At about 5am on Friday morning, the heavens opened – like a giant middle finger to any positive forecasts for the weekend, the torrential downpour lasted well into the afternoon and threatened to undermine the entire festival. Tents and personal belongings were washed away, the 900 acre site of Worthy Farm was transformed into a mud bath and the opening set on the Pyramid Stage was pulled due to lightning. Anyone who rose early to catch bright young things The Subways were left disappointed, cold and very wet.
So it was certainly a good thing that where Glastonbury often lets down in climatic terms, it makes up for in musical flair. Rarely does Michael Eavis disappoint with his selection of artists for the three days, and this year proved to be no exception.
Opening the Other Stage at around midday was Essex home recorder Tom Vek, who urged his soaked audience to shake themselves off like ‘wet dogs.’ Thankfully, his rather unique blend of electronic beats and punk rock enabled the crowd to do just that – early single If You Want exploded through the PA and got heads nodding all round, and the fantastic I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes filled up the entire field, staking an early claim for song of the weekend. One to watch, as they say.
Birmingham’s Editors have been kicking up quite a stir of late, and took to the Other Stage to play a set of their gloomy, 80′s styled compositions. There’s no doubt that they have the tunes to be massive – singles Munich and Blood sound built for the big stage, but today there was something missing. The sound was sketchy, not to mention the fact that they were completely swamped by the size of the stage. It was very much a case of right band, wrong venue, as if they were on a smaller stage heads may well have been blown off. Still, there was enough spark here to suggest their forthcoming debut album will be an interesting listen.
It was somewhat apt that the end of the rain heralded Hot Hot Heat‘s entrance to the Other Stage. They played an hour long set, effectively a greatest hits collection showcasing the best parts of their two albums. Steve Bays was in typically jovial mood, bouncing around the stage energetically like a small child on a sugar high. Their performance and enthusiasm couldn’t be faulted, although if I’m to sit through 60 minutes of Hot Hot Heat again, remind me to bring some Aspirin.
Next up were Babyshambles, who unsurprisingly, were 20 minutes late. When they did arrive, Pete Doherty looked his usual bedraggled self, sporting a chewed up straw hat and an overtly undone zip on his trousers. They stormed through their brief set, Doherty caused a photo frenzy by jumping head first into the crowd and chaotic new single Fuck Forever brought things to an abrupt halt. It may well have been crap, but we’d never know given the cheers from the crowd who had long since forgiven his tardiness.
“We wrote this to be played in night clubs and not muddy fields,” declared Bloc Party‘s Kele Okereke, as he introduced She’s Hearing Voices. But with songs of this quality, it was never going to be anything else realistically – their set turned out to be one of the best of the weekend, a landmark Glastonbury performance. The sound was razor sharp, and hits like Banquet, Little Thoughts and Helicopter were dispatched with enthusiasm and vicious intent. Come 2007, expect them to be headlining the Pyramid.
The John Peel Tent was the next port of call, to catch prodigal US singer songwriter Willy Mason. Taking to stage armed with his trusty acoustic guitar, his brother on drums, his best friend on bass and his mother on backing vocals, the whole thing was a very personal affair. He played for about an hour, and by the end of it had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand – the mass sing-along to Oxygen was one of those magical festival moments that could bring a tear to a grown man’s eye. When he departed, it felt like we were abandoned by a close friend. Right now, no one writes better songs than him.
Avoiding the crowds and the now almost knee deep mud around the Pyramid Stage, I bypassed The White Stripes and headed to the wooden floors of the Leftfield Tent to see British Sea Power. In line with their unpredictable nature, they opted for a slightly unconventional set list, choosing to include mainly tracks off their first album and B-sides, so much so that their last two singles didn’t even appear. Nevertheless this was still a hugely entertaining 45 minutes, with a boisterous Remember Me and a superb rendition of Oh Larsen B being particular highlights. As the last jubilant cries of “Sea Power!, Sea Power!” died away, day one had come to a monumental end.