Review: Glastonbury 2022 – Paul McCartney, Idles, Wet Leg and more

Glastonbury 2022 (Photo: Richard Bowes)

Glastonbury 2022 (Photo: Richard Bowes)

Veterans Paul McCartney and The Pet Shop Boys triumph upon Glastonbury’s return.

It may have slipped your attention, but Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts made its long-awaited return a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, it would only have passed you by if you had been out of the UK for the month of June, such is the attention the festival receives. And justly so; it’s the biggest collation of creators and fans of music in the world and for that reason, alongside many others, it stands apart.

Restrictions may have lifted nearly a year ago, but the sense that the pandemic is finally over would only have been put to bed upon Glastonbury’s return (let’s not mention that COVID numbers are spiking once again, in part down to super-spreader events such as this).

As such, more so than ever, there was a distinct atmosphere of celebration and communion. Traditionally, the festival starts slowly with punters dripping in from Wednesday to Friday morning but this year, the place was packed from the word go, those lucky enough to be the holders of the golden ticket having waited for nearly three years to cash it in. Revellers revel, dancers dance and drinkers drink.

The music didn’t officially start until Friday morning, but Thursday threw up some treats: over on the Truth Stage, Kae Tempest put on a spontaneous set of untested music; Bastille delighted fans with a secret set; Steam Down brought their jazz-funk to a joyous crowd on the Greenpeace Stage and Liverpudlian DJs Camelphat supplied the beats, including an ecstatic remix of REM’s Losing My Religion.

On Friday morning, the Other Stage was formally opened by a recorded message of solidarity from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to an eerily silent field of thousands of people before The Libertines kicked off the musical proceedings.

Somehow, the motley crew of the Good Ship Albion have become a heritage act and, professionals that they now are, offered up a series of crowd-pleasing anthems including Time For Heroes, What Became Of The Likely Lads, Boys In The Band and Can’t Stand Me Now.

In truth, there is something dispiriting about seeing Carl, Pete, Gary and John struggle to fill such a big stage with their ramshackle sound, especially at 11am, and the set desperately needed an injection of new music. However, a festival is not the time for that and it was a competent if uninspiring set, but Don’t Look Back Into The Sun will never fail to raise a smile.

In contrast, Wet Leg couldn’t be hotter, and their early afternoon set at the Park Stage (with its largest-ever crowd, according to Emily Eavis) went down a storm.

The huge number of punters gleefully contributed to the mid-song scream on Ur Mum, which could be heard at a deafening volume even from the Crow’s Nest up the hill. The duo are on too much of a roll to classify the set as ‘career-defining’, but it was another landmark in a year so far full of them.

It was a raucous antidote to the preceding artist, Orlando Weeks, whose mellow offerings from his two solo albums suited the early afternoon, slovenly vibes.

Speaking of going from strength to strength, Confidence Man are having quite the year themselves, building up a fanbase with their 1990’s-dance oeuvre. Their set started slowly but, through the compelling stage antics of Janet Planet (we cross our fingers that is her real name) and Sugar Bones, you could see the momentum building in front of your eyes. Their unashamed party anthems will stand them well throughout the rest of the summer.

The very nature of Glastonbury means that, if glistening pop music isn’t your thing, there’s always something else to feast your eyes and ears upon, and Sleaford Mods are an alternative to, well, everything.

Jason Williamson and a surprisingly mobile Andrew Fearn (a fact he puts down to giving up the weed) are old lags at the festival game now, but the skull-crushing beats of Discourse, Jobseeker et al now work equally as well in the open air as they do in small clubs. Quite the feat.

After their set there was a ferocious bottleneck of people entering the West Holts area for TLC, but the negotiation of a scary few minutes was made worth it by Supergrass on the Other Stage.

After announcing their reformation at the Pilton Party in 2019, their reunion tour was curtailed by the pandemic. However, any spark or momentum that may have been lost through inactivity remains undimmed as the best singles act of the Britpop generation delivered the goods, from the fuzz-punk opener of Caught By The Fuzz to the sedate St Petersburg from 2005.

At the tail end of the first phase of their career, the Oxford lads were derided as mid-afternoon festival staples, yet now it’s a badge they wear with pride as they made an early claim for ‘most hits-packed set.’

Like Wet Leg, Yard Act are making hay while the sun shines, but had drawn the short straw with their two set times. After having the misfortune of playing at the same time as Paul McCartney for their ‘main’ set on the Leftfield, their 40-minute show in the Williams Green tent was scheduled against the first half of Idles’ barnstorming performance on the Other Stage.

It was a loyal crowd though who give their all to a familiar set, even if James Smith’s avuncular charm was lost somewhat due to the acoustics of the tent. Smith instead played it safe, engaging the crowd in a more traditional, festival-friendly way, a testament to their learning as they evolve, and tracks such as The Overload and Rich are fast becoming classics.

Although Idles’ Other Stage set felt an inferior sequel to their 2019 set on the Park Stage (not a criticism; that was life-changing for many), in terms of spirit the set was different with two further albums bolstering their armoury as they effortlessly whipped up a substantial crowd. Their secret slot the following day, in which they played first album Brutalism in full, was more for the faithful.

