Wednesday, 22 July 2015

This Must Be the Place - Glastonbury 2015 Highlights

A first for The Northern Chords - today's entry is a guest piece, written by a Mr Aiden Hale, with his highlights from the Glastonbury Festival 2015. It is presented here, unedited, with minor formatting changes. Warning, there is some strong language featured. Please enjoy.

Glastonbury. The undisputed world heavyweight champion of the festival world; and due to recent difficulties to actually obtain a ticket, the holy grail for festival goers everywhere. This was my third successive year in attendance at worthy farm and just like the previous two, over a week has passed since it all came to a close and still all I can find myself doing is talking about it! So I've took the decision to put my compulsive rambling on the subject into physical words (wish me luck).

The 2015 line up had divided opinion, even before a chord had been struck. Yes there was the whole riff-raff behind the booking of the controversial but undeniably gifted hip-hop maestro that is Kanye West and the idiots who started a petition which all it looked to me screamed “HOW DARE THEY LET BLACK MUSIC HEADLINE OUR FESTIVAL!”. But without getting carried away on that particular issue, people seemed to have reservations with the line up as a whole. Even on the coach journey down to Somerset I could hear conversations that all followed the same theme that this was the “worst line up in years” but how the £220 ticket is worth admission to the psychedelic wonders the lie beyond the (in)famous “super wall”. While I completely agree with the latter, the former puzzled me. For me it was as good as it’s ever been and I even had to deal with the bittersweet agony of multiple stage clashes throughout the weekend. My personalised line up on the iPhone app was full of overlaps, artists I already adored and ones who I was looking forward to discovering. Without trying to sound so cliché, at Glastonbury there really is a bit of something for everybody. Even with the heart breaking withdrawal of Dave Grohl's busted leg and the rest of his Foo Fighters (this event ultimately ended up being quite serendipitous to this list), narrowing my favourite acts of the weekend to a mere 5 was frustratingly difficult. I was tempted to do a top ten but let’s face it; we don’t have all day here, so I digress. Right, before I start I’ll state the obvious; this is strictly my personal opinion based on who I ended up seeing. I didn't see most of the acts that played, not even all the ones I wanted to, it’s just not possible at a festival of this gargantuan scale. So without further ado and trying my best to not sound like an annoying chart narrator, let’s get the countdown started!

5 – Jamie T (Sunday, Other Stage)

“We normally play in tents when we come here, what the fuck’s going on?” said Jamie in his swaggering yet clearly humbled cockney charm at the front end of his Other Stage slot on Sunday evening. Jamie T seems to be the patron of that old saying that people always miss you more when you’re gone, as during his 5 year hiatus where he seemed to drop off the face of the earth his cult figure seemed to only grow as us early twenties lot began reminiscing on our early teen years in the mid to late noughties. But Jamie as with the rest of us has grown up. Gone are the days of a snapback and chain wearing Jamie T and he relays this with his new dare I say more sensible indie-rock sound in his new album Carry on the Grudge. And this Jamie T came out firing. He was a man on a mission to prove that his 5 years in the abyss were worth the wait and that he was worthy of his relatively big slot.

Jamie T performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2015 
He and his band were playing fast and flamboyantly in what seemed an attempt to get this Sunday evening crowd which might be low of energy at this stage as every bit pumped as they were. In the first half of the set the classic Back in the Game and the new banger Rabbit Hole were both gratefully received by the crowd. But what got this performance into my top five was the final leg of his set where he had purposely left tune after tune. From the first lines of Sheila and If You've Got the Money you would think you were watching a chart dominating pop sensation by the diverse audiences’ shared knowledge of every lyric. The set was then concluded with the crowd jumping in tandem to the lively Sticks ‘n Stones and Zombie where both Jamie and the crowd didn't want it to end. But end it did and the result was a triumphant return of Jamie T to the Glasto scene.    

4 – Hot Chip (Friday, West Holts)

At number 4 we delve into what seems an even bigger noughties obscurity than the last entry. Friday night came along and I just didn't quite fancy a Florence headline slot (for what it’s worth if Foos had played I would have seen Flo). So I ended up heading to the West Holts stage to do my only solo viewing of the weekend and I didn't really blame anyone for not coming with me. I myself was one of those annoying fans who were only familiar with the singles, but something in me told me that Hot Chip would put on a weird yet thoroughly enjoyable show. Boy was I right! As soon as the lights came down and unveiled their classy stage set and on walked the band dressed in a mixture of bright boiler suits, white nightwear and tropical beachwear I was sold. The set began with Huarache Lights a number from their new and difficult to label album Why Make Sense which has elements of house and techno fused into the unmistakeable weird indie-pop sound of the Hot Chip of old. The crowd was a mixture of people who all seemed to be there for the same reason; to have a good time. This lead to one of the liveliest dancing crowds of the weekend and by the time the band had performed the classics One Life Stand and Over and Over early on in the set, the party had started. I didn't care that I was dancing, jumping and singing along with thousands of strangers, it seemed only fitting that I watched this unconventional band in an equally unconventional surrounding with these people. Being a headline set meant that Hot Chip had a longer set to fill, but I needn't have worried about getting bored during runs of songs that I wasn't familiar with as Hot Chip succeeded with keeping the tempo up and the crowd on their side through album songs old and new. 

