Somerset, UK – Glastonbury Festival kicked off for real on Friday after campers woke up to sunny intervals vying with overcast skies and a muddy terrain, though no worse than it was the day before. All the stages opened today so festival goers were hit with those “mission impossible” schedules. A high class problem. Talking of problems, this of course is nothing to the headache faced by the UK after 52% of the population voted to leave the European Union. There was overwhelming disbelief and anger at the outcome among the artistes and fans gathered here in Somerset. Like me, everyone here appeared to have been in the Remain camp. Anyone who voted for Brexit was keeping very, very quiet.
Successive acts were intent on putting on a show to dispel the gloom, they yet also used the stage to voice abject dismay at the outcome. It was somewhat fitting that The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians opened up the main Pyramid Stage on Friday morning. The 90-strong group had spread across the globe in the wake of the conflict in its homeland and had reunited for a tour of solidarity and hope. Brought together by Blur’s Damon Albarn, who spoke eloquently on the orchestra’s behalf while also decrying the Brexit vote here, the Syrians were then largely left to make music which spoke for them. Albarn joined them for a beautiful though appropriately muted version of “Out of Time”. The set lifted spirits as much as it served as a reminder of the global scale of our problems and that these are collectively shared, not things you can opt out of by a single referendum as democratic as that notion sounds.
An hour later, X Ambassadors were due to play the John Peel Stage, while crowd favourite James, opened the Other Stage later than billed, maybe in deference to the Syrians, though more likely due to the ground conditions around the stage. Issues with X Ambassadors’ monitoring equipment meant the US band could not perform its intended set. The set was restricted to just one song: an acoustic version of “Renegades”, played to perfection, but it proved a long, long way to travel for a single song! Hopefully the band will be invited back next year.
A retreat back to the Other Stage followed with British new boys, Blossoms, retaining much of the big crowd for James. Fronted by Tom Ogden, with his distinctive flowing locks and sporting a natty pair of white strides, the fledgling outfit was politely received initially as the crowd warmed to its youthful charm. With songs like the acoustically introduced “My Favourite Room”, the standout “Getaway” and strong closer “Charlemagne” in its repertoire, you can only see this band being one with staying power. The clarity of the ensemble playing allied to Ogden’s comfortable vocal range were equally plus points. More stagecraft and dynamics will surely follow but all in all, it was a very respectable Glastonbury debut.
Next up on the Other Stage was French band Christine and the Queens, fronted by the flamboyant Heloise Letissier. The singer made a dramatic entrance, flanked by two male dancers. Mixing French and English within songs, Letissier totally won over a crowd hit by a sudden rainstorm as she implored them to “imagine you’re in Paris at a French disco”. Drawing songs from her album Chaleur Humaine – “Tilted” being a standout – with a couple of terrific covers thrown in, her band brought electronic polish to current R&B beats. Letissier’s sultry tones commanded, while the choreography was something else, channelling Jonathan Richman and John Travolta at times! The chanteuse also showed a tongue-in-cheek mastery of the self put-down: “I’m a hashtag tiny French angry thing”. Blissful.
Later in the afternoon, it was time to visit one of the smaller stages, the indie-fueled William’s Green, to catch another couple of emerging new bands. First up was Vant, the name coming from main man Mattie Vant. Originally from Seaham in the North East of England, Vant put the band together in London, though the social consciousness plied is underlined by his pronouncement that “we are from planet Earth”. Vant’s brand of powerhouse garage and indie rock had an ever harder edge to it today, as the front man railed against anyone here who voted to leave the EU: “Get the f**k outta my tent!” No one left. Vant’s songs lyrically deal with global issues – conflict, global warming, refugees – and the tirade against border controls, “Birth Certificate”, was delivered with a rare passion. Displaying great dynamics and showmanship, Vant emerged as a force in rock to be reckoned with.
By way of contrast, Norway’s Highasakite followed. Vocal lead, Ingrid Havik, immediately lit up the stage with her glossy silver coat-dress, appropriately hooded for the Glastonbury weather. The set majored on tracks culled from the band’s third album Camp Echo, which dropped in May, including a bright “Someone Who’ll Get It” and the threatening-sounding “I Am My Own Disease”. Yet the five-piece was all about synth and percussion driven dance-ready music. After a set of trippy electronica, highlighted by Havik’s soaring vocals, the appreciative crowd left in a good place, following the Brexit-induced gloom.
With established acts taking over most of the evening spots, it was time to take a break from emerging artistes today. After a stimulating day of new music, I ended mine with a personal favourite in the shape of the mighty Icelanders, Sigur Rós, who duly delivered a mesmerising set to close the John Peel Stage by midnight.
Stay tuned for more Glastonbury coverage throughout the weekend, and be sure to follow Best New Bands on Facebook and Twitter.
Photos of Damon Albarn and The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, Blossoms, and Christine and the Queens by Matt Crossick for Glastonbury Festival. Photo of X Ambassadors by Florence Beasley for Glastonbury Festival. Stock photo of Highasakite by Sarah Hess.
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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