Glastonbury pre-bloggery

So, it’s June and Glastonbury is less than 10 days away. £200 sterling has been well and truly paid, and the shiny, colourful ticket bearing my grinning mug has arrived. Travel arrangements are being finalised and the alcoholic arsenal is being carefully considered – I’ve already acquired 5 litres of Mallorca’s finest cartons of blanco and rose in a shrewd bit of lash preparation. However, there’s one small (actually fairly big) thing nagging me slightly, I don’t think I’m enthusiastic about seeing anyone on this year’s bill. There are a couple of acts maybe – I’d stretch that to 3, possibly for in a less grumpier mood – that I really want to see, and it seems these few acts that I do want to see are embroiled in in some sort of clashing conundrum with either each other, or with acts the rest of the travelling pack are eager to see.

Tony Parson wrote an interesting piece in last month’s GQ, lamenting the death of Rock ‘n Roll, arguing that the good and the great of guitar lead music are well and truly done for, with no contender able to follow up the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Stone Rose, Oasis et al. Arguably it certainly is time for the oldest of these aforementioned acts, but I was still one of the many praying that the Stones would be in place of either U2, Coldplay or Beyonce as Pyramid headliners at Worthy Farm. I’d put them up there with the Beatles, Hendrix, Bob Marley and Dylan as the acts I want to see before I die. Now, with only two of these a possibility, and the Rolling Stones being one of them, you can appreciate my frustration when it transpires that terms couldn’t be agreed by either party. Unnecessary bureaucracy in light of the potential outcome? Perhaps. I’ll have to get over it. There are rumours of the Stones playing a gig in London next year to mark 50 years since their first ever London show. The point to Parsons’ article, before I digress too much, is that this sort of music, or genre if you like, is now slowly being defined, and moreover confined to a canon, in a similar fashion to how the modern day world perceives Jazz or Classical music for example. A music still loved, cherished and obsessed over, but not necessarily created (or created well in any respect) – and if not created well, then not given the time of day in the forefront of the public consciousness, not in the top 10 for example. Now many people will see this as an absolute, complete and utter blessing, with the modern day public lacking the sophistication to appreciate the likes of Rory Gallagher, Duane Allman or John Squire. Granted, were not living in the Beatles-esque heyday of band worship and mass hysteria, this is a music too important, too emotive, with too much still to offer to be labelled, shelved and listened to on a rainy day.

Yet Parsons goes on to say that it is the Stone Roses, not Oasis who were the last great band making a truly new and original type of music – the last great band therefore, in his eyes. His dismissal of Oasis lies purely on the grounds that they ignored the entirety of Van Morrison’s set at the Mercury music awards. Now, I don’t condone this sort of behaviour to veritable rock royalty like Van the man, but Rock n Roll stars great and small have hardly been noted for their candour and unfettered respect of their ancestral influences, no matter how much of the Beatles discography can be attributed to Noel’s writing. The buck probably stopped somewhere along the lines of the Libertines. A perfect example of tabloid frenzied hysteria for the NME / internet generation, whilst retaining some of that musical angst not to mention the obligatory self destructive gene typical of any great band of the last half century. The Arctic Monkeys came close to contention with THAT album, but a downhill slope of follow up albums showed promise rather than marvel. The Strokes tried, and whilst ‘Is This It?’ is a classic, and their follow up LP’s have been equally as good, they are trust fund kids from America after all. Something doesn’t sit right there.

This was meant to be about Glastonbury, and the current festival scene. Sure, the state of music today has changed and evolved massively from the early beginning of popular music in the 1950’s – but there has always been a feeling that since the 60’s, we’ve had a downhill spiral in terms of quality and meaning – but this can also be linked with quality of life, government, opportunities. We are not in 1950’s America, where the American dream could be realised fairly easily – we’re not necessarily in any worse of a position in the western world either, but there is a sense that the golden age has passed, and won’t return again for quite some time in our current, comfortable way of life. There seems to be a cultural shift occurring with popular music orientated music festival. Festivals are now the new summer getaway, the new weekend away to Blackpool, or summer trip to Malia for example, the new general holiday destination for the youth of today. The worry is that as the popularity of festivals rises, the type of punter attracted has less and less concern about the music each year, being more lad than music aficionado. The evidence to suggest this is the spate of recent sexual assaults at T in The Park and Latitude last year that seems ‘indicative of a wider malaise’ (Alexis Petridis, GQ, June 2011). The use of this evidence will of course rely on the (very stereotypical) assumption that the perpetuators of the aforementioned acts had no other business being at the respective festivals other than to cause trouble and prey on innocent music loving females. Thanks to my criminology first class honours graduate of a girlfriend for this aside, by the way. Violence has always been there, even the idyllic, untainted 60’s had Altamont – but the Rolling Stones were a band who learnt the mistake of hiring the Hells Angels as security for their set, and learnt from it. There doesn’t really seem to be any mistake or overwhelming attribute here to point at, other than the all encompassing, over-saturated mainstream music scene which invites all manner of fan. Whether this turns out to be good or bad over the coming decade, will remain to be seen. The likes of Kent’s Hop Farm Festival, who last year had Bob Dylan and this year providing Iggy & the Stooges and the Eagles to name a few, seems a good indication of where music is heading. Music for the music fan – Festivals tailored to suit the fan of a particular type of music with the likes of Hop Farm, Berlin’s Melt, Spain’s Sonar, Serbia’s Exit offering a more niche festival that may perhaps be a little narrow for everyone to appreciate, but with music at such a confused kind of cross-roads, these offshoots will inevitably where the true music fan doth venture – possibly leaving the likes of Reading/Leeds, Isle of White, god forbid even Glastonbury to be taken over by the unopinionated and apathetic.

