Glastonbury Festival - Worthy Farm, Somerset
I'm sure every Glastonbury virgin goes through the same ritual of praying for sun while simultaneously preparing for mudslides, but it seems Ra and Michael Eavis struck a deal this year - and it felt like the results were just for my benefit. I'm sure you all know by now that this year's Glastonbury Festival was treated to the most glorious sunshine imaginable - so much so that sunstroke was a riskier proposition than breaking a welly-clad ankle in the mud - so I won't go on (too much) about it, but the beautiful weather did seem to instil a vibe of pure and simple happiness that was well-earned and just in time for a milestone birthday. As Florence might say, 'This is a gift' - and no better a gift could there have been for the world's greatest music festival.
Of course, having never been, I was still unsure as to what my judgement of Eavis's 'party on a farm' would actually be when I hit the site on the Wednesday. That night and the ensuing Thursday day were spent milling around, doing all the first-timer things - traipsing up to the Stone Circle, admiring the artsy stuff at the Crafts Field, downing copious amounts of the apple stuff at the Cider Bus, etc - until the music landed at dusk. An opening party courtesy of Annie Nightingale and a brief showing from Professor Green were attractions that latecomers had no chance of getting to see, so instead my gang spent the night throwing up from sunstroke, dancing with men in tiger skin underpants, drinking mulled wine on one of the hottest nights of the year, and generally wandering around starry-eyed and excited about what the next few days had to offer.
Friday was another sizzler from the get-go so the day began with a whiskey-drenched bask in the sun at the Park Stage, where comedy covers troupe Steel Harmony (just guess what instrument these guys play) wholly transformed songs from the likes of Beyonce and Joy Divison. Peggy Sue entertained a largely seated crowd with folky cuts from album Fossils and Other Phantoms with entwining vocals from Katy Klaw and Rosa Rex soothing those hangovers into submission. A scurry to get to the front followed, signalling the emergence of a much-hyped new talent; although I didn't fall over myself in love for debut Catching a Tiger, blonde chanteuse Lissie proved to be an early highlight from my spot in the second row. As predicted, her songs are much more muscular in the flesh and her voice is simply amazing, as proved on an astounding rendition of Everywhere I Go. It helps that she's a little charmer too; at one point, after spotting an aloft sign reading 'Be Excellent to Each Other', she requested we all high five each other in celebration. Her brief set - one of many that followed in disparate locations over the weekend - concluded with a bad-ass rendition of Gaga's Bad Romance, and now I can officially say I'm won over.
The afternoon that followed was a bit more of a muddle after such a structured start. I swung by the John Peel Stage on my tod to witness twin sister duo Tegan and Sara entertaining a surprisingly busy tent; despite interesting vocal play and one bona fide TUNE in the form of Walking With a Ghost though, their set was a bit too 'Avril Lavigne' to keep me in place. After failing to find shade while waiting to join up with a friend for Bombay Bicycle Club, I gave up any chance of fitting in with the swarm of bodies heading to the John Peel and decided to head for The Glade for some cover from the sun. On my way, I passed The Courteeners on the Other Stage doing their best to fill the 'lads singalong' gap left by Oasis, only to be disheartened to find that The Husky Rescue were stuck in traffic and so The Glade stage was having a schedule shuffle. At this point, I actually felt like the sun was trying to stab me with its rays and vetoed music in favour of dousing myself in water back at the tent.
