On a momentous weekend in June, Getintothis‘ Rick Leach squelched his way around the Glastonbury Festival.
Mud and Europe.
These were the overriding factors at Glastonbury 2016. Two things that affected the festival on a dramatic scale, both internally in respect of the former, and externally and deeply with regard to the latter. At times it seemed that the music played merely a secondary and supporting role to events that were happening in the wider world.
For your intrepid Getintothis reporter, while not a veteran of Glastonbury Festivals in the sense of having trooped down to Somerset since the early 1970’s but having ventured to the last seven festivals, the weather conditions for 2016 played a major part before we even got there.
Having boarded a coach at Lime Street at the ungodly hour of 6am on the Wednesday morning, we naively and somewhat foolishly expected to arrive at Worthy Farm sometime mid-afternoon on the same day. There is always the curveball on Britain’s motorway network which makes travelling anywhere by road a bit of a lottery but as we turned off the M4 at 11.30am that same morning we had made remarkable time and the spirits of the coach full of festival goers was high. Onto the A39 and a mere 15 miles away from the site; tents would be up by lunchtime, and the weekend was ready to kick off mid-week. Days of music and magic awaited us and all was well with the world.
How little did we really know!
Due to a combination of pre-existing mud on the festival site, a decision made by the organisers to delay the arrival of camper-vans to the site by four hours and sheer volumes of traffic, our arrival on the site was delayed for another eleven hours. Without painfully going through every inch of our journey, it took us eleven hours to travel fifteen miles and we staggered, wholly pissed off by the experience, through the gates just as the sun had set and the day was over.
We were not alone in this however. At least we had managed to get there. We heard tales the following day of people who’d taken 24 hours to travel from Bristol and a coach from Liverpool whose driver had stopped eight miles from the site, turfed all the passengers off and told them to walk the rest of the way as he’d “done all his hours and wasn’t driving any further.” Peace and love and the hippy festival vibe seemed to be truly over.
But we had got there and as ever, Glastonbury lay before us, all 900 acres and with an embarrassment of musical riches waiting for us. Despite what people say, it is all about the line-ups and all about the headliners. After all, that’s what headliners are; headlines. They kind of set the tone. And in 2016 we had Muse, Adele and Coldplay headlining the Pyramid Stage.
Each and every year, without fail, as soon as the line-up is announced, there’s a whole bunch of guff spoken about the acts that are playing. ‘They’re playing it safe/ it’s not as good as it used to be/it’s so boring/I wouldn’t go/ they’re all shite…’ You know how it goes.
And it’s all nonsense. The Glastonbury headliners are never going to be cutting edge; that’s not what it’s all about and that’s not what it’s for. The audience for the festival has such a wide demographic that they’re always going to chose big crowd-pulling acts to headline the main stage.
But if you look closer and beneath that, then there is by-and-large, something for everyone. Maybe not as cutting edge as Primavera to pick another big festival, for example, but not far off it.
Headlining The Other Stage, the second main stage at Glastonbury this year were Disclosure, New Order and LCD Soundsystem. At West Holts we had the pick of Underworld, James Blake and Earth Wind & Fire and at the John Peel Stage, the headliners were Sigur Ros, M83 and Jake Bugg.
Granted, not all of these are everyone’s (including this writers) cup of tea, but there is something for most people in a pick and mix way and with the likes of Richard Hawley, Grimes, Lee Perry and many, many others headlining numerous stages over the weekend, it does seem a bit churlish to moan too much about things. If you can’t find something to watch and enjoy or discover something new and previously unknown to you out of the thousands of artists at Glastonbury, then maybe you shouldn’t really go. Stay at home and watch it on TV.
Which, at times, seemed like a pretty good option over the weekend. It’s always impossible to see everything you want to see at Glastonbury. The sheer scale of the place, the number of different stages and the inevitable clashes mean that with the best will in the world and with the best of well-planned intentions, you’ll miss things that you really should see and that you intended to see.
It was even worse than usual this weekend. Even from the Thursday morning as we headed down to the main site, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, it was clear that the mud had kicked in really early. Wellies were the order of the day and remained so until we left on the Monday morning. And because of the mud-that was everywhere, even by the Thursday morning- navigating around the site became a battle. Michael Eavis has been quoted that this year was the worst ever, weather-wise and who are we to disagree?
So, in an ordinary year, there would be a lot of artists that we wouldn’t see, just because they clashed or that it was impossible to get from one stage to another in time to see enough of them or that, well, you really just can’t be arsed walking any further and a sit down and a relax would be a preferred option.
