FOR GLASTONBURY, 2016 proved a year of oddball cover versions – Madness did AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, Cat’s Eyes drained all joy from Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Michael Eavis joined Coldplay for a spirited run-through of My Way. But none were so bizarre, depressing or incomprehensible as waking up on Friday morning to the results of the Brexit vote. How to square this utopian, responsible arts festival with the ruinous folly outside? You can’t. With weeping in a damp tent being the alternative, we resolve to trudge off through the mire and watch some bands instead. Over at the replica shanty town that is The Blues, Glasgow Mungo’s Hi Fi are celebrating an attack of sunshine with righteous soundsystem reggae on the subjects of love, peace and righteousness, with waving of the Royal Standard of Scotland included just to make dumbstruck Anglo-Remainers feel even better. It’s the first inkling of this year’s seemingly site-wide reggae, dub, dancehall and jungle policy – was there a memo?
After swinging by to see ZZ Top deliver effortless boogie majesty at the Pyramid Stage – decorated this year with wings, an eye and an Aladdin Sane lightning flash – the rude fun continues with a stirring performance by Rhoda Dakar, ex-of 2-Tone act The Bodysnatchers. She thrills the Left Field tent with her former band’s tunes Easy Life and Let’s Do Rocksteady plus old reggae hits. Intriguingly, she also plays the obscure Madness song Tears You Can’t Hide, with Chrissie Boy from the Mads in the audience.
“Glastonbury is a mad ting!”
Then at West Holts, which will always be the Jazz Stage to us, David Rodigan hot tip Protoje and his band spearhead the next wave of new-old conscious reggae. A trip back to West Holts to see Underworld playing randomly precise tunes from newie Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future and vintage faves including King Of Snake and Born Slippy conclude the day: Karl Hyde’s suggestion to do “a little dancing” sounds like sense, especially as they last played here in 1999. Getting into afterhours pleasure zone Block 9 for Hot Chip’s Prince tribute DJ set proves impossible, but it’s only Friday...
Saturday brings a more unexpected treat with Brum grime-hopper Lady Leshurr, at Graeco-Roman decorated stage The Park. Witty, warm-hearted and frighteningly deft – as well as conscientious about trainers, clean undies and teeth brushing – she, her two dancers and DJ ramp up the energy levels with audience participation, bangers like Queen’s Speech 4 and the sober assertion, “Glastonbury is a mad ting.” There’s more brain-shaking beats down the hill at Arcadia, where a huge metal spider sculpture spits fire and Manchester bass terrorisers Dub Phizix & Strategy declare, “This is a family event – no d**khead business.” Word.
A march back to the Other Stage finds Madness alternating venerable chart hits stitched into the national fabric with new tunes from forthcoming LP You Can’t Touch Us Now and, poignantly, Bowie’s Kooks. The drift back to reggae continues with a masterful set by 84-year-old Jamaican guitar eminence Ernest Ranglin at The Park, who combines jazz, reggae and Latin influences backed by a star band including Cheikh Lo and Tony Allen. The whole echoes what Donald Fagen wrote about watching jazz piano originator Earl Hines in the ’60s: this is “music that’s enhanced by a sonic glow, an aura earned on its journey across an ocean of time.”
The stimulation continues, torrentially: sequins and glitter in beards are the year’s fashion statements, it seems. In a special hobbit village near dance zone The Glade, there’s a small music shack where the DJ uses only one deck. We hear a version of Consider Yourself from Oliver! That uses the Fools Gold drum loop. But as the sun descends, it can only be time for New Order headlining the Other Stage. They’re fully loaded with such mighty hits as Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle, plus songs from last year’s unarguable Music Complete, but singer Bernard seems perplexed that the crowd aren’t going madder: we can only say, standing up for days in mud does sap one’s urge to exult wildly. Still, it’s a definitive contrast to their pantomime horse-assisted appearance in 2005. A scoot back to The Park for Philip Glass’ Heroes Symphony, played by a full orchestra conducted by Charles Hazlewood with laser accompaniment, ends the day in emotive style.
“I feel like we’re on a blind date.”
Jeremy Corbyn cancelled his appearance at the Left Field this Sunday afternoon – but rising star of the saxophone Kamasi Washington fulfils his responsibilities at West Holts, and blows up a storm with a collision of transcendent jazz, beats and the presence of roof-shattering vocalist Patrice Quinn. A well-attended greatest hits set by Jeff Lynne’s ELO at the Pyramid delights in a softer way, with Jeff’s thumbs-aloft good humour and songs like Livin’ Thing and Mr. Blue Sky making up for the unique discomfort of being rained on while sunburnt. Soon after at the Other Stage, Beck wins over a lethargic crowd with Where It’s At and (more covers) a freaky medley of Good Times, Home Computer and China Girl. “I feel like we’re on a blind date,” he notes as things warm up.
There’s no such equivocation at the Other Stage, where LCD Soundsystem (pictured) close the festival down in masterful style. With a blazing glitter ball presiding, the seven-piece band’s cerebral future-retro dance punkery is drilled and impassioned, while white suit-and-gum booted frontman James Murphy is a man possessed on tracks including Someone Great, Losing My Edge and the perfect finale, the Reich-meets-Talking Heads All Your Friends. “This was honestly f**king great,” says Murphy in farewell, clearly appreciating it, and Glastonbury 2016 really was.
PHOTO: Getty Images