10 Things I Learned At Glastonbury 2011

Photos are by James Wilkes and are stolen from his Facebook.

I recently swore a solemn oath to attend Glastonbury every year it takes place for either as long as I live, or, at the very least, as long as it's sensible for me to do so. They've got that place nailed. Once again, each of the five days sowed at least one memory which will be treasured for life. In fact, I had such a wonderful time that I've even begun to consider 2011's to be a new benchmark in life-affirmation. Ho yes: I might just have enjoyed myself more than I did in 2009.

I would hammer out a painstaking dissection of my entire weekend, but for a few reasons. First of all, nobody would read it. Second of all, so prone am I to hyperbole and hagiography that those who did read it might mistake my ramblings for Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Mostly, though, it was always going to be the case that I'd finally “get” U2, that Coldplay would spellbind and that Elbow would, once again, make me feel like I'm floating several feet above my body.

Instead, then, in a rare moment of brevity on my part, I'm going to share the ten things I learned at Glastonbury 2011:

1. I Really Like Rock Music

Yes, this was always the case, I know. I couldn't help but notice, though, how all but two or three of the acts I saw over the weekend comprised of either gently strumming ethereal wonders or furiously punishing squalling warriors of such vigour that they'd be just in describing their instruments as “axes”. And you know what? It was bloody flipping brilliant. Yes, there will always be tremendous room for excursions into electronic sound as conducted with furrowed brows and stroked beards, but this weekend I learned that my “bread and butter” is served with a hefty slice of pickups and plectrums. Which reminds me -

2. Josh Homme Is A Really Nice Man

Yes, so enamoured was I by the majesty of rock that I caved and decided to let my weekend go out with a bang. The laser-enhanced Queens Of The Stone Age were a force of nature. So intense, intricate and brutal were their jams that the plaid-wearer in me was never not going to be thrilled, but having heard so much bad about the walking sneer that is Josh Homme, I was stunned to find him to actually be a really, really nice man. He seemed genuinely pleased to be onstage and absolutely delighted to play for us. His jokes were lewd but often swung endearing close to “dad” territory (“I saw a couple of guys dressed as fuckin' bananas. I guess they split”). I fully believed his statement that they'd never forget that night, and they more than delivered on their promise to give us a show that we'd never forget.

3. Mr. E Knows Exactly What He's Doing

In Sunday's blistering heat, a spin through their painfully aching back catalogue might not have provided a convincing case for Eels to be the ideal band to play at sunset. But when they took to the stage with a pair of uniformed horn players in tow and proceeded to treat us to nuanced arrangements of the more upbeat offerings from their canon, suddenly the planets aligned. The usually claustrophobic, terrifying Flyswatter was given such a summery revamp that the uninitiated might have mistaken it for a song about fishing during a carnival, or something. The Man Called E also confirmed himself to be one of the strangest and funniest men in rock. Such screams as “You have a nice smile!” came between songs, and his band introductions were utterly hysterical.

4. I Know What Bliss Looks And Tastes Like

It looks like a panoramic view of a sunkissed valley teaming with people dedicated to having the best time it is possible to have whilst inhabiting human skin set to the gently lilting sounds of Sea of Bees. It tastes like chargrilled Jamaican jerk chicken served with fried rice and kidney beans washed down with a cold beer. Bliss is also best spent in the company of people who you'd proudly profess to “bloody love”. Which it was. All weekend.

5. If You Want To Have Fun, It's Impossible Not To

Never mind the biblical downpours which greeted our arrival on Wednesday morning which ensured that we had to hastily erect our tents in freezing torrents and sit shivering in them for hours afterwards whilst we waited for the sky to clear, our clothes to dry and our fatigue to lift. By mid-afternoon we were sprawled on the grass drinking festival-strength pear-cider. We had arrived. And never mind that it took me some 11.5 hours to get home. What matters is that I was there. Glastonbury has tremendous potential to make you smile even when it seems that absolutely everything is conspiring against you. Case in point – our Welsh companion had some £150 stolen from his tent. He simply thus concluded that he therefore had to have an extra £150 worth of fun. Would that he and I and everyone could take the same approach to the rest of our lives.

