Somerset, UK – Sunday morning and there’s no need mention the weather. Don’t fret campers, it’s going to be dry all day (you just mentioned the weather). Anyone suffering from ‘Sunday struggle’ having overindulged since the Glastonbury gates opened and in need of a touch of TLC should have been at the Avalon Stage at 11:30 for ETC 2017 finalists, Lucas & King. The Americana-flavoured duo is particularly easy on the ear, offering a gentle start to the day via smoothly blended vocals and nimble guitar work. With songs like “Shop Girl” and the outstanding “Crazy Heart”, the duo has some memorable material too.
Over on the Park Stage, Liverpool band, She Drew The Gun, winners of ETC 2016 fronted by the inspiring singer-guitarist-songwriter Louisa Roach, offered further solace. Whether channelling post-hangover reflections in “Where I End and You Begin” or cataloguing social injustices in the mesmeric “Poem”, there’s an authenticity about Roach and her band that comes from being true to their convictions. As a songwriter steeped in social awareness, many of her songs fit the political climate of Glasto 2017. In a riposte to Trump’s Mexican wish, Jeremy Corbyn referenced the Festival wall inscribed ‘Build bridges, not walls’. You might call this ironic as the slogan is itself on a wall with the inside populated by largely middle-class ticket holders, left or liberal aside. Yet Glastonbury has always trumpeted a range of eco, anti-nuclear and charitable causes and SDTG is a band that fits this tradition admirably.
It was great to hear its version of “No Hole In My Head”, a growling-guitar led cover of a song by 60s protest singer Maliva Reynolds. You might associate the better known suburban satire, “Little Boxes”, most with singer Pete Seeger but it was also written by Reynolds, whose spirit Louisa Roach evokes today. SDTG’s music is usually labelled psych-pop and, sure, there’s a fair element of that style in its work. Yet its music is combined though with folk lyricism and performed with an individuality that many other bands would envy. The band’s second Glastonbury Festival was indeed a fruitful one.
Laura Marling is no stranger to the place either. Having seen her several times before including here, I was struck about just how serene and self-assured she looked today, resplendent in a floaty floor-length dress. The bucolic setting was echoed by strands of ivy and flowers decorating mic stands. A little boldly Marling kicked off her set with five cuts from her newest album, Semper Femina, beginning with the jazz bass and percussion-driven “Soothing”. Though less familiar to many, these songs seemed to capture the relaxed mood in the Pyramid field; many in the audience were seated and the jazzy inflections in her latest work added to the chilled ambiance. The fourth in, “Nothing, Not Really”, was highlighted by some sinuous slide guitar and there was exemplary support for Laura Marling’s effortless, melismatic vocal style from her backing-singer sister act.
It’s not till song five that we get a “How’s it going, Glastonbury?” from a reticent Marling who is mostly leaving the songs to talk today. The pace then builds for the brightly spun “Sophia” from A Creature I Don’t Know; the hoedown at the end reminds you quite how good a guitar player Marling can be, as well as having a tuneful ear. “Salinas” conjures up a Greek island “where the women go forever” while the tender, thoughtful “Daisy” from Short Movie was dedicated to Daisy May Hudson’s compelling documentary on the UK housing crisis.
A short appearance of that singularly useless invention, the smoke machine, just as the sun came out could have been a deal breaker but Laura Marling rose to the challenge with the wonderful title track and the energetic “Rambling Man” from her pinnacle second album, I Speak Because I Can.
Sadly, leaving the Pyramid with this vision of a perfect Sunday afternoon set duly endorsed, the next thing I saw was a bespectacled man dressed as a large turd promoting the charity, Water Aid. Yes, maybe not time for that mid pm snack then.
