Well, I seem to have been a bit useless again, and broken my promise of those daily reviews, but I’ll make up for it with the review of my busiest day at Glastonbury.
Waking to sunshine again, we got ourselves quickly over to the Queen’s Head stage to see Two Door Cinema Club. I’ve written about this Northern Irish three-piece before, but if you haven’t already heard them, they really are quite something. Consisting of two guitarists, a bassist and a drum machine, they have already made three absolute indie-pop gems in the shape of debut single “Something Good Can Work” as well as “Undercover Martyn” and “Hands Off My Cash, Monty”, but this set went to prove just how much more they’ve got in their arsenal. Drawing in a largely ambivalent crowd throughout and soon getting the whole tent moving is no easy task, but that’s exactly what happened. Even with technical difficulties slowing the end of the set, they charmingly talked with the crowd and got a smile on every face. Definitely one to watch.
Wandering around a bit later, I spotted the poetry and spoken word tent, and noticed that John Hegley was performing. For those who haven’t come across him, Hegley is a quintessentially English comic poet and songwriter. With songs about a man who dislikes furniture, living in a Luton bungalow and poems about guillemots (birds not band) and hamsters, he’s not your conventional act, but that’s never a reason to discount him. Staying wonderfully deadpan whilst having the audience in stitches, the tiny tent was packed to the edge, and Hegley revelled in it.
Making our way to The Snug tent (half of the time reserved for bouts of Singstar), we waited patiently for Johnny Flynn. One of the flagbearers for the London new-folk movement, along with his band The Sussex Wit, Johnny Flynn crafts beautifully poetic folk numbers that manage to become catchy in the same instant as they are artistically incredible. This set was without the band however, and Johnny walked on armed with only a dobro guitar and his amazing voice. After becoming used to the full band versions of his songs, it was brilliant to hear exactly how he first conceived his songs, and established numbers like “Tickle Me Pink” and “The Box” became completely different songs with the acoustic treatment. As he left the stage, there was rapturous applause and shouts for more, and for good reason, it was wonderful.
For the most of the rest of the day, we remained mainly in one area, the Green Fields. Slap bang in the middle of the Greenpeace area was a tiny stage called the Chess Club/Mi7 stage and, just before the festival a little bird (well, Myspace) had let me know that there would be two consecutive sets from Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. Apart from anything else, I was ridiculously excited about this as it let me see all three new-folk artists that I love most (Johnny Flynn being the third) in one day. So we took our positions in the tent with good time to spare, and saw the two preceding bands.
Let’s Tea Party were first, three scruffy young men with a penchant for smiling, melodicas and lovely, lovely tunes. After inviting a harpist they’d only just met to play with them, I couldn’t help but be on their side, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of them, although what I have heard suggests its a slightly more noisy style that they usually go for. Following quickly on their heels, King Charles followed. Unbelievably skinny with gigantic dreads, I expected some acoustic numbers, and that’s what I got, at least for the first song. He asked the audience to stand up, before unleashing 40 minutes of guitar solo-led, screaming explosions of rock goodness. Now from the one song I’ve heard, this doesn’t seem entirely in keeping with his usual style, but it was just unbelievable. The crowd turned from mild-mannered folk lovers into frenzied rock fans instantly. Certainly, it’s my most intense experience at Glastonbury, and as the announcer afterwards said, “you’ll all remember being here for the rest of your lives”. I think that may well be true.
After a short break, Mumford & Sons arrived to a wall of screams and hollers, a fair few which came from me, having just met Marcus Mumford outside and feeling like I’d made a new friend, despite only chatting for two minutes. I knew what to expect from their live show, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to just how glorious it is. I think it’s the harmonies that do it. I could talk forever about how wonderful the instrumentation is, how the sounds grow and envelop each other and just tremble down your body, but it’s the harmonies that push it into a truly wonderful territory. Those beautiful voices working together just like the instruments never fail to get me like very little other music do. Playing to crowd that seemed to be waiting for Laura Marling, I think they gained quite a few more fans in the process. Mumford & Sons are almost too good, and I’m suspicious.
But as I said, the crowd were waiting for a certain young folkstress by the name of Laura Marling. Packed like at no other time in the day, people were standing on benches, craning over one another to get a glimpse of the true queen of new-folk. Her set was nothing short of beautiful, playing every song the audience were waiting for, gracing us with a few newer, more country-tinged numbers. Her star status is assured, and with good reason – she straddles the responsibility of being a pin-up and an artist better than most can manage, and still remains humble and gracious.
Dashing off to see our last band of the festival, we reached the Pyramid stage to see a bigger crowd than any other we’d witnessed. Stretching from the front row, up the hill and all the way into the camping behind us, Blur were truly a good choice for the closing act. You have to feel sorry for the bands on at the same time, they were always going to attract a huge crowd, and with good reason. I always forget just how many hits Blur have had, and just how varied they all are, but watching Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave perfectly recreate the songs that made them the superstars they are, I was constantly enthralled. From the atomic bomb of a song that is “Song 2”, to the gospel singalong of “Tender” and into my personal favourite, “Coffee & TV”, this set was just proof of why Blur are an incredibly important band for British music.
But Glastonbury didn’t end there. It may have been the last set, but wandering around later that night we saw some incredible things. These included hundreds of people spontaneously dancing to “Thriller” in the Stone Circles, accidently finding Basement Jaxx playing to about ten people in a futuristic Hong Kong covered market and watching a middle aged woman nearly impale herself on a candelstick whilst dancing to the Friends theme tune on a table in the middle of a thunderstorm. Really. And that’s why Glastonbury is the best festival in the world. The music might be incredible, but there are so many non-musical moments, so many discoveries and experiences that you can have there that it pushes the festival out of simply a musical area and into a festival in the true sense of the word, a celebration of human interaction, and what we’re capable of.
Did I just write that last bit? Well, if you didn’t like that, I’ll just tell it to you straight: It’s fucking amazing.
Two Door Cinema Club – Undercover Martyn (YSI)
Johnny Flynn – Tickle Me Pink (Demo) (YSI)
Let’s Tea Party – Reptile (YSI)
King Charles – Time Of Eternity (YSI)
Mumford & Sons – The Cave (YSI)
Laura Marling – My Manic & I (YSI)
Blur – Coffee & TV (YSI)