With the early evening offering a lineup of veritable treats though, not long for resting was I. First stop was Kele, who seemed positively gleeful back at John Peel, obviously reveling in his new dance direction and joined by an audience who seemed equally enthusiastic. After sipping on some refreshing cocktails in a beer garden, a return to the Peel tent saw those escaping the sun treated to a set by this year's 'It' girl Ellie Goulding. Although her album poses filler at just ten tracks long, she really did shine here; her nervous energy may even have helped a showing that brought some spark to her electro-infused acoustic ditties, with Salt Skin hinting at a growing maturity and a cover of Roscoe a fabulous addition for those unable to catch Midlake on Saturday night at the Park. For those not impressed, she stripped to her bra - so, depending on your perv credentials, not a total loss. It seems scantily clad vixens were a big draw no matter what stage, as Florence & the Machine drew a mammoth crowd unlike any I have ever seen at a festival. I was too far away to give a definitive overview, with the breeze carrying the sound away from my stance at the rear left Hog Roast stand, but those nearer in were obviously loving the Lungs songs, no matter how done-to-death they have become. Alas, Heavy In Your Arms and Strangeness & Charm (a stonker, it has to be said) offered something new for the ears, while a cover of The Chain was embraced despite the flame-haired one having the crowd so enamoured that she could have chosen an Embrace song and it would be met with hysteria. The same reaction was granted to the obligatory pairing of Flo and Dizzee Rascal on the Pyramid Stage, who followed the famed collaboration with his own Bonkers, causing a mass po-go as a huge swath of people descended for Friday's headliners.
Although Damon Albarn's simian troupe Gorillaz may not have anthems a la Sunday Bloody Sunday, they were a much more cutting-edge prospect than Bono and the boys when announced as last-minute replacements for U2 last month. Largely ignoring material from their first album (only the inevitable Clint Eastwood was played), their set was a mixture of material from Demon Days and Plastic Beach, one of this year's doubtless highlights. Although Albarn provided the focal point for a packed crowd, the assortment of bodies onstage - including much-publicised appearances from Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Snoop Dogg, Mark E Smith and Lou Reed (!) - meant this was never going to be a one-man show. Special mention to the female string section, who sat the midst of the regular band setup in fetching sailor hats and consistently added gravitas to older material. Unsurprisingly, the show was a treat for the eyes as much as the ears: I was especially loving the all-new animated VTs, which gave the whole shebang a cinematic scope. Despite highlights ranging from Little Dragon's sultry diva showcase Empire Ants and a festival-friendly D.A.R.E. (hello Shaun Ryder), there was still a sense of something missing from the set; this could have been because it was the first of three main stage headline sets so the crowd were still warming up or, more likely, the aformentioned lack of singalongs made us envious of those getting lost in Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips on the Other Stage. Perhaps one more album of material might have made this a crowning moment for the band but, despite the roll call of guests and some unforgettable moments, their schizophrenic nature sometimes made the set lack coherence and so it was entertaining but nothing approaching legendary.
Saturday morning arrived and, with it, a Gaymers and falafel hangover. However, it's a wonder how sunshine and blue skies can so quickly transform drowsy morning-after head. I must have still been slightly out of sorts though, as I thought it would be a good idea for some reason to accompany friends to the Pyramid for an opening slot from Tinchy Stryder. It's so easy to be snide but, y'know what, I enjoyed it and was singing along to Never Leave You with everyone else; if the album ever ends up on my iPod, blame rests solely on Michael Eavis. The solution to shaking away the final remaining cobwebs was mojitos at the Cocktail & Paradise bar, where fruity drinks and karaoke combined to devastating effect. Swiftly after, our welly-less feet were in dancing mode and so it was to the East Dance tent for some grime-flavoured dubstep courtesy of Skepta.
Of course, all this was merely warm-up for two back-to-back highlights. The dazzling pop stylings of Imogen Heap on the Other Stage were ideal Saturday afternoon fodder, and it seems even Hermione agrees as Emma Watson was spotted in the crowd. Ivory-tinkler Heap cast her own spell though, wowing the gathered crowd with a brief set of her DIY brand of electro-pop. Highlights were a run-through of Frou Frou's Let Go, a collaboration with beatboxer Shlomo on Earth, and exercise in crowd participation (and harmonisation) Just For Now. Oh yeah, and there was a Jason Derulo-less Hide and Seek - phew! It's a shame Immy's set was when mild sunstroke caught me in its trap; after briefly hiding behind an ice cream truck, I stumbled my way over to West Holts for my most anticipated act of the weekend - even if it clashed with equally tempting slots from Beach House and The Dead Weather. Close to the barrier amongst some very chic hippies at the former JazzWorld stage, I was stupidly devoid of a sunhat yet still enjoyed a set of fan favourites from freak folk's patron saint Devendra Banhart, who took to the stage looking a little less freaky (where's that beard gone, man?!) and like he'd been styled by The Strokes. With songs like Baby, Lover and Shabop Shalom perfectly suited to Mr Sunshine though, it was the sweet sounds that mattered and, sun-drunk as I was, I'm really hoping the BBC didn't film it should I be caught on film dancing like the loons from Peep Show's Rainbow Rhythms. A random throwaway cover of Taylor Dayne's Tell It to My Heart added to the feel-good vibes and a climax of the metamorphosing jam Seahorse concluded my utter highlight of a fabulous weekend.
