Emily Eavis may have a point when she keeps telling the media it's been the best one yet. Every year we return, we come back feeling like it was just such a great event and that we can't quite believe how phenomenal it was. The way the different areas with such diverse music and aesthetics lend themselves to one joyous whole that is moreish, decadent, delightful and bags of fun is incredible.
This year we became wholly amazed in particular at how much of a great job Shangri La did to welcome extreme metal and throw incredible after parties and invite legends to DJ. Meanwhile, the way of life in the Tipi field was enough to keep us there for a week itself. Jeremy Corbyn's speech couldn't have gone better and all the huge bands headlining came, saw and conquered. The most outstanding and memorable of our time there has been documented below in an attempt to share why it's somewhere that we can't help but want to come back to time and time again.
Napalm Death in Shangri La was life-changing
For many there’s only one destination that matters once the headliners have finished: Shangri La. It’s easy to be sceptical about things when they get to a certain level of popularity, too, as much of a buzz word as it was, a couple of years of not visiting this festival had made us lose sight of what it was people were excited about. But coming back, crikey, there’s nothing quite like it: Shangri La takes your breath away. What’s more this year it has a trick up its sleeve by embracing extreme metal. Yep, that’s right, you heard us correctly: Glastonbury has finally embraced the heavy genre of grindcore and kicking off the first of many performances fitting under that umbrella this weekend are Napalm Death.
The excitement is palpable - admittedly that’s a word so overly used but it truly is. The adrenaline pumping through the crowd and the band themselves before they take to the stage is not touched all weekend. There’s a real sense that this is a seminal moment in Glastonbury’s history as a music festival. Singer Barney Greenway bursts on stage like a boxer stepped into a bare knuckle fight ready to take the energy up to a new level and play the gig like its his last day on earth. This unhinged attitude is reflected in the crowd as circle pits break out almost immediately and don’t stop until the end.
The next best thing about Napalm Death being here is that they’re actually the most appropriate band Glastonbury could wish for. The band embrace all the values that the festival hold dearly. These being social and environmental justice, anti-war and other level headed things that put humanity first. Greenway keeps his politically subversive voice when introducing songs; he is all about dignity in the face of corrpuption.
What's more, Napalm Death are seminal. In the early 80s when Napalm Death first started making music there was nothing else like it around at the time. They've paved the way for so many other bands to take on elements of the most heavy, dark genres and push it to the extreme.For it to be them, Napalm Death, who are nobly riled and expressing it with this awe-inspiring, aggressive, melodic and hypnotic noise is just the greatest feeling to have on the opening day of Glastonbury. True heroes who deserve a place in the rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame.
The TIPI fields are mesmerising
The TIPI fields is a stunning part of the festival tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main drag. In fact, what’s going on further down the hill and on the main stages is of little concern to most people living up here; many of its dwellers have been here for weeks before the festival properly begins. It’s this love of the festival lifestyle that is such a calming mood to be around. An open mic Tipi with an indoor fire, moonshine being shared, - a carving workshop and solar vinyl lounge are just some of the assets it has.
The first things that strikes us, though, is the view. Seeing the tops of all the Tipi’s whilst perched on a log seat around the fire is about as luxurious a detox from London as you can get in Glastonbury. The escape is heightened and plays on the romanticised ideals we have of pre-industrial living. And whilst there is a modern touch with electricity on offer, all power used here is solar - and people cook on open fires instead of gas stoves.
The indigenous culture that the area is paying tribute to are the Haida people of the North West Pacific. Traditional carvings are displayed all over the field with the most obvious ones adorning a 10 – 15 metre Totem pole erected by the Llangoed carvers - with the help of other neighbouring groups - over the past few years. The months of work that go into erecting these each year - together with the increasing number of designs on the totem pole is staggering.
Central to life in the Tipi fields is the fire pit that acts as a communal gathering place. The residents of the field light it whilst doing a ritual of burning white sage and blowing a conch Lit on Tuesday before the festival begins. We’re fortunate enough to have been invited a day early to participate in the ceremony as the sun sets for one last time before the gates open. From this moment, the fire burns continuously until people leave a week or so after the festival and so it feels particularly special and there’s a respect for the tree sacrificed.
Helping our time there feel that bit more enjoyable is the Solar Vinyl Lounge that’s set up beside the fire where its Dj plays vintage 78s with rare Elvis, Louis Armstrong and some Chuck Berry hits. Listeners can relax in many of the deck chars whilst tuning into this intimate session, enjoying that special crackle so satisfying to fans of old records. A great way to settle in.
