It's amazing how little the English language has on offer to describe the many varieties of mud. And at this year's Glastonbury festival, where the brown stuff was found splattered on everything from Indian headdresses to billowing Dolly Parton flags, this lack of suitable language became apparent from the start.
The wretched conditions arrived on Thursday afternoon with a near-biblical deluge and continued throughout Friday and Saturday with heavy rain and even an electrical storm that shut the Pyramid Stage for the first time since the so-called "year of thunder" in 2007.
At times, it felt like the weather not the music was the star. By Saturday morning it had turned the 1,200-acre site into a quagmire of thick mud, slippery mud, squelchy mud and wellie-trapping mud. What was needed was fist-pumping music from big-name acts, to help the muddy masses escape damp tents and overflowing bars to gaze heavenwards in a common act of musical worship.
Sadly, this wasn't the year for that. Instead, it was the year to forage for new music, at least until Metallica took to the stage on Saturday night to teach Worthy Farm's biggest stage about heavy metal. Critics searched for new bands in the far-flung corners of site, before dashing back to join the vast crowds catching the metal foursome's slash guitars or the delightful Dolly Parton. These two sets at least were acts that deserved to be ticked off the Glastonbury score card.
Best bands to see at Glastonbury that might have slipped your radar
Best bands to see at Glastonbury that might have slipped your radar
1/10 Fat White Family (William’s Green, Friday and John Peel Stage and Snakepit, Saturday)
This year’s headliners Kasabian have given these filthy London kids their blessing, naming them as one of few bands that excite them these days. If that’s not an honour…
2/10 The Correspondents (Hell Stage, Sunday)
This Soho-loving electro-swing duo cannot be missed. Mr Bruce and Chucks will linger in the mind for a long time, not least because their live show is brilliant and ridiculous in gloriously equal measures. There will be a Jungle Book remix involved, what more could you want?
3/10 Jess Glynne (La Pussy Parlure Nouveau, Saturday)
You might recognise this 24-year-old’s name from Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” and Route 94’s“My Love”. But while she may ‘feature’ on these chart-topping tracks, check Jess out at Glastonbury to sample some of her own songs live, including her catchy debut single “Right Here”
4/10 John Grant (The Park Stage, Saturday)
Much of Grant’s lyrical content is intense (he sings about being HIV positive in “Ernest Bognine”, as one example), but there is a dry, subtle humour to his music that makes all that deeply-personal stuff bearable and, dare we say it, a damn good listen.
5/10 Dry the River (Avalon Stage, John Peel Stage, Sunday)
Fronted by medical student Peter Liddle, this East London five-piece shun minimalist chord patterns and generic pop hooks in favour of complex harmonies and anthemic choruses. On at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, all you need is sunshine and cider
6/10 Chromeo (John Peel Stage, Saturday)
Dave-1and P-Thugg will be bringing their brand of modern funk with a catchy Eighties twist to Worthy Farm, all the way from Canada. Indulge those guilty pleasures folks
7/10 East India Youth (William’s Green, Friday)
William Doyle’s first album was released in January and his sound is certainly unique. Some might say odd and over-dramatic, but it’s Glastonbury and you should try out something different, right? Awesome instrumental moments will set your heart racing no matter your music taste
8/10 Public Service Broadcasting (West Holts Stage, Sunday)
Innovative duo J Willgoose, Esq and Wrigglesworth take samples from old public information footage and propaganda and set them to music, hoping to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future”. One of the hidden gems of this year’s festival
9/10 Bajofondo (Other Stage, Sunday and Sonic, Sunday)
In case it’s slipped your notice, there’s a World Cup going on. Time for some South American tango dancing with these eight musicians from Argentina and Uruguay who fuse Latin alternative with contemporary drum and bass beats. Olé!
10/10 Vance Joy (The Park Stage, Saturday)
This Aussie man-with-guitar’s storytelling abilities and hopeless romanticism will appeal to fans of Ben Howard. Past reviews have called him an “unassuming, funny and affable individual” so expect some on-stage banter
Thankfully, variety (and the need to dart across the site) is exactly what is brilliant about Glastonbury, in that there's always something on offer for everyone. Don't think for a moment that mud dampened spirits either, as wonderful "Glastonbury moment" sing-alongs to Elbow and Manic Street Preachers proved. Both offered new material as well as old, proving it wasn't just a case of damp sentimentalism, but rather veterans proving they still had it.
