If you haven’t heard or smelt yet, it’s festival season. Musician, actor, director, photographer and all-round wizard Stan Glendinning gives us his six musical moments from Glastonbury Festival 2017 that you need to know about. Did Ed Sheeran deserve a headline slot? Do Royal Blood need it next? And where is my tent?
The first thing that strikes you about Glastonbury is its size. It’s big. Really big. So big, in fact, that it can comfortably house 200,000 punters with room to spare. Therefore, it’s not exactly surprising that the performances at Worthy Farm each year are equally grand in scope. I was fortunate enough to work at the festival over the weekend and managed to find time to see a number of the acts. Therefore the editors at Reverb Music asked me to write a little recount of some of the acts I saw and my opinions on why some stood out while others, (if you will pardon the horrific clichè), fell a little flat.
Nothing But Thieves
The first band I caught at the festival and certainly one of my top highlights for the weekend. The Essex band are well known for their huge distorted guitar riffs coupled with high falsetto vocals from the front-man Conor Mason. Opening The Other Stage the band were hard pushed to ignite a hungover and sunburnt crowd. The previous day had been a blistering 31 degrees Celsius and with little shade and copious alcohol, many weren’t necessarily convinced of their ability to eat solid food, let alone head-bang or dance to the screaming guitars of the band on stage.
Yet, the joy the band members took in their performance, their commitment to each other and energy on stage meant that by the time they had reached the three quarter mark of their set, almost every member of the audience was clapping and cheering – people were crowding in from the surrounding tents to see what all the fuss was about. The band revealed that they had a new album being released this autumn and their unreleased track was met with a warm response. Mason himself is a physically unimposing man but the power of his voice received multiple rounds of cheers and applause from the audience. A fantastic start to the weekend that set the bar high for the weekend’s other performers.
For just two guys Royal Blood can make a hell of a lot of noise. Using an octave pedal, bassist and front-man Mike Kerr is able to create the illusion that there are multiple band members playing various instruments on stage. Yet while watching the duo what is most impressive is their perceived lack of effort. Playing complex riffs and drum beats while fully engaging the audience with their high energy and tight patter. The final song ‘Out Of The Black’ finished spectacularly with Kerr playing his bass with one hand and smashing a cymbal in time with the other. Their bone crunching riffs created an electric energy for the audience and suggested that perhaps they might be worth of a headline slot in a few years.
Another unexpected highlight of the weekend was Alt J. With their trippy indecipherable vocals and their complex drum beats I had never been a big fan of the band. However, their live performance was superbly tight and far heavier than the original recording. I found myself grooving along with their songs and admiring their intelligent light show.
Without question the best performance I saw at Glastonbury and also the most emotionally impactful. While some bands such as Royal Blood used their youthful energy and crowd-pleasing bravado to great effect to engage the audience with their music, Radiohead made no effort to give the audience what they wanted. Many of the audience members watching the headliner knew only a few of their greatest hits and for many less interesting bands it would have been an easy choice to only play these songs. But the Oxfordshire band clearly demonstrated from the word ‘go’ that they were not at all interested in trying to please the audience and this was a gig for them. The crowd was merely being offered the chance to enjoy and embrace their distinctive style, and we did.
Opening with the slow piano ballad ‘Daydreaming’ the band deliberately created a strong contrast with the punchy riffs of their Pyramid predecessors. What followed was a mesmerising, heartbreaking and beautiful demonstration of both musical experimentalism and incredible technical ability. The band effortlessly went between anthemic classics from OK Computer and their early albums, (the gig marked the 20th anniversary of both the album and their last set on the Pyramid Stage), with new more intricate songs. While these were perhaps a little less easy for the audience to sing along with, the skill of the musicians and their willingness to experiment, (for example Jonny Greenwood playing guitar with a violin bow), made the performance a real spectacle. It is testament to the band that as the crowd drifted away into the night one could still hear people singing “for a minute there, I lost myself…”
For me, perhaps the most disappointing performance I caught was that of Ed Sheeran. While the young man did an incredible job of creating an energetic and upbeat set using only a loop pedal and a guitar, when contrasted with many of the performances over the weekend I was left feeling unsatisfied. His music was all very similar and it felt as though the whole thing blended into one song with a single repetitive structure. I have never been a big fan of Mr Sheeran but I felt that he was a poor follow up to Radiohead and Foo Fighters who both brought the house down.
I stumbled across this great band in a small tent called the Pussy Parlour. I was drawn in by their jazzy reggae vibes and upon entering the tent it was impossible not to join in with the hordes of hippies who were happily dancing the night away. Their music was technically very sound and the band seemed to be having an absolute blast on the stage, the feeling of which was transmitted to the audience. Hopefully they will have the opportunity to play again on a larger stage.Regardless of your experiences at the legendary Glasto, your time at Worthy Farm will always be worth your while.
Written by: Stan Glendinning & James Wijesinghe
Photos: Stan Gledinning