FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: AT GLASTONBURY 2022 – PART TWO
So, “GLA-STON-BURY!!!”You hear that a lot here. I could open a virtual savings account with all the pounds I mentally collect every time the said location is bellowed from a stage. It is often accompanied by a discourse about how this is the greatest moment of my/our life, musical career, weekend etc. I’m still waiting for someone leftfield to read out the GPS coordinates instead but it never comes; just Gla-ston-bury. Though, to be parochial, there are some variations. It’s a bit like the northern town of Bury where locals argue about whether it should rhyme with ‘curry’ or ‘cherry’. I am a curry man myself but what do I know coming from Cheshire, where they get out of the bath to have a pee.
Photo above by Maja Smiejkowska
Our American friends generally can’t get their tongues around the ‘bury’ in Glastonbury which to my ears should rhyme with ‘Marie’. Instead, it comes out as Gla-ston-berry with a signature rise in pitch on the final syllable. They are scarcely tempted by ‘Bury’ as they may never have heard of the north, other than the mythical one in Game of Thrones where most folk sound like Sean Bean. Then there’s the posh Somerset version: Glah-ston-bury, but you don’t hear that often around these parts. Meanwhile, Héloïse Adelaide Letissier aka Christine & The Queens won my private pronunciation contest in 2016 with an exquisite Gla-ston-buerre.
Other photos by Tony Hardy unless individually credited
En route to my first proper port of call around Saturday lunchtime, the Acoustic Stage, I pass by the John Peel stage. Soon after you encounter San Remo, a Mexican motel-style reimagining of its predecessor, the 70’s modelled Beat Hotel which closed down after the 2019 festival. I must admit that I’d hoped they might level it instead and create a memorial garden to the mostly shit dance music that used to blaze from the bar’s innards night and day. It always struck me as odd that crowds would congregate here hands in air when there was perfectly good stuff being played live on multiple stages elsewhere. At this time of the morning, though, the venue looked more like a bus stop in the desert, perfectly framed by the scorched grassland of Worthy Farm.
Not quite as bad on the feet as The Park but still a long walk, the big blue and red striped Acoustic Stage is the home of folk, acoustic [that’s a surprise – Ed] and a smattering of pop music, new and old. I was here to see Birmingham-based singer-songwriter Katherine Priddy accompanied by guitarist, George Boomsma. Coincidentally Katherine celebrated the first birthday of her debut album The Eternal Rocks Beneath on the same day as her Glastonbury appearance and the pin-drop quality of her vocals on record transferred so well to this seemingly less intimate live arena.
Standouts for me were her simply mesmerising solo rendition of “The Isle of Eigg” and the sheer splendour of “Eurydice” based on the tale of Orpheus rescuing Eurydice from the underworld, encapsulating such profound regret. Closing the set with the gentle duet of “Ready To Go”, a song they co-wrote, we were treated to some impeccable harmonies and a colourful splash of George’s country-style lead guitar. It was great that the pair were invited to play on the BBC backstage area later. This is “Letters From a Travelling Man”.
A strong desire to rush back to the Peel to catch some of Holly Humberstone was overcome by the pull of sticking around the oasis of calm that is the Acoustic Stage where Laura Veirs was next to play. The last time I saw the Portland, Oregon songstress she had a full band in tow. Today she gave a solo masterclass in vocal delivery, guitar accompaniment and songcraft with a beautifully measured set drawing from her new album, Found Light, and back catalogue. Her songwriting has a vibrancy to it, revealed in lush, colourful imagery. It is visceral with an openness she is always keen to share.
It was particularly lovely to hear old favourites of mine like “July Flame” and the closer, “I Can See Your Tracks”, vividly reimagined and to enjoy her intricate, faultless picking on the delightful “Lake Swimming”. Her songs are economically drawn, often sub-3 minutes, though live she is not averse to an extended guitar solo (“Pink Light”). The new songs were nicely woven into the set. The harp-like guitar tone on “Can’t Help But Sing” underscored its intimacy. “Winter Windows” betrays her punk roots on record yet live with just her acoustic guitar she played it with similar stridency, maintaining the fast pace of the album version (video below). For me, the whole set was a highlight of the festival.
Reckoning I wouldn’t make it to the Peel to see the end of Self Esteem – that’s not a self-fulfilling prophesy by the way – I met up with Alex Hall for a chat and then a pint. This being his first Glastonbury, Alex unfortunately had to wait until Sunday to play when he then had the somewhat crowded schedule of three sets in six hours. We were in time for much of Beabadoobee’s John Peel Stage debut. With the future hindsight of seeing her play an exceptional stripped-back set three weeks later, I felt that some of her distinction was comparatively lost in the grunge set up while there were also a few weird moments when the vocal backing track didn’t seem to work that well with her live vocal. With these slight misgivings, there was clearly much love for Bea in the crowd. This was her penultimate song, “Talk”. The sound mix isn’t perfect and particularly underplays the bass guitar which was much more to the fore in the tent – actually I thought Elaina Sewell’s bass work was a highlight of the set while Jacob Bugden’s lead guitar was always on the money too.
