Features

Blur, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Jarvis Cocker, Hedluv, Florence and the Machine - Glastonbury 2009 Diary

Owain Paciuszko 02/07/2009

I went to Glastonbury and I returned, so I feel like I am safe enough now to regale you with how this happened. As a 'music journalist' I like to attend and review festivals, it's a good way to see a lot of interesting bands and discover smaller new acts, and after attending Square, Green Man and the End of the Road last year I was keen to try some new festival fare in 2009. More specifically, once I found out Blur were playing, Glastonbury.

I remember being a young lad, sat in my Grandma's house, at the dinner table no less, listening to the radio on the walkman whilst everyone else ate, eagerly waiting for the result of the much publicised battle of Oasis's Roll With It and Blur's Country House. I remember shouting "Yes!" when the Gallaghers fell in at number two, leaving Albarn and co to take the crown. Yet despite being a Blur fan at their prime (and beyond) I never got to see them live, being somewhat of a late bloomer in the world of gig going.

Anyway, I received an e-mail in early May from the Glastonbury press office saying that my Press Accredation had been approved. I was very excited and clicked on the e-mail to read the details only to discover that a press ticket came with an invoice for 200! Being a post-graduate with a degree in Creative Writing and barely any paid employment to speak of this was far beyond my means, so I let the e-mail be.

In early June I received a phone call from the Glastonbury press office asking me why I hadn't yet paid the 200 for the press ticket, and I told them that I couldn't afford it and that was that. Then in mid-June I received another phone call from the Glastonbury press office asking me why I still hadn't paid the 200 press for the press ticket, and I reiterated that I coulnd't afford it and that was that.

On Wednesday the 17th of June I was tidying my room. I have a pile of CDs that turns into a stack of A5 envelopes and jiffy bags on my floor, this is my backlog of material to review for this very website and as I shifted this wodge from one patch of floor space to another an envelope escaped the tower and skimmed across the room. I reached for it, to return it to the near bottom of the pile, but as I held it I couldn't help but feel that this envelope didn't contain a CD. I was, to say the least, baffled. Why would an unsigned band send me a demo without a CD? Being curious I opened the letter and contained inside was a Glastonbury press ticket! I couldn't help but laugh maniacally for a few minutes before rushing to Google to check that it was indeed a Glastonbury ticket and not some elaborate hoax, but, to the best of my understanding it was indeed a ticket. I checked the post date on the enevelope and it had been sent out a day after my second phone conversation with the press office. As amazing as all this was it suddenly meant I was plunged into a world of last minute organisation, seeing as Glastonbury was five days away and two of those days were to be spent in Canterbury and one of those days was to spent acting in a short film. By even more good fortune I found a lift with some very generous friends of a friend and on Wednesday morning drove to the South West and pitched my tent.

Thursday 25th June

My Glastonbury started rather bizarrely with a preview of the film Adventureland (reviewed at http://www.battleroyalewithcheese.com), which meant once I returned to the Queen's Head stage I had missed the huge surge of people crammed in to see festival curtain raisers Maximo Park (this didn't really bother me). Instead the first act I saw were competition winners We Have Band who had a charismatic stage presence and a fun, bright, dance-tinged sound.

Things went very folky after that, starting with the rather brilliant Stornoway an Oxford-based band who have written the best song about zorbing ever, obviously this song is called Zorbing and is a smile-inducing slice of pure pop pie. Charlene Soraia was a sweet presence on stage, with gently strummed and beautifully sung little melodies in amongst her telling everyone how difficult her name is to spell (oblivious it was being projected behind her)! Welsh folk troubadour The Gentle Good followed, this is the first time I'd seen Gareth Bonello in his expanded 'With Strings (and a bit of keys)' line-up and the sound was a bit off on this stage, but the strength of songs such as Dawel Disgyn and Let Your Light Be Your Guide still shone through. Liz Green delivered a charmingly wonky set of her curious folk tunes both solo and accompanied by band. Alessi's Ark surprised me by their popularity, their tracks being samey if competent, but pale in comparison to the ammount of imagination and personality that had preceded them.

This brought the folk-pop segment to the end and Golden Silvers took to the stage delivering a toe-tapping set of Cockney-Disco, somewhere between The Jam and Hot Chip. Unfortunately Ebony Bones were on next and I found their music to be embarassing in a fashion similar to such school disco 'favourites' as Superman or the work of Black Lace except with a drum-n-bass/electro influence, the crowd seemed to like them, I went for a wander. Which was foolish because I became distracted and missed the rest of the evening's music, including Metronomy who I really like. Curses!

