What a week it's been. And what an amazing weekend.
On Monday I saw Queens of the Stone Age play in Brixton. I had some misgivings about going, just because I don't like being rushed and short of sleep and time, and I thought I might not enjoy it just because of that. Nevertheless the Queens delivered, it was great. The kid sitting next to me asked beforehand if I had heard them before (I had not). "should be good" he opined hopefully. Afterwards he was clearer "this is the shit!" I did not disagree. They were very loud, and I had no option but to use the earplugs.
Queens of the Stone Age are not actually a heavy metal band, they just sound like one. If you listen to the lyrics and the riffage, especially when they slow it down, it's clearly blues-rock, albeit monumentally loud and heavy blues. This puts them in the august and somewhat fearsome company of Led Zeppelin.
The rest of the week was busy. I had a backpack to buy and to pack. Finally, on Thursday at 5pm I signed out of work, strapped on my heavy pack, and caught the tube down to Victoria, to take the National express coach to the 2003 Glastonbury Festival. I met up with company at Victoria. L- and company are originally from Cape Town, but have been in London for years, and have been to about 4 Glastonbury festivals. This would be my first one.
It was 11pm when the bus rolled over the hill and we saw the lights of the tent city in the vale of Avalon. We soon disembarked and got in without any hassle. We found a spot, and set up tents in the semi-dark, with some lights around, the moon behind the clouds, and torches to light our ground. We didn't do much after that, just went to bed.
Poking my head out of the tent in the morning was a lot to take in. The stats are that 112500 people had normal tickets, and 34 000 people had performer or crew passes. The tents spread down the hillside, up and down the valley, and up the other side. By this time a wailing noise was coming from the main stage, a retro-metal band called The Darkness.
When I finally ambled down, The Darkness were just finishing their thing. Around this time I managed to meet Just_Tom, but keeping track of other people's movements is simply impossible is town this size, and we exchanged SMSs throughout until Radiohead broke my phone.
We wandered on, and saw a set by a very silly man called Har Mar Superstar. He is short, plump, pasty, wears what remains of his hair in mullet, and break-dances very badly and sang a Stevie Wonder cover and his own songs about how sexy and what a genius he is, surrounded by four gyrating sexy women, all taller than him. Then he solicited a pair of panties from the audience, and played with them while he got his own kit off and jiggled his man-tities. It was funnier than it sounds. No really. His voice is good too. Is irony a dead scene, or not?
I wandered on, deciding to explore instead of listen to music. I got lost in the maze of markets and ducked into the dance tent to avoid the rain, which seemed to have set in. O dear. But it did stop raining after a few hours.
Don't believe Q magazine, Mogwai were captivating, or at least I and all my friends thought that they rocked real good. On of the highlights, in my opinion.
Electric Six were up next in the late evening with the sun low. By this time a large crowd had gathered. I have not yet made my mind up if Electric Six are the clever kind of stupid or just the regular kind. The crowd were clearly keen to hear the hits that have made E6 15-minute wonders, maybe with some help from that rathergood website and those splendidly silly kittens. People waved a banner reading "Gay bar" and chanted "Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay!" which is something I have never seen an audience do as a positive thing. A west-country bumpkin in a floppy hat next to me hollered "oi want to buy you zome zoider at the gay barrrr". The band's front man, Dick Valentine (yeah right that's his real name. Fer sure). Seemed a bit bemused by the size and zeal of the audience. And eventually they did play the Gay Bar song. Their cover of Radio Gagga was great too.
The Welsh were out in force for the whole festival, waving those Dragon-on-a-Green-and-White background flags. In fact, flags and toy animals on poles were popular. It's possibly the only way to find your mates in massive dense crowds like that.
I caught a bit on Royksopp, playing a nicely mellow set, a bit like an Orbital thing actually. By this time the sun had finally set and the stage was all lights, lasers and smoke.
"We are R.E.M. and this is what we do". Then I went towards the main stage, and found it jammed with R.E.M. fans. I was nowhere near close enough to do anything but watch the big screens, but still nice. I've never set out to listen to R.E.M., but I still recognised at least half of the songs that were played. Powerful.
Like most of the Americans, Michael Stipe pronounced the place name Glaston-berry.
Saturday was a hot day.
I did much wandering and exploring. I took in the stone circle, arts, stalls, t-shirts, standup comics and freaks, among them Atilla the stockbroker, and stumbled across a Pakistani band playing awesome rhythms on big drums with those bent drumsticks, to a techno backing of more drums.
