“We’ve never been here before,” says Jeff Lynne, a ’70s pop genius made solely out of a ball of hair and sunglasses as his reformed ELO ride their wave of public affection all the way to the Glastonbury’s now-coveted Sunday afternoon legend’s slot. Clearly no-one’s properly explained the significance of his position to him. Ever since Dolly Parton made it the most beloved hour of inhibition-shedding cheese of the weekend back in 2014, it’s been all about sing-along hits, as closely as you can pack them in. Lynne’s got more of those than any legend’s slot veteran since Brian Wilson; the ELO canon, for all its Partridge and Guilty Pleasures associations, is amongst the greatest of the ’70s and ’80s. So show-stealing orchestral disco pop triumph all round, right?
Lynne certainly starts out on the right track, pumping out the slick, funky spite anthem ‘Evil Woman’ at the top of the hour, but the first 20 minutes doesn’t quite give off the inexorable spaceship tractor beams it should. Singing ‘Showdown’ – with a chorus that goes “it’s raining all over the world” – to a soggy crowd waiting for ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and a few confused Jess Glynne fans is a minor tactical error. As lovely and Beatle-y and whimsical new song ‘When I Was A Boy’ might be, with its nostalgic images of Lynne’s childhood you-were-lucky-to-have-a-ditch Brum poverty, this isn’t the place for it. And the proggy ‘10538 Overture’ expects the crowd to take them more seriously than their slot suggests. Glastonbury wants disco, not dolour. It wants ‘Xanadu’, not ‘Rockaria!’.
For diehards, though, this is a rich and rewarding sample of Lynne’s classical pop brilliance, and ELO ultimately beam the crowd up to their space rock stratosphere. ‘Livin’ Thing’’s toreador flounce sets the crowd frugging in earnest and the big ballad one-two of ‘Wild West Hero’ and ‘Telephone Line’ are retro heart-bursters, even if the latter has been rendered lyrically obsolete by technological progress. In 2016, the line “I’d tell you everything if you pick up the telephone” should probably go “if you just check your Whatsapp feed”.
The last 20 minutes are a storm. ‘Turn To Stone’ and ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ revisit the cream of their 1977 ‘Out Of The Blue’ album peak, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ wins Pilton over with its cheery “a-woo-hoo!” hook and ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is predictably euphoric, their ‘I Will Always Love You’ moment. They may not exude the same huggable affection as Dolly or Lionel, but musically ELO blow all their recent legend slot rivals clean off the planet. Partridge or no Partridge, they’ve added class to Glastonbury’s corniest corner.