You can spend a day at Lost Horizons
As mentioned, the TIPI fields have much more to them than meets the eye. Especially great is the Lost Horizons area. It’s a private garden at the top of the TIPI fields designed to accommodate a naked mixed sauna trampoline, open fire, yurt lounge, meze kitchen, and live music stage. Pay twenty pounds and you have unlimited access to this private, relaxed area.
On the whole, there’s something quite exotic about the set up. It does well to play on our romanticism of the early days of Glastonbury in 1971 when nudity was a large part of the aesthetic that made it a radical alternative to conservative norms and values upheld by the government.
Our highlight is seeing how much people are glued to its comforts. Even when Corbyn is drawing the biggest crowd in Glastonbury in years, many of the people in Lost Horizons are working on their sense of wellbeing and opt to stream the speech via radio from the comfort of the fire whilst the sweet melodic sound of a new band led by London singer Ruby Confue keep the mood settled and jovial – it’s a proper break from the rush of modern living up here.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were the rowdier than any Pyramid stage gig
The night before Australia’s best surf/garage-psych sorts King Gizzard play the John Peel Stage, they’re playing a full house in a pub-sized venue at the top of the Park Stage named The Crows Nest. It fits about 200 people so understandably not everyone is inside. But since it’s such a long walk up the hill to the witch hat-shaped tent, we’ve decided to make the most of it and breach security to make it in.
No thanks to us it’s now so squashed that it feels closer to a rugby scrum than a gig. But it’s refreshing to see this much-unhinged chaos at a rock show. We feel part of a crowd that are all wholly dedicated to giving their all for their favourite new band, who have remarkably released ten albums since 2012 with 2016’s Nonagon Infinity highly-acclaimed.
It’s scenes like these in the Crowd Nest that Dave Grohl will have learned his love of punk rock and all those images you see of wild Nirvana gigs are very reminiscent of what’s going on here. The same level of intensity, where every single person sacrifices themselves to the chaos just doesn’t happen at Foo Fighters down at the Pyramid Stage. The Main Stage is a gig where you have patches of passionate fans next to people who’ve been stood there all day because it’s what they think they feel obliged to see headliners. Of course, there’s a spectacle to that slow, but guaranteed if Grohl was here, he’d be half wishing he was playing a slot like this,too. The adrenaline is just so overwhelming - in a good way.
Oh My God! It’s the Church were the most outrageous
Glastonbury is at its best when it’s at its weirdest and most controversial, so finding a band like Oh My God! It’s the Church is an exciting discovery. Having heard a friend who’d caught them last year praise them with a childish level of excitement in his eyes opting to go along with him was a must. Our introduction to them begins on Thursday night at the Bimble Inn, a small tent putting as much emphasis on its fine selection of ales as it does its bands. It’s packed out because word has got around about this 'church service', who hardly make the BBC or the programme coverage because they’re just too outrageous.
We gate-crash the front alongside fans giddy with excitement cheering at the frontman’s every move. The frontman takes on the role of Pastor and Pentecostal pervert Rev. Michael Alabama Jackson. He puts on a southern drawl whilst praising “sexy Jesus.” As for the Pastor’s preach, it’s all about partying and continuing to keep character throughout their set every comment is a black humoured spin on the church. We’re told to cleanse our souls through dance when they bust out covers of the likes of Outkast and Fatboy Slim. At the same time, one of the vocalists gets a massive bottle of absinthe from and pours it down people’s throats. Never have we seen a band get such a crowd reaction for a set of covers. The theme works as a hilarious treat.
Jeremy Corbyn is a legend
On Saturday afternoon at the Pyramid Stage, Michael Eavis introduces Jeremy Corbyn to the stage. Attracting one of the biggest audiences of the entire weekend, close to 100K people turn up to hear the leader of the Labour Party speak. Awaiting his arrival, chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ to the tune of the White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’ fill the Pyramid area. Corbyn’s inspiring speech prompts loud cheers from the crowd, especially when Corbyn calls for social, racial and gender equality. Having a good pop at Trump too, the speech will surely goes down in history as one of the most important of our time.
Run the Jewels star Killer Mike bravely performs following the death of his mother
One of the bravest performances of the weekend comes from Run the Jewels star Killer Mike, whose mother died earlier in the week. The star wrote on Instagram earlier on the Saturday that he was “doing this show today for you girl. You gotta grind Michael…I love you girl. I miss you. I adore you.” Dedicating the set to her on stage as well, the gig is one of the highlights of Saturday afternoon on the Pyramid Stage. Appearing just after Corbyn, their encore of ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ packs an extra political punch with the crowd. Killer Mike didn’t just perform, he smashes it. At one point, the two look at each other and clap as they admire the crowd – the biggest of their careers to date.
