Review of Glastonbury Festival 2011

As the oldest and largest festival of its kind in the world, Glastonbury has rightfully earned its place as the Mecca of all music events. It must also go down as the muddiest festival in the world, as even a relatively sunny and dry five days (by Glastonbury standards) couldn't prevent Worthy Farm from turning into a quagmire of epic proportions.

Glastonbury Festival

Prepared and pampered, Contactmusic's decision to travel to farthest Somerset in a state of the art motor home proved to be the best decision we've made in years, particularly after Friday night's relentless downpour - more of which later. Of course one of the things that sets Glastonbury apart from every other festival is that there's so much more going on than just music. The peaceful confines of the Green Fields, remote settings on The Park that are The Crow's Nest and Rabbit Hole, and general shanty town themed base of debauchery known as Shangri La are just three of the must-see backwaters of the festival, all validly contributing to why Glastonbury is still top of the league, simply light years ahead of the competition.

It wouldn't be Glastonbury without the rumours and controversy, and with several special guest slots still to be filled, hearsay filters through that Radiohead and Pulp will be performing at some point (correct), the Arctic Monkeys are onsite and getting ready to play their part (50% right), and Beyonce's Sunday evening headline slot will see her joined by a host of stars from hubby Jay Z to Kanye West and former Destiny's Child colleagues Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams (totally wide of the mark although the former has been here all weekend). Controversy reigns supreme too, with news filtering through on Sunday morning of a suspicious death in the hospitality area toilets, later confirmed as a close confidante and aid to the Prime Minister.

Still, with four days worth of music to devour over sixty stages and various impromptu bandstand shows, it's fair to say we're in for a treat, if a slightly busy one at that. With Thursday generally being the main arrival day for a large proportion of the 175,000 punters expected to arrive this year, live performances outside of the realms of DJ slots are a little thin on the ground, so when MS DYNAMITE takes to the stage inside the tiny Wow! Tent, all hell breaks loose - literally - with what must be at least 20,000 people trying to get into a space built to accommodate only a tenth of that.

The real action begins on Friday, and LA's DENGUE FEVER provide the perfect wake up call thanks to their Cambodian inspired melting pot of chamber pop, folk and punk rock. While front woman Chomm Nimol is the obvious focal point, we're quite taken aback by some of the beard cultivation of her excellent backing band, something not witnessed since the halcyon days of ZZ Top.

Across on the Pyramid Stage, a near complete WU TANG CLAN minus the late, lamented Ol' Dirty Bastard seem to be tearing Glastonbury a whole new backside. Ripping through older material like 'Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin Ta Fuck With' and 'Protect Ya Neck' as well as signature tune 'Gravel Pit', the likes of Ghostface, RZA, a stagediving Method Man and Cappadonna et al turn Glastonbury into one big hip hop fest for the next hour. Raekwon's 'Ice Cream' and the closing tribute to ODB himself bringing the curtain down on their storming set in spectacular style.

KATY B too is something of a revelation in the Dance East tent. Despite being criminally ignored by the Brits and BBC Sound Of. polls in favour of lesser talents such as Jessie J, her set proves to be one of Friday's main highlights. Largely comprising material from her excellent 'On A Mission' long player, 'Louder' kick-starts the heaving tent into action, 'Broken Record' and 'Movement' add to the mayhem, while the album title track and recent single 'Lights On' bring the house down. Main stage next year, without a doubt.

Nottingham six-piece SPOTLIGHT KID have been building a steady momentum of their own in recent months, and their early evening slot on the BBC Introducing stage seems to have attracted a larger than average crowd, some of whom are expecting to see a guest appearance from The Coral. That they stay until the very end of Spotlight Kid's pulverising set speaks volumes, as does the triple whammy of reverb emanating from Rob McCleary, Chris Moore and Karl Skivington's guitars. Blissful.

So, the first big secret of the weekend is out. Yes folks, RADIOHEAD are due on The Park stage any minute, and judging by the forceful clambering of bodies pushing to get a good view, the potential for a crush of Hillsborough style proportions isn't unlikely. However, two "songs" in, the queue to leave actually exceeds the one into The Park. Radiohead being Radiohead, rather than play a career defining set expected from a band of their size, decide to play material almost exclusively culled from 'King Of Limbs' and 'In Rainbows' save the odd unreleased song. It's dull, uninspiring, and the perfect excuse to go and watch MORRISSEY, who calls David Cameron "a silly twit" before launching into a resounding finale of 'Meat Is Murder', 'Irish Blood English Heart' and 'This Charming Man'.

Message to all the U2 haters: Just because they're arguably the biggest and most successful band in the world and have been for twenty-five years or so is not reasonable justification for such vitriol, and tonight's hit-laden set evidently demonstrates why they're still the best at what they do. Opening with no less than five songs off 1991's 'Achtung Baby', Bono is in typically resilient form throughout, phoning space stations, paying homage to Primal Scream and Coldplay, singing William Blake's 'Jerusalem' while participating in copious amounts of flag waving. We'll even forgive him for the inclusion of 'Get On Your Boots' over 'New Year's Day' in an otherwise flawless setlist such are his and his band's presence. Watching U2 on this form is a lesson in itself, and something Radiohead really need to take note of for future reference.

