Quick, don’t think, just shout out the most Glastonbury act that pops into your head. Billy Bragg, you say? The Levellers? Chumbawamba? Coldplay? King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard? All perfectly reasonable answers, and well done for being particularly on-message if you’re shouting Lizzo or AJ Tracey. But I think I can confidently say that no workplace in the world was just shocked to hear its indiest drone worker just shout “James Arthur”.
Yet James Arthur is as Glastonbury as they come, right? Everything about his pound shop Sheeran, white boy cod-soul music says he’s licked the sacred stones, drunk deep of the ancient piss river and lost a chunk of his psych in the slurry tsunami of ‘05. Or at least he thinks so. “I think I was made to perform at Glastonbury,” he told This Morning last week, having pulled the healing grubs from his hair, put down the bongo and put some clothes on just seconds before taking to the sofa.
Arthur blamed “snobbery” over his X Factor route to success for his failure to be booked for Glasto ‘19. “It’s amazing what the likes of myself, Olly Murs, Little Mix, what we’ve been able to do to be considered viable enough,” he said, “to come from a show like that and still be relevant because there is a little bit of snobbery attached to being from a reality TV show.”
A little bit? There’s more snobbery attached to X Factor winners than you’d find at a Jacob Rees-Mogg peasant hunt, and rightly so. You auditioned for a management company and record deal like everyone else, but your audition included more mainstream primetime TV exposure than any normal act could ever dream of, meaning that you bypassed all the subsequent years of slogging your way to a well-earned respect over two or three albums and we got lumbered with you on Cowell’s grubby say-so no matter how shit your records were. You’re like the next Tory leader; we have an instinctive disdain for you because you were handed success and influence by a tiny cabal of self-serving puppet-masters and voted the winner by people who don’t care how much the rest of us suffer.
Arthur can’t blame snobbery on Glastonbury’s choice not to book him though. Has he seen this year’s line up? Some of the most populist chart-moulded bullshit since Jive Bunny has found its way on there. Someone’s decided that Tom Walker and Sam Fender need the career leg-up (or cynical grasp at credibility) of a mid-afternoon slot on the John Peel stage. The Other Stage, once the bastion of vital and challenging alternative culture, this year features Snow Patrol and Lewis Capaldi. Friday on the Pyramid is so stuffed with beige school-run mediocrity – Odell, Ezra, Bastille – that Sheryl Crow’s set will feel like punk’s invaded again. There’s such a bonanza of bland out there that most of us will be getting terrifying flashbacks to our last V festival.
He also can’t claim to deserve a spot. No-one can. The Wombats played Wembley Arena the other month – they’re on at 2pm on The Other Stage. Frank Turner’s sold out countless arenas, having playing thousands upon thousands of cult-like folk-punk gigs, and he’s finally been given a headline slot – on the Avalon Stage. Kylie Minogue? Sunday afternoon alright? James is not being hard done by, he just hasn’t done it hard enough.
Because if James Arthur was truly ‘Glastonbury’, he wouldn’t be chewing out his agent for not getting him a premium Park profile slot. He’d be grabbing a guitar, jumping the fence and playing at every campfire, bandstand and naked hand-fasting he can convince to let him have a go. This isn’t like “those other big festivals” James, we don’t give a toss about platinum sales and lucrative syncs. We respect the smell of Pilton grit beneath fingernails and the snarl of love ripping the throat out of injustice here. We’re not all that keen on homophobic online slurs either, but we are in favour of second chances. So come down, neck a flagon of cosmic Scrumpy, kick up some dust in the Avalon Inn, get some glitter in your arsecrack. Then we’ll talk.