Hot Chip performing on the West Holts Stage at Glastonbury 2015
Towards the end of the set the fan favourites Ready for the Floor and I Feel Better were deployed and received rambunctious crowd participation in both singing and dancing. However this meant that they were destined to finish with a song unfamiliar to most…. Or so I thought. For the last song on walked the members of Caribou to help out in a cover of the universally loved Springsteen hit Dancing in the Dark. It was mayhem on stage and amongst the audience. It was improvised, uncoordinated and encapsulated the true Glastonbury spirit. The set came to a close with guitarist Al Doyle who is the same Al Doyle of LCD Soundsystem teasing whatever possible LCD fans in the audience (me being one of them) to a few lines from the defining LCD hit All My Friends. This finish was enough to send me back to my tent all giddy and trying to explain to the rest of my group exactly what they had missed out on that evening.

3 – Chemical Brothers (Sunday, Other Stage)

Along came Sunday night and there appeared to be a straight split between where the older and younger sections of the audience spent their evening. I respect The Who and appreciate their musical influence but I think what applies for me applies to many others of my generation and it is that I simply wasn't going to see them for the sake of seeing them. This was everybody’s last act of the weekend and we wanted to go out with a bang! So we chose The Chemical Brothers. I believe that headlining the Other Stage is the biggest slot capable of dance acts at Glastonbury. Apart from the highly unlikely booking of Daft Punk headlining the Pyramid I believe we are a long way from ever seeing DJs in that sort of position, so this is as good and as big as it gets for a dance act at Glasto. The Chemical Brothers also realised that this wasn't their usual Ibiza or nightclub gig where people had bought tickets specifically for them to do their thing, it wasn't their typical dance crowd; it was Glastonbury. They wanted the crowd on their side from the word go and obliged by kicking things off with the 97 classic and DJing favourite Hey Boy, Hey Girl. The rave had begun; flares were being set off, those bad stereotypical dance moves that seem to be nothing but jerking hand movements were all the rage and the stage set lighting was easily the most spectacular of the weekend (even better when a friend had brought a few pairs of light diffracting glasses). It didn’t matter that it was the late hours of Sunday evening; this crowd was going to muster whatever energy they had left by any means to party until the bitter end.

The Chemical Brothers performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2015 
The Bros were in their stride; performing the repetitive yet addictive Do it Again and the new single Go which could be seen as homage to the iconic Galvanize. But these songs were not played as we knew them, no. The Bros had been given their platform and were here to showcase just how skilled their abilities on the decks were and refused to simply just press play on singles such as these. Instead what we saw was a ballet of twisting knobs and dials that resulted in these songs crashing at you at all speeds. It was unpredictable and kept you on your feet (quite literally). The set was a rollercoaster and seemed to fly by as such and towards the end the Bros didn't forget where they were or who they were playing to. You could see it on their faces that they knew they had smashed it, but they also knew what this crowd was waiting for and treated their patience to a finale of Galvanize (probably the purest version they have played in many years) and Block Rockin’ Beats which had the crowd carrying on the singing all the way back to their tents.

2 – Kanye West (Saturday, Pyramid Stage)

This was easily the act I was looking forward to the most; in fact it wasn't even close. So I am as surprised as anybody to find that this isn't my number 1 choice. But that is not to say that this set wasn't outstanding because it was every bit as good as I was expecting. From listening to College Dropout while doing my paper round as a young’un to Yeezus I have loved everything Kanye has released throughout his career. Simply, I am a fan. And as such there was a very unique “perfect” set that I had in my own mind. However I had come to terms that my wishes were mere fantasy and that what would unfold before me was probably going to be a long way off. But it was close enough. I cannot remember ever hearing of a Glastonbury headliner having so much adversity and opposition before even taking to the stage. This didn't stop him drawing a huge crowd; however I imagine many in attendance still needed winning over. The lights came down and there was a brief silence before the storm. The storm was then ignited with the huge hitting Daft Punk sampled Stronger. The pyramid was in full voice and the man himself had yet to even show his face, lord only knows what this did to what was already considered the world’s most inflated ego. Then came Kanye; bouncing onto the stage dressed in more denim than I thought was humanly possible. He had the stage and the audience completely to himself and he didn't look fazed in the slightest. The beginning of the set was a hit filled bonanza with Power, In Paris and Black Skinhead all being dropped in the first fifteen minutes. The crowd could barely keep up, so I could only imagine how on earth Kanye was! After a run of famous hip hop covers which were graciously receipted by the pyramid audience (who would have thought it? Glasto love hip hop after all) came arguably the two strongest songs from the critically acclaimed Yeezus, New Slaves and Blood on the Leaves. This wasn't traditional hip hop, this was the unique dark style that Kanye had moulded himself and what ultimately raised him to the biggest musical platform of all.
Kanye West performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2015 
Perhaps realising that he was on a stricter time limit than what he’s used to and aware that he had a back catalogue of hits to get through, Kanye then began to tick off song after song on a whim, not following a set list and not even playing full songs at times. I was lost in the performance, I had lost track of what he had played and had literally no idea what would come up next. Each song was a lottery and I felt like I was winning every time. The impromptu arrival of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sent me into overdrive. Because of Vernon’s influence on Kanye’s recent albums he was the one special guest that I had wished for and my wish had been granted. Kanye then treated the old school fans (and from the number of people singing along there was many) to the classics Jesus Walks and Diamonds from Sierra Leone” before embarking on the journey that is Runaway. I must say it was quite the sight seeing over one-hundred thousand people "have a toast for the douchebags". Then the beautiful tribute to his mother Only One before Kanye jumped onto that crane of his; probably just so he could get a better view of the crowd that he now had in his pocket. Typically this coincided with his songs Touch the Sky and the feel good anthem Good Life.  Eventually Kanye briefly came back down to earth to then perform a surprise cover of Bohemian Rhapsody (I imagine that rubbed a lot of the older TV viewers up the wrong way). For those who were there it was a sensational moment to be a part of. He began to run out of time citing that he only had 7 minutes left. But that didn't stop Kanye from disrupting the start of his most well-known tune Gold Digger in order to proclaim that we were watching the “greatest living rockstar on the planet”. Watching the audience submit to this as probable fact he even leaked a sly smirk. The set came to a close with the debut album single All Falls Down and given the current political climate in the US was a surprisingly humble and undeniably poignant end to an unforgettable set.          

