While Far Out HQ spent the weekend sorting the wheat from the chaff and meticulously picking the best of the best from the barrage of online Glastonbury footage that appeared via the BBC, some were a little more fortunate and able to take in the sounds, sights, sensations and occasionally unpleasant smells of Worthy Farm.
The approach to the site down winding Somerset country lanes, waiting with anticipation for Glastonbury’s Tor to protrude from the sprawling hills, is always enhanced by a clear sky – and that’s just what we get upon our Thursday afternoon arrival.
Already this pop-up city of unbridled hedonism is thriving. There’s an early warning of treachery, however, as camping crew advise those arriving on the festival’s second day that they should camp high to avoid the inevitable showers due the next day. We take heed, but looking up into a searingly hot sky, it all seems a little farfetched.
Thursday often provides the biggest opportunity to explore the far-flung corners of the site that threaten to fall away from the schedule once the mega-domes open. One such delight is the Green Fields – a haven representing the original spirit of Glastonbury that has been gradually diluted over the last four decades.
This environmentally conscious, educational and, of course, entertaining bit of the site taps into the Eavis family’s initial desire to use the festival to unlock some of the Vale of Avalon’s alternative and sustainable energy sources.
But come early evening it is also the scene for a welcome surprise, as Far Out favourite Loyle Carner comes on stage to showcase his unmistakable brand of hip-hop. It’s an energetic unannounced set that has a modest crowd absolutely loving it. An unexpected delight.
A new addition this year is the Spaceport, a bass-heavy sweatbox of a late night club that is found just yards from the more iconic dance arena of The Glade. Thursday night breeds chaos as party-hit spinner My Nu Leng creates a one-in, one-out situation.
After taking it comparatively easy on a Thursday that saw anywhere hosting anything notable unbearably packed, it is a joy to bound down the hill of the campsite in the morning to catch Madrid garage-rock quartet Hinds enchant the crowd at the John Peel stage.
After playing support slots with The Libertines (more on them later, ssshhhh), they must have gained a little experience of performing to huge crowds. The 16,000 capacity tent is by no means full but it must still be one of the most daunting audiences they have played to – especially when you have the added pressure of swarms of BBC camera men pointing lenses at you throughout. But they deal with it expertly. A few early nerves are replaced with the most endearing charm as ‘Bamboo’ and ‘Davey Crockett’ receive rapturous responses.
Then comes our first visit to the refurbished and now grander looking Other Stage, as The Cribs follow a secret set from The Charlatans with the kind of raucous rock ‘n’ roll show we have come to expect. There’s lager flying around all over and Ryan Jarman leaves a lasting impression on the lunchtime crowd by launching his guitar across the vast stage, creating a squeal of feedback as they leave.
But the vibrancy of this event is something that can never be underestimated – as a trip back to the John Peel gives us a first chance to catch one our breakthrough artists of the last year, Leon Bridges.
It almost goes without saying the biggest draw is that encapsulating tone and pitch of Bridges’ voice – a perfect mix of power, subtlety, and infectious catchiness. But live there is something more encompassing about the sound, with the tightness of a backing band that includes White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins proving integral, as the crowd (which can’t exactly be accused of easing into the first afternoon proper) stands mesmerised.
After taking the guidance of the campsite crew with a pinch of salt, we’re left with a red face as the skies grimace and unleash one hell of a shower on Worthy Farm. As Far Out heads to the Pyramid for the first time to try to blast away the precipitative blues with Motorhead, the weather only worsens and the cancellation of Foo Fighters means Lemmy and co are on later than planned and we catch Mary J Blige winding up..
But what follows is more than worth the wait. In many ways Motorhead could probably be touted as the most successful pub rock band of all time. It’s undeniably cheesy and as you might expect the crowd suddenly becomes remarkably more energetic when ‘Ace of Spades’ comes out. But you have to hand it to a rocker who was long due an appearance at Worthy Farm. What’s more, they manage to beckon the sun back to the party.
