Live: Glastonbury 2016 – Mud, Brexit and All-English Headliners
Described by festival founder Michael Eavis as the muddiest ever Glastonbury, revellers can at least be thankful that the rain was largely kept at bay during the four festival days, although a torrential spell during Friday, a good downpour over that night, and some drizzle here and there over the remaining days ensured Worthy Farm’s famous mud was kept topped up. Hell, this year’s edition is probably just as memorable and mentioned for its sludge-like mud as for any of the bands, the resulting substance described by one as a kind of chocolate mousse.
Attendees can also be thankful for the incredible plethora of acts from all musical backgrounds that graced the many stages of the festival in addition to the wide variety of non-musical contemporary arts. Oh, and the food! So if you wanted to watch the biggest bands in the world play the biggest shows of their lives, or practise your stone-carving, pottery or jewellery-making skills, you were covered.
Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, to give the festival it’s full name, is an institution like no other. Started in 1970 by Michael Eavis on his Worthy Farm as the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival and attended by just 1,500 people, the price of admission was just £1 and included a pint on milk from the fully functioning dairy the farm is home to. The following year David Bowie graced its Pyramid Stage.
Since then, the festival has become legendary both for its vibe, so very different from commercial music festivals the world over, the aforementioned mud and the special place it seems to command in performers’ and festival-goers hearts alike. And so, if you weren’t wowed by the announcement of this year’s Pyramid Stage headliners of Muse for the third time, Coldplay for their fourth slot or Adele for her first, you had plenty else to choose from. Actually, you had a little too much choice!
The mood in line for the long drop loos and coffee stands was sombre as news quickly spread across Worthy Farm of Britain’s “decision” – at 51.9% to 48.1% – to leave the EU. A poll of festival-goers resulted in 83% firmly in the Remain camp. The ‘Brexit’ EU referendum’s outcome went on to feature heavily during the festival with the majority of stars clearly devastated with the result.
Friday’s official opening of the festival by Mancunians James on the Lemmy-tributed Other Stage, adorned with an Ace of Spades emblem, was delayed by the area in front of the stage becoming an unmanageable bog, with wood-chip being hauled in to remedy the situation. The festival went on to consume the entire southwest region’s supply!
Instead, The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians kicked off proceedings with Blur’s Damon Albarn over on the Pyramid Stage. And if you wanted to stay out of the mud, the sun was out for Sao Paulo’s Bixiga 70 over on the West Holts stage or the inbound rain could be escaped from in the wonderful Acoustic tent with the likes of English country music duo, twin sisters Ward Thomas, their second album Cartwheels due out in September given a good outing.
Following a crazy awakening from French singer Héloïse Letissier, better known by her stage persona Christine and the Queens, Scots Frightened Rabbit stirred up the damp Other Stage crowd before the sun made an appearance during Denverites The Lumineers’ set, their brand of foot-stomping folk rock well received by the crowd with a massive sing-along ensuing during biggest hit Ho Hey.
Famously bearded rockers ZZ Top were firm favourites on the Pyramid Stage followed by a blistering set from (surely!) future headliners Foals, frontman Yannis Philippakis showing preparation for the day’s Brexit decision by turning up in a white vest emblazed with the words “Abuse of power comes as no surprise” while churning out 13 tracks from across each of their four studio albums.
But it was far and away rockers Muse who demonstrated to the naysayers why they deserve to top the bill at such talent-packed festivals again and again, all but the first of their seven studio albums touched upon during the blinding set, accompanied by an impressive light show with huge inflatable balls being let loose across the crowd and fireworks adding to the spectacle. And as fantastic as the music and intricate, orchestral instrumentation are, it is frontman Matt Bellamy’s incredible instrument of a voice that always leaves me gobsmacked.
Although the Devon-native said very little between belting out tunes with incredibly high-hitting notes, his stance on the immediate politics seemed firm after saying hello to the crowd in a handful of European languages and slotting in a tour debut of Drones track The Globalist with its defeatist lyrics “To hunt and gather memories of the great nation we were”. Following that set, the Devon rockers became the first ever band to headline Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights!
The second full day of festivities was kicked off by London trio Hælos on the Other Stage. Who I missed. Because I slept in to see out the rain I woke up to bouncing off my tent. But the rain had long since past by the time Manchester native Shura graced the same stage with an outing of her flavour of electropop.
Finding herself spouting verbal diarrhoea, she addressed the situation stating “I pictured myself coming out on stage in sunglasses looking like a badass motherfucker and all I’ve ended up doing is talking about eating my own hair, protein and giving birth to an album!”
