The Glastonbury Festival is the single most visceral experience I’ve ever had.
This year was my second and the best I’ve been to. Not just because a lot of the bands we saw were great (because some of them weren’t – the strength in depth in 2011 was far greater), but because I went with my three, now adult, kids and we had a (mostly) collective experience that I doubt we can ever beat.
For me Glastonbury is about the music, but when the BBC cameras stop rolling at 11.30 each night much, much more goes on and this time I took a lot more of that in (Arcadia and Shangri La in particular).
2013 was all about The Rolling Stones (more on them later) and, like others, I can only speculate that, generally speaking, the top of the bills were weaker than previous years as the Stones’ coffers had to be further topped up to get them. So, we explored the smaller stages a lot more and unearthed some peaches.
In particular I loved the Williams Green Tent (an outstanding venue with the best sound and lighting in the entire site – we saw about seven gigs there). The Park Stage is a real favourite of mine and so is West Holts (my favourite big stage).
The John Peel Stage suffers fro awful acoustics and my worst gig of the weekend was at JP.
The Pyramid Stage suffers from being too quiet unless you are at the front. And the only gig I saw on the Other Stage also suffered from poor sound mixing.
All that sounds a bit negative but we had a ball. And I’ve decided to rank the bands I saw as follows.
1 Savages (10 out of 10). This incredibly in your face all-girl four piece simply assault you from the stage. In a festival of viscerality this was Glastonbury distilled to perfection.
2 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (9 out of 10) Truly wonderful performance. At times the “wind” from the bass stack hit you in the face as he told his tales of death and destruction. In particular his cover of “stagger Lee” by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvians brought the house down. As part of the performance of this song he stood on the barrier and caught a female in a white dress in a long drawn out stare that was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
3 Chic with Nile Rogers. (9 out of 10) Simply incredible greatest hits show with a ten or so strong band and great backing singers. Danced n=my ass off without about ten other people for 90 minutes.
4 Penguin Cafe. (9 out of 10) One of my all time favourite groups beautifully reignited by Arthur Jeffes, son of Penguin Cafe Orchestra founder Simon Jeffes, were wonderful in the Avalon Tent. I was on the barrier for this one.
5 The Hives (9 out of 10). The Hives opened Glastonbury on The Other Stage and blew most of what followed away with lead singer, Howlin’ Pelle Amquvist, stealing the show with patter that was not matched by anyone else at Glasto (other than, I’m told, Steve Aoki)
6 Ben Howard (9 out of 10). A beautiful set that somehow managed to captivate most of the Pyramid Stage’s vast audience. An unexpected gem from a man who only has one album. What a belter.
7 Rokia Traore. (9 out of 10) Another opener, this time on Saturday on the Pyramid Stage. Totally out of place here but this beautiful Malian singer pulled out all the stops and it was magical.
8 Vampire Weekend (8 out of 10). Just a good, polished, fun set on the Pyramid Stage.
9 Fanfare en Petard (8 out of ten) a French rap jazz combo that we stumbled upon on the Shangri La Hell Stage on Thursday night.
10 Melody’s Echo Chamber. (8 out of 10). Melody (like Ben Howard) has taken no beating with the ugly stick but her music too was just right for a sunny Saturday lunchtime on the Park Stage.
11 Primal Scream. (8 out of 10). The “pretend Rolling Stones” were much better than the real thing with Bobby Gillespie seemingly under the influence and raging against the machine that was a disinterested Pyramid Stage crowd in place for the “real thing” that was to follow. “Are you fuckers all on Valium?” he shrieked in disdain. Much to my amusement. They rocked.
12. The Vaccines (8 out of 10). They’d already performed on the Pyramid Stage but we opted to see them in the much more intimate Williams Green tent. Very good indeed.
13. Foals. (7 out of ten). A great set.
14 Tribes. (7 out of 10). A good set in William’s Green.
15 Swim Deep (7 out of 10). Nice wee band. Good set in William’s Green.
16 The Rolling Stones. (6 out of 10). None of my group of friends much liked them. “Are they waiting for the BBC to finish filming before they get going?” Chris asked me. The party just never started. Highly professional, tight and note perfect as they were it was unengaging. The Pheonix that crowned the stage came to life for “Sympathy for the Devil.” But so what? Only one song really cut the mustard for me. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. How very, very appropriate.
17 Barbarossa. (6 out of 10). A good set but spoiled by the crowd talking throughout as they waited for The Vaccines.
18 Palma Violets (6 out of 10). A hot ticket on William’s Green, but no big deal. Copycat early Clash with only 2 good songs.
19 Ben Caplan. (6 out of 10). Funny guy. Funny beard. Funny voice. All good fun.
20 Mumford and Sons (5 out of 10). Pass marks, but no more. The good thing about their gig was that we were right at the front, so it was a good atmosphere. But these guys are one trick ponies. By far the highlight was the encore of “Get by With a little help from my friends” with The Monkeys, Vaccines and Staves joining them on stage.
21 The 1975. (5 out of 10). Nothing that special.
22 Martha Wainwright (4 out of 10). I like her a lot but not in her acoustic stage set that was shrieky and awful.
23 Jake Bugg. (4 out of 10). Who on earth decided to put him on the Pyramid Stage? Out of his depth, nervous. What’s more he was characterless and boring.
24 Bastille. (3 out of 10) He wasn’t helped by an awful John Peel sound mix but it was desperately dull throughout too.
So that’s it. Back to work now.
(Wish I’d seen Portishead)