Glastonbury – ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ review: a triumph despite the setbacks

Worthy Farm, May 22: much like a night at the actual festival, this eclectic, gorgeously shot five-hour event leaves you exhausted and elated all at once

What would Glastonbury be without tearing your hair out and manically refreshing a web page in order to get there in the first place? Before fans are admitted into the fantastical world of the ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ livestream this evening, a vast number of them are met with technical difficulties immediately familiar to anyone who’s gone through the painstaking process of trying to nab a ticket to the legendary festival itself. Painful memories of the inevitable ‘sold out’ notice begin to surface.

As with the real-life Glastonbury, though, all frustrations melt away once you’re inside the fence. By far the most ambitious livestream event of the pandemic era, Live At Worthy Farm is a stunning evening of entertainment that makes us realise quite how much we’ve been missing over the last year.

Anyone who’s been to Glastonbury knows that the festival’s real magic often takes place away from the Pyramid Stage and other main centres – it’s a festival defined by its deep, dark corners, rabbit holes and largely undiscovered secrets. ‘Live At The Worthy Farm’ honours this, presenting performances from every corner of the sprawling site and ensuring the five-hour event is a wonderfully creative spin on the livestreams that have fast become the norm.

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Damon Albarn performing as part of Glastonbury’s ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ event. Credit: Anna Barclay.

First up on the bill are Wolf Alice, who get a lift up to the Stone Circle for their set, which christens forthcoming third album ‘Blue Weekend’ and sees them debut new material. As far as an opening track to usher in the night ahead, ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ is pretty hard to beat.

Following the four-piece are two of Britain’s songwriter sweethearts. First up, Michael Kiwanuka carries on surfing the Mercury-winning wave behind third album ‘KIWANUKA’, sheltering from the rain in a tent while playing highlights from the album that confirm his star will continue to rise.

He’s followed by George Ezra, who strips things back to the bare bones with a solo acoustic set performed next to a raging bonfire. The short-and-sweet 10-minute set shows that, even when removing his full-band bombast, the crooner has the voice and the tunes to command a space on his own.

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George Ezra performing as part of Glastonbury’s ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ event. Credit: Anna Barclay.

IDLES, meanwhile, crash through highlights from their three albums in a junkyard barn on the farm. Performing in a circle, they turn the stage into something closer to a boxing ring. Behind them, a welder sends literal sparks flying to add to the sonic fireworks the band conjure up.

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The camera then leaves the dark depths of the barn into bright sunshine before swooping over the green fields of Worthy Farm and introducing ‘No One Knows My Name’, a poignant poem centred around Little Amal, a 3.5 metre-tall puppet of a young refugee girl that is the centrepiece of the Walk With Amal project. The event will see the puppet travel from the Syria-Turkey border to the UK in a travelling arts festival raising awareness of the refugee crisis.

The interlude is one of a series of spoken-word snippets spread throughout the evening. Later on, PJ Harvey takes us on a nighttime walk through the farm while reciting the mystical piece ‘Ira on the Nether-edge’, before George The Poet gives a powerful statement on race, class and togetherness in front of an empty Pyramid Stage. “Being unemployed doesn’t make you null and void,” he says emphatically.

HAIM
HAIM performing as part of Glastonbury’s ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ event. Credit: Anna Barclay.

Smoke then rises from the festival’s iconic Stone Circle to signal the arrival of HAIM, who play a gorgeous sunset slot and mark the long-awaited live debut of their huge level-up of a third album, ‘Women In Music Pt. III’. From ‘Summer Girl’ to ‘Don’t Wanna’, HAIM’s newest songs feel tailor made for sunset on the Pyramid Stage, a setting that will surely await them at – fingers crossed – a full-scale Glastonbury in 2022.

As the sun finally disappears from view, the sisters step across to a side stage to close the set with the darker, poppier moments of their third album. Following single ‘Now I’m In It’ is closer ‘I Know Alone’, the band’s flirtation with UKG, that ends the set in a cacophony of euphoric pop and proves their future headlining credentials.

