Glastonbury 2014

I know, Glastonbury is so long ago you can’t even remember it happened. I’ve been planning for over a week to write my traditional Glastonbury-as-experienced-on-the-BBC post, but I found I was just feeling too uninspired. Partly that was down to factors outside the festival itself – I’ve been living in a kind of blue fog the past little while (by which I mean, more prosaically, that I’ve been experiencing a mild bout of depression that has left me fully functional as to the basics, but too lacking in energy for anything above and beyond). But I also think it perhaps wasn’t the greatest Glastonbury there’s ever been, even after making allowances for the impact of my mood on my capacity to appreciate what was there.

Either way round, I was only inspired to produce this – a belatedly appearing collection of vaguely linked paragraphs. With that kind of enticement to read, I bet you can’t wait to get to it, right?

My favourite performance of the festival was John Grant, second on the bill at the Park Stage on Saturday night. (All the links take you to the BBC site where – if you’re in the UK, or are otherwise able to acquire a UK IP address – you can watch the performances for the next 20 days.) I thought it was brilliant – understated, sincere without being sententious, and it brought me to tears twice, with ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ (the illiteracy is intentional) and ‘Glacier’. He seemed to be playing, too, to what would very much have been my crowd if I’d been at the festival: vaguely alternative gay men of …a certain age.

Notwithstanding this, I think the John Peel stage would have been the place where I was likely to spend most of my time. In what seemed a relatively uninspiring slew of acts across the festival, that’s where the greatest concentration of acts I would have been interested to hear would have been. The fact that I would have been quite likely to hang out there is a demonstration of how far from the musical tastes of the man it’s named for the stage has drifted – where were the unlistenable noise bands that make mimsy folk like me go off for a quiet lie down? (Actually, the biggest demonstration of that was Kaiser Chiefs headlining on Friday night. Can you imagine the disapproval that would have radiated from Peel at the thought that his name was being associated with a man who’s appeared as a judge on The Voice?)

My musical tastes may be mimsier than Peel’s were – whose aren’t? – but I’m not entirely ready to surrender to lavender-scented maiden aunthood as yet. I enjoyed both Drenge and, especially, Royal Blood a great deal more than I expected to – they had an energy and a purpose to them that I revelled in as the antithesis of the twee singer/songwriter thing that I’ve been patiently waiting to die over the last few years. Although, that said, my major response was to find both duos rather sweet, in a trying-ever-so-hard-to-be-fierce sort of way, which …may not have been the response they were hoping to elicit.

I don’t understand why the did she/ didn’t she mime discussion about Dolly Parton has focussed on her singing. At one point she picked up and appeared to play what looked for all the world to be an alto saxophone to regale us with ‘Yakety Sax’, yet the sound that came through the sound system sounded for all the world like it had been played on the far more familiar tenor sax. She encouraged us, in her chat, to think that she had a small sax because she’s a small lady, but the size of the instrument affects its pitch – the smaller the sax, the higher it plays. Knowing nothing about the ranges of the various versions of the sax, I’d be entirely prepared to believe, if she told us so, that she got those notes out of that instrument. But if I was part of the twitter mob looking for evidence to convict her of miming – I’m not – that’s where I’d be focussing my attention. (Personally, I thought the bit was funny, and the explanation about the size of the sax was cute, and I’m not really fussed if she mimed it. If she did out-and-out mime her vocals – as opposed to making use of pitch correction software, or having a pre-recorded version of her vocal playing along in the background to augment the live one, both of which are I believe pretty common among a whole range of acts – that would bother me.)

In last year’s Glastonbury post I posed myself the question of whether Kodaline are any good or not. Having listened to their set at this year’s festival, I’m prepared to answer that question in this way: they’re not altogether my cup of tea, but they make for a good festival band. Which is a polite way of saying that I didn’t have any urge to tune away from them when a couple of their songs cropped up on the TV coverage, but I doubt I’d do all that much to seek them out.