A quick bolt over to the newly located John Peel tent found me in front of rising English popstress Dua Lipa, performing the first of two billed sets over the course of the weekend, her name up in lights behind her as she strutted about the stage in a long pink trenchcoat over a fly-print covered leotard, in a confident style that oozed Charli XCX but with tunes that were far more easily consumed.
Wolf Alice were the golden band of Glasto 2015, following up their secret Williams Green set with one of the festival’s highlights, singer Ellie Rowsell floating out across the Park Stage crowd during a rain shower. This year saw the London quartet upgraded to the Pyramid Stage which they were clearly in awe of, Rowsell sharing a story with the crowd about the time she and guitarist Joff Oddie were rejected from the emerging artist contest the festival holds each year.
This was one band that many at the festival had never even heard of last year but had marked on their plans in fluorescent yellow highlighter for this year’s edition. And rightly so. This year’s set was accomplished but equally as edgy, Oddie slicing his hand by playing guitar too violently bled all over the hallowed stage as Rowsell jumped down to reach into the crowd but didn’t quite dare surfing across them this time out.
Camden Town’s own Ska masters Madness followed, the group clearly a day too early for the legends slot they were obviously meant for. Was that a scheduling mistake Emily? But of course, debating between the benefits of waiting around for Baggy Trousers on the Pyramid or nipping across to catch the wonderful Band of Skulls grace the Other Stage would mean missing out on both acts on the main stages. And so I took the time out to check out some of the smaller stages.
Past the worlds of Left Field, The Glade, West Holts and the Cabaret field lays the wonderful Field of Avalon. And that is where I came across one of the highlights of my festival: Larkin Poe. The Atlanta, Georgia-based sisters Lovell brought their flavour of American Roots back to Glastonbury, playing an energetic and truly magnificent set to a packed out Avalon Stage tent, with a good airing of new record Reskinned.
While I may not have known whether to foot-stomp to Megan’s lapsteel prowess or head bang along with younger sister and frontwoman Rebecca’s heavy guitars, this was a treat of a show away from the huge crowds of the festival’s main stages. And it helps that the timber-framed Avalon Inn is just next door for well-deserved refreshments.
While there were too many acts to think about choosing between next – would it by The 1975 on the Other Stage, Tame Impala on the Pyramid or Fatboy Slim back over at the John Peel – it was a stop at The Bhangra Bus for me for some hard-earned Indian food served up in a converted yellow American school bus with actual indoor seating, a welcome respite ahead of the biggest crowd of the festival so far turning up for the much groaned about Saturday night headline slot by English singer Adele.
Was she good? Yes. Was she a great Saturday night headliner for Glastonbury? Not in my opinion. While Adele is certainly incredibly talented and has a wonderful catalogue of songs, the show simply wasn’t the majestic affair put on by other headliners, least of all past Saturday night acts. Her set was somewhat stunted both by her own nervousness at playing the Pyramid stage to an overfilled Worthy Farm and a crowd incident. Her initially cute but progressively tiresome habit of pulling fans from the crowd onto stage as well as an unfortunately timed sickness in the audience that had her set paused for a time didn’t help matters. Yes her bad language was amusing for a time but became more and more distasteful, especially given the young age of many in the crowd she attracted.”The BBC had to give a warning about my potty-mouth before I went on” she said, addressing the situation. “I bet Muse didn’t get that!” she quipped.
What was missed to catch that set, English Country duo The Shires headlining the Acoustic Stage within 24 hours of one half of the duo Ben Earle’s son arriving into the world (congrats Ben!!), EDM rockers New Order headlining the Other and M83 over at the John Peel.
The final day of festivities saw drizzle returning to Pilton, keeping the mud moist and the tent stages filled. It also saw Londoners Bear’s Den return to Glastonbury to air material from upcoming sophomore album Red Earth & Pouring Rain on the Other Stage.
Years & Years, Catfish and the Bottlemen and PJ Harvey led the Other Stage to James Murphy’s climactic LCD Soundsystem set while Jeff Lynne’s ELO took over the much coveted Sunday afternoon ‘Legends’ slot on the Pyramid, getting appetites whet for Les Paul thrashing popstress Ellie Goulding and international man of cool, Beck. Meanwhile, Mystery Jets, Bat For Lashes and Of Monsters and Men lit up the John Peel Stage with a set from Seattle rockers Band of Horses thrown in for good measure, their recently released fifth studio album Why Are You Ok getting a good airing alongside past hits Laredo, The General Specific and The Funeral, Ben Birdwell’s men in fine form.
The choice for the evening was not as easy as one might expect. While it’s easy enough to rock up to catch the headliner, Coldplay seem to be equally loved and despised. And it’s not like there’s no other choice:
- Avalon: KT Tunstall followed by Newton Faulkner
- Acoustic: Gabrielle Aplin followed by another contender for the Sunday ‘Legend’ slot Cyndi Lauper
- Park: Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Canadian Grimes
- John Peel: Mac DeMarco and Jake Bugg closed out the tent
- West Holts: Gary Clarke Jr and Earth Wind and Fire!
