I’ve been here three days and I’ve lost track of the world…everything has a fuzzy glow and the planet seems like a good place…Glastonbury is more than a festival…it’s like a shoal of brightly coloured fish swimming in the same salty sea, a collection of mini festivals overlapping like dusty microorganisms praying for the sun and scuttling from the rain. They can range from gonzoid dance tents full of the sunburnt loons raving deep into the night to fantastic twisted techno that screeches like vicious owls jamming with thundering road drills and a deep bowel cleansing bass end that somehow combine to create infectious freak dance music to tea rooms decked out like Moroccan last of the hippy enclaves with dreadlooked nutters dancing around steaming kettles to the huge stages and their eclectic bills to our dear Left Field stage where I am the weekend compere sat in the middle of all the madness on the main drag and hosted by the genial Billy Bragg and boasting bills of political debate, comedians and a variety of music.
There are some areas where music is a distinct last, places where music scenesters hang out after a night in their seven thousand quid yurts – the camping equivalent of cocaine and gods way of telling you that you are too rich. Somewhere in that five star enclave sits Sir Michael Jagger, who can be excused this luxury plus lifestyle because at least he spent the first night running around the site like a hyperactive goblin defying boring stuff like aging and joining the merry peasant throng as they party into the deep night. Power to Jagger for at least bothering to have a good time and getting his minute feet dusty in the festival byways- many of his neighbors would be very lost outside their inner sanctum and they enjoy the festival as some kind of mark on their busy social calendars.
Of course this is a long way from the counter culture understanding of ‘ye festivale spirit’ but that was decades ago now and even then rock n roll had an inbuilt hierarchy with drug carrying butler road managers and servants for the new super rich whilst pretending to have something to do with ‘the people’. The folk heroes swiftly became limousine dwellers and the vast wealth would corrupt any weary soul if only we ever got the chance to get near it…
Not that this is the whole story of Glastonbury or any modern festival. There is so much on offer here that it gets more mind boggling every year and that’s without the drugs. To review the whole affair would be insane.
Walking down to the John Peel stage on the far outer limits of the pop culture solar system is an experience on its own. Stage after stage seems to have popped up over the years since I played there myself ten years ago. Once out on a limb, the John Peel stage is just the end mega tent in a muddy high street of loud and boisterous noise emporiums pouring out beautiful filth and noise to the bamboozled punters. Thundering techno, new young bands and bright blaring high electricity burger noise thunders out in a competing maelstrom of sound that makes me feel like I’m back in the town of my youth, Blackpool. This is, of course, great, this is a party central and an area that definitely and defiantly opposes the middleclasstonbury tag that the festival so easily attracts.
The John Peel stage is my final destination and it is here that I see the Strypes deliver a triumphant gig to a packed tent with what must be well over 5000 people digging the Irish bands powerful rush of old school R n B and rock n roll played in sharp suits and even sharper attitude that, neatly, reminds me of a younger Rolling Stones or, and I see this with a pinprick of moisture in my eye, the primetime Dr Feelgood, complete with Wilko zig zagging across the stage. It’s that same sort of impact, that same sort of getting of songs as rushes of life and guitars as machine guns thing and cranking them bang back up to date with a youthful energy and making those eternal tunes sound fresh and new and have something to do with a new generation of teenagers.
The Strypes attract criticism for their covers, but sometimes when you have to listen to a million bands writing their own songs you curse the Beatles for making everyone think that they are songwriters. Learn your craft first and then start writing and your own songs. The Strypes know this and they honed their life show down to an incendiary rush and they are gradually coming up with their own songs that are sounding fresh and new. Labeling things past and future makes no sense in pop culture any more. i just want to know is it good? is it bad? Does it connect? Does it give me an adrenaline rush- the Strypes do all of these.
Johnny Marr hits the stage later and the emotion level goes through the roof. Everyone knows that the Smiths must be somewhere in the top five of the Eavis wish list for Galstonbury headline acts along with the Stone Roses and a clutch of other bands who would have any chance of matching the buzz that the Stones will generated over the weekend..true legends with a jukebox full of songs that could achieve that magical moment.
What is really cool is that Johnny Marr resists this temptation to get the old gang back together, maybe it’s too much hassle, maybe its post punk purism, maybe he and the Mozman will change their minds, at the moment who cares? His solo album released this year is a fine collection of songs that have grown with touring and his voice hits the mark, he dusts down a couple of Smiths songs and the place goes crazy with a mass singalong to Big Mouth Strikes Again – it’s just to remind everyone what he can actually do if he felt like it. Personally I’m just as happy to hear his own stuff that references his classic Smiths gear with that eternal jangling guitar but with an added post punk edge.
Savages have a tough slot playing later on and also being early into their journey have not quite connected with the Glastonbury mainline which with a wide brief of music and many new bands can encompass everything but not guarantee a 5000 turn out a year into a musical journey- even the John Peel stage with its emphasis on the new can sometime/ not pack out, although there is still a reasonable audience in there. There are many distractions here at the festival and when Savages take the stage they are playing against bands with classic careers, the band still get a good crowd but it’s noticeably lighter than Johnny Marr but their gig is still a welcome rush and it’s great to hear something that is touching on rock music in a festival that rarely deals with the dreaded R word.
Powerful and incisive it can only be a matter of time before they are packing these spaces out. Savages translate surprisingly well to the big stage and their melancholic swooping songs fit perfectly into the open air sunny day festival atmosphere.
The Leftfield stage has been great today with debates about feminism- the unfinished revolution and also about the unions. The music and comedy of Steve Gribbons works well and Dizraeli is a fast rising fusion rapper before The Beat get the party going to close the evening.
Back to the main stage and Primal Scream are second on the bill to the Rolling Stones which is pretty cool for a band who have referenced the Mick n Keef biog sometimes for tips and templates over the years. The Primals, though, are far more than just a swift take on the Stones method and their music is cross crossed with so many references that it’s like listening to a brilliant twist on the best record collection in the world which is obviously Bobby G’s! And they make everything sound defiantly like their own. Their new album is a fiery return to the militant Primals but there is no meltdown like there was a few years back, they somehow mash together the party band and the pst punk experimentalism and make it work in the vast open space of the Pyramid stage and set things nicely up for the Rolling Stones and their moment of history…