This sounds a bit daft when there is so much to see and many of these artists, if they were playing in town, you know you’d make an effort to see them. You’d buy a ticket in advance, spend a few quid and make your way into town. Walk to the venue, queue up etc. But at Glastonbury, and it should be supposed at many other festivals, you’ll miss stuff you’d normally make an effort to see.
For this year, we missed out on bucket-loads of acts, probably because of the sheer impossibility of getting through the mud. What in a normal year would be a twenty minute gentle stroll between stages was taking at least twice as long if not more, and played a toll on feet, calves, thighs and knees. It was like constantly walking through treacle or sand that was at times up to two feet high. It would have been almost too much for Bear Grylls, so for someone like us, we were almost defeated.
Almost, but not quite.
We missed out on lots of stuff we should’ve really seen and what you may think were a given; Earth Wind & Fire, John Grant, Beck, LCD Soundsystem, Richard Hawley, Mercury Rev and much, much more. So for that, and for all the others, we apologise. But it’s impossible to be in more than one place at any one time and as much as we’d like to be able to defy a law of physics and all the mud we couldn’t.
However, there was a lot we did catch up on and we started on the Thursday by seeing Liverpool’s very own GIT Award nominees, Clean Cut Kid rip it up in a packed tent at the Williams Green Stage. So packed that there were serried ranks of people outside the tent craning their necks to hear the high octane pop that Clean Cut Kid are honing to perfection. It had helped them somewhat that they followed The Smiths tribute act, The Smyths (see what they did there?) who had gone down a treat with a surprisingly young audience, most of whom were probably not even a twinkle in anyone’s eyes when Morrissey and Co had originally thrashed bunches of gladioli to within an inch of their lives.
Tribute acts are a funny thing and we were concerned that the rabid Smiths/ Smyths fans would dissipate as soon as their turn was over, but if anything, the tent got even busier. No room for barely an elbow and it’s clear that even at this early stage, Clean Cut Kid have a following and a fanbase to be reckoned with.
Apart from the mud, the other major thing that cast a shadow over the weekend was the EU referendum. What sort of a shadow wasn’t entirely clear on the Thursday night, as we headed off to our tents with the BBC reporting that Farage had thrown the towel in and Remain was a near certainty.
As we wandered down to the toilets (and we’re not reviewing the Glasto toilets by the way), on the Friday morning with grey skies overhead and imminent prospects of rain, then we really should have guessed.
‘What’s the result?’ we asked a couple of fellow festival goers.
“What? WHAT? Really?’
‘Yes. Just. The North voted massively to leave.’
So this is where it starts.
‘Fuck.’ There wasn’t that much more to say.
Now normally, Glastonbury seems to be some sort of hermetically sealed place, secure away from events in the outside world, a place where you can lose yourself without 24 hour rolling news. You may get updates on what’s happening in the Euros or Wimbledon but all the rest of the news kind of waits until you get back home.
Not with this.
There seemed to be a sort of collective shell-shock. Every stray snatch of conversation we came across that weekend, and especially on the Friday, the result of the referendum was at the forefront. And this wasn’t just with the public; from James opening up The Other Stage with a ‘flog the latest album no-one wants to hear the hits’ disappointing set, to Frightened Rabbit playing their sub-The National/Scottish heart on a sleeve rock and Christine and the Queens amazingly knockout set; they all referenced with dismay what had happened. The weather came out in sympathy and a constant drizzle, turned a muddy Glastonbury into a something that was more muddy and stayed like that all the weekend. A grim pall hung over the site.
Spirits were lifted somewhat by the performance of Explosions in the Sky later in the evening and their brand of melodic quiet/loud/LOUDER instrumentals reminded us all of the power of music to uplift and let us know that come what may, everything would probably be alright. Possibly. They’re playing at the Phil in the Autumn; a show not to be missed we think.
A packed John Peel Stage saw Sigur Ros dazzle with noise and lights and lights and noise. They’ve been away for a while really- and in a strange sort of synchronicity, their star seemed to wane a bit just as the Icelandic economy crashed. But now they’re back; bowed guitars and all, and with new music as well.
There was so much to see on the Saturday that despite knowing we were on a hiding to nothing that we ended up shuffling through mud from stage to stage, as if we were welly-clad muddy zombies in a strange sort of rural English remake of The Walking Dead. We did manage to catch the impeccable hit-filled set by Squeeze on the Pyramid Stage when the sun shined a touch and everyone was a bit happier than before, the ace Congolese Rock that is Mbongwana Star at West Holts, a hint of Madness being sadly predictable and sadly going down well and blowing it all away, a live set by Floating Points, even more brilliant than we could have hoped for, twisting and spinning and clattering as a faint rainbow appeared in the clouds just before the sunset.
