Live Review: ‘The outside world and all the problems are miles away’ – Glastonbury 2019

Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2019 (Richard Bowes for Live4ever)

Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2019 (Richard Bowes for Live4ever)

It’s the same every year.

In October, once the tickets have been sold out, the frustrations and criticisms come to the fore. Then, come March, the line-up is released and immediately panned. Then, in the last three weeks of June, the haters have a field day. Variations of ‘it’s middle class’, ‘it’s too left-wing’, ‘it’s not what it used to be’ are to be found on every social media site and forum.

For those lucky enough to step through the gates the doubts, debates and disturbing weather forecasts evaporate. By the time the music (officially) starts on Friday, the outside world and all the associated problems are miles away, literally and spiritually.

It’s not without its issues, some of which are self-inflicted. A sojourn over to the William’s Green Tent on Friday lunchtime promised some Yak to blow the cobwebs away, but for reasons unknown they swap slots with Yellow Days (due to perform straight afterwards) and are unfortunately culled from the list by virtue of the fact that Fontaines D.C. are performing their first slot of four this weekend over in the John Peel Tent at roughly the same time, and are not to be missed.

If the size of the tent (the biggest of their four gigs) and the size of the crowd intimidate the band, you wouldn’t notice. The Dubliners are coming on leaps and bounds this year, yet singer Grian Chatten still hasn’t stopped pacing the stage like a man possessed when he’s not on the mic. These laurels are not going to be rested on. The audience takes a while to respond, but with a closing trio of Liberty Belle, Boys In The Better Land and Big it’s a fool’s errand to deny the band. One down, three to go.

Over on the secluded Greenpeace Stage, Mattiel (also performing several times over the weekend) are giving a shamefully small crowd something to think about. Reminiscent of Cher’s early output, this is classic rock with no frills. Keep The Change is delivered with more gusto than Florence at her finest, and their cover of White Light, White Heat gives the classic a well-rounded edge. Fortunately, the Atlantans are to be found on The Park stage tomorrow with a bigger crowd and slot. Their star deserves to shine.

One issue that was no fault of the Eavises was Snow Patrol having to pull out of their teatime Other Stage slot due to injury. Fortunately, The Charlatans were ready and willing to step into the breach. Now that the crowd are well-lubricated, the opportunity to sing indie classics is grasped with both hands. Always cheerful, Tim Burgess’s facial muscles must ache by the end of the set, so big is his grin. In particular, The Only One I Know and a mighty One To Another take us all back to a more innocent time.

Like a punch to the gut, Idles bring us right back to the present. It’s been an astonishing twelve months for the five piece, with Brit nominations and Ivor Novello awards amongst the accolades for Joy As An Act Of Resistance. But as Joe Talbot regularly and endearingly informs us, this show is the highlight of their career so far and they play like their lives depend on it. There can’t be a dry eye in the house when Talbot breaks down during the now bona fide anthem Danny Nedelko as Mark Bowen picks up vocals (whilst crowd surfing, obviously). In what can only be described as a Glastonbury moment, Talbot’s wife and daughter come onstage and give him a hug. It’s a beautiful sight, but for your correspondent the tears started when Talbot lets the crowd sing ‘unity’ from the chorus of the song. A powerful and simplistic message that ultimately is what it’s all about.

Eyes dried, on we move and we must. Interpol will do well to wrest the Band Of The Day title from Idles but they give it a good shot during their headline set at the John Peel Tent. They’ve undergone something of a renaissance in the last couple of years, and touring for the fifteenth anniversary of Turn On The Bright Lights seems to have revitalised them too. There’s a breeziness to the set where once there was intensity, and as festival sets go they’ve got the tunes. All the indie disco favourites are present and correct, and while Stormzy takes the headlines on Friday night, Interpol quietly and finely went about their business.

But as everyone knows, the music doesn’t stop just because the headliners do. Up in the Crow’s Nest, black midi and Squid keep the party going. There is much talk over the weekend about the comeback of jazz, and in their own ways both bands are in that vein. Neither conform to something as archaic as structure, and while black midi rock the tent harder, Squid’s Houseplants continues its mission to be song of the year.

The heat on Saturday is unbearable and shelter is required, primarily at your own tent if possible. Rumours of the water running out quickly spread across the site, logic dictating that dehydration and hangovers are not a good mix. As such, the day kicks into life quite late on, at pretty much exactly the same moment that Johnny Marr starts playing guitar. Playing hits from across the three key stages of his career (The Smiths, Electronic and solo), Marr has the crowd eating out of his hand. It’s not clear if he’s trying to imitate Messrs Morrissey and Sumner vocally, but if so it looks and sounds effortless. Better still, recent singles Spiral Cities and Hi Hello stand up to any of the classics, even when they are How Soon Is Now? and Getting Away With It. Get The Message and his cover of I Feel You are welcome additions to the set, but nothing will ever top the majesty of There Is A Light That Never Goes, now a full on crowd singalong. Marr has become a fully formed frontman, and the coolest person at Glastonbury without a doubt.