Just because my highpoint was already reached by Saturday afternoon though, that doesn't mean there wasn't fun still to be had. Far from it. After guzzling some Brothers cider and recovering slightly from a case of the sun shakes, it was time for a pop double whammy. Having been exposed to buzz that a certain pint-sized popstrel would be joining the stage with Scissor Sisters, I braved the crowd of wide-eyed blokes gathered for the preceding act Shakira. I was happy to hang around for She Wolf, one of last year's best out-and-out pop numbers - and, sure enough, it's another stand-out moment - but I'm still surprised how much I enjoyed the hip-jiggling one. I wouldn't fork out to see her headline her own show, but the sunburnt crowd were loving it and the jovial nature of the crowd combined with the Columbian princess's bendy moves, non-lying hips and small 'n' humble bazoombas to result in a fun time for all. Even the unremittingly camp gay guy next to me proclaimed (very loudly) that 'she is one of only five women I definitely would'. Job done then? Of course, the time for an even more homo-friendly party was just about due as Scissor Sisters announced their return with a big bang. Sure, it was brilliant to witness Kylie team up with her GBF Jake Shears for new Scissors track Any Which Way (my ears are still ringing from the high-pitched screams at her arrival), but their comeback to the Pyramid would have worked without the stunt casting. Gone are the muppet monsters and much of the sonic crap that littered disappointing second album Ta-Dah, and instead we have a set that works due to some lean new disco sleaze (release Invisible Light NOW), Shears and the delightful Ana Matronic's inimitable stage presence, and the band's already high hit factor - all this combined is a reminder of just how much they've been missed. The Kylie cameo was merely a bonus that I'll always remember as a 'My First Glasto' moment. Topped off by a wander around the eye-opening Shangri-La and Arcadia areas, where you can dance in a smoky aeroplane carcass manned by zombie air hostesses before enjoying a spectacular fireshow, my first Saturday at Glasto was probably the pinnacle. On the walk back to a campfire at the tent, The Lightning Seeds were playing a cheery-sounding set at the Avalon stage - we didn't stick around to hear Three Lions, but I hope those crazy optimists believed even just for a moment that we had a chance.
Being a non-footie fan though, my Sunday was not built around the match due to be shown in a separate field. Being thoroughly knackered, my friends and I decided on a change of pace and headed to the Kidz Field for an advance screening of Toy Story 3; even arriving an hour early though, the queue was so massive we ended up not getting in. Who was to guess Buzz and Woody would be a bigger draw than the early bird music acts? Having missed out on the latest Pixar jolly, I instead caught a little of Paloma Faith's act on the Pyramid. Faith was kitted out in a predictably zany outfit - a catsuit thing attached to two huge floating balls - but, despite covers of Superstition and Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime, her music was just pretty predictable. Despite her songs suffering from jazz-lite syndrome, it has to be said her voice was blistering and her between-song banter (she told us all to shake us what our mothers gave us, even if that very thing happens to be a 'bingo wing') makes you wish she was your mate. I don't fail to recognise the irony of critiquing Faith for being 'jazz-lite' then heaping praise upon Norah Jones's succeeding set, but lying on the grass of the main stage beneath the sun and hearing Jones's honeysuckle voice wooing us with Sunrise and a solo piano version of I Don't Know Why was something to treasure. Only on a lazy Sunday, mind.