6. Festivals Can Be Very, Very Cheap

I'm quite poor at the moment, but at no point did I feel destitute over the weekend. At no point did I feel as though my insolvency was having a negative impact upon my potential to enjoy myself. In fact, I managed to survive on around £100 for the entire five day weekend. The trick is to take lots of apples, bananas and cereal bars, to drink milk in the morning and to only eat when you feel hungry (as opposed to “whenever you pass a food vendor with a nice smile”, as has been my M.O in previous years). Also, the almost-intolerable hangover I suffered on Thursday morning served to scupper my alcohol intake for the rest of the weekend, which was a further ease on my spending. This also lead to the realisation that:

7. I Don't Have To Be Drunk Or Drinking To Enjoy Myself

See above. Though this one comes as an almighty relief, I'd quite like a glass of whatever Guy Garvey's having, thanks.

8. TV On The Radio Are To Be Respected And Feared
Paul Simon was a horrible disappointment. Stood in an immobile crowd in the baking heat (they weren't even rudely talking amongst themselves! They just were), we strained to hear him mumble his way through apparently endless meandering blues jams as opposed to dipping into one of the strongest repertoires in music. Also, so hasty were we to reach him that I fell face-first into the mud. Disappointed and alienated, we instead decided to watch TV On The Radio – a band I'd previously not really listened to and therefore had no real intention of watching. Well, their set was one of those incredible “revelation” things for which us music fans always yearn. The opening swathes of Young Liars provided every ounce of salvation I had expected from Mr. Simon. Before long, everything was OK again, and by the end of their uplifting, hyperkinetic and utterly vital set, they were covering Ray Parker Jnr.'s Ghostbusters. I left with a “new” band to “check out”. There are few greater feelings.

9. The King Of Limbs Was Written To Be Played Live

Due to severe problems with the crowd, Radiohead's surprise Friday set was far from a weekend highlight for me. I must stress, though, that my disappointment has absolutely nothing to do with the band. They offered tight, mercurial, majestic elegance which served to remind me as to why I still insist that they're my favourite band. It was an immense honour to find myself prithee to the live debuts of such songs which were, apparently, so difficult to replicate live that they had to recruit an auxiliary drummer. His name's Clive, and Thom was right, we love him already. When I wasn't struggling to see and hear them amongst a desperately impatient crowd, I was able to marvel at how incredible has been their evolution from grunge also-rans through Britpop saviours and world-conquering, genre-defying and defining luminaries to the taut and groovy peerless jazz-blues elder-statesmen that they've become today. The material from The King of Limbs which so dominated the set sounds awesome live – and any “reporter” who insists that the crowd was disappointed by the lack of “hits” is obviously spouting piffle in the interests of pursuing tired and tedious iconoclastic copy – from where I was standing, they were loving it.

10. The Realisation That There Will Be No Glastonbury Next Year Is Rather Like Realising That There'll Be No Christmas

Wes Anderson's Rushmore teaches us that the secret to happiness may lie in finding something that we enjoy doing and to keep on doing it. Well, for me that seems to be going to Glastonbury. It's utopia, nirvana, Brigadoon and Christmas all rolled into one. And it's not taking place next year.

Which makes me wonder: Just what the hell are we all going to do with ourselves next summer? Just like Halloween wouldn't act as a substitute for Christmas, I doubt that simply opting for a different festival would be enough to sate me.

It might well be the case that we'll just have to unite and try our utmost to create our own positivity.

And there you go – a beautiful lesson for life – make your own wonder. We can change the world and happiness is possible – just so long as we're nice to each other.

Until 2013, then.