Jarvis Cocker shows his love for Abba and the Bee Gees in a Secret DJ set
At the Greenpeace area on Saturday evening, Jarvis Cocker surprises festival goers by turning up to play a secret DJ set. With his trademark Sheffield accent and giant specs, Jarvis stirs up the crowd before opening with Abba’s ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ and The Bee Gee’s ‘Staying Alive.’ Word quickly spreads and the area fills as fans rush to see him playing a host of pop and soul well into the early hours of Sunday morning. Jarvis even takes the time for fan requests and dedications, Phoenix-Nights style, making this one of the most entertaining DJ sets of the weekend. Ending on a remix of ‘Don’t You Want Me’, the crowd continues to dance long after Jarvis leaves.
Silver Hayes has a progressively global line-up
Formerly Dance Village, this field has come a long way since being somewhere that felt solely dedicated to DJs. Evolving to accommodate a lot of live music, there’s a mix of genre’s. The brainchild behind it, Malcolm Hayes, has a global outlook meaning there’s musicians flowing in from Africa, South America and beyond as well as crème de la crème of the new London groups: Dave, AJ Tracey, 67, and Nadia Rose. The latter is joined by her female only crew; including her girlfriend and best friend. The group play one of the sets of the weekend as they draw on hip-hop, bashment and dancehall. Nadia Rose's multifarious sound is an energetic snapshot of young London with an energy level that could crack America.
Of the groups who draw on sounds from afar, Baloji is a particularly interesting act. He’s a Belgian rapper of Conoglese origin who dresses dapper and draws on his life experience of loving: hip hop, deep house, and soul, funk ,and jazz - the diversity of influences reflecting his trans-cultural upbringing, and ability to imaginatively synthesise disparate elements. And nearly 20 years performing live means he sings and conducts such a powerful live sound that you’d be surpised he’s not more famous than he is.
Also Princess Nokia who has just signed to Rough Trade, catches our ear. Despite her vast commercial success we weren’t aware of her as an artist and it was just a chance stumble that led us into the tent to catch her set. She’s a total star who makes progressively worldly alternative hip hop and R&B music that speaks to all kinds of people. This music fits perfectly into the Hayes family’s vision of what this area of the festival should be doing.
Barry Gibb is awesome
The Glastonbury legends slot has been filled by all the greats over the years – Dolly Parton’s packed set last was one the key festival highlight of 2014. 2017 proves no different, with Barry Gibb performing one of the most revered sets of the weekend – and arguably one of the best legend slots of all time. Gibb opens with Bee Gee hits ‘Jive Talking’ and ‘You Should be Dancing’, ensuring the packed Pyramid Stage crowd are all joyously dancing in the mid-afternoon sun. What follows is a perfect career retrospective, with Gibb covering an extensive selection of Bee Gee’s hits, songs he’d written for others such as ‘Islands in the Stream’ for Kenny Rogers as well as duets with other artists, today performed with his backing singer.
After losing all three of his brothers, Barry Gibb is the only surviving member of the group left. Telling the BBC before the show how nervous he was, Gibb is visibly moved by the reaction of the enormous crowd who show Gibb so much positivity and love throughout the set. Hits from the movie the Bee Gee’s sound tracked, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ prompt a mass crowd singalong and security-guard dance-along. In the crowd are a group of friends who have all come dressed as 1970s Barry Gibb: he picks them out and takes one of their sparkly gold jackets, wearing it on stage. The affection between Gibb and the audience is genuinely moving.
The set makes you realise just how extensive the Bee Gee’s catalogue is, with hit after hit being performed such as the run which included ‘Night Fever/More than a Woman’ medley, ‘Words’ and ‘Tragedy.’ Whilst his brothers may not be there, a tribute is paid to them with pictures of the group in their peak 70’s period. Gibb may have had reservations about performing solo beforehand but he needn’t have: his on point vocals, well-chosen song choices and crowd engagement means Barry Gibb has been reborn as a solo artist in what is a stunning Glastonbury set. Barry, we salute you.
Confidence Man makes us want to get down
One of the highlights of the festival is dance-pop quartet, Confidence Man. Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, they achieve the perfect balance of fun beats, energetic dancing and bubble gum pop lyrics. In all of the three sets they play across the festival, fans are bouncing and ‘got down’ to their music. At a Confidence Man gig, I realise this means something quite particular. During their song ‘Boyfriend’, the band gesture the crowd to ‘get down’ – the whole crowd then kneels before jumping up in sync with their lead singers and dancers before energetically engaging in some freaky dancing, Bez style. Enormous fun, Confidence Man are a band to watch for the future as their packed gigs demontrate.
