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FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: GLASTONBURY 2024 – PART ONE

By tradition Glastonbury Festival opens its gates at 8am on Wednesday to an expectant throng of happy campers. It now falls to Emily Eavis to assume the welcoming role that her father Michael relished for so many years with a bank of photographers gathered and a ready supply of punters eager for a selfie. For my part, I have been fortunate enough to attend the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, to give it full and fitting billing, for the past 15 years as a writer and Emerging Talent Competition judge. It has become a special place in my heart.

 

Photo of Emily Eavis at the gates above by Anna Barclay

 

That said I am not a Wednesday’s child. My usual practice is to show up by early Thursday afternoon and wander across to the Green Fields to see some acoustic acts you could almost set your clock by. This year a jet pack would have been required as there were six acts I had pencilled within the space of two hours. In the event I only managed to get to one of them as a tractor and trailer fire on the A37 brought traffic to a standstill. Thankfully there were no casualties but the incident took an hour and a half to clear. After an hour and more sitting stationary and increasingly needing a loo, the police directed a bunch of us to turn round and undertake a magical mystery tour across the vast Bath and West showground, after some hairy moments miraculously emerging onto the A361 within a couple of miles of the Bronze Gate.

Photo by Tom Widd

 

So, my apologies to the likes of Cerian, Gecko, Guise, Lambrini Girls and Heard Collective who had mostly been and gone by the time I’d been checked in, wrist banded and press passed. There was just enough time to get to the Circus Big Top to see, well almost see, the remarkable Doreen Doreen mid-set. Unsurprisingly the large tent was rammed and the low stage is largely hidden from view without making a major incursion inwards. The set was great fun and akin to a surreal karaoke party as the formidable lead singer Carol and her nine-strong band, some of whom will not have been born when the Bristol-based outfit first dawned in 1982, mashed up pop dance classics pairing Abba with Queen, channelling Elton John, Eurythmics, Erasure and more.

Whether with the aid of the odd backing track or not, Carol’s great live band served up impressively faithful instrumental renditions of signature tunes with the singing raucous and high on energy. It was nice to catch Emily from erstwhile duo Tiny Dyno on backing vocals, boas and lycra. The hits kept on coming and the crowd absolutely loved Doreen Doreen, while visually the stage glitter and sparkles fitted the music and mayhem perfectly. By late Thursday afternoon the festival felt busier than usual as more of the smaller stages opened up to offer disparate musical fare. It was tempting though to go back to the press area and plan how to skirt those stage clashes over the coming weekend. Here the attraction of a civilised sit down with festival friends in the hospitality area via Bruton’s At The Chapel pop-up restaurant At The Festival proved too alluring. Later, Aroha the Glastonbury B&B kindly accommodating me this year beckoned and that was that. [That it? – Ed]. Yep.

Photo of Glenn Tilbrook, Squeeze by Anna Barclay


Friday saw me meeting up first thing, well not that first thing, with fellow ETC judges and ace music bloggers Paul (The Devil Has The Best Tuna) and Joe Lepper (Neonfiller) and doing that usual writer thing of recalling bands and performances, listing who we are going to see and looking at watches to ensure the first act isn’t missed. As it happened, before ploughing our individual furrows for the rest of the day, we were all starting with pop rock legends Squeeze who opened the Pyramid Stage at noon. Seeing Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook back together was especially heartening; a classic songwriting combination with age scarcely diminishing vocal and instrumental abilities and backed by a fine ensemble (though was that Lib Dem boss Ed Davey moonlighting as the pedal steel player?) The hits came thick and fast and for me “Up The Junction” was the standout; social commentary from a different age yet just as relevant today somehow wrapped in a blissfully emotive, distinctively chorus-less tune. There does not seem to be anything from the show on the BBC so here by way of contrast is a more youthful looking Squeeze.


A brisk walk up to the Green Fields followed to catch acoustic troubadour Andrew Maxwell Morris on the humble Small World Stage alongside his longstanding band mates, Matt on piano and Simon on electric guitar. Andrew has the enviable record of having played at every Glastonbury Festival since 2008 and I think I have written about him almost as often. His material has always had a classic edge to it with impassioned vocals gilding strong melodies, topped by an organic band sound. A consummate and assured performer, if there is one observation it is that Andrew goes for the low key sell rather than push his fine albums or plug his digital wares. Maybe like a fine wine he has no need of further maturation as evidenced by “Chasing Time”, the studio version enhanced today with small changes affording space to breathe and a capella 3-part harmonies towards its close. Fine stuff indeed.


