Emerging Headliner

Looking back on Glasto 2017

Glastonbury 2017 was enthusiastically predicted to be the hottest Glasto for over a decade — instead, it turned out to be the overcast, scattered showers type Glastonbury that it tends to be. So in terms of weather, nothing new. But in terms of spirit and music, the Eavis family ended the weekend with the screens proudly reading ‘thanks for making this the best festival yet, see you in 2019’. And Headliner is pleased to say this isn’t mere marketing hype, it really was one of the best outings of the best festival on earth yet.

Wednesday and Thursday tend to be all about desperately finding a patch of land for your Tesco/Millets tent that isn’t directly outside the urinals. However, this year did have some strong music before Glasto-proper commenced on the Friday, besides the usual Ed Sheeran wannabes with 500 likes of Facebook busking in the Healing Fields. Pumarosa served as far more than a tease for the weekend, instead showing they more than deserve a big slot in 2019. Everything Everything were this year’s big Thursday TBA — clearly a wonderful thing, if you could get anywhere near the relatively small William’s Green tent.

A big theme of Glastonbury 2017 was pop music becoming respectable once again, and the people of Pilton gleefully embracing it. Charli XCX brought an abundance of energy to the Other Stage in the early afternoon, and her personal brand of heavy-electro pop. And asking, “who’s getting fucked up this weekend?” was always going to get a decent reaction. Next, it’s only a short walk to the John Peel stage to see chartstress Dua Lipa. The former model joined her male backing band on stage and gives a very decent set, concluding with her hit, I Could Be The One. Her music was as hypnotic as her girating, perfectly toned stomach, which left me feeling I should probably stop frequenting the Chips and Dips stall quite as often.

It wouldn’t be Glastonbury if the next act you go to see doesn’t leave you dizzy from the contrast — Glass Animals won both hearts and minds with their indie-quirkdom, and love of fruit-based stage addornments. Resolutely not taking life and music seriously is obviously less true of the Pyramid Stage’s penultimate Friday act, the xx. Co-lead singer Romey Madley Croft isn’t merely being modest when he exclaims that "it’s mad that three chubby goths are playing the Pyramid Stage” — the trio aren’t the kind of personalities you’d associate with this huge slot, but the dancier songs from their latest, self-titled effort, and Jamie xx’s huge beats do an excellent job getting bodies moving, not to mention warmed up for the first headliners of the weekend.

Life affirming and life changing, Radiohead’s performance is nothing short of a transcendent, out of body experience. Thom Yorke walks onto a darkened stage and greets the assembled thousands with a courtly bow, before some unseen ley line-generated power appears to take over his body as the band open with Daydreaming. On a personal note, I’ve never been to a gig where I enjoyed the songs I didn’t know equally to the ones I knew back to front, as the Oxfordshire quintet conjure up a cosmic-palette of sounds, that only they could, totally live.

The first hour seems to validate the prediction that Radiohead were always going to resolutely refuse to be crowd-pleasers, a flag seen in the crowd reading ‘play the fucking Bends’ being a very wasted effort. But those that saunter off for this reason miss a star-studded finale which includes Paranoid Android, No Surprises (the band released their 20th Anniversary OK Computer re-release the same day), and the rarely-performed Creep. It’s pure magic when Yorke remains on stage for a singalong of Karma Police, and the closing: ‘for a minute there, I lost myself’ stays on everyone’s lips as they depart, either for their tents or the late-night zones of the site. Hands down, the absolute triumph of the weekend.

Radiohead’s performance is nothing short of a transcendent, out of body experience.

Saturday saw a much stronger all-round lineup on its main stage: Jools Holland kicks the afternoon off nicely with some virtuosic jazz, followed by garage sing-alongs aplenty, as comeback-hero Craig David takes a well-earned spot on the Pyramid. His set sees him perform hits like 7 Days with his backing band, and then showing off his DJing skills. The R&B star’s crowd is enormously bolstered as Jeremy Corbyn is introduced by fan and festival-founder Michael Eavis, to mass hysteria. The Labour leader proves to be a fantastic orator, even in such a hedonistic atmosphere, and gets people suitably worked up emotionally for Run The Jewels, who immediately follow the politician they have endorsed themselves. The duo make the very most of one of few hip-hop sets at the festival, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

Topping up the sugary-pop flavour this year is mega-star Katy Perry, who immediately charms the crowd with several humble statements such as, “I’m not sure if I’m cool?” The fact she accepted the 6pm slot is incredibly humble in itself — several of her contemporaries of similar star status would have demanded to headline, and quadruple the pay. Instead, Ms Perry does more than enough to prove she could easily be one of the three highlighted names in years to come. Excellent live arrangements of E.T, Teenage Dream, and Chained To The Rhythm, and her outrageous, twinkling costume, are a certified winner.

