Somerset, UK – There are music festivals, and there are music festivals. It hardly matters how many times you’ve been here as nothing quite prepares you for Glastonbury. The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, to give its right and proper title, is now in its 45th year. If you have yet to experience first-hand the sheer scale and spectacle of this mammoth event, you may just think it’s all about headliners. Coincidently, The Moody Blues, the band that back in 1970 inspired dairy farmer Michael Eavis to stage a festival on his land were up against Pyramid Stage top bill, Kanye West, on Saturday night. While that juxtaposition sheds some light on the diversity of Glastonbury it tells a fraction of the story. You could spend your entire weekend immersed in circus and cabaret acts or dancers and drag queens rather than run the gauntlet of an entire musical spectrum.
Within this multiplicity there has always been a place for new bands at Glastonbury. Our preview gave a snapshot of the range of new and emerging acts on the festival menu. When it came to the actual event we set aside agonies over band clashes, defied no laws of physics (though sometimes sun, rain and mud) and went with the flow. Along the way we enjoyed many more performances than there is space to do justice to here so this is just a selection of stand-out sets from the festival.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin on Thursday evening with an area of the festival celebrating 150 years of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The Rabbit Hole is reached via a long, snaking queue, past a gatekeeper and via a short tunnel leading to a small dance floor, bar, a somewhat louche Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, tented stage, oh and toilets of course. The stage had earlier hosted this year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent finalists including winner Declan McKenna and Best New Bands Round 1 choice, Lucy Kitchen. Competition runners-up Shields were due to play at 22:30. Something seemed wrong. That stage was far too small and where was the back line and PA? The bizarre cabaret that followed included a female contortionist dressed as the White Rabbit and a lady dancing with flames coming out of both hands. Her head roll was something else. We emerged from the hole soon after to find the mighty Shields playing their signature anthem, “Mezzanine”, on a nearby, much larger Rabbit Hole Stage. Oh, so you meant that rabbit hole…[Photo by Stephen McCleery]
Friday proved to be simpler, though the afternoon rain turned the going too soft to attempt to make cross festival dashes to the distant Park Stage to see Wolf Alice and Sharon Van Etten. Before the rain hit we caught BRITS Critics Choice winner, James Bay on the main Pyramid Stage. With a big tranche of the crowd on his side, the young singer-songwriter was engaging and assured; the crowd especially loved “Let It Go”. Having the distraction of Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction watching in the wings, and sporting a hat that Pharrell wouldn’t have in his new collection were minor downs. Two hours later, not far from a cafe engaged in Lionel Richie guerrilla marketing (Is it TEA you’re looking for?) we caught up with singer-songwriter and criminal lawyer by day, Andrew Maxwell Morris. Entertaining a small rain-captured throng, Morris could easily have shifted his immediately engaging songs to a much larger stage.
The rain could not stop US roots rockers, Alabama Shakes, from partying. Deftly mixing cuts from the band’s two albums, the Shakes delivered a full-on tropical storm of a set. Their exceptional singer-guitarist Brittany Howard scarcely needed to apologise for the weather, oozing soul alongside sweat highlighted by “Don’t Wanna Fight”. Later in the day, an appearance on the Other Stage, again blessed by a simply superb sound system, by Glastonbury favourites The Vaccines proved to be another highpoint. With the rain now abated, the band demonstrated quite how gigging live has smoothed off the rough edges without any sacrifice of commitment or attack. Justin Hayward-Young looked every inch the rock star as the band turned up the tempo with hits like “20/20” and “I Always Knew”, and smashed it with closer, “Norgaard”.
On paper the bigger, more established acts seemed to hold sway on Saturday but the day was not without some outstanding performances by relative newcomers. With her muddy black jeans and DMs, Courtney Barnett looked like she was living it like a fan and that is certainly part of her appeal. The acid wit embedded in her storytelling is the bigger part and the young Australian was certainly not overawed by the Pyramid Stage. “Depreston” and “Avant Gardener” were perfect examples of her formidable turn of phrase while her guitar playing kept things both visceral and grounded.
Having heard great things about Everything Everything’s Friday set on the Other Stage it was time to seek the band out on the smaller William’s Green, a stage named in honour of Michael Eavis’ father. The band’s bright cross-genre pop, not without its 80’s influences, impressed hugely the big crowd which spilled well outside the tented area. There’s a truism that if a band starts out with a smaller crowd and people then flock into the tent as the set progresses, they can’t be doing much wrong. London sibling trio Kitty Daisy & Lewis playing on the large Acoustic Stage were a case in point. Augmented by guitar and bass, the brother and sisters took turns on guitar, keys and drums laying down an eclectic mix of styles from jazz to ska, funk to country. The ladies looked splendid in their gold and silver metallic jump suits too.
Finally Ben Howard delivered one of the weekend’s outstanding sets. Quietly passionate yet playing with a rare intensity throughout, Howard majored on material from his second album even though it might have been more comfortable to delve more into his easier debut recording. He literally let the music do his talking until introducing the band at the end. Songs like “I Forget Where We Were” and the majestic “End Of The Affair” showed he is totally fearless in stretching his musical ideas. The black & white screen projections mirrored this concentrated mood and the crowd stayed with him throughout the cathartic journey.
Sunday was notable for strong shows by acts previously featured on Best New Bands, like Hozier, Hiatus Kaiyote and Palma Violets. We picked out three further names who really impressed us. ETC finalist Lucy Kitchen had the rather strange assignment of opening up the John Peel Stage, typically associated with indie rock. Lucy’s bell-like vocals and natural lyric flow were, however, perfect bedfellows for jaded festival goers. Expecting to be playing to a handful of people, the singer-songwriter drew more and more people in who were captivated by the immediacy of her songs and also the gentle waterfall emanating from a hole in the tent’s roof in front of her. A great advertisement for Emerging Talent, Lucy Kitchen proved she can more than hold her own amid a tide of over-hyped female artistes.
By the afternoon the rain had cleared and Toronto’s Alvvays (above) provided more than a ray or two of sunshine on the enclosed John Peel Stage. Channelling short, sharp tunes, the band breezed through an ultra catchy set with Kerri MacLellan on keyboards adding some mellifluous vocal harmonies along the way too. Resplendent in all white shirt, shorts, tights and shoes lead singer and guitarist Molly Rankin hardly needed to ask for Archie’s hand as the charming titular single closed the set. The audience were eating out of hers. Finally to prove the Peel was the place for the ladies on Sunday, the stunning Lianne La Havas (below) delivered a coolly stylish counterpoint to the now warm evening sun outside, previewing songs from her forthcoming album inspired by Jamaica together with cuts from her debut record.
(Publisher’s Note: Glastonbury had everything you could hope for from a festival. There were huge names like Lionel Richie and Patti Smith. Festival goers wandered the grounds dressed in attire reminiscent of the a particularly outrageous night in West Hollywood. The Dalai Llama gave a peace talk. But most importantly, emerging artists killed it at Glastonbury. They provided even more evidence that the new generation of artists has something meaningful to add music. Overall, the coverage from Glastonbury left our editors in Los Angeles envious of those lucky enough to be on that rainy English farm this weekend.)
Photo of Lucy Kitchen by Stephen McCleery – All other photos by Nathan Dainty/VeryCreative
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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