Sunday, 28 June 2015


In which Gaz Goombes sets the controls for the heart of the strum, Vintage Trouble are and Burt Bacharach is The Master.

The Gazmeister. (Image: BBC)

DAY 2 

Paloma Faith As a concept she's got it all: a fiesty, funny feminist, not afraid to glam up in a strikingly individual way to deliver, in a voice that sounds bigger than her petite frame can generate, songs of inspiring female empowerment. Live - at least on this showing - it didn't come together. Paloma might have the best backing band and swanky stage set that money can hire, but for some reason the songs didn't grab you, and it said it all when the best thing she did was a cover of Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'. Better luck next time.

The Waterboys Caught them just as they were doing the rousing pastoral anthem (if you can have a rousing pastoral anthem) that filled many an indie dancefloor in the '80s, 'The Whole of the Moon'. If ever there was a song written for Glasto, it's this one.

Gaz Coombes This Supergrass front man has had something of an artistic rebirth this year with his solo album Matador, a celebratratory mix of English psychedelia and typically quirky singalong pop. Live, thanks to a brilliant band, the songs really soar, and I nominate 'Detroit' as one of the best performances of this year's festival. A musician who's effortlessly cool, as befits the man with Those Sideburns.

Giant Sands An odd one. Apparently they've been around in various forms since 1985, but I'd never heard, or heard of, their curious mix of blusy alt country and indie rock. Dressed all in black, their stage wear was more consistent than their music, which veered from the opening, melancholy cover of 'Sorrow' (not the one Dame David also did) to the Velvet Underground chug of 'Tumble and Tear'.
Hard to know what to make at them, although the Billy Bob Thornton-alike singer clearly likes being in front of a mirror.

Vintage Trouble Only caught the end of their set, but a stylishly retro-attired band, complete with a front man who's modelled himself on Little Richard, were kicking up a blus/rock storm. Another one for the 'must hear more of' list.

George Ezra As far as I'm concerned, the best of the seemingly endless contemporary deluge of British singer/songwriters. George has it all: original, arresting lyrics, a tight-but-loose band and a voice that sounds like the devil's come calling. Full marks to the girl in the audience with the sign that read 'George, You Are My Ezrathing'.

Burt Bacharach Glastonbury always has room for an easy listening legend, and this year they had the man who virtually invented quality easy listening, Mr Burt Bacharach. Although he has an (endearingly) fragile voice now, his piano playing and a trio of excellent vocialists conducted the crowd through a sunny afternoon of classics like 'Walk On By', 'Always Something There to Remind Me' and 'The Look of Love'. It's a terribly overused phrase, but Bacharach really is a living legend: where love songs by other lyricists come across as soppy and corny, Bacharach's are truthful, witty and sincere. There was only one way to end, and that was, of course, with 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' (and cheers to the BBC cameraman who gave us the shot of an ominous looking rain cloud over the festival site - we got the point, mate). Sadly, Elvis Costello and James Dean Bradfield didn't show up to join in the fun, but Burt himself was obviously deligthed to be at Glasto.

Kanye West Not something you could easily say about this gentleman. Maybe if you were actually there and into Kanye's vibe  - as the cheers suggested - his headlining set was a triumph. On TV, though, it looked like Mr West walking around an empty stage, singing to backing tracks (until the dry ice cleared to show a 'technical assistant' and two backing vocalists way downstage) and hardly talking to the audience. Nice of him to have gone to so much trouble.

Hozier I think this is what they used to call Adult Orientated Rock. Well done, but not my thing.

(Image: BBC)
Lionel Richie As the BBC’s Mark Radcliffe eloquently put it, the “lion-maned ladies” man’ presented a triumphant “afternoon smooth-a-thon.” Talking of smooth, Mr Richie has obviously had some facial work done, a phenomenon not unknown among the Sunday afternoon senior headliners at Glastonbury of late. But even if his band sounded like they’d been transported through a soft metal time warp from the 1980s and could have dealt a lighter touch to the slower songs, Lionel’s a great showman, still has a great voice and you couldn’t fault his selection of crowd pleasers. They were all there: ‘Living on the Ceiling’, ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning,’ ‘Hello’… OK, ‘We Are the World’ is a bit trite, but you can’t fault the sentiments. Did he really say “Play that ukulele for Glastonbury”? I do hope so.