Over on the other stage, the resurgence of grime sees back to back performances from its founder Wiley, and his enormously popular protégé, Stormzy. The former’s performance sadly doesn’t live up to his godfather-status within the scene — the manner in which Wiley just rocks up, spits his verses (including some of the pop songs grime fans hoped to never hear again) with minimal audience interaction, as the same visual plays on a loop throughout, leads to a very confused and muted applause, as he abruptly walks off stage. How different this plays out for Stormzy, who shows huge gratitude to the thousands watching him, after playing to a few hundred people last year on a much smaller stage. He feeds off the huge energy from the crowd, particularly hyped up when he lays into the government for the recent Grenfell disaster.

Finally on Saturday, it’s time for the weekend’s hard rock headliners, Foo Fighters. The lights go up, to reveal Dave Grohl stood alone on stage, nonchalantly strumming his guitar and chewing gum, as if this is just another day at the office for him. He apologises for being “two years late” after his famous leg break bumped Florence And The Machine up to headliner in 2015, and dedicates opener Times Like These to her. The first half an hour is remarkable, as the band blast through All My Life, The Pretender, and Learn To Fly. Thereafter, the set list becomes somewhat lacklustre, and the band opting to add six-minute heavy rock interludes to every track loses its novelty. For a band with such a huge sound, it all starts feeling a bit pedestrian somehow. There is a great moment where the crowd refuses to stop singing the ‘oooohs’ of Best Of You, even when Grohl asks if the band can “please finish this fucking song.” All in all, Foos fans go back to their tents happy.

After four full days of doing ill-advised things, Jamie Cullum is the perfect artist to chill on the hill to, beckoning in Sunday afternoon with a wonderful sing along finale, and folk-crooner Laura Marling is a similarly wise choice. Of course, many are here to grab a good spot for this year’s 4pm legend slot, this year filled by none other than Barry Gibb — those seeking nostalgia get it in abundance, with 70s and 80s chart toppers Staying Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, and Tragedy. Gibb totally commands the main stage, and there’s a very poignant moment in which an old photo of all four Gibb brothers appears on the screens.

It’s classic Glastonbury to go from the ‘budget no object’ Pyramid stage, to the smaller Avalon Stage, where I find singer-songwriter Lucy Rose is doing her sound check in person. This doesn’t phase her in the slightest, as she reenters the stage and gives a hugely assured performance, alluding to a recent creative crisis in between songs, which isn’t betrayed via the music, at any point. Over on the more alternative West Holts stage is Berlin-sound merchants Moderat, who generate a massive electronic sound with their live production, and get bodies bopping.

Recent years of Glastonbury has been a showcase for the rise of grime, as Skepta in particular has gone from the Sonic Stage in 2015, to the Pyramid Stage last year; and this year, his music collective Boy Better Know have reached the headline slot of the Other Stage. They don’t mess about, as JME, Frisco, Shorty, Jammer, and Wiley join Skepta in inspiring huge moshpits to Too Many Man, and Skepta’s excellent No Security. Handing out red umbrellas, similar to the one in the music video, to the front of the audience is a wonderful touch. The rage-filled Feed Em To The Lions proves to be one of the best closers of the weekend.

There’s always a headliner that splits opinion right down the middle, and this year the man doing the splitting is Ed Sheeran. Say what you may about this man, but his hugely inoffensive charm gets the huge crowd immediately onside, and big respect to him for going it alone — it’s just Ed, his guitar, and his loop pedal, and in all fairness, he creates a huge sound. The A Team and Castle On The Hill receive every word sung back in earnest, and Sheeran introduces the marmite-infused track Galway Girl with the words, “you might not like this track, but I bet you know the words.”

With next year being Glastonbury’s regular fallow year, it was always vital that the festival delivered on all fronts, and my goodness, it really did. It really is impossible to see how any festival can fill Glastonbury’s enormous wellington boots in 2018, as the Eavis family and Worthy Farm have a much deserved year off. In the meantime, Headliner is eternally grateful for the memories.

Words Adam Protz