Glastonbury 2013: The musical highlights (part II)  1

Glastonbury 2013: The musical highlights (part II)

Saturday night was all about The Rolling Stones, their first ever appearance at Glastonbury, all the brouhaha surrounding it and ultimately the unconfined excitement generated by their peerless performance on the Pyramid Stage. But all that was to take place musically further down the bill was to say so much more about the changing face of the festival. Now in its forty second year of existence, the principles and ethics upon which the festival have been built have gradually shifted from their origins in support of social change through the peace movement of the ‘80s to the emergence of a more recent emphasis upon eco-politics. Radicalism and protest can still be found, though, and the festival’s Left Field curator Billy Bragg continues to fiercely fly that flag. A man of tremendous integrity and great humour he explores different ideas and solutions in debate and in song. Drawing upon the inspiration of Woody Guthrie – the man with the “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker on his guitar – Bragg’s performance on the main stage at lunchtime strikes the perfect chord between social commentary, a fundamental grasp of the concept of difference and the beauty of a strong melody. He even nods towards events later on that day with a faithful reading of the Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers’.

Elvis Costello is another man who still has plenty of fire in his belly. Despite barely pausing for breath as he and the Imposters rattled double-quick time through a nineteen song, hit-heavy set, he still managed to veer sufficiently from this more accessible course to play ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’. Taken from his 1989 album Spike, it famously spoke of Costello’s tremendous mistrust and intense hatred of Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government of the day and what that entire regime had done to this country and its people. Given Thatcher’s death earlier this year the words assumed a far greater resonance here though Costello was quick to point out that the song’s inherent message was not about burying someone underground, but about burying an idea in the ground.

Costello then brought it all back home to the festival’s earlier anti-nuclear ethos with a joyful romp through Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, and like Bragg before him anticipated the day’s headliners by squeezing their ‘Out Of Time’ into the song’s middle.  But Costello and Bragg’s political acumen and their ability to not only re-examine alternative traditions but also re-package them for the modern day were in seriously short supply. In much the same manner by which Friday had been consumed by Jake Bugg, Rita Ora, Kodaline and The Vaccines, Saturday’s schedule suddenly appeared to have become bloated by artists such as Laura Mvula, Azealia Banks, Ben Howard and a second festival appearance in two days by the three Haim sisters (a particularly unwise decision to cover Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Green Manalishi’ did not seem any better informed than it had done the day before). Social protest had been replaced by the supine and this reflected the associated shift in the festival’s demographic over the past few years. Where once there had been your venerable old hippie and new-age traveller now there was your member of the Newbury set ticking yet another box on their social calendar.

It was up to Alabama Shakes to punch a hole in this mid-afternoon torpor with a blistering demonstration on how to play the 488aSouthern blues. Twenty three year old former postwoman Brittany Howard does not present as your conventional idea of a rock star but boy can she sing. She screams and howls across a vintage twin guitar landscape as the band kick up a veritable storm on the Other Stage.  Part deep-fried soul, part roadhouse blues. the Alabama Shakes’ sound may well be steeped in great tradition but as they shift through the gears of their fourteen song set, and reach for overdrive in a glorious concluding workout of first ‘Mama’ and then finally ‘Heavy Chevy’ (both of which originally appeared as bonus tracks on last year’s debut album Boys & Girls), they breathe new life into what had started to become a tired and lazy summer afternoon.

And that then brings us to those proto-atavists and Rolling Stones’ support act Primal Scream. For a man who has leant so heavily on the past in his efforts to create a soundtrack for the future, and who now finds that his band are finally opening for the greatest rock n roll band in the world, Bobby Gillespie sounds strangely disengaged by the time that Primal Scream reach ‘Come Together’ (assisted on backing vocals by, yet again, those Haim sisters). But the woozy psychedelia of the song’s melody does hark back to an earlier time and despite the festival’s unswerving slide into commodification, the sentiments of the words are at least consistent with Glastonbury’s continuing commitment towards consideration, cooperation and a general heightening of consciousness.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.