Vintage Trouble One of the pleasures of the BBC’s coverage is that you’re able to catch acts you missed first time round. So it was with California’s blues rockers Vintage Trouble, who I only caught the last song from yesterday. Talk about getting the crowd involved: front man Ty Taylor, resplendent in a blue and red tartan suit, had them singing back to him, surfing him around, climbed the mixing desk platform to begin a number then had a devoted audience form an arch of joined hands as he sang his way back to the stage. A band that can totally win you over if you see them live. The new Cramps? Maybe.

(Image: BBC)
Charli XCX My initial reaction was “What the f***?!” A female four-piece of bubblegum punkers dressed as, um, adult schoolgirls with a dubiously-shaped giant inflatable guitar strapped to the lead singer. Turns out this was the new live look for solo artist Charlie XCX and, the provocative image aside, you couldn’t deny the infectious power pop of ‘Breaking Up’, ‘I Love It’ and ‘London Queen’. Possibly the most repeated set on the Beeb’s Red Button channels (no surprises there.)

Patti Smith The godmother of American New Wave is 70 now. You’d never know: she and her band, with a combined age of over 500, can still kick it off with the sonic attack of an outfit a third of their age. Smith confirmed her honorary New Wave saintliness by reciting to the visiting Dalai Llama the poem ‘A Small Entreaty’. The man himself then took to the stage to have the attendant crowd sing him ‘Happy Birthday’ and cut an 80th birthday covered in fruit. It was one of those heart-warming examples of the sunny surrealism you only get at Glastonbury, topped by His Holiness exhorting the audience to make “every day a birth day” – the best philosophy there is. After that, a permanently grinning Patti took the mood higher with ‘People Have the Power’ and the scuttling Velvets’ strum of ‘Gloria’. The Chinese government complained about the Dalai Llama attending Glastonbury: good.

(Image: BBC)
La Roux As befits the torch singer of neo-electronica, stylishly self-aware. She dressed like Bowie in his Young Americans phase and the slender columns of white light in the stage show referenced the way some of the Thin White Duke’s Station to Station performances were lit. La Roux might have one song but it’s a good song, and, with an excellent backing band, she delivers the best fashionable synth-pop currently doing the rounds.

Belle and Sebastian A lot livelier than I expected the indie popsters to be. They had their own troupe of dancers who resembled a stage invasion, and on ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ singer Stuart Murdoch orchestrated just that. It was very Glasto seeing so many people happily dancing around the band in the sunshine and pausing to take selfies, even though our man Murdoch gently admonished them with “Put away the cell phones! Look where you are!” Of course, he then took a selfie himself. By the time ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ came round, even the BBC cameraman was beaming from ear to ear and grooving along.

The Staves Rocky alt-country. Fair enough.

(Image: BBC)
The Fall No festival friendly sing-a-longs with Mark E Smith’s atonal collective, unless you can get your tongue around the lugubrious weirdness of ‘Curly  Wurly, how dare you prescribe to me?’ The Fall are brilliant and chaotic at the same time: the guy doing the song captions at the BBC clearly didn’t have a clue what they were playing, as no on-screen titles appeared throughout their set. As ever, Mark E affected the dress sense and vocal style of a pissed 1970s geography teacher, tearing through a snarling ‘Sparta FC’ as the closer.

Perfume Genius Obviously talented but an acquired taste.

Slaves Where Mark Radcliffe was during Lionel Richie’s set and you could see why. Slaves are right up the BBC6 DJ’s street, sounding link the unholy union of Carter USM and Link Wray, with a singer/drummer and guitarist battering out relentless, raw, shouty punk like ‘The Hunger’, ‘Hey!’ and ‘Feed the Mantaray’ (complete with a home-made, giant crowd surfing fish of the title). While people might get bored with this sort of thing quite quickly, Slaves may go the distance thanks to cheeky lyrics like “Cheer up London, it’s not that bad.” It’s also probably the first time that the whole band has gone crowd surfing.

Mavis Staples Classic rhythm and blues and surprisingly political.

(Image: BBC)
Paul Weller One of the greats for anyone who grew up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and he’s still relevant. ‘The Changing Man’ was an opening statement of intent and, clearly in a good mood, the Modfather served up The Jam classics ‘That’s Entertainment’ and ‘Town Called Malice’. Predictably the crowd went bananas, like they did a few years ago at the Hammersmith Apollo when he played ‘The Eton Rifles’. Good, too, to see a Weller junior following in the family tradition by tapping a tambourine.

Future Islands Hmm.

