Skepta, ZZ Top and more – Friday’s music at Glastonbury 2016 – The Guardian (blog)

The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, with Damon Albarn – Pyramid Stage

Damon Albarn with the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians down on Worthy Farm, Pilton.


Damon Albarn with the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians down on Worthy Farm, Pilton.

“So here we are, Friday. Reasons to be cheerful? OK, it’s not raining!” said Damon Albarn, introducing the first act on the Pyramid stage. Could he really feel such sunny confidence? Not quite. “I have a heavy heart today,” he continued. “Democracy has failed us. Democracy has failed us because it was ill-informed.”

At that point, it would have felt a bit embarrassing if what followed was more your standard festival fare – skinny indie boys with guitars or variants thereof – but instead came this 40-strong collective of Syrian musicians, assembled under the auspices of Albarn’s Africa Express project. The story of their appearance is itself extraordinary – the musicians scattered to the winds since 2011, now reassembled “Blues Brothers style” – and even though there were glitches on this occasion and the set threatened to overrun (no sprawling Africa Express show has ever finished promptly on time), they managed to see off more than just the threat of rain.

Swooping strings on the track known as Mounir Song were heart-stopping, but the orchestra also proved adaptable, setting the scene for assorted guests: first the magnificently dressed Tunisian singer Mounir Trodi, then ngoni maestro Bassekou Kouyate and kora player Seckou Keita. Albarn himself followed, leading the musicians through a version of Blur’s Out of Time, before rappers Kano and Bashy came out for a brief stab at Gorillaz’s White Flag. Some of the Syrians played here with that other band of Albarn’s when they headlined the same stage in 2010. That evening, a meandering show seemed to lose some segments of the audience, but at Glastonbury 2016, this show struck a real chord. Suddenly the forecast for the rest of the day changed: further bursts of optimism now apparently possible. CLS

Gwenno – Park stage

Gwenno … This was NOT taken at Glastonbury.


Gwenno … this was NOT taken at Glastonbury. Photograph: Jacek Davis

There’s a peaceful protest taking place at the Park stage. Gwenno’s performance, a dreampop lament that begins with a statement about the patriarchy and confronts all manners of doomish political prospects throughout its 30 minutes, is as triumphant as it is foreboding. A modest crowd assembles in the bucolic setting to experience shoegazy guitars and glitter-bomb synths that provide a spacey backdrop for more barbed messages. The former Pipette, who hasn’t slept a wink (“what a shit show!”) and whose voice cracks under the weight of emotion at one stage, plays songs from her Welsh-language album Y Dydd Olaf, which takes its name from writer Owain Owain’s 1976 sci-fi novel, and addresses all manners of poignant messages: media manipulation (she dedicates one track to Chelsea Manning), optimism in the face of adversity and the decline of minority languages.

A simple setup of drums, guitars and a synth provides a surreal, sorrowful spiritual quality to her songs, which are broken up by a bit of humour but mainly by heartache in the wake of the referendum result. “I still believe in people, that’s all I want to say,” she says, halfway through a set that’s as broken-hearted and beaten as it is triumphant. “Don’t forget that your heart is in the revolution.” A heavenly soundscape to a dystopian future. HG

Dan Stuart with Twin Tones – John Peel stage

Dan Stuart with Twin Tones … Our writer turns photographer.


Dan Stuart with Twin Tones … our writer turns photographer. Photograph: Gwilym Mumford for the Guardian

You’ll do well to find a more dapper bunch of chaps at the festival than Twin Tones, Dan Stuart’s Mexican backing band. Decked out in matching black waistcoats and Colonel Sanders-style bow ties they march on stage and launch straight into a Morricone-sized portion of spaghetti western, which in truth is a slightly bewildering proposition at 11am to open the John Peel stage. What follows is rather more conventional – though arguably more soothing – fare for the sore heads assembled, with Stuart and friends offering up a Southern take on the former Green On Red man’s thumping college rock.