London Feis 2011 - Satuday June 18

 Image from NME.com

I think that getting up at 5:30 to catch a 6:10 train in order to make my 7:00 coach is the second biggest effort I've ever made for the sake of live music. The coach was run by a company called “The Big Green Coach Company”. It was actually a milky white colour, but credit where it's due, it was quite big. It was full of families and people younger than me. I was the only one travelling alone, a fact our friendly driver brought to everyone's attention before we set off. Whether he was encouraging the other travellers to talk to me, I don't know. But they didn't. Heaven knows I tried talking to them. We stopped at Watford Gap and I bought a coffee. Recognising someone else from the coach in the queue, with a smile I raised my cup and said in a semi-suggestive voice: “One more cup of coffee before I go, hey?” The look I received was blank.
    When we got to Finsbury Park, I experienced the closest I'll ever come to VIP treatment. I paid but £5.40 for my ticket thanks to the beautiful people at Supajam, who were selling spare guestlist passes. Trudging across the mud I waved to the bearded fellow who was shouting “Supajam” again and again. He directed me towards a special gate where I was allowed entry without hassle, completely bypassing the long queue of those who'd paid £70 or so for the pleasure of being there. I felt as important as it's possible to feel whilst wearing a rust-coloured jumper.
    Walking around the site, I couldn't wipe the grin from my face – festival season has begun! And it felt incredible. Adding to my feeling of well-being was the knowledge that I was, at that moment, sharing a vicinity of sorts with Bob Dylan. That's the sort of fact which bears thinking about: It feels amazing.
    There were three stages on-site. Besides the main, there was an almighty tent reserved for the more trad-types on the line-up. Then there was the “Third Stage”, really just a raised platform under a tarpaulin. Their compère was reciting a verse from an epic concerning lemmings between each band. I listened to the prologue before watching Brian Kennedy do his thing in the tent. That man had credentials, and he was more than happy to tell us about the time he played with Van Morrison, the song he wrote with Eddi Reader (who, up until that very moment, I had assumed to be the singer from Pearl Jam). He was pleasant enough, but soon the drums from the main-stage began to drown-out his lilting. It was a band called The Coronas, who sounded about good enough to have supported Razorlight circa 2002. A few songs were sung in Gaelic, which was something, but not a lot. Still, it was my first instance of live and loud outdoor guitar music of the year, and it induced a hankering for cider to which I was more than happy to succumb.
    Presently Dan arrived, and scrutinising the line-up we worked out an itinerary of who to see. In doing so, we realised that we really were going to have a lovely day, and didn't we just?
    The first band we saw together were The Undertones, who proclaimed their intentions to play their first album in its entirety. This they did, but not in sequence – Teenage Kicks came towards the end – but not even John Peel's favourite song which, as he used to say, is indeed perfect in every way – could raise the stature of what was essentially a throwaway set of forgettable punk rock songs which, sounding too similar to one another, simply bled together into one big, tedious drone.
    Now, as sentences go, this one will do wonders for shattering every ounce of cool I might ever have harboured: Luckily, The Waterboys came on next. Their Glastonbury Song raised the hairs on the back of my neck as I was reminded of where I'd be in less than a week. We also got their other two biggest songs in The Whole Of The Moon and Fisherman's Blues – powerful stuff – and a song from their upcoming Yeats album sounded excellent. Unfortunately, their set was marred by a breaking of what's sort of a golden rule of mine – never cover a band who're going to play on the same stage, on the same day. Their version of You're A Big Girl Now wasn't necessarily bad, but it ate about eight minutes of an hour long set which could've been filled with something else from their mighty canon.
    After this we ventured into the trad-tent to have a gander at the Sharon Shannon Big Band. She was magical, the place was heaving and the atmosphere was incredible – a surging, whooping mass of goodwill and abandon. We should've spent more time in there, actually. It'd've been drier, at least.
