FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: AT GLASTONBURY 2022 - PART ONE
So, what was different about this year’s Glastonbury Festival? More people – arguably at times too many people – rigid blister-inducing ground, a combination of sun, wind, dust and hardly any rain. It wasn’t as hot as 2019 though; mostly pleasant temperatures to watch music outdoors with plenty of tented stages should you begin to show signs of turning lobster, or you just fancied who was on. Weather and ground conditions aside, I think it was simply a collective sense of relief that after a three-year hiatus Glastonbury was back.
In 2020 the festival should have been celebrating its landmark 50th anniversary. Whatever, we were fortunate to be here and it was going to be as good as ever. Glastonbury is essentially what you make it. Row upon row of sweet jars line up brimful, their contents easily spilled out for you to cherry pick from or over-indulge. Whatever your musical or artistic persuasions, they are likely to be fulfilled here so attempting any kind of festival round-up is subjective by nature. I decided to split mine into two; this opening salvo covers Thursday and Friday and a companion piece, reporting on Saturday and Sunday, should eventually surface.
All photos are by Maja Smiejkowska unless stated otherwise - I am so appreciative of her support once again this year.
So, this is who I saw at Glastonbury 2022. Many featured here are grassroots and emerging acts, though you will also find some big names; there were quite a few of those, of course. The festival might be scarcely recognisable from its 1970 roots, when it cost just £1 to get in and that included free milk from the Eavis family’s farm. Yet, within the commerciality that accommodating 200k+ people over five days requires, Glastonbury maintains an independent spirit, evident in green initiatives, charity and cause support, and those areas of the site that are forever hippy.
Talking of things hippy, the Green Fields area of the festival gets a higher quota of visitors on Thursday before the main stages open the following day. Settling in early afternoon, my first port of call was to stop by the small, bicycle-powered Mandala Stage in the Green Futures area. I was simply drawn to it by the country-flavoured songs of North-East singer-songwriter Hayley Mckay. Accompanying herself on guitar with a male violinist alongside, her performance was an immediate reminder of joys waiting to be uncovered when wandering from stage to stage in this part of the festival site. No Glasto footage so here’s a taster from a different live set.
I went on to catch Gecko’s set on the nearby Toad Hall Stage. A Glastonbury regular, London-based Gecko, is a natural raconteur with an endearing personality and a nice line in dry, sometimes self-deprecating wit. From the clever opener, “Can't Know All the Songs” via a wry take on a fairy tale heroine in "Rapunzel" to the closing ode to his favourite fruit juice, “Guanabana Juice”, Gecko demonstrated his real gift for mixing humour with emotion. His is an art that can bring a tear to your eye soon after eliciting a belly laugh. His beautifully-crafted tribute in song to poor Laika, the first dog in space in 1957, certainly delivered the former.
It was a shame not to stick around Toad Hall to admire the multitude of toy amphibians hanging from the tent ceiling and to hear a set from Michele Stodart of The Magic Numbers, which my spies tell me was a rather good one, but the next thing I’d marked was a yomp away from the Green Fields up to the Bread and Roses Stage to see another seasoned Glastonbury act, Andrew Maxwell Morris and his trio of accomplished band mates. The opening songs were a little affected by a nagging sound issue but once resolved, the clarity of Andrew’s earnest vocals powered through while the band’s tight accompaniment filled out the sound nicely. Closing with a particularly spirited version of the lead track from his last album, “Lost My Soul”, this was a performance that easily merited a bigger stage.
Later it was back to Toad Hall to catch some of London singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Cerian, another who has graced these stages before both solo and with the HEARD Collective she co-founded with Daisy Chute to support women in music. Cerian’s bell-like vocals add a resonance to her dark-pop, folk crossover songs while her harp creates a haunting hue of its own. Equally impressive was her ability to play both the harp and a keyboard at the same time. I don’t think I dreamed that and no mushrooms were involved. Sadly I didn’t hear all of Cerian’s set so she may or may not have played this one but I hope it is suitably indicative of her prowess.
Further down from Toad Hall lies the deceptively compact Lizard Stage which tonight hosted British-Spanish indie rock songstress, Nadia Sheikh who went on to deliver one of the best performances I saw all weekend. Having made her Glastonbury debut on Wednesday with a solo set on the Mandala, she was in band mode for this one, accompanied by bassist Rowan Davies and drummer George Gardiner. Without a lead guitarist, Nadia took on the role of both rhythm and some lead which she executed with great merit. It is hard to describe quite how great Nadia’s set was. Having championed her music for a while now, I was expecting good things tonight but to borrow a well-worn phrase from the Rockionary, she totally smashed it.