Then I headed down for the improbably happy and somewhat overstaffed The Polyphonic Spree. Lovely stuff. A minor highlight was watching the french horn player double as a theremin player, sometimes whacking that magnetic field with his hand, sometimes with his horn.
I arrived early for The Flaming Lips, and managed to get reasonably close, about three meters from the front, and a bit to the side. Their gig was good, and was well received. But honestly it was very much like the one I saw a few months ago. The difference being that the Pink Floyd cover was "Breath" at the end instead of "Lucifer Sam" at the start. I am coming to believe that the Lips, while great in their recordings, use the flashy show to enhance an OK live performance.
this time I was close to the stage so I stayed put. When they finished things got dangerous. More people tried to get in, no-one left. Some 70-100 000 people pressing at my back was slightly frightening experience. The pushes came in waves. We got squashed until our feet lifted off the ground and the air was forced from our lungs. Falling over en masse was a constant danger. But the humour was generally good. The crush was worth it, bit I won't be doing it again in a hurry. My mobile phone, which was in my pocket, hasn't worked since.
Then Radiohead's set. Oh. This is the first time that I have seen them live, and it was excellent. This, predictably enough, was the gig of the festival. Really, there's not much else to say. For a minute there I lost myself.
If you saw it on TV, what may not have come out was that from where I was, near the front, the crowd's singing was as loud as Thom Yorke's. Maybe a bit louder on the old material, but they knew the words to all of Hail to the Thief. Sometimes they'd sing in the CD's timing when Thom wasn't playing quite playing by those rules.
Sunday was a bit overcast.
In the day I watched some acts in the circus tent, listened to Calexico and Grandaddy.
In the meantime I had found the glade (home of trance techno), listened to part of Tristan Cook's DJ set.
Then I had a tough choice. Shpongle were making a rare live performance at the same time as Sigur Rós, but in the end I decided that there's not much of their music that Shpongle can really do live, so Sigur Rós would be the better bet.
Sigur Rós, with a string quartet in tow, turned in a solid set that sounded like their records. The singer never said anything past a tiny "thanks" and seemed unhappy, trying to hide behind his microphone stand. Perhaps amnesiac was right that their sound is just not suited to this kind of performance.
Late that night, Squarepusher played his confusing jazzy art-breakbeats, interrupted by his unsophisticated yells of "MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE! COME ON! THIS IS THE LAST GIG OF FUCKING GLASTONBURY!" At one stage he played merzbow-esque white noise. This was about the time that the marshals decided that the front was too crowded and everyone should move back, so perhaps he literally was trying to drive his audience away.
My friends had in the meantime experienced a totally different lineup on sunday, the highlight of their festival being Macy Gray and Moby. The festival is so big that I saw maybe a third of the main acts.
By Monday the venue was looking quite shabby. An army of cleaners were collecting the rubbish strewn everywhere, but a far larger army was strewing it. Crossing the pyramid stage area, my steps resounded with the crunch of plastic and tin underfoot. As Agent Smith said, we move into an area, trash it, and move on. And it was definitely time to move on now.
When I got home, I needed to wash badly. Sometimes a quick refreshing shower will do best, sometimes a bath is called for. But in cases like this a long soapy bath (to loosen the dirt) followed by a shower was the correct plan.
So now I am sunburned and the washing machine is working overtime. I didn't get any sex, the drugs were limited to an aspirin and two glasses of red wine, but the rock and roll was amazing. There wasn't much mud and I wasn't robbed, nor was anyone else that I know.
Yeah the toilets were primitive, the taps didn't always work, you can forget about showering or bathing, so we all smelled and itched, but that's part of it all.
According to the organisers, this was a good festival: not muddy, crime low, no bad incidents, no complaints from the neighbours, etc. I'm glad to be back in civilisation (or in London anyway) but by next year I may well be up for it again.
It is a credit to the food vendors, that despite eating all my meals from a variety of stalls, I have not picked up Morgan le Fay's revenge. The food was good, but not cheap. I even gained weight.
The sound was throughout crisp and loud enough, but seldom overbearing enough for me to reach for my earplugs.
The sets were generally short, mostly just over an hour in length. I prefer this shorter format. The sound crews did their magic for the next bands in 20-30 minutes regularly.
The amazing part is not any particular moment, but firstly the whole experience, and secondly the consistenly high quality of all the gigs.
Well, I'm all gigged out now. No more live music for now. Unless it's really really unmissable.