In keeping with so many other artists at the festival, Stuart, an American living in Mexico City, provides an outsider’s take on last night’s devastating referendum result. “It’s a sad day for Britain today,” he says. “Very sad day. You can’t go home, you can’t go back.” Still, the lovely winsome jangle of Last Blue Day helps to cheer up spirits, even if Stuart does deflate things somewhat at the end. “It’s a blue day today in the UK,” he sighs. Given the grey skies overhead, you suspect he’s not referring to the weather. GM

James – Other stage

James’ lead singer Tim Booth entertains the crowd


James’s lead singer Tim Booth entertains the crowd Photograph: APEX/Jason Bryant

James’s scheduled start time of 11am comes and goes with no sign of the Other stage being opened to the public. Half an hour after they are due to have started, trucks are still delivering woodchip to the muddy morass at the front of the stage, and barriers are still keeping the crowd out. It’s something of a miracle, then, that the fences come down at 11.47am, and the band are playing by 11.51am. But in the rain, after that wait, you want to be comforted – and James aren’t playing along.

Their set is heavy on songs from their last album, and short on the big communal moments of their 80s heyday. Only Come Home, three songs in, gets knees bending along to the baggy shuffle and arms waving at the front, while Laid, to close, provokes the biggest cheer of the set. It’s not that they’re making no effort – Tim Booth, who resembles Ben Kingsley more closely with each passing year, gets all messianic at the barrier, getting his forehead smeared with mud for his trouble, and twice goes crowdsurfing. And his dancing is something to behold – less dad dancing than dad-who’s-been-on-a-shamanic-retreat dancing.

The people at the front, who know every word of every song, are delighted. The people near the back, less so. And they didn’t even play Sit Down. MH

Skepta – Pyramid stage

Skepta … ‘Imperial confidence’.


Skepta … ‘imperial confidence’. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

This was one of those gigs where you remember Glastonbury contains multitudes. Everyone who has flocked to the Pyramid stage appears to be under the age of 23, from topless lads in bucket hats forming a circle pit, to fearsomely impassive girls behind circular sunglasses. Grime MC Skepta greets them all with imperial confidence, barely needing his hype man to finish his bars as he tears into the likes of That’s Not Me and It Ain’t Safe; Crime Riddim is especially satisfying as he masticates his way through its ultra-chewy bars. Novelist, Jammer and Frisco turn up, riding a BMX around the stage and wielding Hennessy. “I am your fitness instructor,” he tells the audience as they bounce, but these tracks are big enough to attract a wider demographic outside the “middle-finger gang” of the front rows – “Ooh, that’s my dialling code!” trills one middle-aged woman on hearing Birmingham’s 0121 get called out in the ultra-menacing Nasty. BBT

Christine and the Queens – Other stage

Christine and the Queens


Christine and the Queens … ‘throwing punches’. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

As the heavens open, Héloïse Letissier stands at the lip of the stage, throwing punches at the dark clouds overhead. “Imagine you’re in Paris, listening to French disco,” she suggests. She needn’t have worried: the weather doesn’t seem to have caused any decrease in the Other stage crowd’s enjoyment of her performance. You can see why: it somehow contrives to be both heavily choreographed and heartfelt. She’s a hugely engaging presence, who slips between stylised routines with a plethora of backing dancers and improvised weirdness – there’s a protracted monologue about how different flowers resemble different R&B stars – with an enviable ease. It helps that the synth-heavy songs for Christine and the Queens’ debut album take on an anthemic quality in this setting. Tilted and Saint Claude sound particularly magnificent, notwithstanding her lengthy explanation of the latter song’s genesis inadvertently raising hoots of laughter: “I didn’t know his name,” she says of the track’s protagonist, “so I gave him one.” It also helps that she knows how to win over an audience: her own material is interpolated with covers of Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You and Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam. But mostly, it’s about her, a self-styled “hashtag tiny French angry thing”, who can sing, dance up a storm and rail at conformity between songs equally convincingly. As she throws flowers to the crowd – “it’s a first date,” she explains – she looks suspiciously like the real deal: an artist with a genuinely unique, pleasingly skewed take on pop, who might be on the verge of repeating her vast success in her homeland over here. AP

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Park stage

Unknown Mortal Orchestra … Ruban Neilson onstage, albeit at Coachella rather than Glastonbury.