Next, it was the first stop at a stage which quickly became my favourite of the weekend, Avalon. Representing England (Katie), Scotland (Georgia), Wales (Sophie) and Ireland (Niamh), collectively The Deep Blue, came on to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a nod to topicality. On behalf of Manchester-based quartet, Niamh joyfully announced she had waited all her life to shout ‘hello Glastonbury.’ Channelling shades of Fleetwood Mac and Haim but maintaining an overriding individuality born of collective cohesion, the four-piece breezed through an impressive set of original songs and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” which closed with a frantic drum solo by Sophie (who used to be in metal band called The Beast With A Million Eyes, we are told). Yes, that fits. Elsewhere in the set close harmonies, light and shade rule. I particularly liked the lilting ascent of new song, “Cynical” and the empowering vibe of “He Said She Said” but then everything was great about The Deep Blue’s Glastonbury debut.

Leaving Avalon Stage to head to Bread and Roses, I caught a bit of Chicago rapper Noname’s set drifting over from a fairly busy West Holts Stage. No review intended or possible as I heard just one lengthy song that came across somewhat monotonously and so that is hardly a valid verdict. The other note I made is that Glastonbury could introduce a spatial awareness course for those who randomly stop in the middle of a busy walkway for an equally haphazard conversation. Back to the script, I was en route to see Sheffield’s Sam Scherdel who mixes a touch of Springsteen with heart on sleeve lyrics a touch akin to his more northerly neighbour, Sam Fender. Accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, our Sam worked up quite a sweat giving it all in a short set of his own songs plus a spirited mash-up of Elbow’s “One Day” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. He has a natural rock voice rich in attack and carrying an attractive rasp, His bittersweet anthem, “RETRO”, stood out as a heartfelt plea to treasure what you have while you have it. You sensed he really cherished his Glasto experience and while today’s set was a solo effort he should be welcomed back next year with his full band.



While the next intended stop was to be the BBC Introducing Stage, I had time to catch some of Paul Heaton in fine form on the Pyramid Stage. The former Housemartin and founder of The Beautiful South is now billed solo but comes with an expert backing band including a horn section. I arrived in time to hear Paul quip about being “in the original boy band in the 80s, called The Housemartins,” with a nod to K-Pop boy band Seventeen whom he followed on stage today. Joined by ‘surprise’ guest the former Housemartin Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim on bass guitar, they worked their way through a rapid and fun “Happy Hour.” After many years of vocal sparrings with Jacqui Abbott, Heaton’s new duet partner the young Scottish country singer Rhianne Downey has elicited some raised eyebrows from diehard fans. I thought, however, she worked very well alongside him and I particularly savoured their airing of “Rotterdam.” Unfortunately, I can’t show you that one via the BBC YouTube so here is “Happy Hour” and you can watch the full set on iPlayer. The sound seemed much fuller live than on this recording.


Thankfully the new BBC Introducing Stage is a short hop from the Pyramid with the aid of the interstage walkways I thankfully have access to. It is in a great location but has a surprisingly small, open area around it. Next on my list was Devon trio Tors who I was especially looking forward to seeing as I had picked the band for Glastonbury Emerging Talent in 2020. The likeable brothers are building a big following on the back of viral success and regular touring (sic) as both headliners and mainstream supports for the likes of Sam Ryder, Freya Ridings and James Blunt.


An enthusiastic crowd lapped up the band’s short set with tracks drawn from Tors’ latest EP, Miracle, seamlessly working in live and backing track elements to fill in for bass and keys. Lead vocalist Matt Weedon’s arching tones suits the band’s material very well, much of it would sit comfortably aside, say, Pyramid stagers Coldplay or Keane. I loved the harmonies and clean guitar sounds on opener “Heavy Hearts” while the EP title track, “Miracle”, picked up on crowd euphoria. Tors’ 2023 single “Amsterdam” was reimagined as 'Glastonbury' while the closing track “Never Give Up” was an apt postscript to a hardworking band and its Glastonbury moments. They will be back here I'm sure.