    But then we wouldn't've seen The Gaslight Anthem and The Cranberries! The former's albums had never really impressed me before – I thought they sounded like an even more polished version of The Killers – but live they were something of a glowing force of positivity – finally all of the Springsteen comparisons began to make sense – their hopeful chords and plaintive vocals were like gentle arms around the waist under a sky which broke repeatedly. And The Cranberries! Queuing for a pie, I regrettably all but missed the pounding opening trills of Zombie, but it did mean that I could savour the taste of soft, fluffy and warm mash as they rhymed “finger” with “linger”. That was a moment to which I'd happily return right now – for to return to that moment would mean that I'd be able to live through all that followed once more.
    What followed? A spell at the third-stage to watch The Treetop Flyers. Their sprightly shouty folk-rock had drawn quite a sizeable crowd, and their noise was such an empowering force that it could've billowed hairs and spilt pints – theirs is the sort of music that grabs you by the beard and with a sly wink puts a fiver in your front pocket. We exchanged a bemused look as they introduced their last song with some fifteen minutes of their set time remaining. Turns out, though, that they were just saving room for a multi-part folk opera which seemed to be a haunted house. I was every bit as enthralled as I was the first time I saw Mumford and Sons. But, seeing as these guys seemed to have more than one metaphor at their disposal, I might not even find myself disappointed when I expose them to deeper scrutiny!
    After “bumping into” some old friends, I excused myself to go and see O Emperor. Meekly I admitted that they sound a bit like Starsailor. Yep, I sighed. That's the sort of music which gets me excited these days.
    Except, they don't. Their sound has a lot more in common with the likes of Midlake and Mercury Rev – cosmic, mercurial, spellbinding. Not even the girl who asked me for a cigarette and a light after seemingly every single song could shake me from the awestruck trance they inspired. I surrendered, and life has been that little bit better ever since I set a place at the table for O Emperor – a band wholly worthy of the vocative in their name. May they conquer the world, and may all who oppose them find themselves knee-deep in the blood of their children.
    So, suitably limbered, I was, as they say in some parts, “Ready For Bob”. I was asked, earlier in the day, if I expected him to be shit. Truthfully, I was fearing the worst. It's a good means of ensuring that you're never disappointed, is fearing the worst. Within moments of him taking to the stage, though, I wondered as to what exactly those scribblers of bad reviews in which I had immersed myself the night before had crammed up their collective arses. Then it struck me: they all came from such resources for which I have no respect at all. Principally, The Telegraph and The Quietus – two resources which I hold in about equal esteem. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think it says something about my intense loathing for The Quietus when The Telegraph release shit like this and dare to call it a "feature".
    Anyway, Bob Dylan. Despite my reservations, very little of my enjoyment of his set stemmed from the reverence of being in the presence of a hero. Rather, it all came from the music – it had to, really. There were no screens flanking this stage.
    All the tyrannical rearrangement of his songs of which I'd been warned simply resulted in tighter grooves and bigger drums – the result being that you could dance to most everything he played, and most everyone did. Dance, that is. It was one of the most energised, alive and amplified crowds of which I've ever been a part. To such wondrous boogies as Thunder On The Mountain, Summer Days and an incandescent Highway 61, ho did we ever “get down”. A particular highlight was a tremendous slow-burning rendition of Cold Irons Bound. Closing the main set, Ballad Of  A Thin Man radiated evil. Rather than plugging their fingers in their ears and insisting that “he's still got it” (as The Quietus would like to believe we do), I firmly believe that there must still be scores of people who dream of being as cool as Dylan. God knows I'd love to be able to inspire such widespread reverence at seventy.
    Indeed, only during the horribly strained choruses of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall did he even come close to embodying the criticism with which he's often levied these days. However, this can be forgiven of an artist capable of such an encore: Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower, Blowing In The Wind. Three of the most intense, beautiful and timeless compositions from the entire rock canon whipped out successively and with fiery aplomb by the very man who originally penned such masterpieces. I live for times like that.
    So, yes, our realisation that we'd have a great day came to be. We had a great day. It unfortunately has made a tedious type out of me, though, as it's now probably the case that I'll extol the virtues of Dylan at the top of my voice at every given opportunity.
    I apologise in advance.


