Monday, June 30, 2008

Manic Pop Pilton

Having showered, shaved, stretched, scrubbed, slumbered and speculated, it is time to announce my return from the Glastonbury Festival of Contempory Performing Arts. Well, all three Coles remain shattered but the consensus was that ‘it was worth it’; our adventure is decreed to be a success. I spent all of Wednesday and most of Thursday on my own, sauntering around, exploring and clocking up, on average, a visit to an ethnic wares stall every eight and a half minutes. I was surprised how many people chose to arrive, as I did, at the earliest possible moment, eight (ante meridian) on the Day of Woden but the mood was merry despite the remarkable crowds of characters. It is hard to describe the scale of Glastonbury but my aching calves bear witness to many miles hiked to many a stage, many a meadow in search of musical delights and sundry experiences. The weather proved to be generally fine despite a smattering of rain on the Friday that resulted in the now traditional muddy walkways; this was a temporary meteorological downturn as Saturday emerged dry and the grounds firmed up pleasantly.

My word, there are highlights to report. Perhaps I had better start with the greatest performance of the weekend. The Park Stage required most stamina to reach but I reckon it was the most rewarding part of the site to encounter. On Friday evening I rambled to this splendid natural amphitheatre in search of Edwyn Collins, the former Orange Juice frontman who, three years ago, suffered a really serious and life-threatening cerebral haemorrhage and has been on the slow road to recovery ever since. His unsteady but determined walk to centre stage, aided by stick, was an emotional moment for all that hold this man’s work dear to their hearts and, if I confess to being moist of eye on Friday eve, I know I wasn’t the only one in the audience that was brushing away a tear. Perched on a speaker, Collins produced a compelling set, aided sublimely by a sharply dressed Roddy Frame (he looked fantastic in bespoke suit, natty kerchief in top pocket) on guitar. The first three songs doffed a coquettish ‘tit for tat’ at Orange Juice’s outstanding back catalogue with a spine-tingling Falling and Laughing deliriously followed by What Presence!? and Poor Old Soul. Poignant recent number Home Again was delivered to a hushed and reverential throng, old favourites Rip It Up and, to the delight of this punter, Blue Boy followed before a searing A Girl Like You brought matters to a close with Frame cranking it up to eleven and Collins rhyming ‘allegorically’ with ‘metaphorically’ with suitable aplomb. This was truly bewitching stuff and certainly the most wonderful forty minutes of the weekend.

What else did I enjoy? The atmospheric John Peel stage hosted several notable performances. The Young Knives proved as engaging and quirky as ever and Hadouken!, ebullient new rave grimies and favourites of Master Cole, were loud, fabulous, utterly energetic and gripping. Verily, dear reader, my toes were a-tapping. The lead singer, James Smith, a former grime producer (yes, I am really down wi’ the kids, innit) used to have his early efforts played by Peel and I found the yout’ful troubadour’s tribute to the maestro DJ rather touching. The eccentric and engaging British Sea Power produced a brilliant show that encompassed female Bulgarian choirs, air raid sirens, foliage, the vigorous chanting of ‘Easy! Easy!’, crowd surfing and the scaling of scaffolding. A barrage of witty, rousing, intelligent yet unconventional anthems permeated proceedings. File this marvellous bunch under ‘National Treasure’. The finest recital I witnessed in the John Peel area came from bookish but brilliant Vampire Weekend who scorched through a stunning set. Their eponymous debut is among the front-runners for this site’s prestigious Album of the Year award (don’t write off Paul Weller though) and its catchy and witty tracks were delivered with real gusto. This is a great group. This is a great group. If Collins’s forty minutes were the most moving of the festival, Vampire Weekend’s rendition of A-Punk, the bounciest, happiest single of this or any year, proved the giddiest hundred-and-twenty seconds. I salute this act.

Elsewhere, Panic at the Disco, the ‘emo-band it’s ok for your dad to like’, were fantastic. They played the Other Stage and I truly dug their array of Beatleseque melodic treats. Saturday night at the Park Stage was a cosmic happening with MGMT banging out their psychedelic nuggets, those uber-hip Battles furrowing their collective brow and wigging out in some style and bewitching Brazilians CSS closing the evening with half and hour or so of the most electrifying electro-pop you’ll ever encounter. Other acts were part-viewed: Imagined Village, Amy Winehouse, The Enemy, The Courteeners while others, rank or dull, were regrettably viewed in their entirety. Lightspeed Champion was dreadfully tedious and lacking in substance; a silly fur bonnet and an ironic use of cape cannot disguise a shocking lack o’ tune or talent and the moribund Glasvegas proved an utter waste of time and space. It would be amiss of me to end on a low though; this year’s Glastonbury line-up was eclectic and ambitious and I only wish I’d had the energy or time to see more acts. What I did view proved, on the whole, really delightful and indicates just how much astounding music there is to appreciate these days. I wondered if I’d be a bit of an it-was-better-in-my-day curmudgeon this year but I’m happy to state this wasn’t the case. I believe lovers of decent music have never had it so good and last weekend helped demonstrate this.

Look above for some digital daguerreotype images. One can view them more happily if you click on the blighters and I urge visitors to do so. They get bigger. Here are some simple captions:

1. The obligatory Pyramid Stage photo. Kate Nash (cockney or mockney?) is on there singing 'er songs. We didn't hang around.

2. Edwyn Collins makes his triumphant entrance. Roddy Frame (left) already looks ultra cool. Backstage, Edwyn’s wife and son look on proudly.

3. Sunset at the Jazz/World Stage. Your host moodily awaits Imagined Village.

4. Vampire Weekend make some music.

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