Saturday morning, about 2am: we’ve left the scheduled world of Glastonbury’s day time far behind and are making our way through the Stone Circle field. Despite having trudged this route and many like it countless times over the weekend, by night everything changes. New venues have opened up, everything is lit by £2 flaming torches and we’ve just been passed by a man with a homemade mini bar strapped to his back.
We’re heading for a rumored underground piano bar somewhere in the woods, those were the only directions we received and they sounded convincing enough to be worth perusing. Eventually we find it. Like so many of the festival’s secret hidden venues word gets out pretty quickly and there are lengthy queues of late night revelers. It’s a similar story over at the Rabbit Hole and big neon signs broadcast a ‘45 minute wait’ for Shangri-la like a diversion on the motorway. But we get into the piano bar and join fifty or so others in an intense session of foot-pounding and hand clapping, to a line-up of fiercely fired-up folk bands and bare footed banjo wielders.
Walking towards the Park we see a man with a rucksack approach a group of three guys and pull out a flute. “Can anyone play?” he asks. One of the three steps forward and naively we assume this is going to an embarrassing musical attempt. How far from the truth that assumption is. An almost flawless flute cover of Whitney Huston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” chimes out and before you’ve had time to process that the band of three are singing a full medley of songs in harmony, complete with air double bass. The fellow with the rucksack is just as taken a back as we are. Turns out they are three members of an 8-piece ska band called The Skalactites from Manchester, who happen to be in the right place at the right time to do a spontaneous pop-up showcase of their talent. And they assembled quite a crowd.
Slowing down for a bit we experience one of Glastonbury’s many non music related attractions. We take off our wellies and step into a tent which is host to the Hiroshima Peace Flame, (burning since 1946) and for a short while the curious chaos outside is silenced.
Finally sun rise suggests we should try to grab some sleep before the day really kicks in and it becomes too hot to function inside your tent.
Waking up not so refreshed we wander down into the site and check out Manchester-based indie pop-rock band The 1975 kick-start The Other Stage. Having been going under various names since 2002 the quartet found wider success last year after releasing singles ‘Sex’ (2012) and ‘Chocolate’ (2013) which were the obvious crowd favorites. Although played live the tracks managed to shake off some of the tightly produced pop sound of the EP, they didn’t do much to satisfy the musical expectations one arrives with at Glastonbury’s second largest stage. But the band’s simply arranged pop songs do have a level of catchiness to them and playing a number of tracks from their self-titled, soon-to-be-released debut album (due in September), The 1975 clearly have a loyal following already.
Saturday stands out as being the day when everything just seemed to become fuller. The crowds are larger, the sounds are bigger and you’ve learned to live with the discomforts of heat tortured camping. For some though it was simply a day to kill time until the arrival of the Rolling Stones as people could be spotted ready and waiting at the Pyramid Stage from early in the morning. More fool them as they missed out on some incredible shows, such as one of the notable act we caught – Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The Chicago based, brass band of eight stormed the Sonic Stage over at Silver Hayes with their fusion of hip-hop, jazz and funk. They are eight sons of jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran and perform with only horns, drums and vocals, creating a set of blasting brass, beats and volume. Lots of volume. Arriving late on stage did nothing but strength the hype that was building in the crowd as chants of ‘Hypnotic’ rang out.
The Chicago brass blasters infuse their raw, jazz-rooted sound with hip-hop beats and high energy rap, re-establishing the jazz genre as the exciting dance music it started life as. Tracks like ‘Ballicki Bone’ saw the horns perfectly take on a vocal role and ‘Party Started’ did just that as crowd and band alike jumped about in funk fuelled frenzy. Hit ‘Kryptonite’ is every part as smooth and soulful as it is punchy and gritty, and you forget that beyond the stage perimeters it is still only mid afternoon. Of all the acts of the weekend, HBE interacted the best with their fans, blending confrontational elements of rap with infectious jazz/funk rhythm and jumping the barriers at the end of their set to collect some high fives.
But the main focus of Saturday is easily on the headliners. There is a real sense of occasion and rightly so as arguably the UK’s greatest rock n’ roll band takes on the UK’s biggest music festival. It has taken Glastonbury’s founder Michael Eavis decades to score the Stones, but tonight it proves well worth the wait. Their slot at the festival is the perfect addition to their ‘50 and Counting’ tour, although this feels far from just another tour date. The Rolling Stones performed a mammoth two and a half hour set, the most densely attended single show in Glasto history, and it was clearly predicted to be so as the size of the Pyramid arena was expanded this year to cope with the masses.
The set opened with a succession of guaranteed hits such as ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, ‘Paint it Black’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’ proved by although it’s only rock n roll we still like it, like it, yes we do. The band then moved into a track apparently written the day before – ‘Glastonbury Girl’. Whether or not that’s true didn’t matter, the effort to tailor their set to the occasion was not lost on the devoted audience. More recent tracks such as ‘Doom and Gloom’ proved the band have lost no ability to pen a good song and after performing the new we revisit the old with a guest appearance from Mick Taylor on guitar. From then on it’s back to the constant stream of hits with ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘Miss You’ before ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ awoke the giant scrap metal phoenix atop the triangle.
Front man Mick Jagger showed no loss of energy as his crowd interaction lived up to it’s legendary status and the force on fretboards that is Richards and Wood, teamed with Watts on drums showed the band could still easily set the bar for any headliner and have a great time doing so. Performing hit after hit from a career spanning fifty years the band left their devoted audience with a real sense of satisfaction, proving you can sometimes get what you want. An explosion of confetti, choirs, and applause ended Saturday on a high.