- Other: PJ Harvey and LCD Soundsystem
But with the English band threatening disbandment (again) and having their famous ‘Xylobands’ being handed out to revellers throughout the day in preparation for their set, it was FOMO (the fear of missing out) that eventually drew me up to the very back of the very corner of the very top of the main field overlooking the David Bowie-tributed Pyramid Stage and the biggest sea of people I’ve ever seen in a single place – and I’ve been on the tube in rush hour when more than one line has been out of action simultaneously!
And they nailed it!
Leaping about a stage frontman Chris Martin claimed was “our favourite place in the world”, the set opened with an extract by Charlie Chaplin from the final speech The Great Dictator before the quartet exploded full-steam into A Head Full of Dreams, a sea of Xylobands in a matching LED hue wowing the Glastonbury audience. 2000’s hit single Yellow was next up, the song given away not by its familiar opening chords but by those Xylobands shifting colour in unison to yellow, clever! And so it continued, the bands shifting colours, flashing in time to the music and even shifting to different colours from each other, Jason Regler’s simple yet ingenious invention choreographed by radio to match the music.
With so many huge losses both within the music world and without, it must have been tricky to both pay tribute to them all and find a balance with an upbeat send-off for another amazing Glastonbury festival. And Coldplay found that balance precisely by acknowledging the tribute they would have payed to David Bowie and replacing it with one to fallen British band Viola Beach, allowing them to headline the Pyramid stage for a time via a music video. They also took time out of their set to pay tribute to the recent huge loss of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
A cheeky video introduction had Michael Eavis requesting the Bee Gees headline his Pyramid Stage after which Martin introduced the band of brothers’ sole surviving member Barry Gibb for a rendition of Bee Gees hit To Love Somebody before the Coldplay frontman urged Gibb to remain for “The greatest song of all time”, introducing 1977 hit single Stayin’ Alive. Following A Sky Full Of Stars and it’s cannons of star-shaped confetti raining down on the crowd and even reaching as far as the tents at the back of the field I was stood in front of, Martin brought his children Apple and Moses to the stage to contribute backing vocals to single Up & Up before requesting permission from “someone in charge” to continue on for one more song. And that song was a cover of My Way, made famous by Frank Sinatra, crooned by the departing festival organiser himself, Michael Eavis – he’s officially handing the reins over to daughter Emily.
And as a sea of synchronised lights, changing colour seemingly randomly, filtered out across the vast lands of Worthy Farm as revellers trudged through the heavying mud on their way for one last visit to Shangri-La, Block9 or the giant flame-throwing spider at Arcadia, or just back to their tents for a final night’s sleep at the farm, it was hard not to feel the impending sense of loss that would come in the wee hours as tents were packed up and civilisation back in the real world was returned to.
A summary of my festival:
Favourite moment: As the sun slowly disappeared behind a sea of tipi tents above The Park stage on Thursday evening and the pre-festival atmosphere in the air was rife, those in the area keen to snap their photo of the famous Glastonbury sign.
Musical highlight: Muse ripping into Plug In Baby. Tune!
Hot tip: Larkin Poe. Check ‘em out, the rocking sisters Lovell are back for a full UK tour this December
Future Pyramid Stage headliners: Foals, Wolf Alice
Best headline set: Coldplay. Sure, it meant missing out on what I’m sure was a magical night with Cyndi Lauper over at the Acoustic Stage, but Coldplay simply know how to take things to next level.
Lasting memory: The various mud varieties. There was actually something quite soothing about that diarrhoea-consistency mud that made it quite easy to float through but equally as dangerous should you lose your balance and land in it! The heavy sticky stuff that was the new home to many a welly was less pleasant and the puddles were best avoided altogether.
Favourite food stall: My vote remains loyal with Anna Mae’s “Mac not Crack” Mac ‘n’ Cheese to be found outside the Acoustic tent, although the batch I sampled this time out was lukewarm and overpriced at £7.50!
Worthy a return? Absolutely. Glastonbury is a festival like no other. Its hippy dippy feel remains with vast areas dedicated to alternative arts & crafts and the acts it draws are so varied, accomplished and many that it’s near impossible to even scratch the surface. There truly is something for everyone here and if you’re up for an adventure of a lifetime, Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset is the place to go during the last weekend in June. If 2016 was the muddiest year ever, bring it!
Live review of Glastonbury Festival 2016 by Kalpesh Patel on 24th-26th June 2016.
Photos by Edyta K and Kalpesh Patel
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate