Monday, 30 June 2014

MY OPINION: Glastonbury 2014

So Glastonbury 2014 turned out rather good, didn't it? As usual I watched the event via BBC television coverage, occasionally managing to watch some of the live streams on the internet via my iPhone. My verdict?

As soon as I finished work at 3pm on Friday, I powered up my extremely temperamental mobile internet and managed to watch all of the magnificent set that Temples played on the John Peel stage. B side 'Ankh' sounded particularly mighty. But it was the reunited hip hop crew Jurassic 5, who provided the astonishing moment of the day, and perhaps the whole weekend, with a fierce and tight performance on the West Holts stage. That afternoon, an electricity storm halted all the action at Worthy Farm, annoying as I was getting ready to watch tUnE yArDs on the website, and annoying for Wiltshire trio Port Erin, who had to cancel their set at the Rabbit Hole. Luckily they played another show at the West Holts backstage bar, which they seemed to relish. Blondie, who played the main stage earlier on in the day, were not so impressive. Debbie Harry seemed to be on a mission to murder every song. Although I admire some of their work, I found it hard to stick with Arcade Fire for more than an hour, as their headline set failed to hold my complete attention. And of course, any focus was lost when I heard the sad news of Bobby Womack's death later that night.

Saturday arrived, and Jagwar Ma's set on The Park stage was an excellent mixture of indie and dance vibes, while Kelis turned out to be the biggest surprise. Having not heard any of her music since the tedious 'Milkshake' days, I wasn't expecting her to be any good. But with the introduction of "proper" singing and an impressive live band, she turned out to be rather great indeed. Inevitably not quite as good as the legendary Manic Street Preachers, who treated The Other Stage to an amazing set packed with all-time classics and new material from the upcoming 'Futurology'. The duet with German film star Nina Hoss was one of the weekend's best moments. Robert Plant and his superb backing band The Sensational Shape Shifters put on an incredible show on the Pyramid Stage, where his underrated solo work shone, and old Led Zep classics were given a refreshing new lease of life. Jimmy who? Despite the conspicuous absence of Kim Deal, the Pixies were excellent on the Other Stage, mystifyingly below Jake Bugg on the bill. Meanwhile on the main stage, Jack White was explosively brilliant, and Metallica proved many of their doubters wrong. Although they weren't quite as good as they were when I have heard them playing live previously.

Sunday seemed to come really quickly, and being confined to the flat all day meant that BBC television coverage was my only option. So it began with a BBC 2 lunchtime show, which was bollocks. The coverage returned at 5pm for Dolly Parton's much hyped afternoon set. I was far from impressed with the stuff they showed before it... They could have chose to show White Lies, the hugely entertaining Melt Yourself Down or the incredible Public Service Broadcasting, who would have just finished their set on the West Holts Stage. But what did we get instead? The boring Lily Allen-alike Caro Emerald (who they already shown enough of during the lunchtime programme), The 1975 (utter, utter shit) and yet more over-exposure of the already over-exposed twat Ed Sheeran. People will argue that the BBC have to cater for all tastes... but if that's the case then why did their main coverage lean so heavily towards middle-of-the-road nonsense? And no Billy Bragg? The whole fuss around Dolly Parton's set was typified by lots of people getting "extremely excited for Dolly", when many of them have probably never owned a single album of hers. It symbolised Britain's trend-driven culture, where anything is a "must-see" if lots of other people are talking about it. Still, I treated her much talked-about set exactly the same as I approached everyone else's. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon, and a magnificent performance from the lady herself. So perfect in fact, that many were convinced she was lip syncing. 

As you could feel the festival coming to a close, things still seemed to be in full swing by Sunday evening. The Horrors were splendid, although their elevational psych anthems would have been a lot more powerful had it been night time and weren't quite suited to the rather grey afternoon light. The Black Keys were also superb, and the size of the assembled crowd suggested that the duo's music is deservedly growing in popularity. Kasabian's headline set could have gone either way. Some of their stuff is incredible, other songs (like the majority of their latest album '48:13') leave a lot to be desired. But they proved themselves to be deserving headliners with a stellar and highly energising set that sent the audience mental. A couple of crap tunes aside ('Switchblade Smiles' and 'Eez-Eh'), their pumped-up party anthems set the place on fire and made an absolute mockery of the band's own ridiculous opinion that "rock n roll is dying". Maybe they just kept telling themselves that because they wanted to play saviours. New album centrepiece 'Treat' was a particular highlight, transforming the field into a giant dancefloor during the song's house flavoured second half. I would say they silenced their critics, but there are some who would dismiss Kasabian even if they played the best gig of all-time. I'm sure a lot of the haters secretly loved it, but had to keep their "cool guard" in place for the sake of credibility. Sadly, after waiting hours for the Beeb to show some of Massive Attack's climactic set on The Other Stage, I found out via Twitter that the band had disallowed filming. Bugger. Seeing The Brian Jonestown Massacre on the red button was an unexpected treat, though.

As well as BBC Two's coverage missing out on a lot of the best stuff, the two BBC red button channels fell victim to some appallingly bad scheduling. With so many artists and bands to cram in, you'd think that the red button channels wouldn't have had time to repeat stuff that had already been shown. On some occasions they were even repeating sets from the previous day! So undoubtedly there was stuff to grumble about, but isn't there always? If the acts on the main stage weren't your cup of tea, then there was always something else going on somewhere that would have been more to your tastes. Truly, the only festival where there really if something for everyone. This year's festival was symbolic of how music in 2014 seems to have got its buzz back. All over social media, the vast majority of tweets and Facebook posts were all concerned with Glastonbury. And they say music is no longer a social power and a major talking point. Even with World Cup games happening, Twitter was dominated by Glasto opinions, from both those onsite and at home. Then there's the matter of the online petition to prevent Metallica from being headliners. Signed by no less than 25,000 people. All those folk signing a petition, just to stop a band from playing some songs on a stage at some festival? It's obvious how much Glastonbury means to people.

Proof that music can still excite and inspire tremendous debate. Impressively sized crowds turning out to the smaller stages to watch great under-the-radar bands who we didn't realise were so popular. Plenty of occasions where thousands of voices sang along to songs that haven't ever been anywhere near the singles chart or received any support from the mainstream. "Our" music isn't doing as badly as we'd thought. That's GOT to be a positive thing, right?

Look at the pros and cons. The future is bright. Now let's keep it up all year round...

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