At about this point on the Sunday, there was a change in the direction of footfall with a good portion of punters heading for what would turn out out to be a big screen defeat. I instead opted to listen to Jo Whiley introducing Laura Marling's secret show on the BBC Introducing stage, while guzzling on the last of the cans and wine outside the packed-out tent. Then it was time for something equally as majestic, as heralded Grizzly Bear took to the Other Stage. It seemed almost everyone, save for a few faithful down the front, were really feeling the Sunday burn and so opted to bask in the blissful sounds of the band's Veckatimest album while horizontal on the grass. Two Weeks drew the biggest cheer, while the moment when the band revealed the result by incorporating a raido transmission into a song intro drew a frustrated groan; when songs as good as While You Wait for the Others exist though, who needs football really? A lively turn from rockstars-cum-comedians We Are Scientists was a nice follow-up, with new songs like I Don't Bite and Ambition sticking to a formula of sorts but nonetheless a formula of spiky indie pop that gets one shaking their ass. Good on drummer Andy Burrows too, for ditching indie bore Johnny Borrell for these two crazy musical chemists.
Hearing After Hours ringing out as a finale was a signal that the night was just about to begin, and so it was time to don a glowstick necklace and head to see Faithless at the Pyramid. Their set was a condensed version of their showing at Wolves in May but, although it was slightly at odds with what followed, it was a perfect fit for the sundown slot with dancefloor monsters God Is a DJ and Insomnia doing their usual mayhem-causing trick. By the time climax We Come 1 came round, Maxi Jazz was clearly struck down with emotion at the sight of so many revellers following his lead, making it another unique moment to cherish. The sweep of people, young and old, that crammed into every nook and cranny for the ensuing act was a sign that something even bigger and better was coming. Yup, Stevie Wonder predictably pulled off a greatest hits climax that was the ribbon on top of an amazing weekend and the festival's 40th birthday to boot. Met by one of the wildest receptions I've ever encountered, the Wonder proceeded to deliver classic after classic while sat at his piano stool, trilling on his harmonica or - at one point - even gyrating on the floor. Early highlights included singalongs of Master Blaster (Jammin'), Living for the City and Beatles cover We Can Work It Out, before a timely dedication to Michael Jackson arrived in the form of a take on Human Nature. At points, Wonder's banter in between songs revealed a hitherto untapped verve for comedy, including flirtatious come-ons and, when referring to violent religious zealots, the priceless one-liner, 'If you're gonna be a hater just go drink some haterade and just die.' Alas, it's the man's music that had everyone hooked on the spot and so the absence of My Cherie Amour was simply an inconvenience when Uptight, For Once In My Life, Sir Duke and Superstition were pulled out of the bag o' tricks. The emotional summit was reached when Michael Eavis joined the man onstage and the deliriously cheesy Happy Birthday was bellowed out by seemingly everyone at Worthy Farm in celebration of one humble farmer and his boundary-breaking festival. Ace.
Following this, one would be excused for heading back to the tent or even hitting the road. However, the sights and sounds of Glasto went on well into Monday morning and myself and one other adamant friend were determined to discover whether the whispers of a Chemical Brothers set were true. On our way to the Park's cider bar, we passed by what appeared to be a pounding set from Orbital (shoulda sticked 'round for a Doctor Who sighting, boo!) and a visually arresting performance from the euphoric Empire of the Sun. After hanging around for a while with no sign of Ed and Tom though, a quick boogie in the Silent Disco turned into a good couple of hours so feet were too sore to carry on a-dancin' as planned to Switch at The Hub stage at 3.30 in the morn. The next few hours are a blur of campfires, relentless tent pegs, vomit, mist, carrying very heavy luggage and waiting for a coach in the cold. And then, finally, blessed sleep! My uncomfortable nap on the way home was a small exchange though for a weekend like no other; my first Glasto experience was happily complete with more than a handful of memorable musical performances but - to be the total cliche - it was genuinely so much more (even if the weather might have helped just a little bit). Having done a couple of boutique festivals as well as the most corporate on the circuit, I can safely say Glasto is the most wholly satisfying experience I've had with one-off experiences like witnessing legendary Stevie Wonder providing magnificent memories equal to delighting in the secret treasures you have to walk far and wide to uncover. Don't believe the doubters, everything you've heard is true, and I'll wrap this up by saying I hope I can celebrate Glasto 41 with Eavis next year.