Every year Glastonbury is approached with the same well intended objectives. Every single year, without fail, plans and best intentions will dissipate into the ether with the flight of the first lantern at The Stone Circle.
40 years ago, Glastonbury started off with three stages and 1500 attendees. It has become the Hollywood blockbuster of music festivals. Michael Eavis has influence and this year he has deity on his side that gifted the festival its finest weather since 2003. A dry and sunny Glastonbury leaves few limitations in the biggest playground in the world. The sheer scale and detail of Glastonbury is bewildering. There are 45 official stages and between them a myriad of marching bands, mad tea parties, U2 exhibitions, tattoo parlours, rabbit burrows, transvestite clubs, mazes and an ever-luring rock n’ roll diner. Ahh, the diner. A leftover from Lost Vagueness days and now found in Shangri-La, the diner might seem like a ramshackle Eddie Rockets but it has time bending powers – one minute your stomping to James Brown then next the sun is high in the sky and old ‘do an all-nighter’ Vs ‘get some zzzzs’ debate begins.
The Magic Numbers are the opening act for the Other stage on Friday morning. A few years back they packed out the John Peel stage when their anthemic self-titled debut was the summer album of 2005. Five years on their harmonic pop is a perfect festival wake-up call. Playing a mix of hits and newbies from new album The Runaway, tracks like -Why Did You Call?’ are instantly catchy but it’s the more familiar -Love Me Like You’ and -Forever Lost’ that riles up the sun-kissed crowd.
New to the festival, the West Holts stage replaces the old Jazz World. Matthew Herbert has the honour of being the inaugural act and with him he brings his Big Band ‘¦ a very Big Band. There’s a full on gospel choir, brass band, percussion section and sounds of -The Rich Man’s Prayer’, -Battery’ and -Pontificate’ fill the air.
Across the site the John Peel stage continues the legacy of championing new music, though this year there are quite a few well established acts on the bill. On the first day of the festival the Peel line-up is notably mainstream, Ellie Goulding, Mumford & Sons and Groove Armada as headliners – hardly in keeping with the ethos of previous years though it does tread back to more suitable ground over the weekend.
Swedish popsters Miike Snow pack out the tent. In fairness, the shade could be part of the attraction but, there’s a huge reception for the band who arrive on stage dressed in black wearing Phantom Of The Opera style masks. What’s with the Swedes – all bad band names and theatrics? The set is some polished electro-pop, aside from singles -Sylvia’ and -Animal’ it’s all highly unmemorable.
As the likes of Willie Nelson, The Courteneers and the returning Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are entertaining the masses, refuge may be taken in the Pussy Parlour. A Spiegeltent pub with shade, cold pints and a hilarious DJ set from London’s Feeling Gloomy and The Miserablists. It might seem like a shame to be indoors but it’s welcome guilty pleasure and a perfect spot for recharging the batteries.
Playing their first ever Glastonbury, Phoenix take charge of the Other stage with one of the most astounding sets of the weekend. Confidently opening with a tune as big as -Lisztomania’ the band have an assured canon of hits to back it up, mainly off latest album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (-1901′, -Lasso’) but delving into Alphabetical for a spellbinding closing crescendo on -Run Run Run’.
Drawing considerably larger numbers, a younger but obviously more popular Vampire Weekend have a predictably goofy stage presence but impressed with their preppy college rock on the Pyramid stage. -A-Punk’, -Mansard Roof’, -Horchata’ and -Oxford Comma’ made for a perfect late evening sing-along.
There are not many opportunities to get broody and introspective in Glastonbury but The xx provided an hour of self-indulgence – shared with a few thousand others. A lot of the time the atmosphere of The xx just doesn’t translate in a live setting, this couldn’t be further for the case for their set on the John Peel stage. Apart from looking and sounding up to a main stage billing, the atmospherics couldn’t have been more spot on, the sparseness was embraced while the melodies were lauded. -Islands’, -VCR’ and -Crystalised’ were murmured back like a 1000 indie-kids singing to their feet. Each tracks had slightest bit more “ummmph” but not so much as to take away from the minimalism. Let’s hope The xx can maintain this balance of energy and atmosphere in every show.
Florence’s appearance with the band was one of those Glastonbury moments. We could see it coming, no, we could hear it coming. The xx doing a live version of their own remix of Florence’s cover of -You Got The Love’ and through dubstep a war cry emanated from side stage – when Florence walked on to join Jamie on beats and Romie and Oliver on vocals a tide of electrifying screams lifted the tent into orbit. Truly spine-chilling.