Unknown Mortal Orchestra … Ruban Nielson onstage, albeit at Coachella rather than Glastonbury. Photograph: Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella

Conditions are dire up at the Park stage; so dire so that wading up the swampy hill feels like a brutal army-training assessment. The classic soul-rock fusion of Unknown Mortal Orchestra pulls an enormous audience, however – such a mass of hipsters, hippies, frazzled rockers and families that it feels as if the Kiwi group are on the fringes of a significant stage of their career. Prone to the odd moment of indulgent noodling, the group – mostly solitary and silent between songs – look like proper rock stars; enigmatic frontman Ruban Nielson is captivating with his trademark Lennon shades, hiding all multitudes of brain-fried exhaustion after years on the road. In fact, such is their authentic rock’n’roll presence that today’s set is like watching a 70s group reunite but with renewed relevance. The combination of classic rock, melancholic soul, chintzy easy listening, Beatles-esque melodies and songs about sexual fluidity and technological attachment provide a reassuring moment for every tribe at Worthy Farm. Ultimately though it’s the strange, rhythmic qualities that work so well at a festival such as this; part party band, party hedonistic melancholy. The band end with the modern funk euphoria of Can’t Keep Checking My Phone; the sun appears for just a brief moment. It needn’t have bothered: the audience are already beaming. HG

Vince Staples – West Holts stage

Vince Staples … This one’s from Bonnaroo. You don’t think he’d chance those shoes in Somerset, do you?


Vince Staples … this one’s from Bonnaroo. You don’t think he’d chance those shoes in Somerset, do you? Photograph: FilmMagic

“This is the Vince Staples show,”, a breathy voiceover coos at the start of Staples’ West Holts set. She’s not wrong – this is the Vince Staples show and the Californian rapper is proving himself to be quite the showman, a blur of jagged moves, slurred vocals and witty one-liners. Staples has been getting a reputation for being one of rap’s funniest figures, droll and absurdist in equal measure in interview. Here he makes a habit of undercutting his swaggering braggadocio with goofy asides. At one points he starts the almost obligatory chant of “fuck the police” before suddenly halting it with an apologetic “OK, but nobody go to jail tonight. I’m sorry if I got you in trouble.”

What’s all the more remarkable is that Staples’ cheeky stage persona sits dramatically at odds with what he’s singing about. His 2015 album Summertime ’06 is a frank and brooding account of Staples’ difficult youth in Long Beach, California, accompanied by menacing bass throbs and stark snatches of snare. It’s hardly the first record you’d reach for if you were hoping to gee up a rain-sodden Glasto crowd, but here tracks like the ominous Lift Me Up and the posturing Jump Off the Roof feel lighter and more exultant when paired with Staples’ charismatic stage presence. He rounds things off by performing All Nite amongst the West Holts crowd. Even when he’s almost entirely obscured by those around him, you daren’t take your eyes off him. GM

Ezra Furman – Park stage

Ezra Furman … Devastatingly tight and compelling.


Ezra Furman … devastatingly tight and compelling. Photograph: Michael Hann for the Guardian

Ezra Furman doesn’t exactly welcome the crowd into his world with a bouquet of good cheer. “Glastonbury … festival … tentative stab wound …” begins his series of apocalyptic non-sequiturs before a version of Restless Year played with brutal intensity. Ordinary Life is introduced with the warning it was a song “from when I thought I was going to kill myself”. And yet, it’s never a depressing performance, because Furman – though not as fizzing with energy as at his own headline shows – is never less than a committed performer, and, after the solid touring behind his last two albums, his band, the Boy Friends, are now devastatingly tight and controlled. The sound isn’t great for the start of the set, with Tim Sandusky’s saxophone – utterly crucial – drowned beneath guitar and keyboards. But within a handful of songs that’s rectified and the spell begins to be cast.

