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, 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 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
So how can you possibly top that set from The Stones? A dream Saturday night headline set from the biggest rock band in the business was always going to a tough act to follow. Respect then to Bath-based The Heavy whose midday set on The Other Stage was a perfect start to the final day of this year's Glastonbury festival.
Besuited and booted lead singer Kelvin Swaby seems genuinely delighted with the post breakfast crowd who've pitched up to watch the band. He coaxes and cajoles them to sing and clap along to the band's infectious funk rock served up with a hearty dose of soul. A sea of waving hands at the front of the stage greets "Short Change Hero" and Swaby even manages to persuade some of us to howl like wolves.
The Heavy are, he admits, a band more suited to the middle of the night than the middle of the day in a Somerset field but by the final song of their set -a rousing version of "How you like me now" - the whole crowd are leaping along. On this evidence an evening slot on the Pyramid surely awaits next year.
Even a cursory glance at the early afternoon set list shows that all of the main stages have an easy going start. It is a Sunday after all. Rufus Wainright draws a reasonable crowd to the main stage for his like it or loathe it take on soul baring ballads. While over on The West Holts stage are Dub Colossus, an accomplished band with members from the UK and Ethiopia who blend African rhythms with dub reggae and jazz.
It's a heady mix but it's one that works. Flanked by two percussionists, a drummer and a three piece horn section of trombone, trumpet and sax the female singer pokes fun at David Cameron while a man dances around the stage with a Cameron mask. It's a hilarious and slightly surreal moment, but hey ho this is Glastonbury. By the end of their set their soaring saxes and sweet vocals have persuaded many to put down their cardboard plates of food and throw some shapes instead.
The Other Stage then plays host to PIL. John Lydon is on cracking form, scrunching his eyes closed and bellowing out the lyrics. He seems delighted to be there, scowling and snarling his way through the set. Who said punk was dead?
But the real standout performance of the afternoon has to be The Congos. From the moment the four frontmen skank onto the West Holts stage, their infectious smiles and seemingly boundless energy lifts the whole festival. They throw poses, perform karate high kicks and produce some seriously funky dance moves.
The elder statesmen of reggae put on a show that belies their years. Witnessing their classic roots reggae in the sun has to be the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Outstanding track "Row Fisherman Row" has the whole field skanking along in unison. It's a stunning show and easily on a par with the Stones. Two legendary sets in 24 hours is going to take some beating next year. Try and top that one Mr Eavis.