30 July 2019 (gig)
09 July 2019
Glastonbury 2019 will be remembered for many things to many people, not least for Stormzy, the first black British solo artist to headline, with a set that unified the nation (everyone loves him) and of course for the five glorious sun-baked, mud-free days. After a fallow year, the world’s most famous festival returned to the 200,000 revellers gathered on Worthy farm, not to mention the hundreds of thousands more, listening and watching at home.
Spread across 1,100 acres, Glastonbury is huge, a magical valley populated with art, installations, music of every genre, dancing, bars and trees. It was well worth making the climb to the Hollywood style letters on the hill to look down on this awesome temporary world as the sun sets on another glittering day.
So back to Stormzy, who seems to be the Adonis of our time, only twenty five, with one album to his name but already head-lining the Pyramid Stage on Friday night. When standing in a field having a spiritual moment as his gospel choir took flight, I received a text from my mother saying she loved Grime after watching Stormzy on TV and wasn’t he handsome, I realised just how far this man could reach. He opened the set in a union jack stab-vest; the comment on the wave of knife crime in our capital was clear and the precarious position of the UK in the world implied but even Stormzy wasn’t aware that he was in fact wearing a Banksy art-work. Clever Banksy. The entire set was pure theatre, from the huge rendition of ‘Blinded by your Grace’ to the gorgeous little girl dripping with attitude and the BAME ballet dancers, b=Black Ballet. He also sampled the Labour MP David Lammy’s speech about the disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system. Stormzy himself, looked like a God and acted as graciously – bowing to all those that came before him and naming all those coming up with him. It was a class act.
Stormzy wasn’t the only artist, making social and political use of his platform. Talented, Olly Alexander from Years and Years, glittering in a diamante choker and chain mail vest, sent a message of solidarity to the LGBT community around the world with a very clever use of ‘incoming’ visuals from hateful tweets he’d received to great effect. He then entertained the Pyramid stage crowd with charm and style – showing off his fine vocals and the groups growing list of danceable hits.
Emotions were high for Kylie who packed the field climbing back from the Pyramid stage on Sunday afternoon. Looking out across a vast sea of happy people, flags fluttering in the sunshine Kylie welled up and had to turn away to compose herself. She remembered 2005, the year she had to pull-out of her head-line Glastonbury slot due to breast cancer. Recovering with the speed of a true pop-princess Kylie delivered a joyous set with special guests including Chris Martin and Nick Cave, with whom she sang ‘The Wild roses’ while locked in an embrace.
The Killers and The Cure delivered big sets on the Pyramid stage on the Saturday and Sunday nights, packed with anthems and stunning light-shows. Of course Glastonbury is not just about the head-liners and there’s so much going on at the same time, you’re always missing something. As front-man of the Killers said, ‘There are a lot of great bands playing now- thanks for betting on us - I’ve a feeling we’ve got to pay off!’ And he did – with mass sing-along and dancing kicking off to the tune of ‘Somebody told me’. Following numerous moving and political speeches across the festival, front-man, Robert Smith with his anti-star attitude said, “I realise that I’m going for the award for the person that says the least ever at Glastonbury,” and his concluding Sunday night set was pure rock as promised – in the glow of the pyramid stage.
Although head-liners might not suggest it, this was a truly great year for female artists across the genres. Layryn Hill was super cool in trilby and pearls on the Pyramid stage Friday afternoon though she seemed to be complaining about the sound. ‘Do you wanna see what twenty years looks like?’ she said before winding her blend of hip-hop and soul around the field with a stunning rendition of ‘Killing Me Softly.’ Legendary Mavis Staples was an inspiration, showing no signs of flagging at 80yrs old. Neneh Cherry was a revelation on the WestHolts stage, braided and dressed in elegant white, with the grace and charisma of a true star. For those of us who know exactly what twenty years feels like, dancing in the sunshine to classics like ‘7 seconds’, ‘Buffalo Stance’, and ‘Woman’ were spine-tingling moment. Not to be destroyed by her visuals crashing and the less than stunning image of windows XP logo decorating rather too many minutes of her set.
Little Simz, one of those in Stormzy’s name check of up-coming British Grime artists on The Park Stage bounded on in white dungarees and a megaphone; ‘Can I play some real music?!’ Ray Blk was a new discovery getting the crowd dancing under the tent at the Sonic Stage and the Fearless Billy Eilish owned The Other Stage. Superstar Miley Cyrus delivered a vocally impressive set that moved comfortably from country rock through to pop and hip-hop. "Everyday I ask the universe to give me something that scares the f*** out of me, and I'll do it. "And today, that's motherf***ing Glastonbury!" she said. Hopefully the ‘spiritual experience’ she had at Stone Henge after the festival was a little less stressful.
There is so much going on at Glastonbury, you invariably miss intended acts and discover unexpected gems by accident. Sometimes magic is found on a small raised bandstand – in the shape of ‘Kangaroo moon’, a highly skilled band of musicians raising a folk dervish as I wandered back from the circus field. And sometimes it’s the snatches of moments you missed that stay with you. As I headed back to my tent, the sound of thousands of voices singing ‘Leave a Light on’ with Tom Walker in the John Peel Tent was one of those. I had hoped to catch him myself so this mass sing-along was a present sent across the field. It felt like a message of love and hope from a generation of young British music lovers. Even the police had a good weekend - with just 96 offences recorded, down 46% from the last festival in 2017.