Somerset, UK - Those Glastonbury campers who were actually in bed rather than partying at Shangri La didn’t get a great night’s sleep, woken by heavy overnight rain drumming on tents, followed by more early morning precipitation. It hardly dampened spirits; though, the result of the EU referendum still weighed heavily. An opinion poll by The Times newspaper found that 83% of festival goers voted to remain, and the turnout among the sample was higher than the national average. “That really says something about the sort of people who come to the Festival” commented Glastonbury organiser, Emily Eavis.
One who has been coming here for some years is singer-songwriter and criminal lawyer by day, Andrew Maxwell Morris. In contrast to the new bands highlighted in these columns, Morris is something of a Glastonbury veteran. He confessed his 10.30 opener in the near-flooded fields of Avalon was “the earliest gig I’ve ever played”. It was a small but engaged audience. I’ve said it many times before, but shift this guy to a main stage here and he’d captivate a huge crowd. Like so many independent artistes, Morris epitomises the depth of talent in this country and the indomitable spirit to continue to ply his craft honestly and with conviction. With songs like “One Day in a Heartache” and “Dust” in his repertoire, that spirit will endure.
The treacherous terrain around Avalon sadly prevented a hop (err… wrong word) across to The Park stage to catch Car Seat Headrest in time to get back for King Eider‘s set in the larger Avalon stage. The Edinburgh outfit, subject of a recent interview on Best New Bands, was making its Glastonbury debut having been personally invited by Michael Eavis after auditioning for a smaller local event. With heavily pregnant violinist, Lucy Frankel, resplendent in a red dress and matching wellies, the five-piece taxes the usual descriptive musical labels: folk-blues with a touch of Mumfords’ urgency and soft to loud dynamics, and fine four-part harmonies.
Marrying traditional with contemporary styles, with even a hint of hip-hop about some of the rapid fire lyrics, the set offered cuts from the band’s latest EP, The Beast With a Two a Backs, plus older and newer material. “Fire” stood out for its fine fusion of folk instrumentation and rock rhythm with the keyboard adding further colour. A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” was given the trademark driving treatment. The songs have episodic structures that work particularly well live, allowing the band to cut back and cut loose at will, an art skilfully demonstrated on set closer, “Whisky”.
Having supported Coldplay at London’s Wembley Stadium 10 days earlier, you might have expected 19 year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, Alessia Cara, to be less daunted than most by playing songs to a packed John Peel stage at Glastonbury. After a confident start with “I’m Yours”, which had the crowd chorus-singing like they’d all known heartbreak, the articulate young artiste maybe overdid the ensuing homilies between songs about heartache, self-will and happiness. Still there was no doubting her sincerity or conviction as she delivered a seven-song set from her recent album, Know It All, culminating in her biggest hit, “Here” in which she ad-libbed “what the hell am I doing here with my wellies on!” Why, they did go with the black leather biker jacket and black trousers rather well.
The dark-haired singer’s urban vocal style suited her material well but she also demonstrated a purer tone and versatility, especially on the simple piano-accompanied torch song “River of Tears” and acoustic guitar-led “Overdosed”. “Never change yourself… you are beautiful” she told the females in the audience; advice she can also give herself.
Wolf Alice is a band that doesn’t qualify as Glastonbury virgins, as the North Londoners appeared in 2015 on The Park stage as well as doing a ‘secret set’ on William’s Green. Nevertheless, this is one that seems to have come from nowhere to fame fast; a meteoritic rise that secured a Mercury Music Prize nomination and a Saturday afternoon slot on the mega Pyramid stage. Singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell confessed that as a two-person band, she was an unsuccessful applicant five years ago in the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. This has more than made up for it, so she can be forgiven for saying “we can’t believe we’re here” more than once.
Rowsell herself brought a welcome touch of glamour to the indie rock scene in her gold lurex dress as the band worked through its UK hit album, My Love is Cool. Opening with the menace of “You’re A Germ”, the singer alternated from dreamy to aggressive on what are fast becoming classic tracks, from the spacey “Freazy” to the screaming “Giant Peach”, and by way of a soaring “Bros”. Instrumentally the band attacked its material with passion and relish, combining familiar indie rock-isms with a pop twist and the odd hint of folk. The earlier song “Fluffy” proved to be a particular crowd pleaser. You are left with the sense that this band can only get stronger as its repertoire grows.
Later Copenhagen’s Choir of Young Believers played the more homely William’s Green stage, pulling in a decent-sized crowd. You sensed that many of the gathered throng only knew of the band through it providing the theme song, “Hollow Talk”, for the Scandi Noir TV series, The Bridge. Sadly, there was to be no airing of this especially haunting melody but rather the vocal, synth, bass and drums ensemble delivered a set which referenced 80′s pop, trip hop and a smattering of post rock soundscapes, as in the meandering jam of “Face Melting”.
The Choir is essentially the solo project of Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, with a fluid collection of players. Makrigiannis, dressed in a hoodie almost like a hip hop wannabe, has such a distinctively rich and high voice, and while he occasionally strapped on a 12-string electric, it was his vocal twists and turns that commanded the stage. Without the customary research access while in the festival fields, I can’t be sure of song titles – not that many were announced, and some merged into others – but the melodic bass led “Gamma Moth” stood out along with the final song which was a tad closer to a conventional pop song. At which point, your reviewer will sign off before standing accused of hollow talk himself!
The rest of Saturday was chiefly owned by Adele, though being Glastonbury, you could of course have opted for New Order, James Blake, Philip Glass’s Heroes Symphony, M83 or The Shires elsewhere on the festival site, while the UK’s national treasure enraptured the Pyramid Stage.
Stay tuned for Day Four Glastonbury 2016 coverage, and be sure to follow Best New Bands on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo of Wolf Alice by Jason Bryant for Glastonbury Festival. All other 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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