Idea For A Film

    Norman Tartell has hooked himself up to a life-support machine which is rigged to cut-off should the phone ever ring. He figures that as far as bridge-burnings go, there are worse ways to ensure that you're never bothered by anyone ever again.
    He's been bothered for a while by a three-pronged interlinked conspiracy against his happiness. It consists of an online social networking platform in which it's the 1920s and everyone's fabulous; a company who specialise in fixing leaks and the mascot from his local cinema who resembles an anthropomorphic red jigsaw piece. Each of them has designs on his girlfriend.
    He remembers their first meeting. She ran the Scarlet Bistro, and one rainy afternoon he found himself entangled in her fairy-lights. It wasn't a pleasant place to be trapped. Threaded as they were through a meticulously trimmed hedge which bordered her patio, the more he struggled the more he was prodded and pricked by errant twigs and branches.
    She had come to his rescue armed only with a smile and a pair of ELC-branded safety scissors. Over coffee, they had taken it from there.
    But now she traded electronic kudos using a sunglasses-wearing flapper of an avatar wrapped in a lambs-wool shawl taking deep drags from a slender cigarette holder. She had the leak-repair company on autodial stored under Hotkey #3, and she was frequently spotted challenging corporate logos to races across the frozen lake.
    But Norman's troubles had really begun when he paid a visit to his old flat to pick up his post. Pausing at the front door, he realised that by just closing his eyes he could still picture everything as it had been – right down to the patterns the dust made as they fell on the hardwood floors. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to stomach seeing previously precious floor-space being used in offensively different ways by offensively anonymous people, with a sigh he abandoned his misdelivered mail and returned home.
    It was as close as he had come to his past in a long while. It was too much. He sat in the armchair in the corner and struggled to fight back the tears. A part of him knew though that at the very least, were he to cry it might open up the doors of communication. That might help. That might be a start.
    But with a smile his mother cast a blanket over him. She had done it in jest, but it made him feel like a statue; a relic protected from the dust, from age.
    Daring to take a peek from under the blanket, he saw that his entire family had gathered in an attempt to restore order to their cluttered household. They were trying to make it less like an exploded attic and more like a place in which they could live once more.
    Joining in, amongst the old board-games and letters of recommendation he found a beaker full of diced livers on the mantel-piece. He could remember carefully slicing them for dinner years ago. Had they been stood on the mantel-piece all this time? Gingerly he sniffed them. They smelled fine, so he popped one in his mouth and savoured the acrid juices as they spread over his tongue like cracks across ice. He offered them around to his gathered family, but nobody else would try any.
    They were, at that time, partaking in an experimental new shopping system in which all the local residents of an area had their own personal shelf in the back-rooms of the supermarket. Instead of shopping, you loaded any required wares onto your shelf a week in advance of taking them home. The supermarket then employed a surveyor to take stock of each of the different shelves. He would carefully write down everything which had been loaded and affix his report to the shelf-edge. When, one week hence, it came time to collect your wares, it was simply a case of presenting this report to the till, where it would be tallied and you would be charged accordingly.
    Though inter-shelf theft and dishonesty was rife, the system was proving to be very popular with both the store and the customers. The government claimed that it would save billions annually, but never quite explained how.
    It was Norman's turn to collect their gatherings from the shelf. Arriving, he found their shelf to be covered in dust. Several empty cardboard boxes were stacked alongside their usual beloved potted-cakes and tins of liver. Evidently, assuming the shelf to be abandoned, the store had taken to using it for their own storage.
    The stacked wares having long since passed their use-by dates, Norman skulked his way home in a state of dejection. Walking down the high street he noticed several severe discrepancies between his mental image of the store-fronts and the actual picture he saw before him. The last time he had come this way all were dressed impeccably in their hats and scarves and galoshes. Beaming butchers picked by hand the tenderest loins of liver for their cherished customers. Librarians would declare via tannoy each book they found to have a happy ending. People would treasure each sip of coffee they ingested whilst sat for hours on the patio of the Scarlet Bistro.
    Now, though, bright-red metallic sheets covered the fronts of all the buildings. The streets were clean and empty and Norman had to admit that the towering red edifices cast a commanding figure against bright blue skies. But it wasn't the street he knew. Everyone had been evicted for not using the public spaces as the architect had planned.
    Across the street a panel opened on the front of one of the buildings revealing a screen on which a red anthropomorphic jigsaw piece winked at whoever was looking.
    “It's going to kill the cinema,” said a voice. Norman looked and saw a rotund old man in a green trench coat and a flat-peaked hat frowning at the screen.
    “It already has,” said Norman.
    The old-man agreed and started talking about money whilst licking his lips suggestively. Fearing for the integrity of his sister, who Norman remembered had once taken to walking the aisles of the supermarket topless, Norman rushed home.
    When he got there he found all rooms to be immaculate but empty. Dust blankets had been cast over all items of furniture to the effect that faded off-white ghosts stared back impassively from every room.
    He called for his family, but received no reply.
    In another age it would have been him applying the ice-skates and challenging that corporate logo to a race across the frozen lake. His feat would be performed at the violet-hour before a breath-taking sunset. With a grin he would overtake the steadfast corporate logo and, assuming it to be a red anthropomorphic jigsaw piece, would instead find it to be a pale-blue wrench painted to look like a postage stamp.
    Their desperate race would take them through the golden 1920s pool party where, amongst the crowd, Norman would spot his darling flapper, cigarette holder in hand. Though her sunglasses would make it difficult to read her expression, Norman would nonetheless be able to read a glimmer of admiration in her countenance.
    He was back. He was doing it again. He was here, he was now, when for so long he had been then.
    And, on his victory lap, Norman would remember her hastily loading a tangled mass of wire into the alarm-box which doubled as her safety deposit box nestled amongst the leaves surrounding her patio.
    Having embraced her immediately afterwards, Norman had never been able to see clearly the contents of this box. Now, though, he was closer than he'd ever been before. He would see. Any second now, he would know. For the very first time, all would be clear, all would be wonderful again.
    But then the phone began to ring.
    Nobody will ever know how Norman's story ends.