It should be noted that an outdoor stage in a sea of mud is about the worst possible place to see Furman, whose intensity demands an audience of similar commitment, but it’s hard to deny the simple power of the old rock’n’roll riffs he recycles for songs like Tell ’Em All To Go to Hell. It’s not the a show that will go down int Glastonbury legend, but it’s the kind of thing that thrills the converted and might sway some of the neutrals. MH

Protoje – West Holts stage

Protoje at Coachella 2016


Protoje … at Coachella 2016 Photograph: Mike Windle/Getty Images for Coachella

Underneath all the metal, grime, house, psytrance and crinkly vintage acts beats Glastonbury’s true heart: a skanking reggae beat that unites everyone from crusty hippies to scene kids. Protoje is perfectly pitched at an afternoon with a shy sun, coaxing it out with a stream of jams that wash into a skanking blur – and with a video backdrop of a lion wearing a crown against a Jamaican flag, he ticks all the boxes for a quintessential roots reggae experience. “If you voted to stay in the EU, let me see your hands like this!” he says, and is met with a universal sea of hands; there is equal enthusiasm for an enquiry as to whether people smoke marijuana. Resist Not Evil is given a euphorically tight and soulful rendition, while his big hit Who Knows has hands enthusiastically – but nice and lazily – waving in unison. His guitarist seals a hugely enjoyable (if unchallenging) set with some of Glastonbury’s finest shredding. BBT

ZZ Top – Pyramid stage

Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top … Bringing the blues.


Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top … bringing the blues. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

Early evening at the festival, and a series of occasional but lethal showers have reduced the Pyramid stage to a quagmire of treacly mud likely to slow even the most sprightly of punters to a crawl. So it underlines the ability of the self-proclaimed “little old band from Texas” to get people moving that within seconds of hearing the opening chords to Got Me Under Pressure, the Pyramid audience are bouncing about like labradors.

If you were feeling uncharitable you might remark on the general one-pacedness of the set, the swaggering mid-tempo blues numbers starting to blend into one another after a while. But then you don’t come to ZZ Top for nuance, you come to ZZ Top to shake your hips with abandon at Sharp Dressed Man and Gimme All Your Lovin’. And on that count they thoroughly deliver. GM

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top discusses beard care in rainy conditions, and eating Mexican

Bring Me the Horizon – Other stage

Bring Me the Horizon singer Oliver Sykes


Oli Oli Oli … BMTH’s Oli Sykes. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

Time was when Glasto wasn’t always too down with the heavier strain of guitar music. Moshpits were deemed problematic; crowdsurfing in wellies an absolute no-no. But those times have changed. After Metallica headlined in 2015, now it’s time for Britain’s young metal hopes to represent, neck-to-knuckle in tattoos and not a care for so-called rules or regulations. “And here was me thinking Glastonbury was a bunch of fucking shite,” yelps the Sheffield band’s frontman Oli Sykes, his mouth apparently bleeding, as he incites the crowd to surf towards the stage to give him a high-five (they try, hamstrung by po-faced security). It’s refreshing to hear stadium-sized, surround-sound riffage here on an early Friday evening, amid pedestrian indie bands like Editors and the Lumineers: smoke cannons blast, straightened fringes flick back and forth in unison; serious-faced guitar lunges abound. But while Bring Me the Horizon pummel the crowd with gunshot drums, screamo yelping and often choppy math-rock time signatures, something is off. Or rather, something is a little Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. Follow You and Go to Hell, For Heaven’s Sake, for example, employ the same twinkly guitars, suspense-laden build ups and pained lyrics, which are either gratuitous displays of feelings, or sticking two fingers up at politics. At one point Sykes appears to attempt a child pose at the front of the stage for no reason; at another he proclaims, “How do we feel about leaving the EU today? Who doesn’t give a fuck?” before launching into Trump-dedicated takedown Anti-Vist (sample line: “the world is a shit tip”). It’s entertaining, sure, but it’s in danger of veering into empty theatrics rather than emotional escapism. KH

Stormzy – Sonic stage

Kicking up a Stormzy.


Kicking up a Stormzy. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Lumbered with a quiet mic, and a tent with scalloped sides that let the bars drift into its neighbours, Stormzy nevertheless dominated the Sonic stage with a set of headbutting grime that bored a hole in everyone’s evening. Aside from a touch of Lethal Bizzle’s Fester Skank, this was a set unadorned with guest MCs – and utterly adored by a crowd hungry for whatever was out there in the rest of the night. Stripping to the waist, Stormzy gave himself the appearance of an icon as he led a laddish singalong of what is still one of the most perfect melodies in British music: Functions on the Low, turned into his disdainful Shut Up. With a back glossed with sweat as he built into Know Me From, boys and girls alike dissolved. This wasn’t loud enough to provide pure pandemonium, but had enough feeling to drive the night into the morning.

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