Craig David was really, really, good
Sometimes you have to put up with the acts you don’t want to see at Glastonbury in order to get a good slot for the ones you really do want to see. Arriving at the Pyramid Stage on Saturday lunchtime to get the best view possible for The National later that day, this Gig Wise reviewer brought her ear plugs for Craig David’s set, fully intending not to listen to any of it (sorry, Craig). However, something a bit special happens. Craig David turns out to be really, really, good. Pitch perfect throughout, his songs have aged surprisingly well and his newer songs were strong, showing a marked change in direction – especially ‘When The Bassline Drops’. He also spins the decks and leads the crowd in a perfectly-judged hit medley including a TLC ‘No Scrubs’ mashup. David wins over the crowd and stages an improbable comeback proving that Glastonbury continues to surprise time and time again.
Dancing at West Holts is brilliant
One of the most fun stages over the weekend turns out to be West Holts, with fans gathering there for some of the most joyous dance sets of the weekend. Two that particularly spring to mind include Moderat and Justice on Sunday evening. Moderat lead the crowd in their unique blend of dance-electro krautrock; Justice are more trance-like – their combination of electro-metal is much heavier and louder than that of Moderat. Both use stunning light show visuals which complement the music perfectly. Large crowds gather in the field and basically have a mass rave – and it continues long after both acts finish.
Nile Rogers tells us he wrote ‘Get Lucky’ after cancer diagnosis
Despite being of the greatest writers, performers and producers of all time, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how monumental Nile Rogers is in the history of funk and disco. The songs he writes usually go to number one, sell millions of copies and become embedded into the consciousness of many, time and time again. Today’s set is a jubilant celebration of an enviable career and of survival – not only has Rogers survived the industry for over forty years, he’s also a survivor of cancer.
After being diagnosed with a serious form of cancer and told to “get his affairs in order” four years ago, Rogers tells the audience he did that by collaborating with Daft Punk and Pharell Williams on ‘Get Lucky’, one of the biggest hits of his and their careers. If there’s any way to say, “fuck you cancer”, this is probably it. Telling the crowd he is now “cancer free”, the set sees Rogers and Chic playing hit after hit – the run of ‘Everybody Dance’, ‘I’m Coming Out’ and ‘Upside Down’ show just how extensive and popular his song-writing skills are. Hits such as the cover of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ as well as Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ prompt mass dancing and crowd enjoyment.
At the end, Rogers and Chic are joined by a host of backstage staff and artists and join in a mass jam – Dave Grohl can be spotted busting a dance move at the front. Nile Rogers and Chic pull one of the most eclectic crowds of the weekend so far proving their music transcends not just genres but audience borders too. A triumphant set, you have to wonder what it will take to get them headlining Glastonbury after such a sophisticated show of skill.
Glastonbury never sleeps
It's 5am and we stumble across a secret bar in Shangri La on Sunday morning where a DJ from Liverpool, who Tim Burgess regularly books for his Tim Peaks stage at festivals, appears. The DJ has just taken to the decks and is playing house and disco whilst adding using filters, echoes and beat juggling to create a jubilant funky overall sound that people are going completely nuts to.
Revellers dance around the bar and also on a balcony that’s been glued on to the outside of a graffiti’d, derelict Victoria line tube train carriage that directly overlooks the dancefloor, how they got this we, don't know - but it's great. Inside the train is a living room where conversation is flowing as people recharge their legs for more vigorous dancing. Growls is one to watch too and it's about time a young DJ came along to be the next Mr.Scruff so why not Growls?
The Eavis family love The Killers
It’s the worst kept secret of the weekend and we’re side of stage watching The Killers do their thing on The John Peel Stage. Michael and Emily Eavis are here with huge smiles on their faces. It had been ten years since they headlined the Pyramid stage and so their admiration for the Las Vegas band is hardly a secret but there was something heart warming about how sincere they are in their love of their music. Other celebrity fans include Jimmy Carr who seems like good mates with Brandon Flowers and has been chatting before with matching slicked back black hair.
Being this close to The Killers also brings to light just how much of a well-oiled, professional and tight indie rock unit they are. Featuring two guitarists, a drummer, a keys player and a bassist, they have a lot of talent on stage but it’s the way the attempt to go beyond what their instruments are capable of with one person that’s impressive. They, like The Libertines and other big bands, employ a guitar technician who also focuses on solely producing the lead guitarists huge sound , creating that dynamic, reverb-laden anthem akin to The Edge - a sound as important to the impact of The Killers as Brandon Flowers’ unforgettable, hook-y vocal parts.