Photo of Nadia Sheikh by Tony Hardy
Mixing impressive yet to be released songs with stand-out tracks from her EPs, Nadia demonstrated the sheer range and power of her repertoire. She can rock out with the best on anthemic songs like “IDWK” or “Fire Away”, get the crowd singing along to “Get Away” – not that they wanted to go anywhere while she was playing - and gain their rapt attention during her keyboard-led songs, notably on “The Wire”, a song that already bears the hallmark of a classic cut. I have to say that the sound quality on the Lizard Stage was truly exceptional while George’s imaginative drum fills and Rowan’s rock-solid bass alongside Nadia’s guitar and keyboard set the seal on a memorable show. The audience response equally spoke volumes.
Elsewhere on the site the William’s Green stage had a full programme including a DJ set from Melanie C – hands up those who turned up to hear her sing – and a big coup/worst kept secret set from Bastille along with a 10-strong brass band which saw the tent and surrounding area totally jam-packed. Must have been pretty rammed on stage too.
Meanwhile my Glastonbury Thursday usually includes a trip to the Rabbit Hole which had earlier hosted an afternoon set by the engaging Glastonbury 2022 Emerging Talent winner, Leith’s Lewis McLaughlin, but the later evening fare there didn’t grab me. In additions to further shows over the weekend on BBC Introducing and the Acoustic Stage it was nice for Lewis to get to reprise his ETC winning entry, “Summer”, on the BBC backstage, which I will leave you with now and call Thursday a wrap.
Exactly six years ago this morning we learned that the UK had narrowly voted to leave the European Union. I won’t dwell on how that’s turned out but it is notable how, over the years, Glastonbury has provided an alternative lens for domestic and global issues. On Friday, the main stages open up and it is customary for the Other Stage to kick off proceedings ahead of the Pyramid, often with someone you could describe as a heritage act. The Libertines had the honour this year, though the band had to give sway to an emotional opening video message from Volodymyr Zelensky, urging the crowd to “spread truth” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to share Glastonbury’s love “with everyone whose freedom is under attack”. Led by a now fairly stout and oddly begowned Pete Doherty, The Libertines played the kind of set adored by aficionados though one that casual bystanders might find a touch ragged and tinny. They milked the love for Zelensky via a “Seven Nation Army” chant mid “The Good Old Days” and a closing “We love you Ukraine” singalong.
The old truism about Glastonbury stage clashes hit home early as a reluctant sacrifice was a set from Glastonbury Emerging Talent runner-up, English Teacher who opened up the John Peel Stage while Zelensky addressed us from the Other Stage. Equally a Tardis would have been the only route to catch Body Water on the Croissant Neuf Bandstand. It was time for a drink and I was grateful to fish out a tenner at the [right then] cash only Bread and Roses Stage bar, in anticipation of another show by Nadia Sheikh.
Having reviewed Nadia on Thursday, I had only intended to stop by briefly before a long walk to The Park Stage to see Wet Leg but two things stopped me. A. the quality of her music and B. to practice my Stranger Things-inspired mind control over a group of people who not only stood in front of me centre stage but chatted incessantly in a circle, one or two with their backs to the band. They shut up when Nadia sang “The Wire” which is testament to it being a great song brilliantly delivered rather than any sudden onset of Eleven’s psychic powers, and were then quiet for the remaining set. Meanwhile, the award for the most half-hearted smoke machine, which sees the output mainly polluting a small group of people seated stage right, goes to Bread and Roses.
Here's a reminder of the song that shut them up.
Now there was no chance of wetting legs in The Park, I chose a relatively short hop to William’s Green to see one of the Bella Union record label’s finest, Penelope Isles.
Playing a selection of songs from the Brighton-based band’s 2021 album, Which Way To Happy, a mix of earlier material and (I think) a new song, Penelope Isles eschewed much of its customary musical box softness on record in favour of an all-out aural attack; a kind of fuzz-rock battle against dream pop roots.
Vocal duties are shared by siblings Jack and Lily Wolter, the former frequently head down over his guitar and bank of effects pedals in a shimmering shoegaze haze. It was loud, at times deafening, but with an orchestral grandiloquence to it and ultimately made for an exhilarating ride.
It is difficult to find a video reference to fully reflect the band’s live sound today but imagine this one, “Leipzig”, magnified several times over.
Photo by Tony Hardy
First Aid Kit has been something of a regular feature at past Glastonburys and it was a great pleasure to see the Söderberg sisters here once more, this time offering afternoon delight on the Other Stage. Opening with “King of the World”, the 11-song set favoured the augmented duo’s last two albums, with a cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” also thrown in. Vocally Johanna and Klara are as impeccable as ever, their crisp harmonies complementary, intuitive and empathetic. The performance really peaked with a home run of the longstanding fan-favourite “Emmylou” followed by standout “Fireworks” and Stay Gold gem “My Silver Lining” to close. Earlier as the wind kept the rain away but played havoc with the [I’m guessing… unnecessary? – Ed] smoke machine, the engaging new single, “Angel” released just two days before, raised a plea for hope and acceptance of differences we can all buy into.
