I woke up this morning, feeling rather stiff (no, my joints, not anything else… you people have dirty minds!), but the majority of the back pain I had last night seemed to have disappeared thanks to my very good friends Ibuprofen and Codeine. After breakfast, I made the decision that I was going to make the most of my opportunity here and go to the festival for the third day and damn the consequences. Last night it had seemed improbable, if not impossible, but after a decent eight hours sleep, my body had recharged enough to cooperate for another day of punishment. So, I arrived at Glastonbury at about 13:45, dosed up on painkillers and cider (my usual festival cocktail, it seems) and, as I headed for the centre of the festival, appeared to be walking against the flow of traffic, with the majority of people seemingly going towards the exits, all with tired, slightly glum faces. This, however, seemed like a positive thing to me because, if lots of people were headed home, then hopefully the festival wasn’t going to be as crowded today. The difference it made, however, was very small.
I got to the Pyramid Stage at 14:00, for Rufus Wainwright‘s set. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get to the front, on the right hand side, and thought of how stupidly packed it was for The Stones last night, compared to today. Rufus was performing solo, starting at the piano and switching to acoustic guitar, but it is quite obvious that he is a much more comfortable and competent pianist than he is guitarist. We were treated to older favourites such as “The Art Teacher”, “Vibrate” and “Matinee Idol”, before moving on to a couple of fantastic tracks from his last album, “Out Of The Game”, my favourite of last year. He did a tribute to Jeff Buckley, playing the song he wrote about him, “Memphis Skyline”, followed by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, which both men independently covered. The highlight of the set, for me, was “Going To A Town” from the superb “Release The Stars” album. I’d almost forgotten just how much I love that one. I suppose it was a slight disappointment that Rufus did a solo set instead of a full band show, but it really was a really brilliant performance, so I shouldn’t complain. Martha Wainwright had spilled the beans about it being a solo show during her set on Friday, so I knew what to expect and, as I’d seen him play solo at the first Hop Farm Festival in Kent a few years back where he struggled to win over a chatty crowd, I feared for the worst. However, the Glastonbury audience were both adoring and respectful and were clearly there for him, so it was a much better and more positive experience.
I left the Pyramid Stage just before the end of Rufus’ set, so I could walk to the Other Stage in time for the start of I Am Kloot‘s. I grabbed myself some lunch on the way, a really tasty foot-long chilli dog. There seemed to be something perfectly apt about feasting hungrily on a large sausage after watching Rufus Wainwright, but I couldn’t quite think what it was (I deliberated on whether I should put that line in my write-up, then decided that Rufus himself would probably have cracked such a joke, so what the hell). So, refreshed and happy, I settled at the front of the barrier to enjoy the melodic Mancunians do their thing. Quite honestly, it was one of the best performances of the festival. Drawing largely from their latest album, the top-notch “Let It All In”, John Bramwell was in superb form and remarked that every time they’d previously played Glastonbury, it had chucked it down with rain. Thankfully, not today. The earlier haze had cleared and the sun was shining down on all of the festival-goers as I Am Kloot gave us an hour to remember. Bassist Peter Jobson was his brilliant usual self, sitting down, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, laying down perfect bass lines. The most special performances for me were “Let Them All In”, “Some Better Day” and “Hold Back The Night”. As I adore their latest album, I couldn’t have been happier that they played so much from it, but I overheard a couple commenting on how they had neglected their back catalogue and that it was the first time they’d seen Kloot and they hadn’t played a song from their first album. I suppose there is only so much you can do during a relatively short festival spot.