The set is predictably hit-driven but doesn’t feel overly nostalgic because their new song, ‘The Man’ sounds like one of the strongest: it’s the best of classic rock, shoegaze, glam rock, jangle pop and so much more. This current Killers band could be the best we’ve ever had: their shows are unmissable as they are now.
Sheeran delighted his fans but didn't silence haters
Closing the Pyramid Stage on Sunday is Mr. Marmite himself, Ed Sheeran, a musician who seems to be as divisive as our political machine. The ‘Shape Of You’ singer has a huge crowd before him and his performance is as sweet and chirpy as you might expect. For some, this may have been a huge turn off, - but there’s something very enchanting about Ed’s demeanour. As a performer, he hasn’t changed much since his very early days. The man who stood up there on the Pyramid Stage and smoothly worked through a selection of his hits, old and new, has clearly been through a huge transition over the past few years, yet, in essence, he is still the same gentle, friendly soul who was gigging his arse off back in 2010. Sheeran’s performance is a lovely way to end things on the Pyramid Stage, relaxed, jovial and uplifting – not for everyone but those who were there left with big smiles on their faces.
DJ battles are better than they sound on paper
This is a friend suggestion and not something we initially are inclined to go along to. The very idea of DJ battle sounded a bit naff. But how wrong are we. We get there and see Youth joined with an all-star cast of musical icons particularly well-known in alternative music world. Making us slightly star struck is none other than Hawkind’s Nik Turner on Sax and Mixmaster Morris - the legendary ambient DJ who was prominent on lineups during the height of acid house.
Jah Wobble, on the other hand, is an absolute legend who played those dub-y basslines that resulted in the post punk album of the decade, Public Image Ltd’s Metal Box. But he hasn’t brought a posse and regularly seems distracted. Subsequently, the power is all with Youth on this battle as they play some rare and popular dub tracks that have Sunday night party goers in Shangri La hooked in.
The MC on Youth’s side also does an immense job of engaging with the audience and as someone who’s spent his life running nights in Brixton he’s well suited to doing so. What follows the icon clash is also quite remarkable. There’s a battle between two soundsystem’s from Colombia bringing elements of traditional cumbia and salsa with house, jungle, and techno. It’s the perfect end to a night.
The esoteric values of Glastonbury are kept alive by Hawkwind
At the Youth vs Jah Wobble clash we meet with 76-year-old Nik Turner from Hawkwind. He is someone who’s been involved at the genesis of Glastonbury and also played Isle Of Wight on the same bill as Hendrix when Hawkwind were at their height. Asked how the majority of time spent at Glastonbury 2017 has been he tells us he's paying tribute to Andrew Kerr. It's Andrew Kerr that founded Glastonbury Fair as a free festival named Glastonbury Fair (soon to be renamed) the following summer.
Kerr upheld strong spiritual beliefs in leylines after being inspired by the book The View Over Atlantis by John Michell. This book resulted in the decision to place the Pyramid Stage where it’s still erected to this day. Turner doesn't want to lose sight of how it started and keeps communicating what sacred space this is. To do so, he spreads the gospel by holding an open jam session in the Cabaret and Circus field.
Thom Yorke made reference to the leyline during Radiohead’s headline performance as blank faces stared back at him – perhaps Turner’s effort in the circus and cabaret field need will have some impact in enlightening people with its under-communicated past.
We may have found Jools Holland’s new favourite singer
There can be little doubting that Josh Barry has the potential to be Quite A Big Thing. He's an inarguably gifted singer, and it would be a harsh critic that suggests he doesn't put the hours in - he plays seven (!) sets throughout the course of the weekend. On Tuesday after the festival you half expected him to pop up in your kitchen back home to belt out a couple of numbers. His prize for winning Glastonbury's Emerging Talent Competition this year though is opening the John Peel tent on Saturday morning.
And it’s kind of everything you’d want from a stage opening set, assuming your hangover can take his remarkable verbal gymnastics. The good-sized crowd for-this-time-of-day is fully won over by the end. It’s classy, sexy soul - the kind that tend to be right up the BBC’s street. You can imagine Jools Holland will have this guy on within a year. Having attended the last four Emerging Talent Competition finals in Pilton (full-disclosure: as a first-round judge of the competition), this is the most exciting of the 32 finalists I've seen.
Credit goes to authors Marcus Barnes on Ed Sheeran and Mark Mullohan for Barry Gib