Since Dave Grohl broke his leg there has been much debate over who would fill the void left after Florence and the Machine were bumped up to headliners (head to soppycunt.co.uk to find out how that set went). But just hours before, the massive screens each side of the stage that show the schedule cite an unannounced band.
Cue misguided rumours flying around the Pyramid stage like we have never seen before. Based on this cacophony of hysteria it’s set to be some kind of supergroup comprised of The Strokes, Taylor Swift and AC/DC.
However, it is an earlier tip that prevails as T in the Park and Reading & Leeds headliners The Libertines dilute the spectacle those appearances and come out for a Pyramid greatest hits set. Some look like they are going to hyperventilate, others couldn’t give a toss and seek out the more Radio 1-friendly sounds of Mark Ronson on the Other Stage.
With a new album on the way, the talk of a one-off payday for the reunited London quartet has been proven unfounded, and based on this show they have been putting plenty of hours at rehearsals. While seeing the band in this context couldn’t be further from their essence of hosting impromptu on-the-door shows in a crack den of a front room, it’s an entertaining show and a mix of nostalgia and early evening drunkenness that makes for a thrilling set.
We scarper just before the end and head for the Park Stage, where Jamie xx takes to the decks to showcase tracks from his debut album Colours. He claims DJing his solo material is the best way to communicate it to his fans – and it certainly has the field bouncing.
Seeing the likes of Todd Terje & the Olsens recently (see Saturday) makes it clear that even music anchored on the most virtual of foundations can be brought to life, making Jamie’s claim seem questionable. But as the sun sets and Romy’s voice drifts across the field during a reworked mix of ‘Loud Places’, the show provides one of the moments of the weekend.
But the first night proves to very much be a case of save the best until last. Park Stage headliners Super Furry Animals put on a condensed version of the all-out extravaganza we caught at Manchester’s Albert Hall last month. It’s hit after hit, complete with golden retriever costumes, “GO APE SHIT” cue cards and a sozzled, but totally enthused, crowd – some of whom are reliving their youth and others who are simply nodding along and embracing the hedonism. Bliss.
It’s a Far Out favourite who opens the Pyramid rather than closes it on Saturday as Courtney Barnett plays in a space hundreds of times larger than her current tour venues. But the Melbourne singer-songwriter makes it her own, with her immersive brand of garage-rock and surreal odd-ball pop.
It’s a gorgeously warm afternoon, and lying down at the back of the Pyramid with Barnett’s surf-tinged set is a fitting way to get things started. A trip over to the Other Stage for Young Fathers carries quite an intensity as the sun beats down on the mud that has hardened in the field, but the sound of their kraut rock-infused hip-hop gets slightly lost in the open air and with a sparse crowd.
One area of the site that has been relocated for the better this year is Strummerville. This ode to The Clash’s legendary frontman was located in Shangri-La and had started to be overshadowed by the carnival of early hours parties that tear their way through the festival in a seemingly never-ending manner once the headliners finish. But in 2015 it has been pushed right to the top of the Stone Circle, offering a new hidden mecca of solace that only the most discerning of explorers can track down. There is everything from acoustic folksters to rabble-rousing DJs, with a vista of the festival and surrounding hills that you can’t get anywhere else. Stunning.
The West Holts Stage is an area that has also undergone a bit of a rebrand. After being rechristened following years of being known as the Jazz World, the music has also been branched out a little. Although it is still the place to see the best in jazz, soul, reggae, and hip-hop (this year hosted Steel Pulse, Roy Ayers, George Clinton and Run the Jewels), recently headliners have taken on a bit more of an electronic twist. We head down to sample the aforementioned Todd Terje and his brand of bouncy disco-house. Hands are aloft and the sun still beats down as It’s Album Time is ignited with an electrified audience.
After a bit of deliberation (none of which includes a single mention of Kanye West), it becomes undeniably clear that the Park Stage is again the best way to bring the night to a close. In fact, a bill that includes The Fall, Goat, Fat White Family, Kate Tempest, Father John Misty, Spirtualized and Jon Hopkins makes it the frontrunner by far.
