One of the golden rules of Glastonbury is to come to the festival with an open mind, read the small names on the lineup as well as the big ones, and get ready to be surprised. The John Peel stage is testament to that: named after the late, legendary broadcaster, the tastemaking tent has given many young, emerging artists their first major festival slot over the past two decades. In 2019, NME cover star Billie Eilish was due to grace this very stage (though was bumped up to The Other Stage due to popularity), and three years later, she’s headlining the Pyramid Stage tonight (June 24).
English Teacher’s early morning performance is a life-affirming reminder that there are very few rushes like seeing a rising band smash their biggest show to date. Before they make their way out into the tent, the four-piece – Lily Fontaine (vocals and rhythm guitar), Douglas Frost (drums), Nicholas Eden (bass) and Lewis Whiting (lead guitar, synth) can be spotted going in for a group hug at the side of the stage: it’s a wholesome, tender exchange of collective support from a gang of pals about to experience one of the most important and transformative moments of their lives.
The Leeds band secured their place on the lineup by reaching the finals of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition earlier this year. It needn’t be said again that the pandemic was a serious obliterator of opportunities for grassroots-level artists, but this submission-led initiative offers a leg-up, by providing them with the chance to perform to a bevvy of industry heads. “It’s about capturing [musicians] at the very earliest stage of their careers, right at the start,” festival organiser Emily Eavis told NME in May, before going on to reference 2015 winner Declan McKenna, who will return again for his fourth performance at Worthy Farm this year.
Even if English Teacher didn’t leave the ETC finals as winners last month – Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis McLaughlin won the judges’ vote – their show at the John Peel Stage this morning proves just how vital the Emerging Talent Competition is to rising musicians like themselves. Delivering cuts from their excellent debut EP, April’s ‘Polyawkward’, there’s a real urgency to the band’s musicianship, as they carousel between the intoxicating art-punk groove of ‘A55’ and the criss-crossing guitar lines of ‘Mental Maths’.
Spoken-word closer ‘Yorkshire Tapas’ finds Fontaine sitting at the lip of the stage, tears of joy and disbelief streaming down her face. She changes the lyrics of the final verse to embrace the sizeable crowd in front of her: “Glastonbury, if you need love / I’ve got enough to cover you,” she repeats, making for a welcome reminder of how memorable and inspiring a truly brilliant early-doors festival performance can be.
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