Chvrches are a band that, on paper, I feel I ought to like, but they actively annoyed me. To be fair, I arrived at listening to them pre-annoyed by their name. I understand why, in this era when a band’s google ranking can be almost important to their career as radio play, they took the decision to substitute the u in their name for a v – churches is a very common word, so if they’d used the traditional spelling they would have been lost in an avalanche of unrelated search hits – but that doesn’t stop me finding it irritating. What annoyed me in their set was partly the fact that the music was just dull, but mainly that the “spontaneous banter” (there aren’t enough inverted commas in the world…) between the band was so obviously rehearsed.

In the opposite way, London Grammar were a band that I expected to find annoying because of their name, but actually warmed to quite a bit. I don’t think I will immediately be rushing out to buy sitting still to stream (the internet has ruined so many clichés) their music, but I was glad to catch a bit of their performance, and plan to listen to the rest of it at some point in the next couple of weeks. They seemed very genuine on stage, and their music had some real emotional resonance to it.

There was – stone the crows! – actually a Pyramid headliner act that I was interested to hear this year: Arcade Fire on Friday night. There are limits to how far I’m prepared to endorse any band that unironically describe their gigs as “communal events”, and listening to them mainly confirmed what I had suspected – that their first couple of albums are ok, but the later stuff is less good – but I would genuinely have wanted to hear them. I hate, by the way, to be one of those people – you know, people who say a band were only good when they were relatively obscure – but the songs I knew from the albums I have just seemed less formulaic than the later ones.

Kasabian I thought were a good choice for a Pyramid headline slot. I didn’t enjoy their set at all – the bits that I saw – but even I could see that they have the right combination of energy, attitude and singalong bits to do well. Kasabian may not be my cup of tea, but at least they have some vitality to them.

Which brings me on to the Saturday night Pyramid headliners: Metallica. I strongly agree with what Phil Doré – who’s still sometimes known as Zarathustra – said in his blog post about his actually-there-in-the-flesh experience of Glastonbury. Like him, I think this ongoing effort by some people to define some kinds of music as “not Glastonbury”, and insist that bands and artists who play them shouldn’t appear, is silly, especially in a festival that – more than most – is all about the diversity of the acts. I entirely endorse his point that there are so many bands and artists appearing at Glastonbury that the correct response to one you dislike headlining the Pyramid is just to watch one of the other stages instead (which you can even do if you’re not there in person, thanks to the BBC’s multiple live streams). Where I disagree a bit is that I’m not sure the organisers were right to book Metallica, specifically.

It would be entirely fair to say that metal is one of the genres of music about which I know least. But, back when I was taking my A levels, I used to hang out some of the time with some metal heads – in fact they were in a band, and I helped run the lighting desk for some of their gigs. They were passionate about their metal music, and regularly used to get into long, involved conversations about which bands were best, but one of the things they were all agreed on was that Metallica were …not good. They didn’t hold them in quite the same level of contempt as Whitesnake, but it was a close-run thing.

Anyway, the reason for this little excursion into reminiscence has been to demonstrate that Metallica seem to be the kind of band that, even among metal fans, are looked at slightly askance. I agree – alongside Zarathustra Phil Doré – that it’s entirely appropriate to book a metal band to play Glastonbury, and even to headline. But it ought to be a good metal band, just as when the organisers wanted some ultra-light American R&B/ pop to headline – a genre that’s even further outside Glastonbury tradition than metal – they were right to go with Beyoncé, rather than one of her lesser imitators. That’s the nub of my worry about booking Metallica to headline Glastonbury. Not that they play the “wrong” kind of music, but that they may not, irrespective of the genre they play in, be good enough to justify a headline slot.

One last thing. If I’d been in attendance at the festival in person, I know one place I would have definitely been: the Rabbit Hole at 10:30-11:30 on Thursday night. Yes, the unbroadcast first night of the festival, and a (stage? tent? actual rabbit hole?) that wasn’t broadcast on the other nights, either. But I wouldn’t just have picked it at random in an effort to make myself seem interesting. I’d have been there because appearing there, then, were Credit To The Nation, who were one of the two acts at my first ever paid-for gig. There’s no way I’d have passed up that opportunity to revisit my past. I wonder if they still do ‘Teenage Sensation‘?

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