It was the Glastonbury Festival weekend &, as I have for some years, I experienced it from the comfort of my armchair at home. The BBC coverage gets no easier to watch. Every talking head & news clown trilling the “G” word mantra as an axiom for good clean fun & great music. If it’s part of the festival then it has to be a delight, no deviation from the party line allowed. The BBC got the show rolling with their weekday magazine programme for the geriatric, presented by 2 gurning nincompoops. placing the weekend firmly into the social season. Between Derby Day at Epsom & Henley Regatta why not hire a yurt in the countryside & be entertained by those most antediluvian of artistes, the Rolling Stones. If we are lucky perhaps a member of the Royal Family will grace us with his attendance. Harumph !
My times as a Pilton Pilgrim was the 1980s. Boy, it was a proper festival back then, Monday’s amphetamine psychosis a fair trade-off for attempting to have too much fun (I ain’t ever had too much fun). The current, corporate, commentators emphasize the convoy of travellers, the avenue of drug dealers (“Black ‘ash, good black ‘ash”) but many thousands bought a ticket, got high with a little help from their friends & some almost hallucinogenic cider to make memories that they still cherish. Not a one of these 21st century professional blowhards seem to be able to appreciate that Worthy Farm is not only a beautiful, perfect setting for a festival but that it is a magical place. Just so long as they get the opportunity to tweet their asinine observations, to be interactive they may as well be in a shopping mall.
Enough bitching about these new days not being as good as the old ones. There was some great music to enjoy over the 3 day weekend & it was a man as old as the Stones who did it for me on the Sunday night. Bobby Womack headlined at a smaller arena than the Tory Boy faux folk pop of Mumford & Sons on the main Pyramid stage. He played a split set with 5 songs from his work with Damon Albarn on a solo LP & with the Gorillaz before a break, a change of clothes & band, then a set of his greatest hits. These are not so great that you have heard them too often or to turn the gig into a sing-along. They are great enough to let you know that Bobby has more going for him than just longevity. He has been ill in recent times.To see him hold centre stage for an hour, “I can’t stop !” he shouted, was a real pleasure. If I had been in Somerset the Mumford toffs would not have been playing their banjos near me.
Saturday night at Glastonbury is a very special time. People have got their bearings & have got it. The penny has dropped that this town, which has appeared from nowhere, is functioning pretty well. The flags, the smoke from hundreds of fires gives it an atmosphere of a medieval army & its camp followers. No-one handed out a rule book on entry, the festival goers are taking responsibility for their own behaviour & everything is turning out fine. How cool would it be if we could do this every weekend ? The Pyramid stage is the place to be on a Saturday night to celebrate the festival. I have been in bigger crowds at sport events & demonstrations but, right there, right then it always felt to be more than just having the best possible time.
I have seen the Stones play live. If I want to hear them play I can listen to “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out”. Public Enemy, old school but still a force, played on another stage at the same time but I would have been down at the main arena to do a little more than see the Rolling Stones. Those grumpy old men, criticizing from their living rooms as if it is just another gig, do not get it. This time, you really do have to be there.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are not new at the music game either. It’s 30 years since the band formed after the break up of the Birthday Party. This year they released a 15th LP after a 5 year hiatus & 2 Grinderman records. The band have a perfect festival set, a career-spanning review of their gothic vignettes. “Tupelo”, “Red Right Hand”, “The Mercy Seat”, it’s a list & it could be longer. Blixa & Mick Harvey are no longer around but the band look suitably dissolute & Warren Ellis is still throttling his instruments. At the centre of it Nick, conducts & cajoles his band & the audience. It is powerful, it can be intense, but his unlikely hair colour shows that this thing is not to be taken too seriously. “Jubilee Street” is a track from this year’s “Push The Sky Away”, fit to become part of the Bad Seeds canon. The warm up act for Mumford & Sons ? You are having a laugh ! I hope they frightened the children in the audience waiting for something less offensive.
All this media coverage…everything is just so much fun at Glastonbury…absolutely ignores the incredible amount of recreational intoxicants ingested at the festival. It is easier to fall back on tired platitudes about mud & toilets than to admit that so many people got so high & had such a good time without killing themselves or each other. As I became a Glastonbury veteran my “things to pack” list got smaller. For 3 years I did not take a tent, it was imagine the drugs you needed for 4 days, add 50% to this & you were ready to rock. Anyway, there must have been some music this year made by people under 50.
So, it’s not Portishead, Dinosaur Jr or Chic then, nor is it any of those pop muppets who treat the gig as some sort of Radio 1 Fun Day & just stink up the place. Palma Violets are sprogs from Lambeth in London & if “Best of Friends” sounds familiar it is because it it absolutely the kind of row the young uns like to make. It was the #1 track of 2012 in the NME but there is a new guitar band around every year. In 2011 it was the Vaccines, this year it is the Strypes. Let’s hope that Palma Violets have got more in them than a gap year LP because I like this loud stuff.
I can beef about the increased corporatisation of my favourite festival. The move towards respectability has created a massive, homogenous audience of fun-seekers who seem to demand the biggest musical entertainment money can buy inside an arena with a 20′ high boundary fence. I do know that much of my dissatisfaction with the present is a lament for a well-spent past that is now just a memory. Those days when I could throw some things in a bag & get deliriously fucked up in a field with my friends are over, as are the days when I wanted to do that. The closest I will get is through my TV &, ridiculously, I resent that the experience is not as exhilarating. Nuts innit ?
I have seen some great music at Glastonbury. Taj Mahal, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Spirit & many others. I’ve danced all night in the Dread Broadcasting sound system tent. There was a Sunday night when we had to be back in London for work on Monday. We met 2 friends camped with their 3 children in a cricket field overlooking the Vale of Avalon. Closing the festival that year was Fela Kuti then Weather Report, not our favourites but world class acts. There was just the 9 of us, dancing, checking the lights & sights of the festival. The lasers arced across the Vale towards the silhouette of the Tor then on to the horizon. It was peaceful, breathtaking, beautiful & a perfect evening in a place that was these 3 things too.