulsed. We were hooked.
I had picked up a couple of the Trance Europe Express compilations prior to Glastonbury, which served as an entry point.
It would be stretching hugely to say that this and the Chemical Brothers track turned me into a raver. What it did do though was kindle a love of this kind of streamlined sleek electronica that remains to this day, especially in my keen following of the Kompakt label which I wrote about here. The most direct Glastonbury impact is some of the wonderful sets by Underworld and Orbital, particularly their “farewell” set in 2004.
Where: The Jazz World Stage
I was in thrawl to the music that was coming out of Bristol in the mid nighties. There was so much rich wonderful stuff – Portishead, Massive Attack, Roni Size. The album of the early part of 95 that was never off my CD player was Tricky’s “Maxinquaye”. It still stands up now as a magnificent and interesting piece of work.
Tricky played the clunkily but literally named Jazz World stage that year. It was a hot summer’s night, the sun had gone down and there was a full moon. Tricky had obviously been enjoying some herbal remedies but he and his band were smoking hot, including his sidekick Martina Topley Bird. I’ve found a 22 minute clip of the gig which sounds raw, edgy but captures the vibe of the evening perfectly.
Almost twenty years later, Tricky made it to the Pyramid stage, as a guest for Beyonce’s set – well, by any means necessary! Here’s a video clip of “Hell Is Round The Corner” from the 1995 set, a companion piece to Portishead’s “Glory Box”.
Both draw heavily on a sample of the masterful Issac Hayes’s “Ike’s Rap II”.
There were rich picking from a rap perspective at Glastonbury 1995. We watched two sets by Michael Franti’s Spearhead, on each of the Pyramid and Jazz World stages. Spearhead’s socially conscious rap carried on from Franti’s time in the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. This was a fantastic introduction for me to Spearhead and I’ve seen them play a number of storming gigs over the years in London, Dublin and indeed back at Glastonbury. That’s probably another story for another day though.
More Glastonbury selections to follow in Part 2 soon.