Suede Brett Anderson is still whip-thin and ‘Metal Mickey’ is still stupendous. There’s no other word for it.

FFS That’s the supergroup made up of Scottish indie combo Franz Ferdinand and American eccentrics Sparks; it’s such a great idea that when I first heard about it I thought it had to be an April Fool. Through ‘Johnny Delusional’, FF’s ‘Take Me Out’ and S’s ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’, the apparently ageless Alex Kapranos scissor-kicked and Ron Mael did his Hitler-sitting-at-the-piano thing. In a word: class.

East India Youth More fashionable, and surprisingly rocking, electro-pop from a one man Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

(Image: BBC)
The Who “’Ere we are again,” crowed a jocular Pete Townshend (the Mod art rockers last headlined in 2007) before the first song, ‘Who Are You’, exploded off the Pyramid Stage. They peaked with that and kept peaking, through a moving ‘The Kids Are Alright’, ‘I Can See For Miles’, a vicious ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, ‘You Better You Bet’ (the last great Who song), the messianic ‘See Me, Feel Me’/Listening to You’ and the climactic double-punch of ‘Baba O’Reilly’’s call-to-arms and the apocalyptic ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Roger Daltrey may not move about as much these days and shelter behind an acoustic guitar more than he used to, but for me these ’60s survivors are a better live prospect than the Stones, due to their sheer power, the variety of musical styles Townshend has mastered and their fierce intelligence and wit: during ‘My Generation’, Daltey sardonically sang “My generation is still here today” and, in ‘Pictures of Lily’, The Who delivered the most tactful song about wanking ever written.

So that’s it for this year. It was a good one: even if there were a few duds among the acts, musically it seemed a lot more varied than in 2014, with Sunday’s line up being particularly strong. Enough on the "must find out more about them" list to keep me going until next year, and who knows – I might even make it in person next time.

Roll on 2016.


For the third year in a row, the out-of-touch middle aged man's guide to the musical delights (and otherwise) of the annual love-in at Worthy Farm.

Can't believe we're back at Glastonbury already, but thankfully it seems to be sunny most of the time. The major innovation for me this year has been a new telly, which means, thanks to the BBC's fabled 'Red Button', I can watch whole sets by bands when only a couple of tracks are shown by the main channels. So, in no particular order, here we go with my annual rabbit-in-the-headlights reactions.

Jungle Stylish looking and multi-cultural, laying down some dancey feel good rhythms. What really impressed, though, was the small child, aged about 7, they brought on to breakdance, do hand stands and spin on his head as they played. The perfect Glasto band - and therefore perfect Glasto experience - so it's no wonder the crowd going wild.

Wolf Alice Apparently with a debut album heading for Number 1, this lot had reference points from the Breeders, via Hole to PJ Harvey in her particularly loud and aggressive phase. They also had a great deal of something else and make an immediately engaging, original rock and roll noise. Definitely one to see more of.

Alabama Shakes I don't get it.

Courteeners A cynic would say this lot have swept up old Oasis and Stereophonics riffs and shuffled them around to disguise the source. There is, however, something moving, and undeniably anthemic, about the Courteeners' unapologetic, straight-ahead English indie rock, as a packed audience testified. They still have a daft name, though.

Leon Bridges One of the pleasant surprises of the festival - and it's probably easier with the BBC's coverage - is stumbling upon something really good you've never heard of before. Immaculately suited, with a backing band both musically and sartorially smart, this new-style soul singer drew on everyone from Sam Cooke and The Temptations to produce something classy, stylish and vibrant. Another one to investigate in the days afterwards.

Caribou This sounded to me like chilled-out electronic soul, which was perfect for the glorious sunset that formed the backdrop as they played. Kudos for the matching white outfits, too.

The Libertines Bless them. The surprise act of the weekend, still making the world's most listenable, shambolic racket out of the songs on Up the Bracket. Carl and Pete are the modern Jones/Strummer, while their bass player now looks like a bank manager surprised to find himself wearing a guitar.

Motorhead Lemmy's a star and national treasure, but in an ocean of metallic sludge, they only have one great song. Can you guess which one?

Benjamin Booker Another great surprise. Phenomenal rhythm section with blusey, sometimes Hendrix-y guitar and SO much musical energy. The third on 'the must listen to more' list.