The day seemed to be speeding by but was lifted by the appearance of Greta Thunberg on the Pyramid Stage, which is powered by biofuel not diesel generators in case you’ve seen any dispiriting rubbish to the contrary on social media. Her message of ‘creating hope’ rather than passively waiting for it to happen was especially pertinent. An end to pretending everything will work out fine, accentuated by greenwashing, seemed to be at the core of her speech.
Greta’s spot was followed by Glastonbury regulars, Haim, and a note of eco irony arose during the US band’s set. Midway through it, Alana announced that the next one, “Gasoline”, was her favourite song of theirs. I’m not sure the guy with the ’Just Stop Oil’ placard in front of me would have agreed.
The good women of Haim took a sunlight-bathed stage dressed in black bikini tops and industrial strength black leather trousers which looked like they would comfortably take a workman's tool pouch should the biofuel generator break down. It was exactly the set you hoped and expected. Classic cuts like “Don’t Save Me” and “Want You Back” sounded as fresh as ever while the ever mischievous Este had great fun pretending to answer her Nokia phone to an errant date (“It’s Brice”) and playing with the crowd before steaming into “3 AM”. The saxophone on “Summer Girl”, the lead track from Haim’s 2020 album, Women in Music Pt. III was another treat in a set that brimmed with energy and fun, while keeping the music as tight as ever and the harmonies always spot on.
Recalling all the acts I had originally put down as must/should sees, the reality was that it never going to happen. So, my apologies to the Tom Robinson Band, Olivia Rodrigo, Celeste, Porridge Radio and especially Brooklyn’s Big Thief, who had they been anywhere other than the distant Park Stage I might have got to. After Haim, I settled for eating fish and chips in Hospitality - actually goujons of fish with a fork and spoon; not an easy experience nor a culinary highlight either. Despite the wonderfully exotic and frequently spicy food on offer throughout the site, I'd decided to stick to plain stuff and graze when I could. Meanwhile here’s Big Thief and the marvellous “Change”. Good to see the band got a decent crowd.
Realising I’d mostly abandoned my independent and emerging music brief today, I hung around the press tent and popped out to watch Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the Mancs prequel to a Scouse legend in Sir Paul McCartney. Given that the second half of Noel’s set was devoted to Oasis songs with one exception, the man was definitely in crowd pleasing mode and actually those songs still sound so sweet sung by either brother.
It is 28 years since Noel first made his Glastonbury debut as guitarist with Oasis. Tonight, he kicked off with a series of cuts from his solo catalogue and they were well received by a partisan crowd who sensed what was to come, despite the black-clad main man playing them down with “they’re for me”. The gathered throng duly sang most of “Wonderwall” themselves while the Man City superfan got a dig in at Liverpool FC via “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” en route to an inevitable “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. You couldn’t have asked for a better warm up act for Noel’s declared hero. They both have a few tunes up their sleeve and here’s another of Noel’s. The sun hasn’t even set yet either.
So to Sir Paul McCartney. I use the title deliberately as the concept of a knighthood is somewhat denigrated when the disparate likes of Philip Green and Gavin Williamson are called to mind. By contrast Macca’s immense contribution to music fully justifies the title, whether you are a fan of such honours or not. I saw him play a 33-song, vocally challenging set at London’s Earls Court in 1993, the year before Oasis’ Glastonbury debut. He came out with top marks (and notes) from that one. How would he be 29 years on? At the age of 80 it is remarkable that he not only headlined here but actually played a longer set (38 songs I believe).
I’m standing stage left quite a way back and to the side so you get a constant stream of people trying to navigate their way to a more central spot. By chance I am next to a charming though hyperventilating national newspaper reporter, her boyfriend and a mate. She is frantically trying to record everything Macca says and relay it to some maniac at the office who is demanding song titles too. I am asked if I am a Paul McCartney fan. Well, yes. So, you know all his songs? (I’m offered money though I’m not sure she’s being serious). Err, maybe not all his solo stuff… The opener is easy. “Can’t Buy Me Love” – there, he just sang the title. So, do I know the next one? “Let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go…” No, it’s not called “Let’s Go”. The nice, calm boyfriend comes to the rescue by Googling the lyrics. Ah, “Junior's Farm” by Wings. Ah, I don’t remember that one.
