Playing Glastonbury counts, right? If you’re there making your debut, you have to make the most of it, because who knows, it may be the only chance you get. Or, perhaps like Billy Bragg, who might go on to play more shows at Glastonbury than you have hot dinners in your life. And what about the legends, those maybe returning to Glastonbury after time away – the event is more than 40 years old after all – the pressure on them is quite different (or no on at all). We caught three acts taking on Worthy Farm for the very first time, and three acts who are, well, a little more experienced shall we say, to see how they got on.
Acoustic Stage, Friday, 6.30PM
Twelve months ago, Wilko Johnson was forced to cancel his Glastonbury appearance after undergoing radical surgery to treat terminal pancreatic cancer. Today, the 67-year-old former Dr Feelgood guitarist struts onto the Acoustic Stage and points his guitar at the front rows like a shotgun. He spends the next hour tearing through a crowd-pleasing set drawn largely from his ’70s heyday. He snarls the verses on ‘Going Back Home’, and goose-steps either side of his mic stand while fingerpicking ‘Roxette”s punky riff. The impression is of a man rejuvenated, and Johnson – who refused chemotherapy and continued to record prior to 2014’s operation – is electric. He goads bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe to perform extended solos during ‘Everybody’s Carrying A Gun’ and, on a closing cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ his eyes pop from their sockets with excitement. A right old knees-up.
Pyramid Stage, Saturday, 4.30PM
Legends don’t come much greater than Burt Bacharach – and certainly no more humble. Aged 87, he’s by some way the oldest performer on the Pyramid Stage (Roger Daltrey was still kicking footballs around London bombsites when Bacharach had his first hit in 1957). But what’s really striking about his set today is his demeanour. That snake-smooth skin and ever present half-smile, instantly recognisable from Oasis’ ‘Definitely Maybe’ album sleeve, give rise to countless stories about how lucky he feels, and how grateful he is to bands like Arthur Lee and Love for covering his tunes back in the ’60s. Not that he ever actually needed anyone’s help, though. Backed by an orchestra, his son Oliver and several session singers, Bacharach reels out classic after classic (‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose?’ ‘Fall In Love’, ‘Little Red Book’) with passion. His finale, a second version of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ to coincide with the dark clouds above (what else?) is greeted most fondly. Much like Bacharach himself, it’s charming and sincere.
The Mothership Returns: The Family Stone
West Holts, 9.45PM
“Where’s the funkateers? Throw your hands up,” announce The Family Stone as they arrive on the West Holts Stage. “We ain’t here for a long time, but we’re here for a funky time. We’re going to have a funk revival this evening!”. They’re true to their word, playing funk, disco and soul hits including ‘Everyday People’ and ‘Dance To The Music’. The Family Stone have been playing together since 1967, but nearly half a century on they’re still able to get a party started like few other bands on the planet. The West Holts field is transformed into the best disco you’ve ever dreamed of. “This ain’t no sit down party,” they tell the crowd. “This is a get up and shake what your mother gave you party. So we’re going to give you the music to shake it to.” And then they do.
Kevin EG Perry
Run The Jewels
West Holts Stage, Friday, 7.00PM
Killer Mike and El-P have been touring second album ‘RTJ2’ for the best part of a year, and still seem as excited as a pair of highly strung puppies to be playing it live. Their glee is a joy to behold. “In case you were wondering, we did make the sun come out,” grins El-P, heralding the sunshine that’s followed a mood-killing storm. “We spent our entire production budget on it.” Remnants of the dodgy weather surround the stage, but ‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’ fights back with beats as squelchy as the mud. With Mike’s arm out of the sling he’s been sporting at recent shows thanks to an onstage scuffle at SXSW, he’s free to shake his thing and look on proudly as his cohort entertains the crowd. “There’s one side effect to the sun coming out and that’s us fat motherfuckers get sweaty as fuck,” says El-P. Guest spots from DJ Gaslamp Killer and guitarist Boots amp the set up from a show into an event, further proof that Run The Jewels are as exhilarating as hip hop gets.
John Peel Stage, Saturday, 7.35PM
There was a time when Death From Above 1979 would’ve been one of the must-see bands of the weekend, but that was ten years ago. Today, drummer Sebastien Grainger is so unsure of what kind of reception they’ll get that he’s been “secretly hoping it would rain, just so we could fill the tent. But that didn’t even need to happen – you guys all came!” That they did, but it takes both crowd and band a little time to warm to each other. Grainger and bassist Jesse Keeler seem tuned into their own private frequency, and spent most of the set playing more to each other than the audience. DFA only really have one gear – the full-throttle, unrelenting dance-punk of ‘Right On, Frankenstein!’ or ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’ – and it takes a while for everyone else to get up to speed. When that finally happens – somewhere during ‘Going Steady’ – it’s a sight to behold.
Sharon Van Etten
Park Stage, Friday, 8.00PM
Tough gig, clashing with The Libertines. But things are just as emotional and vibey up at The Park for Sharon Van Etten. The intimate stage is the perfect setting for her lush, confessional singer-songwriter offerings, and against the backdrop of a setting sun her songs become, if not cheerier, then certainly slightly less heartbreaking. Opener ‘Serpents’ showcases the talents of her hard and heavy band, and ‘Taking Chances’ verges on the ravey, which makes sense seeing as she’s being followed tonight by Jamie xx. Playing to a small but rapt crowd, Van Etten follows the streamlined synths of ‘Tarifa’ by dedicating ‘I Don’t Want To Let You Down’ to “the cute little girl in the panda shirt”, complimenting a toddler at the front of the crowd’s fashion sense. It’s a fitting touch for this perfectly personal show.