Nonetheless, a younger crowd still sought out newer talent, with many heading for the John Peel Tent and other stages for succour from the dreary early weekend line-up. It started with much-hyped indie band Jungle on Friday afternoon, who sent positive vibes like an electric current through the Somerset site, stepping the pace up from their usual chilled but addictive funky-soul.
The following day it was the turn of muscular-sounding Brighton rockers Royal Blood to really impress at the stage named after the BBC Radio 1 DJ and presenter. The duo presented an hour-long masterclass in sliding guitar, thrashed drums and grizzly power chords prior to Metallica far heavier set. Somehow, despite their small number they created a vast sound, before yielding the bulging and mud-splattered tent to the slightly calmer Courtney Barnett later in the afternoon. She's pleasingly unpolished in style, hails from Melbourne and you should think of her as a kind of hipster-friendly Sheryl Crow.
These early acts proved that at a festival of nearly 175,000 people (temporarily the third biggest city in the South-west) you simply aren't covering enough ground (or selecting the correct iPlayer live stream) if you don't find anything to your liking, whether a hilarious Mark Steel rant against the Daily Mail in the shelter of the Cabaret tent or a tucked-away and unannounced DJ set from Disclosure in the small hours.
Youth overcame mud again on Saturday evening with a fiery set from Imagine Dragons on the Other Stage. The band, who battered a huge drum throughout, had obviously been mud-diving to the audience's delight. It was more commercial, straightforward stuff, but a crowd deprived of frantic energy on the larger stages sucked it all up.
Despite these sorts of antics it would be easy to buy into the idea that the festival had gone soft if you only sampled the main stages – bars across the farm ran dry of prosecco at one point. Instead, you only needed to head to the darker corners of Arcadia and Shangri-La, as thousands did on Friday and Saturday nights, to see after-dark shenanigans with a backdrop of fire-spewing animals and frantic beats. Along with the Worthy Hills, these parts of Glastonbury haven't been ceded to the middle classes, with wild behaviour, rule breaking, roaming drug vendors and a sense of bubbling but wonderful disorder still evident.
The likes of Lily Allen and a gyrating Ellie Goulding could only pretend to be counter-culture though, with Allen offering a truly baffling and foul-mouthed set on Saturday afternoon after the show halting lightning storm. She gyrated in a tiny pink miniskirt in front of a selection of giant baby bottles, to calls of "she's twerking" from the crowd. It was a filthy kind of bubblegum pop, with unimpressive vocals; not quite in the spirit of things. Likewise, Goulding's dance moves on Sunday felt out of place, though she at least charmed the huge crowd watching "Burn" as the sun went down. Less of this tackiness next year, please. Thankfully, though, by this point in the weekend crowd-pleasing performances from Robert Plant and Jack White the night before and from Ed Sheeran and The Black Keys on Sunday had put the festival in forgiving mood.
The stand-out female vocalist of the weekend though was surely shy singer and guitarist Lucy Rose, who deserves high praise for her set on the Other Stage on Sunday. The sun finally came out for the relative unknown, who rather sweetly told the crowd she was pleased so many had turned out when they probably didn't know who she was.
Formerly of Bombay Bicycle Club, she's already following the popular folky path blazed by Laura Marling, but in my view with far more charm and energy, plus subtle electric licks and a gravelly voice to die for. It was perfect picnic and cider music as waterproofs were stripped off and sweltering wellies cursed in the heat. The only problem was that the ground was still a sticky mess and weary festival-goers were clearly desperate to rest up, after hours on their feet. Lucy Rose at least offered wonderful comfort music for the soul and even managed to coax a boogie out of them.
And then there were Dolly and the headliners. Much has been said already, but the Queen of Country truly did become the Queen of Glastonbury with a set that enchanted as much as it entertained the packed out crowd (it seemed to stretch right back to Worthy Farm). Metallica were, well, Metallica but they knew how to put on a show and batter their critics aside at the same time. As for Arcade Fire and Kasabian, they were fine, most people agreed, with the latter showing they are quickly becoming masters at putting on a "show" not just a "set".
Speaking at the close of the festival Michael Eavis said he has already booked the three headliners for next year (wisely perhaps he won't name them yet). Let's just hope they are up to the job because the rest of this wonderful jamboree of performing art deserves better than it got this year. Though a year of some weak headliners has at least reminded us that the Glastonbury festival isn't just about big names drawing huge crowds; it's about getting hopelessly lost in new music.Reuse content