Photo by Andrew Allcock
I suggest that her office contacts Macca’s press people. The set list won’t be embargoed now the show is underway, I say with confidence. Well, maybe not confidence, more bravado. They’ll give you the set list for sure. Then all you have to do is listen to see if he says anything especially meaningful (for that I mean reportable). Success! I stick around for a while and then wander off to find a different pitch in case I get embroiled in something else with them. On Sunday I run into the boyfriend randomly. He is as pleasant as he was last night and thanks me like I’m his bestie. His girlfriend has my card and yes of course she will be in touch. She hasn’t but, then again, I’m only just writing this now.
The whole set is getting on for three hours with the first half dominated by Wings and solo work. Paul loves an anecdote too and he seems to have as many as the songs in his repertoire. The odd Beatles song is greeted by a sea of illuminated mobiles which Paul acknowledges: “When we do a new song, it’s like a black hole. We don’t mind, we’re going to do them anyway.” Shades of Noel there too. The tipping point comes with the distinctive opening notes of “Blackbird” followed by his poignant tribute to John Lennon, “Here Today”. From then on, it’s largely a home run. Aided by his quite brilliant band and later assisted by guest stars Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen, it was well judged to keep a footsore crowd on their feet. A band on a real run indeed, irrespective of the thinner, breathier vocal tone that age has forced on Paul McCartney.
Too long a set? I began to position for an exit as “Hey Jude” was beginning to wind down and watched all of that and the encores on TV again later: a heavily rocking “Helter Skelter” and a 3-song Abbey Road medley preceded by the highly emotive appearance of a virtual John Lennon on screen during “I’ve Got a Feeling”. In deference to my one-time reporter friend, no that wasn’t a Black Eyed Peas cover. To perform for so long, so well into the night on the premier festival stage before a vast audience like this at 80 is extraordinary and that adjective really sums up Paul McCartney and the whole evening.
Glastonbury is arranged like a series of small, interconnected villages each with a stage or sometimes several. The signs that point the way to each one may have taken on an antique quality now but they still stoically appear year after year. If I could change one thing, it is to add the odd page to the perennially handy pocket guide to the Festival produced by The Guardian to show who is playing on the Green Fields stages. There is always fine music and chill time to be found here. Today I had another reason to spend late morning and the afternoon in the Fields. The hard ground had taken such a toll on my feet that the mad criss-cross schedule I had in mind was never going to work.
Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
En route to the Fields, I began my day with a return to Bread and Roses to watch the 2020 Emerging Talent Competition runner up, AJIMAL, make his long-postponed Glastonbury debut. I get a seat and by a lucky coincidence the guy who asks me if the next one is taken is fellow Fresh on the Net enthusiast, John Blackburn. Cue much sharing of who we’ve seen/going to see before the set begins. London-based Newcastle native, Fran O'Hanlon took his moniker, AJIMAL, from an infamous former voodoo priest while working at a field hospital in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. He qualified as a doctor whilst recording his first album, Childhood, and he still works in the NHS alongside his musical career.
Today, sat at keyboards, he is joined by a drummer and synth player. Having only heard AJIMAL previously on record, the sound is heavier than I was expecting and at times the bass synth booms too much for comfort, but the singer’s yearning falsetto cuts through and plants the intimacy that is his signature. His seven-song set is mostly drawn from his second album, As It Grows Dark/Light, and such thematic duality is very much at the core of his songwriting. His voice is reverential and the soundscapes within the songs are wholly absorbing. Two particular highlights for me were the closing one, “I've Known Your Heart”, with its searching vocal and lovely piano melody and the soaring memory-driven “How Could You Disappear?” Then again, I could just as easily picked any other two such is the empathy that AJIMAL emits.
After two missed attempts to see them, I was pleased to finally catch up with Body Water at the humble bandstand close to the Croissant Neuf stage. The Manchester-based duo of Cerys Eless, who hails from Deganwy, North Wales, and Hull native Eli Thompson has featured previously in these columns. With its penchant for true crime and conspiracy theories as a basis for many of their songs, I had expected dark things but in brilliant sunlight Body Water delivered a short set with bright harmonies very much to the fore. The ghoulish material behind songs like “Blood Thirsty” and “Revolution” was nicely balanced by bright acoustic guitar and melodic bass lines while vocally the girls showed a natural complementary chemistry. A very confident cover of Kate Bush’s song of the moment, “Running Up That Hill”, was also delivered. Impressive stuff all round.
After Body Water, I caught up with Andrew Maxwell Morris and bandmates again who were due on the Toad Hall stage shortly. Having previously reviewed Andrew’s Bread and Roses set on Thursday, it was nice to watch the band again in this more homely environment and to recommence a count of the toy amphibians suspended from the tent ceiling. The sound balance at Toad Hall was also a big plus as Andrew worked through some aces in his deck of songs to an appreciative audience, many of whom stopped to listen during the set and hung around – always a good sign. Here’s one that always stands out live. “Dust”.