Friday 26th June

Whilst wandering back to my tent in the small hours I began to hear the words Michael Jackson a lot, and had to text a friend in 'the real world' to confirm if the rumours were true. I was then wondering how long it would be before the 'Jackson jokes' started on stage and the compere, Jim Fox, at the John Peel Stage answered my question when introducing the first band at 11am.

General Fiasco are an Irish three piece who have a catchy indie-pop sound and a vocalist who sounds a bit like Brian Molko (though I have a notorious habit of starting to think everyone sounds like Brian Molko), they were a pleasingly bright, fun open to the day, heralding the bright, blistering sunshine that had replaced Thursday night's thunder and lightning.

After another between band Jackson gag out came Dan Black and band, moving the music into another direction as he danced around the stage in restrained parachute pants to his brand of electro-pop. Black is an artist who has clearly had a Jackson influence and made a point of properly acknowledging the King of Pop's contribution to music, but still accepting the fact that he did go a bit, ahem, off the wall.

The Rumble Strips are a name I knew but a music I didn't, they surprised me by being from London, sounding a bit more, um, Northern with their big, sing-a-long choruses and occasionally The Coral-like sound.

The John Peel Stage was full and spilling out all over the place for the arrival of the next act, there was a definite buzz of anarchy and mayhem in the air and it was a roadie challenging performance delivered by Fucked Up that followed. Correctly announcing that they were the 'heaviest' band to play this year's festival behind Spinal Tap and Status Quo, there was a great deal of energy and lunacy on display from both the energetic and rowdy audience and notorious front-man Pink Eyes. Nothing ground-breaking happened and while I enjoyed the set from an 'audience interaction' point of view the music of Fucked Up seems like a distant afterthought when performed live, fortunately standing up on record.

Not really sure what to watch I headed for the Queen's Head again and caught Hope & Social, dressed in green private school blazers and played exuberant pop tunes akin to Ben Folds Five covering Muse they easily grabbed my attention. Team Waterpolo afterwards were a bit so-so in comparison, but still a fine indie act with a sound like a slightly anxious Bloc Party karaoke cover.

Rhode Island's The Low Anthem were a nice low key alternative with a mellow country sound like Bowerbirds and Bon Iver, all quietly cooed backing vocals, warm strings and sleepily played guitar. This was a nice counterpoint to Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, who I had seen before at an in-store at Spiller's in Cardiff, but given full rein and a boomier sound system they kept the crowd leaping around enthusiastically or singing along to such tunes as Look for the Woman and Thou Shalt Always Kill, though the new songs they unveiled seemed to favour beats instead of Pip's thought-provoking and wryly humourous lyrics.

I was having a big debate in my mind at this point over whether I should see Neil Young or Ray Davies and decided to relax near the Acoustic Stage whilst I made up my mind. I basked in the sunshine whilst people danced and sang along to Jason Mraz, who I wasn't familiar with but knew - in the back of my bonce - was going to be cut from the same cloth of Jack Johnson, it fit the weather but it didn't really leave any lasting impression. I continued to loung on the grass whilst Fairport Convention played and enjoyed their nostalgic set of 'folk-rock', laced with a lot of between song story-telling and a fitting tribute to Sandy Denny in the form of classic tune Who Knows Where the Time Goes?.

By this point I had decided that I'd grown up with the music of The Kinks and I should definitely see Ray Davies whilst I had the chance, and I was not dissapointed. Managing to get near the front I could clearly see how affected Davies was by the reaction of the crowd to his brilliantly performed set of classic Kinks tracks and a smattering of his solo work, reminding everyone - if they needed reminding - of what a brilliant and influential song-writing talent the man is, and also proving that he is still a charismatic, funny and talented perfomer. Getting to hear Sunny Afternoon, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Apeman, Waterloo Sunset, Dead End Street, Autumn Almanac, All Day and All of the Night with members of Fairport Convention rocking out and a huge, extended sing-a-long of Lola (that continued well after Davies had finished) was a huge festival highlight.

Afterwards I ducked into the Cabaret tent to watch Full Mooners a combination of comedy, break-dancing and song hosted by comedian Andrew Maxwell. A funny and suitably offbeat end to a jam-packed and varied day.

Saturday 27th June

I decided to give the Pyramid Stage an early look in and saw V.V. Brown, an artist billed as being the next Aretha Franklin, though she does have a good voice it wasn't given enough flight in the awkward, popcentric arrangments of her songs and her set as a whole fell very flat.

