Even for the most experienced festival goer, Glastonbury 2016 is sure to be a memorable one. From the mammoth queues to get on site (we spent over 12 hours on our coach from Manchester) to the prodigious level of mud and rain, it has been, at times, a struggle. And that’s not to mention the demoralising news of Brexit that greeted the not-so-happy campers on Friday morning.
But Glastonbury goers are a famously hardy bunch, and it would take a lot more than a bit of mud and Boris Johnson to stop us having a good time. A point made all the easier by the fact that this year’s lineup was one of the most impressive of recent years.
Although like many campers we arrived on Wednesday, the festival proper doesn’t really get going until Friday. That morning, at the Other Stage, we cheered as Michael Eavis, the world’s most famous farmer, cut the big red ribbon to get things underway, with Manchester legends James waiting in the wings. It was hard not to be heartened by James’ patented brand of uplifting indie, as well as frontman Tim Booth’s frantic gyrating and brave crowdsurfing, although some were clearly disappointed not to get the opportunity to belt out the anthemic Sit Down together.
Over at West Holts we were treated to a couple of bands with more exotic leanings. First, Brazilians Bixigia 70 brought us their funky Afrobeat stylings and, for a little while at least, the sun even managed to shine. They were followed by the traditional Ukrainian folk group Dakhabrakha. With a sound entirely unique to my western ears, it would be easy for their music to fail to translate (seriously, check out songs like Sho Z-Pod Duba, they’re bonkers). Instead, the crowd completely took them to heart and they ended as one of the first day’s real success stories.
After a quick break, we made our way to the Pyramid Stage for ZZ Top. The brilliantly bearded rockers may be in their mid-60’s now but their music still has Legs (awful pun, sorry). Foals followed, although technical foul ups meant that their set was not as cohesive and punchy as they might have wished.
Fortunately there were no such problems for headliners Muse. Muse have long been held up as one of the best live acts around but to witness it in person was still something special. Matt Bellamy and his guitar owned the Pyramid Stage, both through the electrifying hits (Stockholm Syndrome and Knights of Cydonia were particular favourites of mine) and the impromptu guitar jams that broke out throughout.
With no set agenda on Saturday morning we made our way over to the Park area, where Car Seat Headrest were in the middle of a well-received performance. We popped into The Stonebridge Bar for a quick dance to Four Tet‘s morning set, before trekking through the mud to Avalon for a rousing (and often hilarious) blend of bluegrass and Celtic rock from Police Dog Hogan. After bumping into the Masters of Kazooniverse, we eventually arrived at The Summer House, where we learned all about lobster-love thanks to a delightful chap called LEKIDDO – Lord Of The Lobsters! I advise you to check out one of his no-budget videos on YouTube, he is brilliant.
After that insanity, we figured it was probably time for a bit of Madness. While it was tricky to dance to House of Fun and One Step Beyond in wellies and mud, everyone was clearly having a great time. They have more than enough hits in the pockets of their Baggy Trousers to keep us entertained, and they supplemented these with a hilariously shoddy version of AC DC’s Highway to Hell and a touching cover of Bowie’s Kooks.
Back at West Holts we caught the Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra, apparently acclaimed as “the weirdest band in the world”. All I’ll say is that I was both enthralled and terrified at the same time… If you were thinking that we’d seen an awful lot of world music by this point, The Very Best took it to a whole other level. With band members from Nigeria, Malawi, Sweden, India and L.A., this group have managed to blend something very special. Part dance, part rock, part pop and part hip hop their music deserves a much bigger audience. They were later joined on stage by lovely vocal quartet The Trills, talented London MC Afrikan Boy and Senegalese legend Baaba Maal to create a real party atmosphere. There was even a glorious rainbow for god’s sake.
Over at the Other Stage, Chvrches brought us some syrupy electropop. As lovely as Lauren Mayberry is, and she is very lovely, I have to say I was slightly disappointed not to see a live band backing her. I understand that that’s not what Chvrches are but it just seems more authentic that way. Also blurring the line between electronica and live rock were Other Stage headliners New Order. Theirs was a solid if slightly jaded set, and there was a slightly lopsided feel to things as they followed a first half low on hits with True Faith, Blue Monday, Temptation and Love Will Tear Us Apart in quick succession.
In neatly symmetrical fashion, we headed back to the Park Stage to finish the night with the Philip Glass’ Heroes Symphony by Charles Hazlewood and his orchestra, accompanied by an incredible laser light show by Chris Levine. Based on Bowie’s 1977 album, the experience was a treat for both the eyes and the ears.
By Sunday the urge is to cram as much of that Glastonbury goodness in as you can before it is time to head back to the real world of clean clothing, actual pavements, and not cracking open a can of beer at 10am. With that in mind, we set off bright and early to see Oscar perform at William’s Green. Oscar played at Dot to Dot back in May 2015 and it was clear back then that the band had some talent. It’s great to see how they’ve developed since then, with a hatful of wonderful new songs and a growing, incredibly enthusiastic fanbase already in tow.
Gregory Porter was the runaway winner for the title of smoothest operator on Worthy Farm this weekend with his lovely line of easy-listening soulful jazz. He seems like a really nice fella, even if he does go to ludicrous lengths to ensure that you can’t see his ears. Next, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott worked an audience slightly younger than they’re used to (by Heaton’s own admission) into a frenzy with a brilliant set including their own numbers, some classics from their Beautiful South days, and even a few from way back in the Housemartins era (Caravan of Love in particular was wonderful). Paul Heaton charmed with his self-deprecating northern humour and they finished with the most inflammatory and transparently anti-establishment lyrics of the weekend in Heatongrad.
The ‘legends’ slot on Sunday afternoon has become a huge event over the last few years, with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie receiving rapturous receptions recently. Fortunately Jeff Lyne’s ELO were more than up to matching them, with a vast crowd of all ages bouncing along to one big song after another. At one point it even seemed as though Mr Blue Sky might even work its magic on the weather, as the steady rain seemed to let up ever so slightly, but to no avail.
Band of Horses played to a packed John Peel stage later that day. The group have gone through a variety of genres during their five album lifespan, but it’s The Funeral, from their debut album, which remains their most powerful tune.
Indie rock god Beck was the penultimate act on the Pyramid Stage. Beck has never been as successful here as he is in America, and sandwiched in between two of the more mainstream artists of the weekend – Ellie Goulding and Coldplay – it seemed at times that he found it difficult to win portions of the crowd over. For me though, he was brilliant; shifting from one funky number to another, his band as nimble and dexterous as the man himself. Every song was a winner, but Where It’s At at the finale, interspersed with a selection of covers from the likes of Kraftwerk and, that man again, Bowie, was a real triumph.
And finally the weekend was brought to a glorious close by Coldplay. Chris Martin and company have always seemed incredibly desperate to please and here he strained to pull out all the stops – glowing wristbands for every member of the crowd, fireworks, an incredible light show, even a Bee Gee(!). From the outside it might seem overly cliche or try-hard to have gone to such efforts, and of course Coldplay are a band with plenty of detractors, but when you’re bleary-eyed, rain soaked and mud caked from five days of festival, that level of showmanship and warmth towards the crowd goes such a long way. There and then, Martin was the host with the most and we thank him wholeheartedly for that.
And that was that. As I wrote this on the coach back to Manchester, it was clear that Glastonbury 2016 will be remembered by those that were there for many years to come. Traffic and weather will soon be forgotten about, and even a shitty outcome in the world of politics is no great surprise, but the music we’ve seen and the experiences we’ve shared will live long in the memory.