I then spent a little while sitting down and resting in the inter-stage area, waiting for Public Image Limited. When it was time, I made my way back to the Other Stage and watched them take to the stage. When John Lydon came on the stage, he looked like the spitting image of Mark Williams when he did the “Jesse” sketches in The Fast Show. They then played about a song and a half, before I decided that I really wasn’t likely to enjoy it, would probably have just been waiting there to hear one song, and so went to have a look at what was on at the Pyramid Stage. Seeing that it was Kenny Rogers, singing some cheesy song about being friends, I gave up on that idea and took a little wander down to Leftfield to watch a comedy spot by Chris Coltrane, a left wing, bi-sexual, political comic who is highly rated by Mark Thomas. His material was very funny and was based on anti-establishment rhetoric, which was perfectly fine by me. His reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid of the police were spot on. Afterwards, I had a little while before Vampire Weekend were due on the Pyramid Stage, so I headed to the nearest seat to have a rest. While I was walking, I overheard somebody say the sentence, “He looked like Stavros, leader of the Daleks”, which I thought I’d mention, just to anger the Doctor Who fans reading this. Having said that, other things I overheard included, “Wow, let’s get some Baked Potatoes, they’re awesome, absolutely genius!” and “I love you, Mark, you’re great! No, actually, that’s not true, you’re a complete c**t and I hate you.”… so common sense and clear thinking really aren’t the order of the day at Glastonbury.
I enjoyed Vampire Weekend‘s Pyramid Stage performance. They’re certainly a “Marmite” band (people seem to either love or hate them), but I really love Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, so why wouldn’t I like these guys? Seriously, I do have my reservations, though. For a start, their act is very polished (apart from one slightly off verse of “Walcott”), so they come across as being a great live act. However, what I could see being played on the stage didn’t always correspond to the sound. There were unexplained keyboard sounds and additional rhythms which I couldn’t see being generated, so I was forced to come to the conclusion that they were playing along to a sequencer, with mostly live instruments but to a pre-recorded backing. To me, when it comes to a live performance, this is cheating. I expect it from certain acts, less-respected purveyors of music, but not a band like Vampire Weekend. They played in front of a flowery backdrop with a big mirror behind them and, honestly, played a blinder. They’ve yet to make a bad album, so it’s no wonder with songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, “Unbelievers”, “A-Punk” and “Ya Hey” it was a good experience, but they left me a little cold which, seeing as it was still fairly sunny, is a bit odd. They didn’t awake any passion in me, unfortunately. After their set, I needed a good rest and, when deciding on seeing either Nick Cave or Smashing Pumpkins, I decided that I really could be bothered to see either. No disrespect to either acts, I own numerous albums by both, but I had to reserve my energy and so went to have a drink, a meal and a lie down for a couple of hours.
So, here it is, the climax of the entire festival. I was expecting a slightly smaller crowd for the headliners of the last night, Mumford and Sons, certainly than last night, but there didn’t seem to be a major difference and I still ended up watching it from the screens. It really is unfathomable how an act like them are headlining Glastonbury after just two albums, but they’ve had incredible success both domestically and in the USA (many Americans thought they were from the South), so it could be argued that they deserve to be there. Personally, I think both of their albums are extremely good, but they’re not one of my all-time favourite acts. Two albums and headlining Glastonbury! You have to wonder what, if they were given any longer than their ninety minutes, they could possibly play. They’d probably have to resort to playing covers. It’s strange, the way that success seems to have become more of an instant thing these days. There’s none of the previous generation’s reservations when an excellent début album comes along. Before, I’m sure it used to be a case of, “OK, they’ve done a great first album, but we’ll wait and see”. Now, as soon as an act releases a promising first album, they’re suddenly the most amazing thing to have ever walked the planet. What’s that all about? One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Mumford and Sons have two very good, but very similar sounding, albums, which is hardly a massive back catalogue with which to thrill a festival audience. I’m going to wait for their third album with interest because if they do a third album of similar sounding songs, I think they’re going to be hit with the inevitable backlash. It has already started from some people.
