The weathermen were fucking with us, randomly changing their little map symbols every 22 minutes knowing the flighty would flock. The run up to Glastonbury used to be dominated by the mystery of the programme as Michael Eavis would never tell you who was playing; these days that info is broadcast far and wide, leaving matters of a meteorological nature the only uncertainty.
2009 as an atmospheric phenomenon was one that you’d take: a bit of rain, mud underfoot for a day and the rest was easy wandering on the massively differing plains of Worthy Farm with the sun making his most welcome appearance during various blessed bands sets.
2009 was also the year of country. With Crosby Stills and Nash and Neil Young on the Pyramid and Bruce Springsteen as the main festival headliner (What? The Boss is country now? – Ed), this festival was definitely looking over its 39-year-old shoulder to the past. Up at the other end of the site (nearly an hour-long walk), Michael’s daughter Emily continues to dominate with her organically sprawling ‘Park’ area. With more stages, BBC Introducing, the surreal Rabbit Hole and decent food, Glastonbury is ever growing in an era when festivals are dying.
Hype bands this year were The Specials (Sorry – The Specials, a hype band? Someone needs some perspective – Ed), Dizzee Rascal, The Horrors, Animal Collective and, understandably, Neil Young. Of these, each smashed it in their own way and completely on different terms. Neil Young waited ‘til the last three songs before unleashing the more familiar material, whereas Dizzee came out all guns blazing with a surprisingly crammed Pyramid Stage hill bouncing as one: his tune ‘Bonkers’ is clearly 2009’s biggest so far.
The Specials, despite all the controversy surrounding Jerry Dammers not being allowed in the band, were tight, tight, tight as the near 20-year gap from split to last year’s revivial has served their sense of rhythm and confidence well. They even hurled in a mild political jibe, retaining their rep as a band of the people. Previous to this Fleet Foxes had lulled us into their own unique thrumming trance as this Seattle band weaved their magic about the Ley Lines of Glastonbury.
With Fleet Foxes, The Specials, Lily Allen (whose fluffy noise was barely passable) and then Neil Young, whose esoteric set was one for the die-hard fans, there was as much for everyone as ever. Those that made it to the end of Neil Young were treated to a smattering of classics, yet by this point some of the Clash squad had split for the Queens Head Pub. Rather than being after more booze, though, we were keen to bask in the freezing new talent of The Big Pink, pivoted by the leader of Merok Records. Their icy and psychedelic walls of noise and soulful, ephemeral vocals look a good bet for the future, and we await their debut very shortly on 4AD.
A quick bump up to the Park, near the ancient stone circle, brought us Animal Collective in all their tempered glory. They teased out a high, taut and relentlessly unforgiving set which, through percussion, looped vocals and distinct electronics, refused to break or kick in. Raising the expectation and tension over long periods, sometimes up to 15 minutes without their refined indie breaking, the crowd were gently baying for the mercy of a kick drum of deep thumb of the bass.
The Rabbit Hole saw the most action after this. Completely under-the-radar bands such as the Mad Cows and Dogshow blasted their understated talents into our minds without a care in the world for a recording contract. Dogshow are a duo with drums and organ pacing out the world of dance in their own edifice of space-age kitsch and were the best band we saw all weekend, in full acknowledgment we may never see them again. Sure is the fleeting beauty of Glastonbury.
Undoubtably the best element to Glastonbury is the many small chai and cake tents scattered around the healing fields, green fields and the Avalon area: each a gentle world with tiny folk bands ploughing their own melodic furrows for hour upon hour. Most of Saturday was taken up getting lost in the worlds of kora orchestras, didgeridoo dance dudes with looping and effects pedals recreating early Warp Records classics, or clarinet trios taking requests for their melted interpretations of everything from Roobarb and Custard to McCartney. Eventually though Bruce Springsteen called us away for main stage dominance. As a non-card-carrying Boss fan I was there to be impressed and sing along, yet his delivery wasn’t particularly electrifying nor were his classics cranked out. At the end one neighbour was demanding the three hours of his life back, and if rumour was to be believed and Springsteen didn’t even know about Glastonbury until two weeks before his date, then it showed in his enclosed set which offered little past the inner core of his fans. Though watching him it did mean that we didn’t have to endure Dan Black: officially the worst act of 2009 so far.
Sunday’s music twisted more to the Clash palette with Bat for Lashes, The Prodigy, Noisettes, Joker, Madness, Tunng, Bon Iver and Cold War Kids all screaming our names. Clash managed the first three alone, such is the tricky size of Worthy Farm, bumping into many a random person befriended the night before. Bat For Lashes ruled the day musically, and with her style flying so effortlessly she’ll go a long way – her fan base is just so wide and diverse, and her music simply captivating.
Glastonbury in its 39th year may have been the best Clash has been to in ten years of attending. What separates them? Very little as each memory rolls into the next and its vibe and honesty as a place permeates your every pore. Rumour even has it that it’s on next year, despite a policy of having every fifth year off. It would mark the event’s 40th anniversary, and excitingly word has it that there will be a (previously headline) act performing from each of the 40 years. My Lord, I hear you say… imagine the splendour of this. So get those boots oiled and saddle up to our old donkey called ‘fun’ as we’ll be wandering round the fields, tiny nooks and invisible worlds reporting on talents hidden at every turn at the world’s greatest arts festival.
Avalon: you have my soul forever.
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Photo: Al de Perez
The Big Pink