Time now for a comfort and food break before my personal highlight of a busy Friday evening when the truism of several acts you would like to see being on at the same time again ringed true. I wrote last week that I could scarcely contain my excitement when I learned that Haircut 100 were playing the Avalon Stage on Friday evening. I remember my good friend (and boss at the time) telling me that they would never last but here am I, front left of a packed Avalon stage watching the Brit-funksters playing songs from an album I bought in 1982. It is predominantly an older crowd for Haircut 100 as you might expect. Avalon’s capacity is officially 3,000 but to me it feels a more intimate space with a connection to the spirit of the original festival going back years. Tonight it is cooking.

Frontman and songwriter in chief Nick Heyward has weathered extremely well since that debut album, Pelican West, all of 42 years ago. 42. Isn’t that the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything, posed by Douglas Adams three years earlier in the Sci-Fi comic novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? The thought seems apt tonight. Heyward and his band mates sang and played out of their skins tonight, cooking on gas with opener “Baked Bean”, eliciting whoops to crowd favourites “Favourite Shirts” and “Nobody’s Fool” before slipping in a new single, “The Unloving Plum” which was so immediate and tuneful it felt like a classic pop song. The brass section throughout was a dream.


The hits kept on coming and there was still time for a pin sharp cover of Harry Styles’ “As It Was”, a track Haircut 100 played when the band did its seminal BBC Piano Room set in 2023 (watch it HERE). The crowd erupted in dance frenzy for “Love Plus One” arguably the band’s finest moment and continued in full party mood for an extended reprise of “Favourite Shirts” – I guess the 12” version! There could be only one closer: “Fantastic Day” and it truly was. It has been some while since I have witnessed quite such a joyful show with audience and band as one. I’ll remember it for a long time and it is shocking that the BBC did not choose to include it in its iPlayer repertoire. I feel a letter coming on!



I left before Friday’s Pyramid headliner, Dua Lipa, took the stage with no slur intended but just a wish to pace myself having passed three score years and ten. Here is a great photo of the pop starlet though from my Latvian friend, Uldis Silins.

NEXT FRIDAY – as we don’t want to spill the sweetie jar contents all at once [you mean you haven’t written it yet – Ed], we pick over some highlights from Saturday and Sunday at the Glastonbury Festival in Part 2. You can catch up on coverage via BBC iPlayer too for the rest of July.


FIFTY3 FRIDAYS SPOTIFY PLAYLIST JUNE 2024

Finally, phew… for your further listening pleasure on the first Friday of each month, I publish a Playlist on Spotify which includes all the songs featured in this column over the previous month – in order, for the organised mind. Our Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist June 2024 includes the 22 songs from the month’s Fifty3 Fridays with the exception of “Butthurt Men” by JayaHadADream which is not to be found on Spotify. Her song “Force” is a worthy substitute (and, of course, is also with you!) June’s Playlist opens with the anthemic “Learn To Surf” by Leeds-based five-piece About-Faces, closing in arresting style with “Party Police” from Toronto’s Alvvays. 

 

There is 4 years-worth of said Playlists to be found on my Spotify page so it is about time you followed me @TonyHardy53.




Comments


FIFTY3 champions

outstanding new music

through Fifty3 Fridays and

occasional features 

 

Music is a great passion of mine. In my teenage years I was an avid record collector and concert goer. Stints as a booking agent, running folk clubs, promoting gigs and even a crack at artiste management followed. While it never became my main occupation, music was always on my personal radar.

 

In the past 15 years I have written for leading US music website  Consequence and breakthrough  site, BestNewBands. I am a judge for Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition and have reviewed the festival for both sites. I am now pleased to curate my very own music site.

 

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than unearthing great, original new music and championing independent musicians. You’ll find many of them on this site alongside the occasional legend of times past and I hope they will bring  you as much joy as they give me.

Tony Hardy

UPCOMING GIGS 

 

Selected dates in the London area:

Tue 16 July: Griff, St John's Church, Kingston upon Thames

Wed 17 Jul: Squirrel Flower, The Lexington, London N1

Tue 23 July: Sabina Chantouria, The Bedford, Balham, London SW!`2

Wed 24 Jul: Coming Up Roses, The Social, London W1

Thu 1 Aug: 86TVs, St John's Church, Kingston upon Thames

banquetrecords.com: See the Events page for all live shows in Kingston

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