It’s a bit much when you are up against Diana Ross in the Legends slot when playing your very first Glastonbury set. Such a lot fell to Alex Hall here on Toad Hall. The South Coast native currently resident in Surbiton hadn’t come this far to be fazed by such things though. I’ve written before about how well Alex recreates his acclaimed self-produced ‘British Pop’ sound solo on a live stage. Today was no exception and it was heart-warming to see him wow a small but totally engaged crowd here that grew as the set progressed. Engaging backing tracks, setting up loops, singing and playing a range of instruments live, there’s a joy and danger to watching him play. Joy as people are genuinely taken aback by his performances and danger because it all appears to be on a bit of a knife edge.
Opening with “Heartache” you think you are listening to a sure-fire pop hit while a minor backing track malfunction on a defiantly positive “Won't Bow Out” scarcely sees him miss a beat. A philosophical new song, “The Pear Tree”, signals a change in mood; nostalgic and perfectly measured, you could feel the emotion in the room. The bittersweet “I Swear That It Was Love” was delivered solo as his duet partner on record, Emma Denney, is away in Thailand [and would need a ticket to get in anyhow – Ed]. It was great to hear “Pterodactyl” once more with its signature mournful trumpet solo to end - which reminded me I was seeing Elbow later. The set closed with the gentle self-deprecation of “Still Hurts” and I speculated that this was around the time Diana Ross and her entourage were playing a seemingly endless version of “Upside Down” on the Pyramid. A parallel universe indeed (one for you Stranger Things fans, there).
Soon after, I am joined by a friend who managed to see the Sunday pm performance at The Astrolabe of Comrades in the Dark from Caitlin Barnett Company, a visceral contemporary dance piece inspired by the secret writings of Irish Nationalist and hunger striker Bobby Sands, which was also scheduled to run into the Diana Ross slot. Having already opted to stay and support Alex Hall, unfortunately, I couldn’t be there but was told that it was really compelling and moving. Do see it if you get the opportunity. [You too – Ed].
To complete a hat-trick of some of my favourite acts here, Nadia Sheikh was next on at Toad Hall completing a run of four Glastonbury shows. Having reviewed Nadia on Thursday and Friday in Part 1 of this never-ending story, suffice it to say that if there is an independent breakout star of Glastonbury 2022 it is Nadia Sheikh.
Elbow was a little bit into its set by the time I made it back to the Pyramid. Coming from Bury, Guy knows how to call out Gla-ston-bury, of course. And he’s had some practice. The set list picked out cuts from five of the band’s nine studio albums, though its latest LP, Flying Dream 1, conceived remotely during the pandemic, was absent. What I saw was very much what you would expect from an Elbow show: quality, familiarity, empathy and more than a touch of sentimentality. I loved it.
“Lippy Kids” sounded magnificent and the closing run of “My Sad Captains” (a refrain of “Oh my sole” in homage to my blisters), “Grounds for Divorce” and the inevitable “One Day Like This” were all crowd-pleasing anthems of the highest order. The latter was extended as the band was joined on stage by the Citizens of the World Refugee Choir and Little Amal, the paradoxically giant puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee who represents displaced children. Moving stuff for all concerned.
Glastonbury 2022 then kind of ended for me this year. I didn’t feel remotely qualified to review Kendrick Lamarr’s Pyramid-closing show, great though it looked visually, nor did I have the stamina left to dance by myself to a string of Pet Shop Boys hits, fine as they sounded, so I finally headed to the John Peel, my favourite stage, well apart from Toad Hall and the Lizard, to watch Charlie XCX. It was, at least, in the right direction for the car.
Photo source unknown
These days the Peel is the home of more than just indie rock and pop acts like Sigrid, Self Esteem and Charlie XCX draw huge crowds. The Peel’s legendary curator, Jim Fox, came on to offer well-earned thanks to all concerned with the running of the stage before introducing Charlie. An expectant roar then erupted over a dramatic electronic overture build. Dressed like she was ready to join the cast of Xena: Warrior Princess, Charlie kicked off in explosive fashion after with “Lightning” and went on to deliver a catalogue of what they term ‘bangers’. I hung around for quite a while, enjoyed the spectacle of it all but lost all my notes!
There's nothing I can find from the actual show on the BBC YouTube so here at least is that blissful opener!
Thank you, Glastonbury, for another great festival. This year’s brought a renewed sense of community, a coming together of like minds and spirits and a feeling that you were blessed to be here. Glastonbury also manages to get better each year. The site organisation never ceases to amaze and is a testimony to everyone involved, however large or small their role. If you can’t find music here to seduce your ear drums or tempt your terpsichorean toes, then you’re a hard act to please. The dilemma is always choosing what to see with so much music and art laid out before you; it’s a high-class problem, as my old boss used to say.