THERE IS ONE surprise headliner at almost every Glastonbury Festival, and all dwellers in this miraculous rock'n'roll Briggadoon of a temporary city talk in hushed tones about if — and when — it's going to show up. Sure enough it arrives about 5pm on the Friday with a tight greatest hits set of crowd-displeasing classics: curtains of slate-coloured rain, sudden temperature drops, ground which gurgles beneath the feet and a mass rush for shelter. Seen this year: a woman hiding beneath a fibreglass giraffe.
“The weather is a feature, not a bug.”
This meteorological guerilla gig sure puts a downer on r'n'b potentate Mary J Blige's imperial set on the Pyramid Stage. Ms. Blige had just reached peak doof with a magnificent housed-up section of new material seemingly inspired by her recent dalliances with UK club imps Disclosure — the baying response from a house-hungry crowd suggests a tantalising alternative future in which MJB combines the delicacy of Donna Summer with the Beaufort Scale puissance of Martha Wash. But it's Glastonbury. The weather is a feature, not a bug.
And who cares with such delights on show? The Glastonbury crowd now arrives earlier than ever, with some 90 per-cent of ticket-holders believed to be onsite by the Thursday, before official proceedings begin.
They'd already been primed by arcane diversions in the fields of Shangri-La, Glastonbury's expansion into the grimier end of house and disco, including an appearance at the fake tower block Genosys by French DJ Cerrone of Supernature fame (verdict: frustratingly quiet, although grey-haired Cerrone bounced around the DJ box like your grand-dad on an invigorating high-protein diet). Friday morning used to announce a trickle of punters into the site — now it is more of a dam breaking.
“We're declaring an independent Glastonbury republic!”
And of course nobody can see everything. We start our day with Muscovite hellions Pussy Riot enacting a piece of political theatre atop a Russian military truck in the Park field. "We're declaring an independent Glastonbury republic!" cries a masked, armed man, who soon exposed by Pussy Riot as a homophobic dupe of Putin.
In your face, psy-ops! Good-natured if bewildering chat with Charlotte Church ensues, followed by the invigorating sounds of King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard who invent motorik swamp blues — plus flutes! — before our very ears.
A rapid flit across the face of the Pyramid Stage affords a taste of the baffling weak-tea that is James Bay and his hurt-feelings pop, then an unfortunate Alabama Shakes breaking Rule One of Glastonbury (you must always open with a straight-up banger). But up in the Williams' Green tent, Wirral jangle-merchants Hooton Tennis Club winningly spot-weld Pavement to Teenage Fanclub by way of Dinosaur Jr.
This is what we want! They are followed in short order by the sheer delight of Stealing Sheep, the electro-rural trio of Liverpool women who sometimes resembler a 14th Century Siouxsie & The Banshees and sometimes OMD jamming with Pentangle. Notes are made to purchase records on our return to the so-called real world.
Back at the Pyramid, Motörhead are frankly hilarious, a no-nonsense balls-out performance which makes no concessions the young flower-crown contingent. They must have been surprised to learn that there's a band named after that t-shirt they kept seeing.
Lemmy is static and imperious, his drummer Mikkey D and guitarist Phil "Wizzö" Campbell active enough for anyone, and the sight of that face — THOSE WARTS — on the stage-side Jumbotron TVs will surely scar young minds in all the best ways. You better believe it, all right.
Evening descends, and with it hard choices. We plump for an immense Caribou in West Holts — clever and epic dance music which never forgets its duty to move body first and forebrain second — then Jamie xx back in the Park. His couture distillation of all post-2000s club music is, it must be said, a little tepid for Friday night. (We'd expected a live performance of some sort, but he just DJs his own tunes).
But Super Furry Animals are on hand to save the day with surely these islands' finest coming-together of the best in rock'n'roll, electronics and the psychedelia of the common man. Climactic tune The Man Don't Give A Fuck goes on for about ten minutes with a spine-tingling central acid house nightmare section to thrill and delight.
Somewhere The Libertines are handing over to Florence Welch and her threshing machine — but you can't see everything. The hills are calling. It's on, and we may never come home.
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