Glastonbury organisers Michael Eavis and his daughter Emily took a chance on turning Mumford and Sons into a headline act; with just two albums released to date, it’s early in the band’s career. But the four-piece folk-rock band, with Brit and Grammy awards to their name, more than rise to the prestigious post. It’s an even more triumphant performance, following the brain surgery and happy recovery of their double bassist Ted Dwane.
Whatever your take on the band’s folk and bluegrass authenticity, there’s no denying that their set is a crowd-pleaser. With every heart-warming burst of strumming, double bass, banjo and four-way harmonies, augmented tonight by violins and a majestic three-piece brass section, the crowd erupts. “We came for a party”, Mumford announces, and the mood is jovial. The soaring vocals and earworm melodies of “Little Lion Man”, “The Cave”, “Awake My Soul” and “White Blank Page” which the band build dextrously from sparsest acoustic guitar to joyous crescendos, are all rapturously received by the vast swathes of fans.
“Awake My Soul” becomes a rollicking bluegrass number as Marcus Mumford leads the crowd in a mass singalong. “Lover of the Light” from their second album, Babel, sees the band go more rocky, with Mumford on the drums.
They save some of the best for last. Early song “The Cave” is a true fan highlight. It’s followed by a rendition of “With a Little Help from My Friends”, backed by gospel singers.
Earlier in the day, on Sunday morning, post the previous night’s staggeringly brilliant, heady performance from The Rolling Stones who drew an unprecedented crowd for a set that will go down in Glastonbury’s 43-year history, Bassekou Kouyate set the chilled-out vibe on the Pyramid Stage.
Where just 12 hours earlier, crowds could be seen far into the distance, now relaxed festival-goers lounge, sprawled on the dry grass as clouds loom overhead, to listen to the relaxed performance of the popular Malian musician. Kouyate’s spirits-rousing ngoni lute–led songs prove the ideal Sunday morning opener, and in a nice touch that calls to mind the tradition of the many cross-generational families who come to Glastonbury together, he introduces his band – all family members including his wife on vocals and his son on percussion. With the familiarly muddy fields of Glastonbury now parched, festival goers have traded wellies for flip flops and shorts revealing red patches of sunburnt skin following a day of scorching sunshine.
The ensuing blissful, harmonising indie-folk of First Aid Kit continues the relaxed atmosphere, and brings on the day’s first rays of sunshine. The duo of Swedish sisters, Johanna Soderberg on keyboards and Klara on acoustic guitar, are dressed in ethereal, ethnic print clothing complementing their ethereal vocals on songs with the typically bitter-sweet subject matter of their newest number “Waitress Song”, “about dreaming, escaping and forming another life in a place far away”.
Their glorious harmonies soar on the imploring “Hard Believer” and “The Lion’s Roar”, and they lay bare their roots in 1960s American folk with a Bob Dylan cover and rendition of “America” by Paul Simon. Backed by a percussionist and a pedal-steel guitarist, they up the pace with uplifting country, including “Emmylou”, their tribute to their “country favourites” which name-checks June Carter, Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons.
A masterful solo set from Rufus Wainwright alternating between his Steinway piano and acoustic guitar, today leans on the musician’s melancholic side with “Memphis Skyline”, written in tribute to the late Jeff Buckley, and a faithful cover of Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sung emotively over rippling piano. Its depth is matched by his own “Tired of America” which the theatrical Wainwright ends passionately with thundering piano.
A theatrical performance of a different ilk took place at the big top-like Avalon stage, when Sir Bruce Forsyth emerged for an hour-long set which saw him singing, tap dancing and playing the piano. He was welcomed by chants of “Brucie, Brucie” as he danced his way on to the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune. At the age of 85, he is one of the oldest performers to ever play at Glastonbury.
Over at the John Peel stage, Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien dedicates the title song of his Mercury-nominated album Becoming a Jackal to the late DJ. Few can create mystery and intrigue as well as the talented O’Brien and his band recreate the spooky sonics and off-kilter rhythms no better than on the bewitching The Bell. Meanwhile The xx, due to go head-to-head with headliners Mumford and Sons tonight, play a surprise performance over at the BBC Introducing stage to a huge crowd disappointed when a 30-minute set becomes a short two-song appearance.
Laura Mvula, one of the most intriguing prospects to emerge in the annual ones to watch polls – she was shortlisted for this year’s Brits Critics’ Choice – is surprised at the huge crowd gathered to watch her at the Park Stage. But it’s no wonder. The classically trained 27-year-old singer-songwriter from Birmingham brings her intricate orchestral soul pop to far greater heights on the live stage. Her beautifully arranged songs soar to such heights as Something Out of the Blue becomes a rich cacophony with jazz-flavoured drums, meandering bass, a small choir singing close harmony and her rich soul vocals.
“Is There Anybody Out There”, already a treat with its flowing harp, string samples and choir, takes a turn into reggae before morphing into a cover of Bob Marley’s “One Love”. With the crowd singing along, arms swaying under the afternoon sun, this is surely one of the best festival moments of the summer.