The Vaccines The band I wanted to see and feel like I've already seen, as they sound like so many bands I grew up with - the Skids, Ramones and the Buzzcocks, to name a few. It's no secret that acts' reputations, and certainly album sales, can rest on a good Glastonbury performance, and if you'd caught the first few songs that BBC3 showed you wouldn't have been convinced: recent single 'Dream Lover' fell as flat as the muddy sound mix on the first few songs. If you watched the whole set via the Red Button, however, you'd have seen the Vaccines reclaim the day with a rousing, acoustic 'No Hope', a rattling 'Teenage Icon' and a balls-out 'If You Wanna' which inspired the most frenzied moshing of the day. I warmed to the guys even more for turning things around so impressively, but I'm still not sure why the singer's rocking the Steven Toast look. More pop culture irony?

That's it for now. More middle-aged reflections tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

HUMANS review: 9pm Channel 4, Sundays

In the new drama series Humans, Channel 4's mix of the domestic and science fiction conspiracy is a must-see.

Part of Channel 4's ingenious marketing campaign. (Image: Channel 4)

This new drama has a commendably simple premise: technology is now so advanced that it looks like real people. This concept is laid out in a wonderfully evocative opening scene in which semi-naked ‘Synths’ – artificial human servants – stand in uniform lines in a warehouse. Neatly indicating that something has gone disturbingly awry with the Synth production line, one of them breaks ranks by raising its head to look at the moon.

A first episode by its very nature has to introduce the series’ scenario and characters, and the first part of Humans was particularly impressive as it covered A LOT of ground in under an hour. The four concurrent and related plots moved deftly from family tension to global conspiracy: the overworked and dysfunctional Hawkins family acquired a female Synth, ‘Anita’ (Gemma Chan), capable of the heresy of independent thought; five weeks in the future, an escape route for Synths run by Leo (Colin Morgan) includes Anita, who he’s in love with; a man called Hobb (DannyWebb) heads a covert unit hunting Synths who have learned to lie and change their names while, in the fourth plot line, an old man called George Millican (a movingly restrained William Hurt) refuses to trade up his defective, young male Synth for a newer model, treating the machine like a son he can’t let go of.

That’s the real genius of this series: with technology that looks human, the writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley are able to invoke skewed takes on familiar situations. In a conventional drama series, Anita would be the attractive, sly home help with designs on luring Joe (the always believable Tim Goodman-Hill) away from his overworked and often absent career wife Laura (Katharine Parkinson). That’s also the case here, but it’s set up through the suggestive promise of the ‘adult options’ software that the Synth salesman palms to Joe with a wink, and, chillingly, the way Anita bonds with Laura’s children. The youngest Sophie (Pixie Davies) claims that the Synth ‘doesn’t rush’ her bedtime reading, a comment that speaks volumes about the child’s relationship with her busy mother and is typical of the sharp, focused economy of the writing. In a drama about a lonely old man, Muillican’s Synth would be an ageing dog going feral that needs to be put down – and is discussed in similar terms here – but in Humans this situation is given an extra, unnerving dimension because Millican treats his faltering companion by treating it as if it is human.

The idea is sold by the actors playing the Synths, who are all exceptional. Their still expressions, unquestioning compliance with human requests and occasional dialogue like a malfunctioning computer is a clever way of reinforcing that these facsimiles look real but aren’t, as are their luminescent eyes (reminiscent of those other alien interlopers in human form, in the film Village of the Damned). It’s even more unsettling when the self-aware Synths develop personalities and human body language as – apart from their eyes – they can’t be told apart at all.

This is what’s worrying Hobbs. Talk of the ‘Asimov blocks’ the Synths have, which means they can never harm humans, is an inevitable reference to the robot stories of the science fiction visionary and writer Isaac Asimov, who’s First Law of robotics stated that no robot could ever hurt people. With the Synth population on the verge of outnumbering the human one and some of them going rogue, the ‘big’ story in Humans suggests that mankind’s time may be up. This part of the set-up is, it has to be said, a hackneyed sci-fi idea, having been featured in everything from Blade Runner to Doctor Who, but Humans skill is that it uses the recognisably domestic to symbolise the story’s wider implications and, so far, this part of the series is the most compelling.

It was the same with Humans’ marketing campaign. Over the last few weeks, an advert for Synths appeared in the commercial breaks in and between programmes on Channel 4. It speaks volumes that I didn’t automatically dismiss the bogus ad as a stunt. ‘Really?’ I remember thinking. ‘Surely not…’ The near-possibility of synthetic, servile humans is what makes Humans the most compelling piece of sci-fi to have come along in some time.

Gotta make way for the homo superior? We shall see.