Planned or not, the trio’s set closer is the perfect segue into the heart-bursting headline set from Coldplay that follows. Set in a circle just down from the Pyramid Stage – a stage Chris Martin and co. have headlined more times than any other act on Earth – their show proves that they’ve still got the chops to pull off the biggest shows on the planet.

While we’ve all missed live music this last year, it’s never felt so tantalisingly close as when the heavens open to introduce a rendition of ‘The Scientist’ – the performance feels all the emptier for the lack of drunken revellers belting the enduring classic out across the field, their voices rising above Martin’s. Right on cue, Martin then asks guitarist Jonny Buckland to play a sample of fake crowd noise, hammering home the dystopian nature of such an event.

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Coldplay performing as part of Glastonbury’s ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ event. Credit: Anna Barclay.

After the band rattle through the hits, with a debut of delicate new song ‘Human Heart’ thrown in for good measure, Damon Albarn – another Pyramid headlining veteran – shows off his softer side back up at the Stone Circle. Accompanied by a string section under a suspended full moon, the Blur frontman performs a career-spanning set.

Drawing from his new work ‘The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows’ alongside soft versions of Gorillaz‘ ‘On Melancholy Hill’, Blur classics ‘Out Of Time’ and ‘This Is A Low’ and tracks from across his solo career, it’s a reminder that, beyond rowdy Britpop bangers and embodying genre-hopping cartoons, Albarn is also a deeply affecting singer-songwriter.

Alongside HAIM, Jorja Smith is another who’s due her big Glastonbury moment. Her smooth-as-silk set, performed in a magical setting in the woods, hits its peak when she’s joined by Enny and Amia Brave for a rendition of ‘Peng Black Girls’, one of the breakout songs of 2021, adding attitude and edge to her faultless neo-soul.

Just days after dropping her new EP ‘Be Right Back’ – described as a “waiting room” between studio albums – the set proves Smith is making bold steps forwards into her next era.

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Jorja Smith performing as part of Glastonbury’s ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ event. Credit: Anna Barclay.

If no Glastonbury would be complete without Chris Martin showing up, then it probably also needs a Radiohead-related secret set. Playing inside the ‘beehive’ in the festival’s Greenpeace field – a wooden room covered with parachutes – Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood launch The Smile tonight, a new project housing more than a few surprises.

While they’ve been known to put their name to atmospheric, floaty mood music more than anything else in recent years, The Smile sees the Radiohead pair go straight for the neck: the handful of songs they debut tonight find Yorke and Greenwood more melody focused, accessible and furious than either of them have been in years.

Backed by longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, whose jazz background gives the band a loose, fluid backbone, The Smile’s sound revolves around Greenwood’s brilliantly playful guitar lines, which traverse blues, rock’n’roll and pure pop with the kind of relentless energy first shown on ‘The Bends’ and that have been somewhat absent from the last handful of Radiohead albums.

While the songs travel from booming synth-pop (‘We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings’) to radio-ready rock – third song ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’ is easily the most accessible song Yorke has put his name to in over a decade – the early defining characteristic of The Smile is the band’s overall commitment to melody. When and if they release the music debuted tonight, they have some hits-in-waiting.

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Kano performing as part of Glastonbury’s ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ event. Credit: Anna Barclay.

Back out under the stars, Kano makes a late play for performance of the day. Under driving rain, the rapper once again proves himself one of the most versatile voices around, whether starting the evening’s celebrations with club-ready hits or making vital political statements. The set’s most devastating moment comes on ‘Trouble’, where audio of a woman reporting a knife attack on a teenager is followed by a performance of the track while a body bleeds out on screen, covering the stage in red by its climax. “We don’t want no trouble,” a choir sings over and over.

Then to end the night, the camera takes us down to Glastonbury’s seedy late-night area in the South East Corner, where Honey Dijon is joined by Roisin Murphy for a thunderous send-off. Playing to a lucky few revellers from the window of a hollowed out bus, Dijon’s set of pummelling house and disco is the perfect cherry on top of the evening.

Much like a night at Glastonbury itself, ‘Live At Worthy Farm’ leaves us exhausted, elated, disorientated, moved, grinning ear to ear and ready to do it all again tomorrow – just as it should be.

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