Equally familiar with Glastonbury, having worked their way up the bill over 15 years, Foals finally hit the headline slot on the Other Stage with force and power. New album Life Is Yours may have more disco inclinations than before, but its offerings were dispensed with early in the set to make way for heavyweight hitters such as Inhaler, What Went Down and a moving Spanish Sahara.

After the last few years’ torment, the line ‘forget the horror here’ has a new resonance and power, the sign of a truly great song.

After the traditional Friday night indulgences Day 2 began slowly, but Metronomy’s sun-drenched, keyboard-inflected set shook off the rigours to get people moving.

However, your correspondent took the opportunity to visit some hidden corners of the site in the knowledge that it would be a long evening at on the Pyramid Stage.

Remarkably, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds made their first appearance at the festival (and Gallagher’s first appearance as an artist for 18 years) and proffered a well-judged set.

Drawing largely from third album Who Built The Moon? (now five years old) and the subsequent EPs, those expecting wall-to-wall Oasis hits may have been surprised at the evolution of the apparent Luddite before a spell-binding Dead In The Water was the bridge to The Anthems (or, at least, some of them).

Knowingly self-aware and no fool, the Chief and his gang rattled through the likes of Little By Little, Wonderwall and Whatever leaving the audience no opportunity to pause for breath before closing, unsurprisingly, on a huge Don’t Look Back In Anger.

As legendary a songwriter as Gallagher is, even he was undoubtedly aware that he was warm-up for what followed (indeed, one of the few acts Noel would agree to warm-up for): Paul McCartney.

There was a real sense of occasion as the Beatle took to the stage, partially due to his recent 80th birthday (and therefore a reminder of his mortality) and partially due to his back catalogue.

It would be churlish to expect a set of pure Beatles and, with 50 years’ worth of material since then, the lesser-known numbers struggle to ignite the crowd, which Macca duly acknowledged but paid little heed.

Frankly, he deserves better; Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five is as good as anything released under the Fab Four moniker, Let Me Roll It is bolstered by the now-traditional Foxy Lady coda, and it was a delight to see his unbridled glee when performing newer material such as Fuh You and Come On To Me.

But once McCartney strapped on his acoustic guitar the set was an emotional rollercoaster. After casually dispatching Blackbird, the tear ducts were given their first workout with his ‘love letter’ to John Lennon, Here Today, written shortly after his death.

At this point it was impossible to think of anything other than the weight of history McCartney carries with him and, more significantly, whom he has lost along the way.

John Lennon, Georges Harrison and Martin, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, Brian Epstein, Linda…all sadly gone, leaving Macca (and Ringo, of course) as the last man standing, but still he carries on, the walking embodiment of music.

Yes, his voice isn’t what it was but that doesn’t stop him trying. McCartney still reaches the high notes, just not as powerfully as he used to, but likely better than you or I can right now.

Appearances by Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen only added to the carnival atmosphere before a final run-through of yet more hits, including the biggest Pyramid singalong ever for Hey Jude. The best headline set ever? Possibly. And he didn’t even play Yesterday.

With hearts filled with love, we headed into a final day which had a big task on its hands but stepped up to the plate.

11am was a little too early for Just Mustard’s noise-drone on the John Peel Stage but it certainly blew away any cobwebs and, as Jack White was announced to be playing a secret set on the Park Stage, Diana Ross was sacrificed to get a good spot to witness a phenomenal performance from the White Stripe.

His guitar histrionics have to be seen to be believed as he delivered a concise, career-spanning set in his hour allocation. Less musician than force of nature, White and his band ripped through the likes of Hotel Yorba, Taking Me Back and I Cut Like A Buffalo before a devastating closing one-two punch of Steady As She Goes and, of course, Seven Nation Army, whose familiar riff sung by the crowd could probably be heard in Bristol.

Following White would be a hard ask for anyone, yet sadly JARV IS… misjudged things (or were incredibly brave, depending on your perspective) by playing a clutch of brand new songs. Ardent fans of Cocker (and who isn’t?) would have been pleased but the rest of the audience visibly struggled with the new material, although he ensured their attention was kept with his inimitable between-song patter.

Closing proceedings, national treasures the Pet Shop Boys were given the headline slot on the Other Stage on Sunday night and delivered a set to rival Macca’s in its singalong capabilities.

While not exactly festival veterans (although this is their third appearance), the Newcastle pair know what they are doing and went straight for the jugular with an opening quartet of Suburbia, Can You Forgive Her?, Opportunities and their cover of Where The Streets Have No Name delivering the goods, which even a Spinal Tap stage malfunction (Chris Lowe didn’t appear until nearly the halfway point) couldn’t dislodge.

There’s little more to say about Glastonbury that hasn’t already been said, holding as is does such a unique place in British culture. Like Las Vegas, it’s one of the few things in life where the cliches are true.

Other festivals are just gigs in fields. This is the only true festival.

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