Even festival organiser Michael Eavis, a man well used to the unpredictable Somerset summer weather, says this year was the muddiest Glastonbury ever. He wasn’t wrong. Getting about in ankle deep sludge for most of the weekend was indeed tough going as the weather and Friday’s shock Brexit vote conspired to give this year’s event a distinct vibe.
For the acts the political developments fueled a sense of rage that gave their sets some extra steel. Meanwhile, the mud made audiences seem even more grateful than usual. They’d fought through mud to reach a band and by gum they were going to enjoy themselves once they got there.
Meanwhile, the Leftfield tent became a Mecca for the confused, as young and old alike looked for answers across its line up of politicians, activists and bands.
Here’s our look across some of the highlights on the smaller stages. Were you at any of these gigs? If so let us know what you thought.
Opening the John Peel stage on Friday a few hundred hardy souls gathered where the mud was less porridge-like to see a rare UK performance from Green on Red’s Dan Stuart. He didn’t disappoint, having flown in from his home in Mexico together with his be-suited and excellent band Twin Tones.
Brexit naturally was mentioned, so too were tracks from Stuart’s latest album as well as Green on Red standards, all delivered with a wry grin and plenty of passion. Solo track Last Blue Day was dedicated to us poor post-Brexit vote Brits, while Death and Angels more than satisfied those that remember Green on Red’s heyday.
Over at the Acoustic stage the weather was the main protagonist to help along Michelle Stodart’s fine country folk set, accompanied by a backing group that included her brother and fellow Magic Number, Romeo. For artists playing in a tent on a Friday afternoon bad weather is a godsend. Her set was perfectly timed with a month’s worth of rain descending and the crowd soon swelled looking for warmth and comfort. Ain’t No Woman from her forthcoming album as well as Invitation to the Blues were two of many highlights for this packed Acoustic tent.
William’s Green is often our favourite venue at the festival, always showcasing new and innovative bands who know how to please a crowd. Friday afternoon provided two excellent examples of their stellar booking policy with Yak, and then Vant.
London based trio Yak are slowly building up a strong reputation for their incendiary live shows, with frontman Oliver Burslem the catalyst, full of Jim Morrison freak outs on their single Use Somebody in particular. If you ever despair of the future of British rock music go and see this band.
Vant are more polished, a little Nirvana like in places, but cut from the same indie rock cloth as Yak. Live they are intense. Brexit again gets mentioned, with frontman Mattie Vant ordering any leave voters in ‘his tent’ to do just that. He was genuinely pissed at the vote, summing up what so many young people feel. It was another example of politics fueling a performance with this proving to be one of the best sets I’ve seen at William’s Green. Bigger tents and stages beckon for them.
With the soup of mud threatening to become knee height I waded through to the nearby Leftfield stage to station myself for the night. I wasn’t the only one. Plenty more were there to escape the mud and find some answers to the political malaise, from tonight’s headliner Billy Bragg.
I often go to Bragg’s regular Friday night set here but this was by far the best with the aftermath of the electorate’s decision firmly on his mind. The crowd’s roar after hits like Milkman of Human Kindness and Sexuality was “just what I needed”, he said. Even Bragg admitted towards the end that this had been one of his best ever gigs and certainly it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the Leftfield in five years as a regular. There Is A Power In A Union sing-a-long was intense with its added topicality and New England was rousing. Bragg kept urging the crowd to pick up their guitars and get out there and be the protest singers of the future. Over at William’s Green Mattie Vant was doing just that a few hours before.
Supporting Bragg were Warrington’s Man and the Echo, a curious highly polished indie pop act that somehow emerged straight out of the early 1990s, via the 1960s for a stop over, for our 2016 delectation and delight. Smart, fun and in their own words the favourite band of ten people, ten very wise people that is. Here’s a clip of Vile As You Want, by the band.
Also on the Friday night bill was ska legend Rhoda Daka, whose engaging banter with the crowd and with her band, who incidentally were as good as a ska band gets, providing the most fun gig of the weekend. Easy Life and Let’s Do Rock Steady from her Body Snatchers days got the biggest cheer and rightly so.
Among Saturday’s small stage highlights was a mesmerising performance from former Mercury Music Prize nominee Sam Lee and his band at the acoustic tent. In recent years Lee has made it his mission to collect and record ancient songs from across Britain, particularly among the traveller communities. This gives Lee’s gigs an extra dimension as he details the various travellers he has met and sung with, including Freda Black an octogenarian Romany singer from Kent who provided him with the Napoleonic epic Bonny Bunch of Roses. He’s developed a great relationship with those communities he meets and as a modern day Cecil Sharp now provides one of modern music’s most interesting and ancient sets.
William’s Green’s excellent Saturday line up included Boxed In, a band we’d touted before. They didn’t disappoint with their take on keyboard driven pop and the track Mystery proving a particular highlight.
New favourite artist alarms rang immediately during another intense set, this time from former Race Horses singer now solo artist Meilyr Jones. Stage diving can get a little tiresome but I’ll let Jones off as he took the strategy to new lengths with the aid of an extra long mic lead. Somehow during the meander he ended up atop a nearby bar with his mud covered bare feet gleaming by the pumps. Billed as chamber pop, his band rocked far too much to warrant that fey tag. Incredible performance.
Our final look around the smaller stages was to see John Grant. Poor John had flu but this somehow made his performance at the John Peel stage better, with the crowd urged to sing-along and wave their arms around to keep him going. He has come along way as a performer since I last saw him at Glastonbury two years ago and he is now a proper diva, albeit one in a country and western shirt and a massive beard. Queen of Denmark, Greatest Mother Fucker were highlights but Glacier blew the whole gig apart with its emotional brilliance.
The mud may have meant many gigs were missed, and many were stumbled upon by accident but the weather along with the shock Brexit vote ensured this year’s Glastonbury had an edge that the acts on the smaller stages in particular met head on to put in some career high performances.
By Joe Lepper