With the rain now rendering yours truly near breaking point, attempting to get to the other side of the site for THE DOMINO STATE's set at the Bimble Inn proves an impossible task, and we retreat back to the house on wheels like drowned rats to a sinking ship. With the calm after the storm that is Saturday, YUCK's Dinosaur-meets-Sonic Youth influenced set gives us goose bumps in more ways than one. Now a more supremely confident outfit than the one which underwhelmed at Latitude last year, the sublime slackerisms of 'Get Away' and poignant reading of 'Suicide Policeman' sound anthemic in such surroundings. Winners all round.

WARPAINT too seem to be enjoying themselves on the John Peel Stage. Their loosely defined hypnotic groove takes on all kinds of shapes throughout, while the on-stage dynamic between all four girls is a joy to behold. 'Undertow' and 'Bees' offer a mesmeric quality not seen or heard elsewhere this weekend, while closer 'Elephants' makes for a lolloping show stopper, erupting in beaming smiles all round, not least than on the faces of the performers themselves. Just as exciting but in a slightly more obtuse way are THE HORRORS, now a fully-fledged chameleonic entity in their own right. Playing a set that veers between 2009's 'Primary Colours' and the forthcoming 'Skying' long players, the development from the cartoon garage punks of yore to genuine innovators is there for all to see.

Walking through the Pyramid stage fields we're met by an unbelievably large sea of people. Bizarrely they're here for PAOLO NUTINI, and when he launches into what can only be described as a drunken, half-arsed preamble through MGMT's 'Time To Pretend' we pray for the ground beneath our feet to open up and swallow us whole. Infinitely better - not that anyone with a modicum of taste would need telling - are today's worst kept secret, PULP. They've also attracted twice the crowd Radiohead managed the previous evening, hence the fact security have their work cut out administering a one-in, one-out policy for the duration of their set. Not that it matters when 'Common People' ensures 50,000 people's voices can be heard all the way to Dartmoor and back.

JAMES BLAKE's bedroom dubstep acts as a feasible stopgap to WILD BEASTS rabble-rousing stories of love and (mostly) lust. 'Bed Of Nails', 'Reach A Bit Further' and 'We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues' are all delivered with impeccable grace and panache, while 'End Come Too Soon' wins the award for most dramatic ending to a set the entire weekend. The only criticism is the relatively small turnout they attract due to Coldplay headlining the main stage, although if you missed this for Chris Martin and co. then you truly get the bands you deserve.

Sunday brings summertime, with the sun beaming down and the heat levels rising to a sweat inducing twenty-five degrees, Glastonmuddy has become Glastonsunny in an instant! It's also time for what can only be described as Glastonbury's annual silly season moment. A quick walk over to the Avalon stage finds it packed to the rafters in anticipation of THE WOMBLES. No, really, Mike Batt and co. may be sweating their behinds off in those costumes, but the surreal nature of their set makes the next hour fly by in an instant. 'Remember You're A Womble', 'Minuetto Allegretto', 'Wombling Merry Christmas' - honestly, even if it is June!, 'The Wombling Song' - they're all here, and even despite Michael Eavis' protestations at his daughter booking such a novelty act, there's a party going on like it's 1974 all over again.

Out on the Pyramid Stage, LAURA MARLING has tens of thousands of punters literally eating out of the palm of her hand. Her transition from low-key folk artist to internationally recognised pop star now fully complete, 'Devil's Spoke' in particular proving menacingly spine-tingling. True legends are very few and far between, so to be in the presence of a bonafide one is both an honour and a rarity. With over fifty years worth of material to choose from, PAUL SIMON could be forgiven for just closing his eyes and sticking a pin in any one of the dozens of albums he's written and recorded and seeing where it lands. That it seemed to fall firmly in the middle of 1986's 'Graceland' is just what the doctor and the intently gathered throng ordered. 'The Boy In The Bubble' and 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes' ooze a quality sadly lacking in most modern solo artists today (as anyone that witnessed the awful Paolo Nutini set yesterday will confirm), while even a trawl back through his earlier work courtesy of '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' sounds fresh as a daisy despite being thirty-five years old. In an ideal universe this would be the perfect finale to the weekend's festivities. Sadly, the powers that be have other ideas.

While not wishing to jump on the bandwagon of whether or not an R&B orientated pop star should or shouldn't be allowed to break with tradition and headline what is predominantly a rock festival, there's something bizarre about standing in a field with what must be over half of this year's total attendees waiting for the arrival of BEYONCE. Although a spectacle in itself, there's a sense of doubt that several want her to fall flat on her face and fail miserably. Indeed split the two camps and it clearly is a case of either pure love or hatred, no inbetween. Nevertheless, when you've such an astounding selection of hit records to choose from as Ms Knowles, failure surely isn't an option, right? Wrong. Granted, the opening gambit of 'Crazy In Love' and 'Single Ladies' were pure genius. Unfortunately, the decision to cover Alanis Morissette's 'You Oughtta Know' and Kings Of Leon's 'Sex On Fire' weren't, while the "special guest" slot for 'Baby Boy' wasn't Jay Z or Kanye as previously suggested, but Bristolian rapper-cum-producer Tricky. By now, with threats of more covers on the way (Eurythmics 'Sweet Dreams' gets the treatment next), Contactmusic has taken solace elsewhere in the presence of JUNIOR MURVIN, where we're treated to.more covers, albeit of a Bob Marley variety. Eek.

Overall, after such a wonderful weekend packed with a glut of excellent live performances from artists both old and new, Sunday night seems to have reached something of an anti-climax.

However, with no festival planned for next year, the Eavis family have until 2013 to take stock of this year's failings, and only a brave man would bet against them coming up with the goods in two years time.

Dom Gourlay

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