Tinariwen on the other hand were absolutely brilliant, hailing from Tuareg and consisting of people who had been conscripted into Muammar al-Gaddafi's army, they sing in French and Tamashek and their songs - even without understanding - are hopeful, liberating and beautiful.

I expected that the name was a slight misnomer and was right when Eagles of Death Metal followed with a fun, if repetitive, strain of rock that - for me - acted as a not unpleasant way to pass the time before the next band took the stage.

This Is Spinal Tap is one of the greatest comedies ever made and I was curious to see how this would translate to a genuine band performance, it was great fun to hear and punch the air to Tap classics such as Hell Hole, Big Bottom and Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You, songs from the film that cleverly manage to straddle the line of being great parodies of a rock attitude and actually being good rock songs! There was a treat - from a Tap fan's point of view - in their performance of Saucy Jack (watch the film) and the much anticipated Stonehenge that featured a half-inflated replica of the monument and the obligatory - but still hilarious - dancing 'little people'. There were a couple of guests when Jamie Cullum took to the keyboards for one track and Jarvis Cocker picked up the guitar for another.

Wandering back across the site I managed to see - an allegedly out of it - Pete(r?) Doherty performing my favourite song of his For Lovers - which became the first of a very poignant collection of tunes I got to hear over the weekend. After that I gave Hockey another chance after walking out on them at Brighton's The Great Escape, but still found them to be rather vanilla. The Gaslight Anthem were equally okay, however they managed to stuff the John Peel Stage to bursting when Bruce Springsteen made a surprise appearance for one track - taking guitar and backing vocals - his presence sent one guy standing next to me into a state of giddy shock.

I dashed across to the Avalon Stage afterwards to see Badly Drawn Boy, having heard that his live performances can either be witty and wonderful or grumpy and dull, I was curious as to what I would receive. He, aka Damon Gough, has a strange stage presence but he filled his set with familiar and popular tunes and a lot of self-deprecating humour. Particular highlights included his cheeky intermingling of the distinctive melodies of The Shining and Once Around the Block, a b-side that he claimed was 'shit' that I can't remember the name of but absolutely adored and some full band renditions including that 'song from a Hugh Grant movie' Something to Talk About. It was a heart-warming, extended and lovely set from this curious and consistent musician.

I then tried to find space back at the John Peel Stage to watch Florence and the Machine perform a highly theatrical and very impressive set, where Florence Welch blew minds with her incredible vocals and her humble, giddy reaction to the audience's hugely enthusiastic reception. Her set would've been marked by a number of encores if it wasn't for the fact that she - as she remarked - only had one album's worth of material to draw from!

I endured White Lies afterwards, not knowing what they really sounded like and feeling very foolish stuffed in amongst the screaming hordes around me. As the crane mounted camera swept over the audience I hoped I was out of shot, not wanting to be that 'bored looking idiot' on the Beeb's Glastonbury Highlights. I did try to enjoy their 80s synth rock and thought they managed an okay cover of Portishead's The Rip but I just couldn't muster up any enthusiasm for them.

Jarvis Cocker headlined and proved what a commanding and odd stage presence he is, illiciting huge howls of applause for is eccentric pseudo-dance moves. He drew entirely from his two solo albums and unfortunately didn't play Running the World but tracks such as Fat Children, Homewrecker and the wonderful Don't Let Him Waste Your Time. Ending with the surreal cousin of This Is Hardcore called You're In My Eyes (Discosong), bringing Florence and the Machine's harp player Tom Monger to accompany, was a strange finale and the lack of an encore seemed even more frustrating with Bruce Springsteen still going on in the background for another half an hour afterwards! But still Cocker is a brilliant singer-songwriter and a very unique performer.

Sunday 28th June

Once again my day opened with a film preview, this time it was of the new Disney Pixar movie Up (review coming soon to http://www.battleroyalewithcheese.com) and was swiftly followed by a race over to the Other Stage to watch Art Brut. I can't remember what song they were already in the midst of, and as my phone died early Saturday I had no idea how long they'd been on, but I caught most of their set including such great tracks as Good Weekend, DC Comics & Chocolate Milk, Modern Art with a brilliant and extended additional verse about Eddie Argos's recent visit to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam that played out like a Stewart Lee stand-up routine and was absolutely hilarious, and then there was further musical poignancy with Emily Kane, including a prologue about how the real Emily Kane had since contacted him as a result of the song.

