While a sizable proportion of Glastonbury’s population huddled together in front of the Pyramid Stage to pay emotional homage to a multi-million selling artist, the real Sad Boys and Girls of Pilton congregated in another muddy field to the south-east of tonight’s main event to witness a British star who’s well on his way to the big leagues.
James Blake had the unenviable task on Glastonbury Saturday of going up against the unit-shifting and ticket-selling might of Adele (not to mention New Order’s banging performance over on The Other Stage) with his headline set on the West Holts Stage. And yet, in a battle that the Tottenham star was always most likely going to win, there’s an argument here for Blake putting in a strong case for winning the war.
While thousands upon thousands of Worthy Farm revellers wept into their hankies over at the Pyramid Stage, a solid crowd of devoted Blakeians congregated at the altar of the pianos’n’beats king to sing Hallelujah. Sure, the field in front of the London musican may not have been packed out, but those in attendance had clearly made a considered decision to witness Blake, which says plenty for his burgeoning status as an artist to sit up and take notice of.
Blake has re-entered the mainstream consciousness in the past few months following his surprise appearance on Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, but tonight was all about an appreciation of his stunning solo work that got him that job in the first place. The setlist drew from an already-bountiful discography: from the cover of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ that he made his own back in 2010, to the mesmerising ‘Radio Silence’ from his latest album via a stunning rendition of 2013 hit ‘Retrograde’, complete with a blinding, sun-like video projection, it produced a bass-heavy soundboard that vibrated and pulverised its surroundings so hard that even Worthy Farm’s uncompromising quagmires were moved, albeit momentarily.
Blake and his two-man band weren’t alone for the entirety of the set: Californian rapper Vince Staples, who had performed on the same stage a day previously, turned up to perform a re-worked version of ‘Timeless’, while 1800-Dinosaur (a collective that Blake is heavily involved in) affiliate Trim brought a distinctly grime flavour to proceedings.
The headline moment of the set – at least collaboration-wise – arrived with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon’s surprise appearance for ‘I Need A Forest Fire’. Vernon, following up from last year’s collaborative performance with Kanye West, walked onto the stage to huge cheers from an acknowledging audience to deliver a stunning rendition of the new album cut that led many in attendance to stammer: “Yeah, it was HIM!”
Elsewhere, in a move that seems to stick to this year’s Glastonbury policy, the usually reticent Blake took time out to momentarily address the fall-out from the depressing outcome of this week’s EU Referendum. “I hope we’ve taken away some of your Brex-iety tonight,” the multi-instrumentalist said in his parting words to the crowd. He then went on to indirectly address the mighty schedule clusterfuck that he’d fallen victim to: “We’re so happy that you’ve turned up in such force, and we’re glad we could be here for you.”
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But the highlight of the evening, for all of Blake’s wonderful endeavours on the West Holts stage, was a moment that NME witnessed to our immediate left half-way through the set: a man, dressed in fluorescent leggings and topped off with a flamboyant trilby, got down on one knee to his girlfriend in the Glastonbury mid-song, in the mud, to propose to the love of his life. And it was an utterly beautiful moment.
Blake’s set won’t go down in the annals of history, and Saturday was Adele’s night, no question. But those Sad Boys and Girls left knowing they’d been in the right place all along.