You can be a regular festivalgoer, a first-timer, or just hooked on the BBC TV coverage in the UK — everyone has an opinion on Glastonbury. Just look at the response when Kanye West was confirmed as the Saturday night headliner and the predictably disparate reaction to his performance. The truism that you can’t please all the people all the time especially resonates at Glastonbury.
If you can’t find music here to seduce your eardrums or tempt your dancing toes, though, you’re a hard one to please. The dilemma is always deciding what can you afford to miss out of all the music and art laid out before you. It’s a high class problem, as my old boss used to say.
Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
This year, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts turned 45. The festival might be scarcely recognizable from its 1970 incarnation, when it cost just £1 to get in and the cover included free milk from the Eavis family’s Worthy Farm, where the event is still housed today. Yet within the commerciality that comes from accommodating 170,000 people over five days, Glastonbury maintains its independent spirit, manifested in green initiatives, charity and cause support, and those areas of the site that are forever full of hippies.
Somehow, Glastonbury also manages to get better each year, so much so that Consequence of Sound felt that some awards were overdue. The site organization never ceases to amaze and is a testimony to everyone involved, however large or small their role. So, as a tribute to Glastonbury, Worthy Farm, the organizers, staff and performers, we present The Worthys.
Senior Staff Writer
Worst Kept Secret
Photo by Jason Bryant
Can’t anyone keep a secret these days? I blame society — I mean, social media. There is a tradition of secret sets at Glastonbury, but improved connectivity on site (I blame Kevin Bacon) has meant truth spreads as rapidly as rumors. It started with the Special Guest slot on Thursday night at the Rabbit Hole just past midnight — it was never going to be Prince and the slot was actually canceled. The Charlatans taking the annual Friday 11:00 secret spot on the Other Stage surprised few given the size of the crowd who enjoyed some breezy nostalgia, with frontman Tim Burgess sporting shades to match his sunny disposition.
There was absolutely no chance that we’d see Fleetwood Mac parachuted in. You needed to be at London’s O2 instead. A rumour spread that Elbow were going to take the sunset slot between Motorhead and Florence and reprise the marvellous “My Sad Captains” once more. But that ended up as nothing more than a bloke who looked like a roadie wearing an Elbow T-shirt, so it came down to The Libertines instead. The lovely Glastonbury PR maintained that only “Michael Eavis and two others” knew who was filling that spot but within an hour or so the net was buzzing with the news of Pete Doherty’s return.
Winner: The Libertines
Most People on Stage
Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
The festival had more than its fair share of uplifting moments, and Saturday morning’s Pyramid opening set from The Unthanks accompanied by a disabled virtuoso orchestra was a case in point. It was a bold collaboration featuring otherworldly close harmonies from Rachel and Becky Unthank and even clog dancing amid the orchestral swell — and, of course, lots of people on stage.
However, Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch had a trick up his sleeve during the Scots’ sunny Sunday evening show on the Other Stage. With a set blending old and new from its 20 year span and bookended by two terrific dance tracks “Nobody’s Empire” and “I Didn’t See It Coming”, the much-loved indies hit a genuinely celebratory note throughout. Security guards then looked on anxiously as Murdoch capped it all by inviting the audience up on stage after climbing onto the front barrier during “The Boy with the Arab Strap”. I lost count of how many made it up.
Winner: Belle and Sebastian
Best Live Song
Photo by Mark Muldoon
Hot Chip, a band normally adept at delivering sets of unparalleled joy, on the whole put in a solid but unremarkable set this Glastonbury. Was it because they weren’t ready to step up to headlining the festival’s huge third stage, or could it have been the massively average album they just put out? Either way, they’ve been touring a showstopper ending; to close the first night of the festival they even brought Caribou (who played the slot before them on the same stage) back on for a big old seven minute group cover of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” that for its last two minutes morphed its way into LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”.
Bruce Springsteen finished his 2009 set with “Dancing in the Dark”, which is remembered as one of those all-time classic Glastonbury moments. The only problem with that was he didn’t stick “All My Friends” on the end of it. LCD Soundsystem made a similar error in 2010 when they played “All My Friends” without “Dancing In The Dark” immediately beforehand. Hot Chip thankfully didn’t make the same mistake. Even if only because of simple arithmetic, it’s an all-time classic Glastonbury moment.
Winner: Hot Chip
Most Confusing Stage
Nominees: Rabbit Hole, Underground Piano Bar
Ah, the Rabbit Hole, but which one? There are two of them, and it’s easier than it should be to find you’re at the wrong one when the band you’ve come to see has not shown up yet. The Rabbit Hole is an area of the festival dedicated to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s devilishly difficult to find; the bar staff at a nearby watering hole had never heard of it. We found the entrance eventually, crawled down a short tunnel, and emerged by a small dance floor with a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party around the corner. The only stage being used seemed too small to hold the band we’d come to see, Shields. Meanwhile we were entertained by a bizarre cabaret featuring a contortionist dressed as the White Rabbit and a belly dancer with flames rising from both hands. We emerged from the hole soon after to find Shields playing their signature anthem, “Mezzanine”, on a nearby, much larger stage.
