Earlier this week I got back from my sixth Glastonbury Festival.
The annual Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is a big deal for me. As I explain over on FCK LDN, I love the darn thing so much that I’ve started to feel strangely Christmassy about the whole ruddy ordeal.
Now, I’ve already done the emotional gushing over there, so I’ll use this space to list the five best things I saw at Glastonbury 2014.
With the benefit of hindsight, I should perhaps have used my own personal blog to share the above personal ruminations, instead writing this here “review” for FCK LDN. But this gloomy place has been dormant for months now, and it could do with a bit of cheering up.
So here we go. Live on Lord Gloom, a list of the five best things at Glastonbury 2014. They’re in ascending order! I think.
No photos, I’m afraid. Yeah. I’m one of them. But I’ll try and source videos where I can.
5. The Rik Mayall Memorial
The top four items in this list are performances, and I am convinced that they represent the four finest performances I saw all weekend. But what for item number five?
Arcade Fire, who powered through a colossal technicolour hyperdisco at ear-bleeding volumes? Massive Attack, who were near the top of my list of “bands to see before I die” and who did not disappoint? Biggles Wartime Band, who I saw playing their penultimate ever Glastonbury set? The weird-to-the-point-of-being-unsettling Connan Mockasin? The sundrenched hilarity party of De La Soul?
I couldn’t decide, and I couldn’t be bothered to write a top 10.
So instead, the coveted position number five is occupied by a very powerful poster. Strung up next to the gates linking the Croissant Neuf field and the Green Futures Field was a hand-drawn tribute to Rik Mayall. When I first saw it, I felt like I’d been punched in the chest.
I cannot put into words how much Rik Mayall meant to me whilst growing up, but my brother did a very good job of doing so on his blog.
It was a sort of triptych. On the left was Rik as Rik, the anarchic Cliff Richard fan from The Young Ones, giving a peace sign with his trademark sneer. On the right was Rik as Alan B’Stard, the amoral Tory from The New Statesman who would go on to embrace Labour in about 2005. In the middle was a moonlit lake, on which numerous other of his characters and affiliates were rowing.
The tribute had a grace, a dignity and a mysticism that was somewhat lacking in much of his work, but it didn’t feel at all overwrought or out of place. The death of Rik Mayall hit me hard, and this tribute made me feel as though the funniest man in Britain has already attained immortality.
It would have been nice to have included a photo, wouldn’t it? Soz.
4. Thunderbirds Are Go!
Sunday morning on The Park Stage was a real treat. The Charles Hazlewood Allstars gathered together to perform the music of Barry Gray! A full horn section, a jazz guitarist, a marimba player and a host of keyboardists united to perform the music of my childhood – themes and incidental music from Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet.
I was in hysterics for the entirety of their 40 minute set.
3. The Radiophonic Workshop!
Yep, two of the best bands I saw all weekend consisted of old men playing sets of television themes. I’ve felt it happening for a while now, but Glastonbury 2014 perhaps represents a point of no return – my interest in modern music is waning, and I’m drifting into the world of the reissued, the unissued, the experimental and the outsider.
Onstage with the Radiophonic Workshop was Dick Mills, who created the original Dalek voice (which I suppose gives him a claim for having invented the ring modulator), and, with Delia Derbyshire, recorded the first ever Doctor Who theme.
Of course, their set culminated in an extended performance of this landmark piece of electronic music, but the rest was just as good. We got incidental music from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, as well as several spooky mood pieces from various radio serials, one of which has been stuck in my head ever since:
But there were also some new stuff. It turns out that when scientists are allowed near musical instruments, the resulting noise closely resembles the sprawling prog synth funk of Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. A highlight was a moving piece of music entitled Wireless, which was introduced as a tribute to the radio, “of which we’re all really quite fond”.
Performed on vintage 1960s synths, many of which resembles arcane laboratory equipment, the Radiohphonic Workshop often looked like they were carrying out a zany experiment, complete with lab-coats and Delia’s lampshade.
It was Out Of This World. Regrettably, I cannot seem to find any of their new music anywhere.
2. Julian Cope!
Julian Cope’s just released his debut novel, and I doubt I’ll read a better one all year.
It’s called 131. The plot defies the very concept of an elevator pitch, but it involves time travel; World Cup Italia 90; fortuitous lactose intolerance; a fascist cheese factory; Jim Morrison as an epic poet; and a villain who’s entirely driven by his hatred of Half Man Half Biscuit.
In the tiny Crow’s Nest tent, situated right at the top of the festival site, Julian Cope fielded questions and gave readings from 131.
Julian Cope is one of my heroes, so the 30 minutes or so spent in his company was one of the best half hours I’ve ever spent.
The best bit was when he gave a reading – in character – of Mick Goodby’s legendary Last Tango In Paris poem, direct from the book itself! Skip to about 20:19 in the above video to hear it. It defies belief.
Note the way Julian Cope chose to dress for a book reading.
After this there came a Q&A. There was only time for three questions. The first was really weird. Something like – “as well you know, Stonehenge is Camelot, and the remains of King Arthur and the knights of the round table have been kidnapped by Sheffield University. What are you going to do about this?”
To which Saint Julian replied – “I’ll bring the boys”.
Right at the end of the video you can almost hear the question I asked of Julian. Even though it wasn’t a very good question (“If they ever adapt 131, would you appear in it?”), it got a cheer! And a cheeky answer from Julian, in a camp voice!
Afterwards, Julian asked that we watch him walk down the hill. He promised that he’d wave to us as he went, promising that he’d strike a most mythological figure. He was absolutely right, and we proceeded to follow in his stead like a bunch of devoted disciples.
I don’t think I stopped smiling for about an hour afterwards.
1. Yoko Ono!
Yes, the absolute number one best thing I saw at Glastonbury 2014 was Yoko Ono. Indeed, I’d place her performance in the top five best live performances I’ve ever seen. She’s up there with Radiohead in Blackpool, 2006; Sigur Ros in Belgium, 2008; Blur at Glastonbury 2009 and Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson in Manchester, 2009.
The thing is, every time I’ve told anybody about how moved I was by Yoko, almost without exception the reaction has been “really?”
Well, yes, really. Really.
An hour of songs of peace, love, hope, devotion and resistance. All of these sung with a defiant smile by an unstoppable octogenarian who has been through so much strife and turmoil, yet still finds the strength within to perform with such joyous exuberance.
On top of all this, she had Yo La Tengo as her backing band, who can raise an intensely unholy racket from the most basic of rock instruments like few others.
I felt the sheer gravity behind her every single word. I’m afraid I found the whole thing overwhelming. Devastating, even.
I can be spotted in the above video, wiping a manly tear from my eyes. The camera caught me during a rare moment of composure. For much of the show, I found it really quite hard to keep it together.
Gosh darn it, Glastonbury, you’ve done it again.
I’m not quite sure how to close these dispatches, so here’s a song about the festival by The Waterboys.
There is a green hill far away/I’m going back there one fine day.
Specifically, June 24 2015!