Early evening saw me decamp to one of my favourite spots on the festival site, the John Peel Stage, for an international double bill of Norway’s lovable pop queen Sigrid and the US indie-rock star, Phoebe Bridgers. By design with a wee bit of accident thrown in, I found myself backstage at the Peel for both shows which was probably a good job as the tent and much of the field was totally rammed. Much is said about the ‘Glastonbury roar’, but Sigrid seemed visibly taken aback by the size of the crowd and its unbridled adulation. Both aspects were totally merited, as the young singer delivered most of her second album, How to Let Go, and her Sucker Punch hits in a set high on energy and euphoria.
Though the bass synth was a bit of a killer even when standing behind the speakers, her band really fleshed out her songs so that they came alive while Sigrid was all big heart, energy and power with a distinctive rasp underpinning her voice that dispels any hint of saccharin. Immediately after the show backstage, there was no stopping to draw breath or play any kind of diva. It was cheering to see Sigrid chatting animatedly to friends and fans, coming across so natural and genuine. It’s no surprise that everyone here adores her.
While quite different in style, I suspect a fair number of Sigrid’s audience stuck around to hear the next act, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers, top of many a ‘must see at the festival’ list. Her second album, Punisher, elevated her from cult status to wider mainstream, though still sufficiently alternative, appeal. Her set drew chiefly from that breakthrough record, opening to a rapturous reception with the cathartic “Motion Sickness” and closing with the epic ballad-to-cacophony of “I Know the End”. Her set had a full circle feel to it and as a live experience was up with the very best the festival had to offer. Her indignation at the US Supreme Court overturning the historic abortion ruling of Roe v Wade added an undernote of righteous anger.
The pop-up book visuals unfolding on a big screen over successive songs created an imaginative storybook feel to the show while Phoebe’s skeletal-dressed band provided a great counterpoint to her soft, vulnerable vocal adding dynamics to suit the mood of each song. On the astonishingly beautiful “Punisher”, the lead guitarist made it sound like a musical saw while “Scott Street” which follows is emotive and perfectly voiced. For the final pair of songs, the folksy “Graceland Too” and a ripping “I Know the End”, Phoebe was joined by Arlo Parks who offered some nicely judged harmonies and a screaming finale.
Leaving the Peel mid-evening for a trek back to the Green Futures area to support an emerging band, I felt the need to give a proper shout-out to the many sound crews oiling the wheels of the festival without whom, well, you can’t compute. Backstage at the Peel, it’s a hive of industry, a perfect balance of team and individual endeavour plus uncommon skill that produces such a rapid stage turnaround in between the needs and demands of disparate acts.
While musing on all this, I was drawn to stop by the Pyramid en route to catch a bit of Sam Fender’s set. There must be something in the air today about second albums. They are supposed to be ‘difficult’ but the likeable Newcastle singer-songwriter has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the rock ladder of late. He might overdo the Likely Lad charm and adherence to the Toon but if you ever needed a new working class hero, here he is; impassioned voice, anthemic guitar-led tunes, down-to-earth lyrics born of gritty experience, the boy has the lot. The live video here doesn’t really do full justice to just how great the whole band sounded live but “Seventeen Going Under” seemed to mark a special moment when those on stage and those in the crowd were truly as one.
After battling around and through huge crowds, it was good to escape back to the Green Fields to show support for an emerging act I had written about previously in these columns. I was expecting Tom and Emily from Tiny Dyno to be playing a small show this evening on the Small World Stage as a duo. I arrived to find the pair augmented by bass, drums and keyboard and the ensemble, driven by Tom’s guitar and Emily’s stagecraft, went on to deliver a spirited set to a modest but enthusiastic crowd. Standout songs like “Still” and “Someone” shone through and you could forgive the odd sound issue with some harmonies and Emily’s lead vocal such was the energy the band put into its set.
My final assignment was to return to the Pyramid just in time to see Friday’s stellar headliner, Billie Eilish. Having comfortably exceeded my word count I won’t add much to the countless words written about her Glastonbury 2022 appearance but instead leave you with a couple of videos. The first is a 3-minute guide to the festival’s youngest ever headline act which gives you a potted background. The second is her live version of “Oxytocin” which came exactly midway in a set drawn from her two studio albums. I didn’t arrive as a huge fan but left ‘happier than ever’ after Billie's explosive finale (actually ten songs later). She is a unique and eclectic artiste with a massive stage presence and tonight proved to be a worthy headliner.
For the rest of this month and possibly beyond, you can continue your own sofa-based surf of Glastonbury 2022 via the extensive content currently on BBC iPlayer which includes whole sets from the main stages to individual songs, themed highlights to hidden gems, though sadly none from the Green Fields. That’s something that could and should be put right in 2023. How about filming some of the music here on Thursday?
You can also catch a huge number of individual songs from the Festival on the BBC Music YouTube channel.