I arrived back on Monday, the morning after the (long) weekend before, looking like, as my girlfriend affectionately described, Stig of the Dump, eager to hear what my family (all keen music lovers) had made of the BBC's coverage of the festival. I was particularly intrigued to hear their opinions on Beyoncé's headlining set which brought down the curtain on the Somerset festival until 2013. I thought she had put on a brilliant show even if it was unfair to describe it as a solo performance when much of my enjoyment was derived from the fantastically energetic dancers and the novel and impressively tight all-female backing band. My father, however, wondered whether having a commercial pop artist headlining the Pyramid Stage was, in his words, ‘really Glastonbury’? Many punters see it as a ‘rock’ festival and thus should be headlined by rock bands. It was similar to the reaction of many Glastonbury veterans to the decision to choose Beyoncé’s spouse Jay-Z as a headliner in 2008. Does the music of Beyoncé and Jay-Z really fit in with the vibe of the festival?
Well, firstly, my answer would be yes. Glastonbury is not a rock festival. Those who subscribe to this view should rise from off their sunken deck chairs in front of the Other Stage or crawl out from under the canvas of the John Peel tent and take a walk around the whole festival site. On this stroll they will absorb all the different genres of music, the theatrical and comedic performances and the circus and cabaret acts and then hopefully reassess their claim. Even the title of the festival, ‘Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts’ tells you that this is not just a musical event, least of all just a rock music event. This year saw performances from the Wombles, the physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox, some Mexican wrestlers, the comedian Angelos Epithemiou, Caroline Lucas MP, U2, and a talk on whether ‘veganism is the ideological glue to bring together movements for social change’. Now, I have been scratching my head but I am struggling to think of an umbrella under which all these acts can be placed. This is why it is not just acceptable that a pop act headlined the Pyramid Stage but also imperative that they continue to do so.
Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, what rock acts could have headlined this year? At this point there may be many people hurling names at me such as Pulp or Radiohead but their secret, special guest slots on the Park Stage were a huge success and the story of the festival. Radiohead never seem to do anything by the book so it is no surprise that they did not headline and Pulp probably needed a break after a throng of headline performances (I mean they are middle aged now). Some may wonder why the Arctic Monkeys did not headline but, although I am pained to say it, the Sheffield lads have lost something of their spark over the course of their two most recent, interesting but rather limp records. What about the Strokes? Over the hill. Muse? Headlined last year and past their best. Perhaps Primal Scream could have headlined the Pyramid rather than the other but even they have resorted to just bashing out their 1991 classic album Screamadelica. There really are not that many options at the moment. However, the dearth of rock bands is not just apparent at the headlining end of the scale. It is true of new bands too. Whereas in previous years I have spent a considerable amount of time in the John Peel tent checking out the next big thing, this year I only watched one act there, Yuck (that’s the band’s name, not just my disgust at the situation). Perhaps it is just my taste but I really think the problem goes deeper than that. If you listen to the charts at the moment you will be lucky to hear a strum on an amplified guitar for they are perpetually flooded with synths and electro-dance tunes. Whatever happened to those heady days of 2004 when you could not turn on the radio without being told about the next Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand.
So what I have done there is give you a much longer, more ranting version of the conversation that I had with my dad which pretty much ran as follows:
Dad: “But is Beyoncé really Glastonbury?”
But in my head all these furious thoughts were aching to come out.
So we must wait another two years before the return of Britain’s premier festival. I think a year off will do everyone good as it will serve to keep us hungry for more. One can too easily become complacent. I would not be surprised if by 2013 the drought is over and Glastonbury sees three blistering headline sets from the world’s most exciting rock bands. But I doubt it. In fact, I wonder if one day there might be a non-musical act headlining. I think Mexican wrestling would really work rather well on the Pyramid Stage.
P.S. I saw this band at Glastonbury and they were absolutely sensational. This is a video for their song How It Ends. You may recognise it from the film Little Miss Sunshine for which they wrote the soundtrack. It's beautiful.