Now it was the choice of Adele vs New Order.
Guess who we plumped for?
As much as we were curious as to how the songstress would wow the Glasto crowds, our hearts were always with our cousins from the other end on the M62. From all accounts, young Adele did pretty ok, swore a bit and warbled her way through a set that will probably be forgotten in years to come. On the other hand, New Order played a blinder. We’d heard various reports that this latest incarnation of the group (post-Peter Hook) could be a bit grumpy and lack a bit of stage presence (really?) but someone must have given them a bit of a pep-talk beforehand as Barney Summner was all smiles, jokes and even danced a little bit. In a Dad-dance sort of way, but that just added to the humour.
Encoring the set with Love Will Tear Us Apart was a masterstroke that was always going to work well, New Order’s resurgence from the low points of the Siren’s Call album-era is something to be marvelled at. Fully rehabilitated.
Sunday morning 11am saw Getintothis make the most of it and trudge our way for 45 minutes from one side of the site to another through what was the stickiest mud imaginable, to see our very own She Drew The Gun, Glastonbury Emerging Talent winners play a set to a half-full John Peel Stage. No mean feat to draw up to maybe 5000 people that early on a Sunday and they didn’t disappoint us or the rest of the crowd. Apparently this was the biggest audience for a Sunday morning opening slot for years and ending their set on the highlight of their debut album, Poem, will surely have won them a lot more fans.
We hung around for a bit of Matt Corby before deciding that life is just too short and wandered off to relax in a new for 2016 part of the site, The Woods. It’s easy to dismiss Glastonbury’s hippy legacy especially when you can stroll around winding paths away from all the music, madness and mayhem to see trees strung with fairy lights and sculptures made from what appeared to be wire coat hangers, but Glastonbury is so vast and frenetic that you do need some time to just to sit and reflect and wind down a touch. Maybe those hippies had it right all along; this was something that Glastonbury had got right.
Yet time waits for no man and with a whole lot more music to see and listen to, we positively yomped across the site to see Kamasi Washington play four songs in a hour. This was ecstatic, pure electric Miles-era jazz, hard as hell and burning with a fierceness that’s only hinted at on his debut triple album, The Epic.
From improv jazz to well-crafted pop, we caught a bit of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott rattle through a selection of Housemartins, Beautiful South and solo tunes. Getintothis loved them when they played the Phil earlier this year and we could see why.
Do ELO count as legends in the same vein as say Johnny Cash, James Brown, Tony Bennett and the rest? It’s hard to say. They do have the tunes; songs that we all know and that most of us enjoy, and under a constant drizzle at the Pyramid they gave us all a Greatest Hits set that they could be proud of. But, by God, Jeff Lynne is a miserable chap. No interaction with the vast crowd, barely a grin and a man of few words, he won’t have won himself many new fans that Sunday afternoon, even if (which it will) The Best of ELO compilation shoots back into the Top 10.
There’s a whole lot been written about Coldplay, the ultimate Marmite group. Maybe here’s not the place to rehash the old, tired and jaded arguments about them. They are possibly one of the most unhip groups ever. No-one’s ever going to wear a Coldplay t-shirt as a badge of coolness-except maybe in an ironic sense. They are trite, sugar-coated, obvious and manipulative.
They were magnificent. Any group that could wash away all the Glasto mud and despair from the Brexit vote (even for a little bit) have to be applauded. In the middle of the crowd, we sang and clapped along, waved our hands in the air, joined together in a commonality that surely, surely is what music should be all about. We needed a little love in our hearts and Coldplay gave us it. In spades.
We may have battled through mud for days and cursed at the ignorance of 52% of the voters but as the last chords of the final Coldplay song drifted away into the Somerset sky on that Sunday night, we knew we’d been there and coped with it all and left with some great memories.
And mud drying on our wellies.
Getintothis’ Top 10 Glasto 2016 musical moments
- A mass sing-a-long for Clean Cut Kid’s Vitamin C. Made us proud.
- Christine & the Queens covering Prince. So near and yet so far.
- Squeeze So many great songs. Tillbrook & Difford up there with Lennon & McCartney as a quintessential British songwriting team.
- New Order rising again. Even the new songs sound good live. An electronic legacy to be treasured.
- The Smyths lead guitarist looking much more like Jeremy Corbyn than Johnny Marr.
- Kamasai Washington. The whole set. All of it. Just one great moment.
- Coldplay’s heartfelt tribute to Viola Beach.
- She Drew the Gun rightly winning new fans over.
- Sigur Ros tugging at the heartstrings as ever.
- Floating Points drawing a massive crowd to hear something very different.