One thing is for certain, this Glastonbury crowd seem to love them. “Winter Winds” is an early high point, “Little Lion Man” gets the whole of the audience singing along raucously, singing the profanity of the chorus with vigour and “Lover Of The Light” even gets my tired body moving and singing in appreciation, probably my favourite moment of the set, apart from “The Cave”, the penultimate song of their set. There were times, however, they bored me. I stand by my earlier observation, made before I’d watched their performance, they just don’t have enough material to headline a festival like Glastonbury without exhausting all of their two albums. A band like The Stones, for example, would have to pick and choose their set list and make some tough decisions, leaving out some truly classic compositions. Mumford and Sons were probably discussing whether to add a cover of The Wurzels’ “I Am A Cider Drinker” to fill up their timeslot. Still, much of the world believes that they’re one of the best bands in the world, so it must be true, right? At least they’re proper musicians and have written some bloody good songs, so they’re okay in my book. Plus, with comments they made at the end of their set, they also seem to feel as if they’re unworthy of their current status. It could be fake humility, but I don’t think so. Oh, and I hated the version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” featuring The Vaccines, Vampire Weekend and First Aid Kit. I wish they’d have finished on “The Cave” instead of murdering a song that Joe Cocker had already murdered. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to murder something twice, but there you are.
Well, that’s it. That brings me to the end of the night and the end of the weekend. So… Glastonbury. What an experience. What a fantastic and yet bloody awful experience. The happiness, friendliness and optimism I encountered on the first day had noticeably receded by Sunday, by which point people had come down to Earth a little bit more. Either that or they were sober and broke. By the end of the third day, my legs were screaming in agony, my back was threatening to take my brain off its Christmas card list, my nose and forehead were slightly sunburnt and my feet were blistered in a few places. Glastonbury is a feat of endurance, in so many ways. Firstly, you have to have the attention span to absorb and appreciate hours upon hours of music. Secondly, you have to have the physical strength to stay on your feet and cover the miles of ground to go to each stage your favourite acts are appearing at (I failed). Thirdly, and most importantly, you have to be able to hold your breath for several minutes whilst going past the Portaloos which give out the most foul, putrid stench imaginable to mankind. It’s the only smell at the festival that makes me long for the sweet aroma of cow shit and cannabis.
The obvious question is – would I do it again? Absolutely not. As Gandhi once said, “F**k that”. OK, maybe that’s not a Gandhi quote, but the point is this; Glastonbury is too big and too busy for my tastes. It’s simply on too large a site and there are too many people in attendance for an individual to be able to have the Glastonbury experience they want, even if they have a press pass and a hospitality wristband like was lucky enough to have. I had it all mapped out before the festival, but as soon as I realised that it was over half an hour’s walk between some stages, I had to seriously think again and completely wore myself out on the first two days trying to keep up to my schedule. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some absolutely mind-blowing musical experiences during the weekend, but now I know what it entails, there is no way I could put myself through it again. Besides, the very best experiences were at the smaller stages, away from the main arena and those are the kind of gigs I already go to, most weeks of each month. While I readily admit that my body (specifically my back) let me down, I think this kind of event punishes most people and it’s very difficult to enjoy the entire weekend if your limbs are protesting to the extent that they’ve made their own placards and everything. Maybe I’m just being an old git, but the tired faces, the collapsed bodies scattered on the ground and the moans and groans from the people going home on the shuttle bus bears witness to my account.
I will finish with one further observation: Glastonbury is no place to see your heroes. If you love a band and are looking forward to seeing them for the first time, wait until they do a conventional gig, get a good seat (or general admission and get there early if you don’t mind standing and fighting for your place) and enjoy them in relative luxury compared to Glastonbury, where luxury is only available for those with thousands of pounds to spend. Also, if they’re a popular act, your experience at a festival will be ruined by other people perpetually barging past you, talking loudly to their friends, being absolute prats because, obviously they’re the only people on the planet that matter and, if you’re not close enough to the stage, you’ll suffer sound deterioration from the wind, no matter how mild it is. People could argue that the same applies to a massive all-day stadium gig, but you won’t be suffering from the festival fatigue if you go to one of those and, believe me, it is considerable if you’re not at the peak of your fitness. You know, I’ve had a blast. Some wonderful times and unforgettable memories to take away with me, but it has been a once in a lifetime experience for me, for sure. Probably. I think. Almost definitely. Never say never…