Winner: The Rabbit Hole
Most Satisfied Festivalgoers
Nominees: Kanye West’s fan base, the kids dancing on stage with Pharrell, people who bought the Halloumi and Chorizo Burrito from Carlito’s Burritos, anybody that made it to sunrise every night
Everybody down the front went absolutely crazy throughout virtually all of Kanye West’s set. The problem, however, is that this is who the performance was aimed at. If you’re headlining the main stage at Glastonbury, you need to also aim your set at the kind of people who get into new music after seeing the act on Saturday Night Live. When Jay Z succeeded in headlining Glastonbury in 2008, his intro video was created especially for the festival, he came out ironically singing Oasis’s “Wonderwall”, and then mashed “99 Problems” with the guitar riff from “Back in Black”. We got a Jay Z show adapted for Glastonbury. Metallica last year made similar efforts. In 2015, Kanye West gave Glastonbury a Kanye West show.
The set design was bolder than any that’s graced this stage and completely brilliant, but it proved to be quite a disjointed, undercooked show. For a man supposedly previewing his new album, he didn’t preview any new songs; a disproportionally large amount of time was spent on older album tracks. As has been widely reported and somehow even more widely mocked, just as the show was ending, Kanye proclaimed himself to be the greatest living rock star on the planet. By this point in his shows, one imagines that his audience are usually on board with the statement. The fact he did so after some particularly painful singing on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” didn’t help matters. But then, if you were in Kanye’s entourage, I bet you wouldn’t be the one to tell him he’s a poor live singer either.
Most people seemed to get the opinions they already had about Kanye reinforced. The fans loved it, while those who’ve never seen him before didn’t gain any interest in doing so again. Music journalists who think he’s a gifted but problematic artist thought it was a gifted but problematic performance. Kanye West perhaps left thinking the show is a piece of misunderstood genius. Yet everyone was most satisfied:
Winner: Kanye West
Best Family Entertainment
Photo by Nathan Dainty/VeryCreative
If you believe all those family soundbites on the BBC and in the national press, you would think that no one with young children ever escapes from the Kid’s Field. Yet there’s no doubt that the prime Saturday and Sunday afternoon slots on the main Pyramid Stage are also aimed at the broadest Glastonbury demographic. Pharrell’s set was almost like watching a variety show turn. That leaves a shoot out between Burt Bacharach and Lionel Richie, who both delivered the kind of singalongs that make you feel that all’s well with the world, almost in defiance of the tragic events that unfolded on a beach in Tunisia, and that are echoed across a world of conflict. Both acts were flawless, but Mr. Bacharach couldn’t be topped; he’s as sprightly an octogenarian as you could wish to meet with a delightful bevy of old school soul singers weaving their magic with his timeless melodies.
Winner: Burt Bacharach
Most Blatant Product Placement
Photo by Nathan Dainty/VeryCreative
Nominees: Pharrell Williams, IGOE Stage Hire
Pharrell is fantastic, but first let’s deal with the award at hand, as he was responsible for some of the biggest embarrassments of the weekend. His all-female (natch) backing dancers came on stage with huge Adidas logos emblazoned across them. The lead guitarist even had one across his backside too. For a festival where corporate logos bigger than, say, a vinyl case are banned, it all felt teeth-gnawingly out of place.
He was also slimy towards the audience — at one point, he announced that “English girls are the most beautiful in the world,” to which you’d have to respond, “Pharrell, mate, I wouldn’t stop traveling just yet.” It came off as the most nakedly insincere stage banter all weekend.
That said, it was otherwise enormous fun. Again, one senses that the segment of classic N.E.R.D. songs usually goes down better at his own concerts, but combined with the run of hits that made up the final third of the show, Pharell demonstrated how unmatched his career has been. Getting cute kids on stage to dance during “Happy” even had those of us who now hate that song jumping and getting teary eyed.
Best Bloke with a Guitar
Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
There was no shortage of blokes with guitars (that’s Britspeak for singer-songwriters) at Glastonbury; acoustic, electric, or both, with backing bands or solo. It’s often said that this area of the musical beach is the most crowded and too many deck chairs are the same color, so you can never find your own.
James Bay, George Ezra and Hozier all played good shows on the Pyramid, bringing out legions of adoring fans. The 30-somethings were well represented in the Green Futures area, notably once again by the redoubtable Andrew Maxwell Morris, who could have comfortably worked his magic on the big stage if so called. But no one could match the black-clad Ben Howard for rare passion and intensity. His Saturday evening set on the Other Stage was a cathartic experience, one that gripped a crowd brought up on the easier access of his debut record. Calling on songs like “I Forget Where We Were” and the elegiac “End Of The Affair” made him truly the strongest bloke with a six-string.
Winner: Ben Howard
Best Girl with a Guitar
Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
The girls with a guitar had their say too, whether part of a band or solo. Among the bands, lead singer and guitarist Molly Rankin from Toronto’s Alvvays, aided by band mate Kerri MacLellan on keyboards and harmonies, stood out for her sugary yet sharp vocal lines. You could hardly diss Patti Smith, a veteran but still on the attack, while 16-year-old Irish prodigy SOAK proved to be one to watch for the future. Sisters Kitty and Daisy of London sibling trio Kitty, Daisy and Lewis showed versatility to match their vocals when playing musical chairs with guitar, keys, and drums. The self-deprecating Aussie Courtney Barnett, however, won over a Saturday lunchtime Pyramid crowd with her rambling, acerbic song-stories, lazy drawl, and primal guitar work. She arrived looking like a fan after a hard night with mud on her jeans and boots, and left in a flurry of feedback like an artist you’d want to see again and again.
Winner: Courtney Barnett