Written by Joe Douglas
Having showered, shaved, showered again and slept in a real, comfortable, honest-to-goodness bed, it’s now time to have one last misty-eyed look back on the five day celebration that was 2015’s Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Arts.
We arrived mid-afterrnoon on Wednesday and the first twenty four hours were spent exploring the vast grounds of the pop up city. Aside from brief encounters with the psychedelic trippiness of Izzness in Toad Hall and the close harmony swing of Elle and the Pocket Belles at the Avalon Cafe, our first real band were Kero Kero Bonito at the Wow Stage on Thursday evening. The London based J-Poppers were a great find, juxtaposing childlike lyrics (in both English and Japanese) with thumping beats on songs like “My Party” and “Picture This”. We ended the day at William’s Green, where three to be announced bands were playing. We missed the first, couldn’t get near the tent for the second (a particularly rocky Wolf Alice) but immersed ourselves in the joyous brass band pop hit covers of Old Dirty Brasstards.
The main stages opened on Friday and, as is tradition, Friday morning at the Other Stage drew a huge crowd for the mysterious special guests. Revealed to be legendary indie rockers The Charlatans, anthems such as “The Only One I Know”, “North Country Boy” and “Just When You’re Thinking Things Over” ensured that the day started with a bang. Staying at the Other Stage, The Cribs kept the momentum going with their garage rock (with the mesmerising “Be Safe” being a particular highlight, featuring a captivating video monologue from Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo). Everything Everything cranked things up a gear with their brilliant patchwork indie rock, climaxing with the unique “Photoshop Handsome”. The short journey to the Pyramid Stage became something of an ordeal as the heavens opened and we were caught in an extreme traffic jam, causing us to miss the opening songs of Alabama Shakes set. Not for nothing has the band – and lead singer Briottany Howard in particular – built their formidable live reputation though, and our spirits were soon lifted by rousing renditions of “Be Mine” and “Don’t Wanna Fight”. Lemmy of Motorhead told us that they were here to play rock and roll and they duly whizzed through an energetic set, rife with great banter between the trio and punctuated by a stupendous drum solo. With the Foo Fighters dropping out, another set of special guests were due to take the penultimate slot at the Pyramid stage. Enter the newly reformed The Libertines, who seemed to recapture that old magic on dazzling set highlights “What a Waster” and “Don’t Look Back in to the Sun”, but were perhaps unable to sustain it for the full hour. We ended the day at West Holts Stage, where Hot Chip ripped through their big bag of electronic hits, culminating with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”.
Saturday’s sun dried the infamous Glastonbury mud, and we spent the first few hours of the day lazily lounging on the hill overlooking the Pyramid Stage. The beautiful folk music of The Unthanks featuring Charles Hazlewood & His Orchestra kept up the relaxed vibe, before the raucous Courtney Barnett took to the stage to rouse us from our reverie. The Waterboys were a success with their Celtic stadium rock (although I thought that their big hit “The Whole of the Moon” was surprisingly feeble sounding, failing to live up to the highs of preceding songs such as “Fisherman’s Blues” and “The Nearest Thing to Hip”), before the year ‘s big break out artist George Ezra performed before a huge crowd. “Budapest” remains the standout from his catalogue but his uplifting cover of Macy Gray’s “I Try” certainly ran it close. Over at the Park Stage, we caught the closing segment of London political rapper Kate Tempest. Father John Misty followed and produced one of the best sets of the weekend. Smartly dressed (“the only band dressed in business suits” according to lead singer J Tillman) and bearded, Tillman has a stage presence and rapport with the audience that some of his contemporaries lack (including one particular Saturday night headliner…), and songs to back it up in the likes of “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt” and “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”. Back at the Pyramid Stage, Pharrell Williams set out to impress and largely succeeded. Featuring more hits than you can shake a stick at, his set demonstrated the fact that he has been one of the most important artists and producers of the last fifteen years or so. He wasn’t afraid to pander to his audience, bringing a selection of “beautiful English women” on stage to twerk to “Blurred Lines” and a bunch of adorable kids on to clap out of sync with “Happy”. Bookending song “Freedom” debuted here and I’ve no doubt that it’ll be as big a hit as those two. And then it was time for Kanye West. Surely the most talked about performance of the weekend, there’s not much I can add to what has already been said. His opening was exhilarating but he hopelessly failed to keep up the momentum and I’m afraid he’d already lost most of us by the time he introduced strangely truncated versions of his biggest hits. I was already leaving the area as he produced his embarrassing cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and announced himself as “the greatest living rock star on the planet”. Easily the most disappointing performance of the weekend.
Thankfully, we had all of Sunday to right everything. A slow start to the day meant that we didn’t catch anything until Hozier took the stage in the early afternoon. With his shaggy hair and chequered shirt, he’s far from an identikit singer songwriter in the mould of Sam Smith. “Take Me to Church” remains his signature tune but a great set showed he has plenty more in his armoury. Legendary punk poet Patti Smith followed with what turned out to be the best performance of Glasto 2015. Her pulsating rhythms and rasped vocals on the likes of “Privilege (Set Me Free)” merged to form close to a spiritual experience, and that was before she brought the Dalai Lama on stage. Wow. Just wow.
Taking up the legend slot was Lionel Richie, who hammed it up to the max, wearing a perma-OMG face as he cajoled and praised what was likely the largest crowd of the weekend. Every song was a crowd pleaser, from the dirty funk of “Brick House” to the sing along balladry of “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady” to the non-stop party vibe of “All Night Long”. The evening, and festival as a whole, ended with the dream mod one-two of Paul Weller and The Who. Under the gorgeous summer evening sunshine Mr Weller coolly played through his solo hits and the biggies from The Jam, and even the two songs selected from his latest album felt well chosen and up to scratch. Capping it all off, The Who dutifully played through a fabulous pick-a-mix selection of their greatest hits (easy to do when you’ve had a career spanning fifty years and fifty eight singles). There was something sad about watching the band with images of their younger selves as a backdrop (including the baby faced Keith Moon), and about hearing Daltrey singing songs like Teenage Wasteland or lyrics like “hope I die before I get old”. But it was also inspiring to hear them throwing down to Kanye’s ridiculous greatest rock star claims, and to see the septuagenarians produce such a powerfully absorbing set. I like to think that that poignant dichotomy was the perfect end to a pretty amazing weekend. And I think I’ll leave that as a suitable end to my little review.