Here’s a little thought. A grumpy, old man diatribe aimed towards the fair weather music fan. Please note the above video which shows Keaton Simons, a fairly unspectacular star who is struggling to break into the wider consciousness of the American public, a pretty technically gifted guitarist with his own distinct sound. Now, with our above video, exhibit A if you like, please first observe buffoon A, the man in the glasses providing rhythm guitar next to Keaton, with his gormless, dimwitted and unchanging expression – watch him as he plays a rather rudimentary backing chord sequence, for which Simons can solo away over. All seems fine for the first 30 seconds or so – we don’t know this is going to be an ad hoc version of Summertime, until Keaton leans into the microphone and sings ‘Summertime, and the living is easy…’ But I don’t think he realises it’s Summertime then, or even 2 minutes later, when Simons goes from verse, to guitar riff, to ‘fish are jumping’ to an instruction of G Minor directed at our buffoon A, to which buffoon A seems to do very little about other than carry on playing the completely wrong fucking chords, and then strumming the offending chords a bit harder, in some sort of vain hope that their melodic make up will change if the force of playing is tweaked. I will add here, I understand the frustration now of Clarkey circa approximately 6 years ago, when I no doubt performed this same expression on nonplussed stupidity when playing rhythm guitar (badly and wrong) in his garage after school.

Bad rhythmic guitar ability aside, let’s now observe buffoon B (yes, there’s more), the utterly ridiculous compere of the evening. Simons begins the video with a bit of guitar trickery, half way through which, our buffoon shouts into the mic ‘fuck you Keaton’, being a bit weird and sycophantic. As he leers there, on the stage, clearly having no musical ability himself, he then urges the crowd to ‘make as much noise as possible’. Exactly what a gig featuring two acoustic guitarists and one microphone needs – ear splitting woops and screams. There is a point to all my complaining – but this kind of leads into one of my festival, gig, music-venue pet hates, backing vocals offered by the crowd. Now I’m probably guilty of this myself, so I’ll concede and admit my own hypocrisy. At an Oasis gig in Heaton Park a few years back for example, we were lads on tour for the day, hurling cups full of beer and chanting along to wonderwall, givin’ it the bounce, largin’ it, you know. But I think that Oasis are a band that attract this type of fan, and their music requires this sort of crowd participation. My problem is that every band seems to warrant this inane, mumbled, garbled tuneless shouting along to their song’s lyrics. Imagine a modern day setting if you will, the Pyramid stage on a balmy Saturday evening, and after a lengthy, anxious wait, on walk the Beatles. It’s the Beatles!! There’s Ringo, George, Paul, John (he comes on last, obviously), and amidst the furore, the screaming chanting frenzied adulation for the fab four, they begin to set up. Buzzing amps, a few cymbal crashed. Then, an iconic riff begins…It’s Day Tripper! It’s a magical moment. ‘Got a good reason…’ But it’s not Paul singing it, at least i don’t think it is anyway. It’s Steve from Notts standing next to me who belts out this line, very loud, with great gusto, along with a hundred thousand surrounding numpties – slight criticism if I may, I think it was out of time. A festival licensed beer branded cup flies overhead. Beer showers me – I’m not wearing a coat. Shit. On second thoughts, it’s warm, It’s really warm. It smells.  I lose my footing with all the bouncin’ and largin’ it going on, and I’m on the floor in this ruckus of piss showers and chants. Don’t worry, I’m back up. I think were at the chorus now, I think that was the Day Tripper line, it’s the loudest everybody’s been for a while. Wait…The drumbeats gone. I think Ringo was hit with a piss cup. He’s stormed off – the remaining fab three quickly follow. The Beatles have left the Pyramid stage, the dream is over.

I’m one to talk – I’ve contributed to this post apocalyptic vision along the way, and whilst I lament current, careless attitude towards music, I’m a very different animal after half a dozen pints of medium dry from Somerset’s finest Cider Bus. There’s still time for the mainstream festival. Whether it be in perfect surroundings – Benicassim & Coachella are good examples, or chanced under British skies, I’m firmly in the camp (despite what the last 2000 words suggest) that the festival scene will grow from strength to strength. The granddaddy of em all, Glasto, will take some beating if there’s ever a weekend to trump the country’s most popular festival destination. And why should there? Some things should just be accepted. Like cheddar is the best cheese, despite there being plenty of other great cheeses. With the giant yorkshire puds, the cider bus, B.B Bloody King and Jimmy Cliff, there’s reason to be a tad excited. My point is that we can enjoy all of these cheeses, as long as we don’t turn our festivals into lawless, piss stained, shouty versions of Reading/Leeds.

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