Somerset, UK – OK, as I know you’ve been busting for it, first the customary weather report. Rain – Glastonbury wouldn’t be Glastonbury without it yet short bursts of rascally drizzle hardly dented the hard ground and the Festival survived one other thing it’s famous for, mud. The last showers were seen in late morning during Gabrielle Aplin’s Other Stage opening set. Beginning with the country rocking “Sweet Nothing” from her 2015 album Light Up The Dark, the young British songstress brought colour to grey morning mizzle with her multi shades of red hair, rocked with a Led Zep t-shirt and metallic blue mini. Alternating between electric and acoustic guitars and keys, Aplin delivered a measured set culled from her studio albums and EPs, mixing foot tappers with more plaintive offerings. The stripped down interlude of “Salvation” and her popular cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s classic “The Power of Love”, with the singer accompanying herself on piano was a particularly effective bridge. Such songs showcase Gabrielle Aplin’s beautifully soft, vulnerable vocal perfectly while the brighter stuff with great bass, keys and drums support gave the singer a rock-pop edge.
Over on The Park Stage in the SE corner of the site drizzle ceased as Amber Arcades, the moniker of Dutch singer-songwriter Annelotte de Graaf, arrived for her Glastonbury debut. After a well-received debut double album Fading Lines in 2016 followed by the recent Cannonball EP, many marked her as an artiste on the ascendant. With a four-piece backing band, two of whom added some sensitively meshed harmonies, the blonde singer seemed fully at home, even down to her white bell bottom trousers which fashionistas tell me are making a comeback. That might explain the woman dressed in a vintage Abba stage costume at the Stone Circle on Thursday.
Amber Arcades served up an engaging dream pop flavoured set, peppered with jangly high guitar lines, ascending riffs, high bass runs and synth flourishes. De Graaf’s soft, flighty vocals fitted her material well, with the odd moment of blurred diction down to the outdoor acoustics. Her reference to being from the European Union provoked a call-back of “We all voted Remain!” a reminder that Brexit is a year and a day old. Her “very free interpretation” of Nick Drake’s “Which Will” worked really well while “Turning Light” was a great closer with a stratospheric bass, synth and guitar workout to end the show.
A lunchtime diversion followed with a trip across the site to Green Futures to catch a duo local to my own town of Kingston Upon Thames, Days Are Done. The name is inspired by the Nick Drake song “Day Is Done” but after the sad demise of The Civil Wars, the pair might well be successors in waiting such is the on-stage chemistry between singer/guitarist Adam and singer Emmy (they don’t do surnames). The blend of razor-sharp harmonies, diverse looks yet intimate on-stage connection does it. The solar-powered Small World Stage was an unpretentious setting for a bright set mixing original songs with a Merle Haggard and a Steve Earle cover. New single “Colours”, “War Zone” – a song written in Nashville where they have a growing connection – and closer, “Turn To Dust” with its infectious chorus, especially hit the spot.
The Green festival areas give acts the chance to play several times over the festival. In tandem with Days are Done, Irish singer Ailbhe Reddy (see Friday’s coverage), London newcomer Cerian, 2016 Emerging Talent runner-up Hattie Whitehead and of course Glastonbury regular Andrew Maxwell Morris and his band all played excellent sets that could easily have been transplanted onto larger stages. For Festival goers, the Green Fields give a fitting space to chill while taking in some new music.
Next in line for me was four-piece rock band, The Big Moon on William’s Green, which I think of as the John Peel’s younger sibling. The band’s lead singer/guitarist Jules Jackson got into the Glastonbury spirit, silver-caped and referencing hangovers while orchestrating a full-on set leaving no hiding place for anyone with the latter condition. The four-piece ran through cuts chiefly from 2017 debut album, Love in the 4th Dimension, injected with fun and raw energy. The lead and harmony vocals on “Nothing Without You” showed prowess in that department too. New song “Formidable” was announced as “more chilled” but there was really no relenting. Along with Jackson, band mates Soph Nathan (guitar), Celia Archer (bass) and Fern Ford (drums) sure made some tuneful noise notably on the crowd-affirming “Cupid” while a cover of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” came nicely bass heavy and with punky choruses.
Soon after The Big Moon finished up I headed towards the Pyramid to hit a logjam of Craig David fans leaving the area and hordes of arrivees, not entirely sure whether this was UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn or next act, Run The Jewels. Either way the US rap duo was about to inherit a huge Pyramid crowd stirred up by a longer than expected speech by Corbyn which covered all manner of current political and social issues.
It was hard to get anywhere close to the stage as Corbyn’s arrival took on rock star status. The timing seemed fitting, as Run The Jewels is of course well known for its own leftwing leanings and social conscious lyrics. The duo went on to dedicate its biggest UK show ever to the victims of London’s Grenfell Tower fire, aptly opening with “Talk To Me”. Run The Jewels has an in-your-face attitude to most things but within the rap show and hyperbole there are key messages: look out for others, respect personal freedoms, music inspires unity, men – keep your hands to yourself, with some humorous ones being anti-selfie sticks and overweight guys crowd surfing!
A quick dive off message as afternoon ran into evening: Liam Gallagher versus Katy Perry, up against each other on the two main stages. My unscientific verdict was that Liam on the Other Stage had the biggest crowd, simply because you couldn’t get anywhere near the stage. Both acts served their respective audiences exactly what they desired; job done. Katy won the fashion stakes of course unless you’re a Pretty Green aficionado that is.
As headliners were readying to go on, Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty was wooing them on the John Peel with a well-chosen song selection, chiefly from his new album Pure Comedy and the one that really established him, I Love You Honeybear. The artiste has transformed himself from his previous seat as Fleet Foxes’ drummer to a consummate front man in his very own right. Opening with the new record’s title track it was a tough call to say which was the most impressive – the stunning lights and graphic effects, the marvellous orchestral band or Tillman’s own wonderful vocal. As the evening wore on I gave it to the main man, great though all the show components were; The Peel has never looked better.
“Pure Comedy”, an apocalyptic opus on the human condition, was simply dazzling. Tillman is an expressive performer with a brand of music that isn’t readily categorised; a deep and complex soul with a performance zeal that makes for a compelling live spectacle. That voice too. Indeed the whole show was the kind that you’re tempted to comment on every song. With due respect to time and space I won’t attempt to do so; suffice it to say that this was for me, the best show of Glastonbury 2017 to date (there is still Sunday to go).
Not long after Father John Misty took a final bow Foo Fighters hit the Pyramid Stage with the kind of set that was a genuine reward for rock fans who traditionally made up a Glastonbury audience. Much has changed but rock n’ roll can still rule here. The Other Stage crowd for the UK’s Alt-J up against the Foos tonight was perhaps not quite as big as you might expect for this well-respected past UK Mercury Prize winning band. Beginning with a couple of boss tracks from its breakthrough album An Awesome Wave, “Something Good” and “Tesselate” augured well. Spanning its three albums across the set, there was plenty more to cheer and the crowd stayed with them.
Photos by Maja Smiejkowska – http://majasmiejkowska.co.uk/ – for Best New Bands.
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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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