So the wellies have been cleaned up (thanks to the guys from Eastern Europe down at the car wash) and the tumble drier is heaving. I see Michael Eavis has said he thought the mud was the worst ever. Having been there in 1997 and 1998, I call it a draw. Boy was it draining. It was relentless, the fold up chairs we lugged around provided the only respite. The best you could say was that it didn’t rain as much as it could but the damage was already done. The increased scale and popularity since my last visit in 2004 compounds any ill weather, distances are doubled and speeds are halved. Combined with a few heavy hearts after the Brexit referendum results, this was a tough festival for many.
Perversely, it was a joy for me, a different Glastonbury to my previous experiences. Taking my daughter and seeing the festival through her eyes was incredible. She took the lead in the choice of acts we saw. Invariably, she picked a good show. My mantra for the weekend was mostly “they weren’t my cup of tea but they were very good” (Adele and Bastille). Adele was a curiosity. She acknowledged her own weak spot, her lack of cheery up-tempo material. The sheer force of her personality pulled it through, combined with making the most of the numbers that provided a highlight (“Rolling In The Deep”, “Skyfall”). The between songs patter was a bizarre mix of Sunday Night At the Palladium (“‘ello darlin’, where are you from? Stoke on Trent? lavely”) and Roger Mellie levels of profanity.
The exception was Wolf Alice who was both very good and my cup of tea. To see a band who obviously have a few musical chops combined with rough edges and angularity and a sense of drama being enjoyed by eleven year old was fantastic. This isn’t spoonfed Indie landfill music, like Blossoms who came over as pure MOR. It has depth.
I got a few picks in as well. Oddisee on the West Holts stage combined intelligent conscious hip hop with a razor sharp jazz and funk band. A below par with flu John Grant trumped many other acts in the John Peel Tent, especially with Budgie (ex of the Banshees) on drums. ELO were pitch perfect for a wet Sunday afternoon. They didn’t quite have the back catalogue of Lionel Richie or the charisma of Dolly Parton, two recent incumbents of the Legends spot. The scale of the production, crystal clear with hooky tunes that people grasped quickly won the crowd over. Jeff Lynne is clearly more comfortable in a studio than on a stage but he recognised this and structured the show to compensate for the lack of personal engagement.
The true star of the whole weekend was Gregory Porter though. I never saw the soul greats play live (Marvin, Otis, Donny Hathaway etc). Porter’s voice is up there with that exalted company. His honeyed rich baritone is astonishing. During “Liquid Spirit” he walked to the front of the stage and started testifying, frighteningly powerful. It was courageous too to bring genuine jazz to the Pyramid stage with the title track from “Take Me To The Alley” in particular a long slow highlight. “Hey Laura” was just gorgeous and he even managed to engineer a marriage proposal by one of his crew into the set (Note to self – see Gregory in London ASAP).
How else was the Festival different for me. Well I drank less as a combination of age and parental responsibility and I didn’t miss it for a second. My daughter was a bit more conservative in her choice of food so I didn’t sample many vegetables. I found the increase in security are reassuring but the bigger Festival in size and numbers was a little overwhelming when combined with the treacherous conditions. The toilets were better but, hey, they couldn’t get any worse!
Some of the programming was conservative and felt like the V Festival. Coldplay, Muse and Adele weren’t particularly challenging headliners. Maybe this was a reaction to the recent criticism regarding Jay Z, Kanye and Metallica heading up the bill. Glastonbury seems to have a continuing aversion to hard rock/heavy metal. There was a distinct lack of country on the main stages. I’m not sure that there is a space for both Jess Glynne and Ellie Goulding high up the bill on the Pyramid stage, especially when Adele is considered too. Are Tame Impala really last but one on a Saturday night material? The Other Stage seemed clogged up with white boys with guitars, but I’ve felt this way before.
But back to my daughter. By the time we had popped into many different tents, we had seen all manner of genres – jazz, hiphop, soul, indie, pop, world, rockabilly, dance, techno, electronica. She absorbed them all and had a permanent sense of wonderment about her. We uncovered a few gems. We’ll be going back to check out Pigboy, Inheaven and Palace. She saw her piano teacher (Annie Rew Shaw) perform in her friends band from Exeter (Stella Martyr), which was particularly inspirational. She’s now talking of learning more musical instruments. She got to hang out with a wide bunch of friends, all of whom were unfailingly helpful and enthusiastic. She saw other sides of life too – drunk people, stoned people, people from all kinds of different communities – all getting along cheek by jowl.
There have been a couple of articles in the Guardian recently about how certain gigs allow you to be your best self. The two examples they use were Glastonbury and Bruce Springsteen, coincidentally my last two gigs. Aside from the exposure to new and different music people, Glastonbury teaches you (and particularly young people) other things too.
- How to make decisions – two bands playing simultaneously that you want to see? Choose one.
- The need to compromise. You want to see one band and your friend wants to see another? Do a deal.
- It teaches you that with greater effort and planning, often comes greater reward. That band you want to see way over the other side of the festival? Get there early, get a good spot and enjoy the gig. Much more satisfying than pressing the red button on the BBC or selecting IPlayer.
Pleasures aren’t spoon fed at Glastonbury. You have to work for them, be active not passive. Tolerate others. Enjoy the moment. None of these are bad life lessons, especially in a society increasingly wedded to instant gratification.
As a relatively hands-on father of a daughter as a baby and a toddler, it was pretty straightforward. However as she has got older and more independent, it is a bit more tricky. Styling and video blogging aren’t necessarily common ground. Music is though. I looked across during Baaba Maal and unsolicited, she had her hands in the air, clapping away. I thought to myself, “we’re on the right track”.
She’s already asking about 2017………
NB If you would like to read about my previous Glastonbury highlights click here