Somerset, UK – Sunday morning. Forgive me for starting with the weather once more. Thankfully, there had been no overnight rain at Glastonbury to speak of, yet ground conditions remained extremely muddy, and we were in for a largely overcast day with showers expected later. Of course, the weather is pretty fundamental to festivalgoers’ experiences, whether they are seasoned veterans or first timers. The former come equipped with everything under the sun, or should that be sky, to combat the elements, while the latter may rue that decision to pack quite so much white or bring those short wellies. While standing in the rain watching a band can take the edge off things, the main issue is the time it takes to tramp through the mud from stage to stage while seriously huge crowds are equally trying to avoid the worst of the quagmire.
We arrived on Thursday, so this is our Day 4, whereas for the many who pitched up when the festival gates first opened, on Wednesday, it was their fifth day. Either way, there is no better way to start a Sunday than to check out the opening act on the John Peel stage, via a bacon roll (or the Halloumi veggie option) at one of the nearby cafes. We chose one of each from the absurdly named Half Man! Half Burger!, and decent though it was, the food was perhaps not quite as tasty as the new band about to grace the Peel. Crowned winners of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition in April, Liverpool band, She Drew The Gun fronted by the quietly commanding singer-guitarist-songwriter Louisa Roach kicked off at 11:00 to a fair sized crowd that grew steadily as the set progressed.
The psych-pop outfit proved to be a perfect wake-up call for the final day of the festival with songs that teased and intrigued; loud enough to demand attention and quiet enough to caress hangovers. With cuts from its 2016 debut album, Memories of the Future, plus a surprisingly spirited cover version of “Overload” by noughties UK girl group Sugarbabes, the four-piece was musically self-assured throughout, while Roach engaged with her lyricism on her own material. Love, or rather no longer being in love, featured alongside a strain of social commentary, which is fast becoming a common thread among young bands today. Vocally Roach’s soulful inflections always add colour, with a hint of rasp hitting sweetness.
A love lorn “Since You Were Not Mine” and bluesy “If You Could See” impressed, while the set closed with the acoustically-driven “Poem”, a passionate plea for compassion over profit. The band might be preaching to the converted in terms of the liberal folk here but youth’s desire to rail against injustices. As the song says we all need “something to believe in”. If you do one thing today, listen to “Poem”.
Two hours later, the first of the afternoon showers threatened, as UK folk band Bears Den took to the Other Stage (still my favourite of the larger stages in terms of sound quality). With the February departure of banjo player Joey Haynes, three became two but remaining duo Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones appeared today augmented by a touring line-up and, from a sound perspective, comfortably filled the large stage. The yellow capped Davie was in particularly fine voice, and the harmonies were spot on, as the unit delivered a beautifully balanced set that was at times energetic but always thoughtful.
Following opener “Elysium”, augmented by a haunting trumpet, with the title track from the soon to be released Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Bear’s Den treated a committed crowd to the best of old and new. Of the new songs, the country flavoured “Dew On The Vine” particularly stood out, while established favourite “Above the Clouds of Pompeii” never sounded as glorious. Bear’s Den is much compared to Mumford & Sons. There is a shared sense of poetic passion about both bands, woody harmonies, and rousing choruses, but today Bear’s Den emerged as very much a band in its own right.
Next stop was for London singer-songwriter Hattie Whitehead, who was accompanied by her accomplished four-piece band and two backing singers, in the large blue tent housing the Acoustic Stage. Wow, there was actual grass inside here and some brave souls were even sitting down! For artistes, the Acoustic can be a little overwhelming as a space, but the audiences it attracts invariably seem open to new names and music. Hattie Whitehead had earned her spot after coming third in the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition and took the occasion completely in her stride, fully at ease as she switched from electric to acoustic guitar.
In the opening songs, there were hints of early Laura Marling in her phrasing. The descending melody line in “Old Soul” also recalled Marling somewhat, but the singer added nuances in the rises and falls of her vocal that are all her own, ranging from gentle tones to strong crescendos. The short lead guitar solo also really enhanced the song. The set closed with Whitehead getting the crowd to wish her sister Maisy a happy birthday, followed by one of her strongest songs, “More Than That”. The song structure and sentiments put me in mind of the late, great Sandy Denny – a compliment in itself – while the chorus is undeniably catchy. Artistically, Whitehead is competing for attention in an extremely crowded field but has such natural musicality that you can only see her succeeding.
By evening, fingers were being crossed that the regular rain showers would abate in time for headliners, Coldplay, to play the festival out. The mire was now covered in places with a layer of liquid mud, but a swampy field in front of the Other Stage did not prevent a large festival crowd getting its fill of Catfish and The Bottlemen, who were back for the second year running. I’m sure it rained then too! The band had also played a surprise set on the BBC Introducing Stage on Friday, as a warm-up. The black-clad rockers looked and sounded the part, with front man Van McCann toning down his trademark stage swagger just a notch to shift the focus more to the music.
In a set culled from its 2014 breakthrough album, The Balcony, and its successor, The Ride (recently reviewed on Best New Bands), the lads from North Wales showed how another year’s touring has honed both stagecraft and musicianship. “Soundcheck” sounded like the stadium-filler it was always going to become, while the smoke from the colourful flares during “Pacifier” added to the sense of occasion, and the energetic “Business” sparked a work-out in wellies. The medium-paced rocker “7”, citing life on tour and the ones you leave behind, was another treat. The chorus begged to be sung by the soaked crowd, and it duly was.
Sadly Glastonbury is over, but you can relive the festival through our Thursday, Friday, and Saturday coverage. Be sure to follow Best New Bands on Facebook and Twitter.
Glastonbury Festival photos by Maja Smiejkowska for Best New Bands.
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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