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Review: Glastonbury 2011

1st July 2011

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In true British style, there’s one thing we love to talk (and moan) about: the weather – and aside from the headliners it was the main topic of Glastonbury 2011. Heavy rain greeted early campers on Wednesday and Thursday in what seemed like apocalyptic fashion, but in true Glastonbury style, spirits could not be dampened.

Glastonbury 2011Organisers Michael and Emily Eavis were bold in their choice of opening act, and were adamant on cementing Glastonbury’s reputation as a celebration of all music and arts. Therefore campers awoke to the traditional Moroccan group The Master Musicians of Joujouka, who kicked off the festival on Friday morning at the Pyramid Stage, casting booming ancient tribal trance music across the boggy fields of Somerset.

Digital pop rockers Metronomy followed with an impressive yet understatedly cool set, setting the standard for the day’s performances. Not to be beaten, Two Door Cinema Club brought sunnier sounds to the thousands of drizzled spectators and helped festival goers to defy the sticky mud by getting their dance on. Meanwhile performances on the Other Stage from The Naked and Famous, The Vaccines and Chipmunk, and dance acts Katy B, Beardyman, Example and Fatboy Slim made Friday one of the most clash-tastic timetables in recent years.

As if trying to get your head around the packed timetable of fantastic music was not headache-inducing enough, Glastonbury Festival is undoubtedly the best in the world for its additional ‘alternative’ entertainment: circus acts, comedy performances, secret gardens, nightclubs and cafes all offer completely different Glastonbury experiences which transport campers to a somewhat hidden side of the festival, away from the media spotlight.

Shangri-La – the size of a small town and now in its third year at Glastonbury – continued an apocalyptic story of degradation from a consumerist heaven to an infected dilapidated slum. Neon signs ‘Every Little Hurts’ and ‘Fish & Tits’ hammered home the anti-conglomerate, anti-globalisation messages, and festival-goers got the full slum experience when wading and sticking (and often falling!) in the thick mud of the narrow, dark Shangri-La alleyways.

In the Green Fields arts, crafts, yoga lessons, meditation classes, vegetarian and vegan food stalls with free-love slogans, full of flower-haired, hemp-clothed liberals sat on chintzy floor cushions, promote a less materialistic twenty-first century and, for the few days that it exists, Glastonbury Festival really does make you feel like a 1960s hippie. It’s not everybody’s non-dairy cup of herbal tea but, for the thousands of regulars that find peace and tranquillity in the haven of the Green Fields and Stone Circle, it is the backbone of Glastonbury and the eco ethos of ‘Love the farm, leave no trace’.

Thousands of campers chose to splish-splosh their way to see ‘secret’ guests Radiohead play a melancholy set at the increasingly renowned (and crowded) Park Stage on Friday evening, whilst Mumford & Sons did what they do best over on the Other Stage: one of the most heart-wrenching musical clashes of the weekend.

Friday headliners U2 drew the expected large crowd, and Primal Scream sapped up most of the remaining festival-goers. However, John Peel Stage headliner DJ Shadow put on a breathtaking audio/visual show witnessed only by a fortunate few hundred people who dared to turn their backs on the more popular acts. The hip-hop DJ legend mixed heavy beats and rocking tunes all within a massive white orb which, through the magic of projectors, became a Death Star floating through space, a basketball being slam-dunked, and various other amazing 3D effects. Judging by the crowd’s response there is no doubt that these effects looked all the more impressive to the many wide-eyed spectators that were high on something-or-other.

Wellies could be heard squelching around the site well into the early hours, and the occasional yelp and laugh of a hap-hazard partier falling in the mud only added to the strong sense of community that Glastonbury seems to carry more than any other festival. Strangers wade to the rescue of anyone stranded on the ground and quite often a wet muddy Glastonbury becomes the best kind.

Saturday’s Pyramid Stage opened with indie folk rockers Stornoway, followed by the suitable psyche-rock hippie group Tame Impala and the increasingly popular Gaslight Anthem. All three bands provided the perfect musical backdrop to a fine morning, as campers awoke complaining for the first time (but thankful) about stuffy hot tents and having to apply sun screen.

Pyramid Stage aside, Saturday left much to be desired in terms of mainstream music, and many campers could be found sunning themselves at their tents or exploring more of what the Green Fields and Shangri-La had to offer. However, Saturday night brought with it a truly magical set by Elbow, described by many as headline-worthy. The expected closing song ‘One Day Like This’ enchanted the thousands of fans that flocked to the Pyramid Stage field, who could not help but take part in singing along with the optimistic anthem as the sun set behind Glastonbury Tor. Even Elbow’s lead singer Guy Garvey was choked up at the crowd’s response – especially when everyone sang ‘happy birthday’ at the news of Elbow’s 20th year to-the-day as a band.

Whilst Coldplay picked up where Elbow finished, the Chemical Brothers drew a massive crowd at the Other Stage – all of whom were ready to rock hard, and were definitely not left disappointed. After banging out all of their biggest hits – which easily filled their hour-and-a-half set – many of the crowd headed over to the Dance Village ready for London dubstep duo Nero’s 2am live gig. Ravers partied into the early hours to the sounds of their songs Me and You, Innocence, Guilt and other upcoming tunes from the dance industry’s next big thing.

Everyone awoke on Sunday not only to the sounds of Fisherman’s Friends – a traditional sea shanty male vocal group – but also to the ultimate question: ‘Are you going to see Beyonce tonight?’ The question continued to murmur and echo amongst people throughout the day, as the hype and reputation of the American star preceded her.

Throughout Sunday the heat continued to rise, the mud was drying, skin was browning (sometimes burning) and spirits were at their highest.

During the day old-timers Don McLean and Paul Simon provided a stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of what was to come. Their well-known songs drew both old and young fans and Paul Simon filled the traditional Sunday ‘legend’ time slot, inhabited in previous years by the likes of Brian Wilson, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.

Laura Marling gave a ‘Marmite’ performance which, whilst fans found charming and perfect for a calm summers day, some found to be rather dull.

Meanwhile the Other Stage had a strong line-up including Clare Maguire, Cold War Kids, Noisettes, Bombay Bicycle Club and Kaiser Chiefs, building up to Other Stage headliners Queens of the Stone Age, who played a fantastic set full of hit after hit after hit, as voted for by Radio 1 listeners.

However, it was Beyonce that stole the show and, possibly, the festival. Her unrelenting blasts of dazzle, sparkle, fireworks and dance made for a visually staggering performance. Starting with a bang (literally), Beyonce arrived on stage with Crazy in Love and was met by a frenzy of screaming girls and the constant glimmer of cameras – rivalled only by her sequined gold corset leotard. Her vocals were astounding – as to be expected by one of the world’s best modern female vocalists – but some of the tens-of-thousands of fans found their attention waiving at some points due to a long string of ballads and album tracks. It was also odd when she asked the crowd to sing happy birthday to Steve. Um, who? Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go down too well. However the swishing hair-ography, live band and classic diva hits made for an amazing show and a suitably stunning end to another great year at Glastonbury Festival.

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