I headed back to the Cabaret tent eager to see Casio-rap act from my hometown of Redruth in Cornwall Hedluv & Passman, but before that saw the end of junk band Big Beat and superb tap dancer/juggler Stewart Pemberton. With all the ramshackle, awkward, clumsiness that one would expect of a slightly tongue-in-cheek rap duo from Cornwall Hedluv & Passman seemed to win over as many as they weirded out, performing many of the best songs from recent album Cosmic Sounds such as P.E. Report (literally lines transplanted from a rather poor report card over a nice beat), and non-album tracks like the very funny, self-effacing The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary. It was a bit of a mess as far as sets go, but hopefully it'll cause the more curious to seek out his charming debut record.

Back at the Other Stage I then saw Brand New perform some very powerful, emotive tracks, especially his final acoustic number, resonating over the area which - surprisingly for Glastonbury - did actually seem to go quiet and pay attention! This was followed by boisterous pop-rap-metal-something act Enter Shikari who brought out a brass and additional percussion section for a few songs in the middle of their set, and could occasionally craft a carnival-esque beat, but generally I thought they were a bit rubbish.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs were next, with Karen Oh dressed in paint-splashed Native American attire, a giant inflatable eyeball staring out over (and later bouncing across) the crowd. They started with some slow numbers before throwing out recent electro-tinged, indie-stomps such as Dull Life and Zero along with older tracks such as Gold Lion, the mosh-pit inducing Date with the Night, quirky number Art Star that seemed to have Oh giggling during the sillier sing-a-longs and (poignant track alert) romantic anthem Maps that resonated with its refrain of 'Wait, they don't love you like I love you.'

With Blur looming large in the schedule I decided to make my presence at the Pyramid Stage and see if I could gradually eek my way to the front. Madness took to the stage as I arrived and played an entertaining set filled with 'all the hits' and a few new tracks that were fun, they also had the most efficient encore. Lacking the time to go off stage and come back on they just turned around and then turned back, they also had some lovely Peter Pan theatricals when their saxophonist was hoisted up on wires and flew round the stage during a solo.

Fortunately their was a huge fanbased change over and I got a few rows away for the phenomenal Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, opening with Tupelo and also performing such fantastic tracks as Red Right Hand, Deanna, The Mercy Seat, The Weeping Song, recent hit Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, an absolutely ear-shredding and vitriolic rendition of Stagger Lee and (poignant song alert) a beautiful, spine-tingling version of ode to creativity and muses There She Goes My Beautiful World. Nick Cave is a huge presence on stage with an incredible voice and an array of different sounding epic and awesome songs, and this was a superb prelude to the final act of the festival.

Attired, with a knowing wink, in wardrobes similar to their Brit-Pop heyday Blur took the stage and ticked all the 'Greatest Hits' boxes, which - stuck in the midst of sweat, shouts and moshing that was the front and centre - was a perfect end to this sun-drenched festival. Tracks such as She's So High, Coffee & TV and Beetlebum are varied indications of the lasting impact of Blur's gifts as musicians and song-writers. It was great to hear more off-centre songs such as a deliciously scuzzy version of Trimm Trabb and it was interesting having Coxon contributing to the previously Coxon-less Out Of Time. I, having been a Blur fan for a very long time kind of feel like I've developed my musical tastes in accordance with (but not dictated by) how the band developed - and beyond - and thusly seem to prefer each new record, their last two albums 13 and Think Tank being my favourites. But there's still that warm, caramel centre of nostalgia for the old favourites and it was truly wonderful to have Phil Daniels turn up to play his part in the anthemic Parklife, it was excellent to hear everyone singing along to End of a Century. There was a lengthy pause before the first encore, a manic double-bill of Popscene and Song 2 that involved everyone down the front becoming one huge leaping, buffeting mass and the set closed with a second encore and The Universal. Though the crowd was still singing Tender for about an hour after the band had left the stage.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Glastonbury to be honest, I'd never been before and the festivals I have attended have been smaller, folkier affairs, but this was an absolutely perfect weekend, marked by a glorious storm, baking sunshine, a few perfectly timed sprays f rain here and there and then a cleansing, rain shower at about 4am on Monday morning all preceded by a huge stroke of strange fortune that - if it wasn't for that envelope falling out of that pile five days before the festival - I wouldn't have known about until a couple of weeks after Glastonbury had gone by. So if there's anything to be learnt here it's to always open your mail when you receive it.