While Florence and the Machine nabbing the Friday night headliner slot from an injured Foo Fighters might have been day one’s biggest talking point, the question mark over who would fill Flo’s vacant support space was still left lingering until the last minute. Earlier today, it was announced that the mysterious slot filler would play from 8.20pm until 9.30pm. Blur discounted themselves from the running. But, aside from a heaving rumour mill, the real identity of the band remained more of a genuine surprise than any “secret” set in recent Glastonbury memory. Cue 8.20. A grainy black and white screen. The crackled strains of Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and the faces of Pete Doherty, Carl Barat, John Hassall and Gary Powell striding onto the stage: the next hour and a bit will go down in contemporary Glasto history. Here’s a round up of what made it great.
The thing about secret sets is that they’re not normally that secret. Come early afternoon, the entire site has cottoned on and come gig time, it’s almost the same entrance as watching a billed band. Not so, this time. The Libertines’ set somehow remained an actual genuine secret until stage time. Listening to the audience chatter speculating who was coming on and then the overwhelmed cheers that greeted the band’s entrance will undeniably be one of the most memorable moments of the festival. In 2015, The Libertines are still incredibly loved.
The first big hit
While the entire set kicked off from the start, it was an early outing of ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ that made for the first real unifying moment. Sharing a mic and seeming more at ease and genuinely comfortable with each other than at any of their reunion shows so far, Pete and Carl seemed to be running less on gaffa tape and good will high jinx and behaving more like an actual, functioning band. Even admissions that the set had been cobbled together last minute didn’t counteract the fact that The Libertines genuinely feel on top form.
The new material
Even in a relatively short set, tonight we got three tasters from the band’s forthcoming album three. ‘Gunga Gin’ – written in the band’s recent Thailand sessions – crawls along on Clash-style sloping basslines, while ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ have both been resurrected from various forms of old demos. The latter will probably be less familiar to fans, but the former has been given a slightly meatier makeover from its original incarnation on early demo ‘Legs 11’ into a string-led, poetic heartbreaker that was a set highlight.
Nostalgia is a powerful tool, but when they closed with an anthemic ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, the entire crowd erupted into the kind of mass sing-along that only a handful of bands could ever achieve. With the sun setting and tens upon tens of thousands of people singing every word, it wasn’t just yearning for classic days gone by but a reminder that The Libertines will always be the band that defined a generation. Their return is one that matters.
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Ahead of their imminent Reading and Leeds headline set and an imminent new record, this is the kind of set that feels like a statement of intent. The band haven’t played a UK headline show for a year and this is their first with new material in tow. To unveil it on the biggest stage possible, at a slot with this much anticipation and nail it with no hiccups shows that the band are really intent on carving out a future. This isn’t a reunion show anymore; this is The Libertines back in action and ready to write the next chapter.