Saturday, 1 July 2017


By popular demand (and only a week late), here's my latest Glastonbury Festival, experienced via the BBC.

Wake up and praise The National. (Image copyright: BBC)

It’s that time of year again, when a middle-aged man is alternatively confused or entertained by popular music old and new from the comfort of his sofa. I was only able to devote viewing time to Saturday’s fare, so here goes…

BBC2’s coverage began with a lively montage of footage featuring Hollywood stars Johnny Depp and Kris Kristofferson (honorary rock gods if ever there were any), as well as Radiohead, the Friday night headliners. Not surprisingly, presenters Lauren Laverne and Nick Grimshaw jubilantly celebrated “a welly-free Glastonbury” before introducing…

Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, featuring Ruby Turner She has a large voice and a large talent, belting out ‘Let the Good Times Roll’. Backed by the ever-reliable Holland’s outfit, they’re the perfect act for a blissed out, sunny afternoon. The follow up song, the gospel standard ‘Peace in the Valley’, gets an even better response, initiating a sing and clapalong.

Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook The engine room of evergreen New Wavers Squeeze, Difford and Tilbrook are one of the acts who deliver an acoustic performance for the BBC. Their choice is ‘Up the Junction’, a wonderful, bitter-sweet, kitchen sink ballad from my youth played on dual acoustic guitars. In one of those surreal moments that can only happen at Glastonbury, they’re joined by Masters of the Kazooniverse, a primary coloured platoon of kazoo-blowing majorettes, for the instrumental finish to the song. Curiously, it works.

Craig David Not my cup of tea, but Mr. Loverman has a great voice, and ‘7 Days’ has clever lyrics.

Bassy funk played by a man who pulls off looking cool with pink a combination of straggly hair, skeleton-patterned leggings and a ring in his nose. In the middle of ‘Them Changes’ he goes into a bit of a twiddly-widdly jazz odyssey, which rather ruins the song. Still.

Kaiser Chiefs Ricky Wilson’s anthemic troupe are the perfect band for a festival, and the camera cuts in as the singer is, typically, leading some synchronised arm-waving. On ‘Coming Home’ he delivers a spirited performance, dodging between the cameras filming him from either side of the stage, singing intensely down their lenses and into your living room to make a moving song even more affecting. ‘I Predict a Riot’ is the perfect song for a festival, and as the audience sings it back to him, Wilson’s grin nearly splits his face in half.

Lorde She’s “awesome” (c.f. Grimshaw), apparently, and from New Zealand, cutting a distinctive figure in a flower-patterned cat suit. Her stage set, centred on a huge glass case hung above the stage that hosts a variety of different people doing different things, is impressively original; mind you, the young woman in it blowing on the glass during the song the BBC shows seems to have very little to do with the actual lyrics. Typing this up two days later, I remember the stage set but not Lorde’s music. Significant?

Ray Blk Another acoustic performance, of a life-affirming song called ‘Doing Me’. Pleasantly reggae-ish.

The Amazons From the John Peel stage, this noisy lot are dressed in black leather and black denim. ‘In My Mind’ sounds like a goth Kings of Leon.

British Sea Power Everyone’s favourite indie band look like they have the actor John Simm singing lead vocals (and he could do it). ‘Keep on Trying’ is made even better by the addition of someone in a polar bear costume dancing around at the back of the stage.

Young Unknown Female Artist I missed who this was, but she bounds around the stage in red trousers, looks about 12 and has a great voice and an excellent song. As the presenters said, there was a lot of breakthrough talent on display this year.

Shaker maker. (Image copyright: BBC)
Liam Gallagher Well now. Liam (left) and his new band sound like a ropey Oasis covers band on the opening ‘Rock and Roll Star’, but as soon as they hit his own, new and very good material – ‘Wall of Glass’, ‘Bold’ – the backing group gels and Liam’s voice gets stronger as the set goes on. By ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’ and ‘Slide Away’ they’ve hit a peak. The two Oasis standards are only bettered by Liam’s moving acapella version of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, dedicated to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire: the audience do as they’re told and passionately sing the chorus. Liam may have been a gobby knob in the past, by no one can fault his sincerity here.

Kerr Brief snatch of an indie outfit, distinguished by a young and gifted soul singer who has confidence and presence. He’ll go far; they might not.

The National Never heard of this band before – or rather, I’ve heard of them but never heard anything by them. They’re the first real eye-opener of the day. Their loud, varied and anthemic compositions call to mind REM, Flaming Lips, Elbow and psychedelic garage bands in general; there’s probably a bit of Mercury Rev in there, too. 

They look like a bunch of academics, led by a dude in a black suit, whose stage movements bring to mind a bearded Jarvis Cocker.

Katy Perry In the middle of The Natonal’s set, I flip channels to catch a bit of American songstress-of-the-moment Katy Perry’s set. It’s an eye-opener of a different kind as she performs her set in a tight fitting catsuit covered in sequins. The overall feeling of extravagance and flamboyance continues into her band – dressed in black and glittering silver – and her stage set, dominated by a silver giant eye that reflects the symbol on the front of Ms Perry’s costume. The vaguely Masonic vibe is very well done, but the music doesn’t do much for me.

The National (continued) … in contrast to this lot. I’ve started writing down titles because I’m so impressed with them. The stand outs are ‘Guilty Party’, ‘The Day I Die’ and ‘I Need My Girl’. Despite the American indie stylings, every song is melodic, accessible and builds like a mini epic.  Their lyrics are often poetic, such as this wonderful line from ‘Terrible Love’: “It takes an ocean not to break.”

Foo Fighters The Saturday headliners are ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s hard indie rock outfit, who finally claim the Pyramid Stage after cancelling two years ago when Grohl broke his leg. They more than make up for their delayed performance, breaking the swearing record on the BBC’s coverage – previously held by Adele, oddly – and promising to “play all fucking night” (they don’t – bless).

There’s no denying the Foos ability to rock and Grohl is a terrific frontman, keeping the energy levels high and pacing their set immaculately. After an hour or so of thrashing blockbusters, though, I did start to wonder how much Foos you actually need. ‘My Hero’ and ‘This Is a Call’ are great songs but if, as Grohl said, they played a set from all of their nine album  the latest is imminent  there hasn’t been a great deal of progression in style or structure since the first. I much prefer the arcane artiness of The National, who can still rock out as well as Grohl’s outfit.

It says a lot that the bit of the Foos’ set I enjoyed the most was when the drummer and bassist went into Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’.

So that’s it for two years. Only one day this time, but what was on display was varied enough for me to keep the faith with popular music. For all the blandness, for all the heritage and dinosaur acts doing the rounds, there’ll still be something that’ll make me sit up and take notice. This year I can add The National to my distinguished list of "must listen to more of."