I seem to be hitting a run of Glastonbury returnees today as next on the agenda is the young Irish band, Kodaline. The four-piece, augmented today by a keyboard player, was on its third Festival appearance and, despite being timetabled against the mainstream attractions of Barry Gibb in the Pyramid Legends slot, had built up a big gathering of devotees for its own set on The Other. With blonde frontman Steve Garrigan looking relaxed in shades, the band breezed through a ten-song set like seasoned pros, combining songs from its two albums to date plus a new one, “Brother”, and the Kygo collaboration, “Raging”. Garrigan switched to keyboard for “Brother”, an instantly empathetic song with an underlying traditional Irish feel about it, while “Raging” came with a particularly infectious chorus.
Kodaline trades in strong hooks and stirring melodies. Its anthemic setlist is tailor-made for a festival and songs like “One Day” and the hugely popular closer “All I Want”, both propelled by guitarist Mark Prendergast’s soaring licks, were sung back to them in spades. Job done.
Up at the John Peel Stage psych-rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard might not have expected to conjure up quite so many fans had it not been for the imminent appearance of The Killers, the finally revealed Secret Set act due at 5.30pm. KGLW revelled in the mass crowd and had a ball by all accounts. The big tent and surrounding field became extremely rammed, so much so that announcements had to go out via Twitter to dissuade anyone else from trying to get in. Those lucky enough to grab a patch of earth in or around The Peel were treated to a majestic greatest hits set with the crowd drowning out Brandon Flowers’ vocals for much of the time.
Back at the Other Stage, Haim probably didn’t expect to be up against The Killers when the timings were announced but nonetheless a big audience had gathered for the American sisters’ show. Defying the sun breaking out in bursts from behind the clouds, Danielle and Alana in second skin black wetlook pants and bassist Este in a matching skirt looked hot in more than one sense. Haim brought its summer festival setlist to the Somerset fields with a goodly dose of Californian sun. Polished professionals trading fast fire lyrics and licks that require precision playing while retaining a quirky charm, Haim was a delight to behold. Drummer Dash Hutton takes a back seat by necessity but is integral to the band’s wonderfully tight delivery. Above all, the overriding sensation is of a band having real fun on stage.
Haim opened with the lead single “Want You Back” from new album Something To Tell You due out 7/7 which we learned later in an apologetic ‘commercial’ before the band aired another new track, “Little Of Your Love”. Both hit home immediately, auguring well for the new release. Most of the remaining set was culled from debut album Days Are Gone with songs like the energetic “Don’t Save Me” and “Falling” prompting arms aloft not for the only times in the set. The set reached a peak with “Falling” with a set-piece reprimand given to the crowd for insufficient dancing. A dance off followed between the sisters with Alana running down to the barrier to dance and high-five fans at the front. New track “Right Now” concluded the set from a slow-build to an extended three-way polyrhythmic drumming outro via a set of silver drums wheeled out to the stage front.
Returning to London overnight on Monday, we met Este and Danielle Haim by chance at the M4 motorway services around 4.00am. And guess what the girls were still buzzing from Glastonbury, as fun, charming and friendly as you might ever expect.
Before Ed Sheeran boldly closed the Festival with a solo set on the Pyramid, anyone of a sensitive nature might well have enjoyed a short trek to the John Peel where London Grammar played out the perfect comedown set. Mixing songs from debut album If You Wait with a selection from the recent follow up, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, singer Hannah Reid held sway simply through the quality of her voice which is glove fit for her band mates’ subtle accompaniments. There is a cinematic sweep to the band’s repertoire which welds sparse electronica to quietly blissful melodies.
After a hectic Festival schedule it was time to let the music wash over you yet still appreciate its classic beauty and mood. The haunting “Wasting My Your Years” and subtly rearranged “Big Picture” stood out while midway through the set, the extraordinary “Rooting For You” held this writer and most of the audience spellbound, as Hannah Reid’s voice darted to and fro into operatic realms. And, of course, the resilient “Strong” sounded just as great as it did when aired on this stage in 2014.
Photo of Haim by Nathan Dainty for Best New Bands
All other photos by Maja Smiejkowska 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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