It is the latter pair of these artists that provide the soundtrack to Far Out’s Saturday night headline slot, and both are almost biblically encapsulating. Jason Pierce and co say nothing but deliver absolutely everything. It’s an eclectic set that spans Spritualized’s two-decade career. It is testament to the power of 2008’s Songs in A&E that ‘Soul On Fire’ transpires to be the centrepiece of the set, soaring into the Somerset sky amid otherworldly visuals and a current band lineup that is as solid as ever. Mesmerising.
Then, it is time for the glitchy electronica of Jon Hopkins to take the Park Stage crowd into early hours ecstasy. He rips, thumps and squelches through a barnstorming 90-minutes of forward-thinking tech-inspired soundscapes – proving just why he has risen to the top as Brian Eno’s favourite producer.
Once again camping besides the John Peel proves a fruitful decision, as we wake up to the sounds of Gengahr topping of a great few months with a triumphant set. Their debut A Dream Outside took our Album of the Week slot a couple of weeks ago. It’s a brand of soul-tinged psych-pop kicks off the final day beautifully. After a night caught up in the madness of the acid house and fire cannons in Shangri-La and Block 9, it’s a soothing way to get back on the level.
After a stroll through the Green and Circus fields, and a stop-off at a vegetarian pizza stall (£6 for a whole pizza surely represents the best value sustenance on site) it’s time for some more soulful vibes on the West Holts – this time of a slightly different nature – thanks to Australian groove-mercants Hiatus Kaiyote, with their output of sporadic jazz and pitch-perfect vocals from singer Nai Palm. Terrible band name but wonderful performance.
As Glastonbury’s crescendo draws ever closer, another example of the festival catering for the broadest spectrum of music fans is demonstrated by the goings on at the Pyramid and Park stages.
On the latter, pop legend Lionel Ritchie can be seen serenading the main stage-mainstays glued to their camping chairs with mega-hit after mega-hit, while a posse of jokers indulge in ‘Hello, Is It Rich Tea You’re Looking For’, as they hurl packets of biscuits across the field.
Meanwhile at the Park, however, it is the soundtrack rather than a McVities A-bomb that makes for an abrasive experience, as Fat White Family make up for their no show at the Rabbit Hole last year with a rip-roaring performance.
As Lias Saudi leaves the stage to make way for the slightly strange choice of follow-up in the shape Perfume Genius, one has to wonder whether the subject of their single ‘I Am Mark E Smith’ has been scrutinising them like wayward students backstage, because as you might have already guessed – next it’s time for The Fall.
While some attendees (including Fact Magazine) were there to sensationalise and grind a flimsy story out of some kind of moderately outlandish behaviour from the frontman, we prefer to focus on the music and how the band assimilate new album Sub-Liungual Tablet into the set.
As it happens they are the tightest we have seen them, embracing motorik rhythms and an expansive approach more than we have witnessed at our previous live outings. 2008’s ‘Wolf Kiidult Man’ is a personal highlight and Smith growls and snarls his way through a set that doesn’t go near a hit (if you can describe The Fall as having such a thing), but he has every pair of eyes in the field fixated.
To end what has been another voyage of otherworldliness, tomfoolery, fun, fear, sun, mud, exhilaration, and disorientating haziness, we go for a Glastonbury stalwart… and boy does it pay off.
Although upcoming record Born In the Echoes sounds a little sugray based on its first couple of singles, this has done nothing to water down one of the most potent and thudding live sets we have ever seen, courtesy of The Chemical Brothers.
Their headline set to brings the Other Stage to a close veers and all over the place, splicing together competents from numerous ‘Chems’ hits to create a kind of reimagined collage of their career with more builds and drops, mesmerising strobes and immersive visuals than you can shake a stick at.
As an endless crowd are already reaching boiling point, stage crew release a collection of multi-coloured inflatables into the pit, creating a sensory feast for the ears and the eyes that really is the kind of unrepeatable moment of vibrancy you will only ever see once in your life. It’s been yet another year where Glastonbury has proved itself to be an event that has evolved and adapted to maintain it’s crown as the indisputable best show on earth.