Of course, a certain Liam Gallagher would contest that. Wearing a thick cotton parka in thirty degree heat, as only he can, his sub-headlining slot on the Pyramid Stage is one of the most anticipated of the day, which is ironic considering the set is much the same as it’s been for the last two years. New single The River is brought in, but as it was released two days previously, when most of the crowd were immersing themselves in scrumpy, it understandably gets a muted response. But he can afford it when he finishes on a run of Wonderwall, Supersonic and Champagne Supernova. It’s got everything you would want from a Liam Gallagher gig; the Pyramid field is absolutely packed, arms are aloft and anthems are roared, and there are the mandatory digs at his older brother. The LG bandwagon rolls on.

From one Liam to another over on the Other Stage, as The Courteeners batter us with more anthems as the sun goes down. A perennial festival band (as Liam Fray points out, this is their seventh Glastonbury in eleven years), the Mancunians are pros. The electro-tinged The 17th is the musical highpoint of the set, but the usual double whammy finale of Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long? (complete with a slice of James’ Tomorrow, naturally) slay the crowd. It would be refreshing if they perhaps closed the set with something else, but with the band’s view of smoke and anarchy from the stage, one can understand why they don’t deviate from the tried and tested formula.

While The Killers are bringing the good vibes and special guests over on the Pyramid, The Chemical Brothers bring the party to the Other Stage. It’s easy to forget how many stone cold classics the boys have in their locker (although Glastonbury has that effect), but when faced with the unstoppable, relentless sensory assault that is their set, the memories come flooding back. Now they are seemingly standing alone as kings of the electronic scene (as with Liam Gallagher earlier, there is a touching tribute to Keith Flint), we should treasure them more than ever.

But Saturday night has one more treat in store. Up at the Crow’s Nest, Snapped Ankles are an hour late. Come 3am, a complaint about such a trifling matter won’t be heard. Their pulsing cacophony in such a small space, complete with crowd interaction (sitting down until the drop, etc) is the perfect accompaniment to a nightcap of choice, and perhaps the highlight of Day 2.

Much cooler temperatures and the awareness that time is now precious ensures an early start on Sunday. Boy Azooga, despite posture and smiles that suggest he hasn’t been to bed, gets proceedings off to a flier in the William’s Green tent in a lunchtime slot, while Slaves follow suit on the Other Stage. Any doubts that they may struggle on such a big stage are quickly dispelled; the power the pair generate is worthy of any setting. Brief, bewildering and giving us a brand new number, the Kent duo are in no mood to be intimidated. Not that they ever are.

Fat White Family are a bit incongruous; whilst the scuzzy sheen they are currently peddling is good Sunday afternoon fare, their sneering insolence doesn’t quite match the harmonious vibes of the Park Stage. The same can’t be said of The Good, The Bad & The Queen; enlisting Cor y Penrhyn is a shrewd move by Albarn and co, the male choir’s backing filling the field for Lady Boston. Their laconic shuffle is apt when heads are heavy and hearts are sore, and the title track from last year’s Merrie Land album is both horrible reminder that the real world is waiting, but the beauty of the piece is a perfect way to keep it at arm’s length for a little while longer.

Vampire Weekend provide the Pyramid punters with one last chance to dance, and then it’s a whistle stop tour of the site to catch as many of the headliners as possible before the dreaded moment. The Streets’ comeback has been going for over a year but shows no sign of slowing down, Mike Skinner defying the health warnings by offering us every last bead of sweat he can muster. Meanwhile, the pleasant surprise of Reef keeps the party going, complete with a note perfect cover of the Faces’ Stay With Me. Finally, The Cure make the crowd work for their pleasure before rattling through some of the finest songs of the last forty years. Even Robert Smith allows himself a smile. And then, heartbreakingly, it’s over. A test of endurance that’s over far too soon.

Glastonbury takes far more criticism than it deserves. It’s not perfect but then nothing is; the spirit and attitude that Michael and Emily Eavis instill is infectious. The goal is fun, yet equally as important is the ethos: a desire to make things better. The much-discussed plastic ban is an unparalleled success, the familiar festival soundtrack of the crunch of bottle notable by its absence. Everywhere you look, people are smiling and helping each other.

The United Kingdom has never been as divided in living memory, and while it’s fair to say that not all political demographics are represented on Worthy Farm this weekend, all would be welcome as long as they are prepared to simply be kind. To one another, and to the planet. All other festivals, and there are certainly enough willing to take Glastonbury on, simply won’t come close in 2019.

It’s the same every year.

Unity.

(Richard Bowes)

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