1 – Mark Ronson (Friday, Other Stage)

When looking at everybody who played over the three days this is probably a surprising number one. Well it’s probably surprising for those who didn't witness it, because for all those who were there this was a set to remember.  I was already a huge fan of Ronson and his work before this set and had seen him perform with a full band before, but this set well and truly blew me away. The show was propelled into life with Feel Right a song more on the hip hop side of things from his new album Uptown Special, which even though has not been released as a single is already a popular and well known track. The start of the set carried on with the hip hop theme with Ronson and the help of his two energetic MCs busting out the old school track Ooh Wee from his debut album Here Comes The Fuzz a track that even if you didn't know it was by Ronson, you know the song (this seemed to be the case for lots of the audience). By this point the sun was shining, the crowd were drinking, dancing and singing. Yet things were just getting started. For the rest of the set a revolving door or cameo appearances had swung into the motion, starting with MNDR who took her role in the popular single Bang Bang Bang from Ronson’s last album Record Collection. Then, without introduction came the forgotten man Daniel Merriweather to perform none other than the first single from Ronson’s breakthrough album Version and Smiths cover Stop Me. Merriweather’s vocals were particularly on point for this one and there didn't appear to be any disgruntled Smiths fans in the audience (you know what they’re like) so a good performance all round. The band arrangement seemed to change by song but the ever present Ronson stood, calm yet eye catching throughout; even without providing any vocals to the production. He was there and this was his set, there was no arguing that.

Mark Ronson performing on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2015
Alongside a couple of BMXers came Kyle Falconer of the view for his feature in The Bike Song, one can only imagine Mark had to search deep into his vast contacts for that one too. Shortly after came the first big name arrival to the stage and one who really rivalled Ronson’s title of coolest member of this ensemble and that was Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. Parker, Ronson and co. then blasted out the hypnotic track that is Daffodils that had the audience revelling in awe. Up next was the gangly, brightly dressed figure of Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow to perform an unorthodox yet very pleasant Calypso enhanced version of the Miike Snow single Animal. For those familiar with the Record Collection album it was obvious what was to unfold next, but for those who didn't expect it I can only imagine their surprise to Boy George’s arrival to the stage, dressed in full Culture Club attire and all. George and Wyatt then harmonised magically for the performance of Somebody to Love Me. Wyatt then gracefully departed the stage and it was time to get the whole crowd singing again, and what better way to do so than with the Culture Club classic Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. However for the next track there were no special guest as Ronson and the whole of the Other Stage gave tribute to Ronson’s close friend in a stripped down yet beautiful version of Valerie. At times the crowd were out-singing the track and Ronson was visibly taken aback by it all. Glastonbury has lacked many guest appearances in recent years and Mark Ronson seemed to be trying to make up for them all in a single set, especially in the final song of his set which was none other than the inescapable infectious chart topping hit of Uptown Funk. Firstly no, Bruno Mars didn't make an appearance however this was overcome by the introduction of the legendary Grandmaster Flash on the decks and vocals provided by Mary J Blige fresh from her outstanding Pyramid stage performance earlier that day. Finally Ronson paid homage to this funk inspired single and album by bringing on the proclaimed “Prime Minister of Funk” George Clinton. I don’t think me or the rest of the crowd in fact, could compute the unique collection of artists that were performing to us from that stage. It really was a once in a lifetime show.

This post was written by Mr Aiden Hale, who can be contacted via Twitter on the handle @HaleAiden. He can often be found in various bars situated around Liverpool and Leeds, and is a veteran of multiple Glastonbury appearances. He also wishes to state that he popularised his current haircut before it was cool.

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