Glastonbury review: sun helps a diverse lineup shine

Good weather put festivalgoers in a good mood and, from the Proclaimers to Michael Kiwanuka, the acts responded

Prepared, not so long ago, to complain about the rain, Glastonbury-goers ended up complaining about the heat. Still, it’s always better to wilt than to drip because sunshine magnifies the potential of any artist. When the Proclaimers opened the Pyramid stage on Saturday with songs as benevolent and beloved as I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Sunshine on Leith, the field was already one giant open goal.

The previous day the weather was a good friend to two very different exporters of Californian good vibes. Glowing with professionalism, Sheryl Crow was “How y’all feeling out there?” in physical form while Mac DeMarco’s hungover ruminations were even more ragged and idiosyncratic than they are on record. Rain would have hobbled both of them.

The fact that two out of three Pyramid headliners are white rock bands is a misleading anomaly on Glastonbury’s most diverse bill yet, with many American stars materialising at Worthy Farm for the first time. Lauryn Hill led a faultless band through her first and only album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but appeared to be distracted by a long war of hand gestures with the sound technician, with the result that a slick performance of a classic album somehow failed to connect. Far more inviting was Michael Kiwanuka, who managed to tap into everything great about 70s soul without ever straying into pastiche. His band’s disco-flavoured expansion of Black Man in a White World was an extraordinary alloy of indignation and joy.

There’s no substitute for the palpable delight of artists who have waited years for their big Glastonbury moment. Outgrowing their mid-afternoon billing, Bastille played as if they were headliners, bringing along backing singers, a brass section and guest star Lewis Capaldi. Frontman Dan Smith proclaimed their set “our favourite gig ever”, before a packed field sang Pompeii back to him.

Dan Smith and Bastille.
Playing like headliners: Dan Smith and Bastille. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Joe Talbot from Idles went one better by sinking to his knees sobbing with emotion at the Park. The Bristol punk band draw their life-or-death intensity from their refusal to hold anything back. When Talbot talked about coming to Glastonbury at a low point in his life, to be part of something bigger, the crowd rallied around him, making for a cathartic, unforgettable performance. “We’ve waited our whole lives to do this,” he said with hoarse conviction.

Fast-tracked to superstardom, Stormzy’s status as Glastonbury’s first black British headliner alone would have made his set a landmark, but he transcended all expectations. Headlining the Pyramid stage on Friday night, his opening salvo of politically charged grime, lit up by lasers and jets of flame, was merely the first act of a beautifully structured set, full of surprises.

What began with one man on stage – in a union jack stab vest designed by Banksy – steadily blossomed into a multifaceted celebration of black British life, adding musicians, gospel singers, ballet dancers, BMX riders and – a curveball, this – Chris Martin from Coldplay. Even as the 25-year-old MC grinningly declared it “the most legendary night of my entire life,” it wasn’t a triumph for him alone. By inviting Dave and Fredo to perform Funky Friday, their landmark rap number one from last year, or reeling off a list of pretty much every MC in Britain, he was symbolically bringing everybody else with him.

It was Stormzy’s generosity as much as his ambition and energy that put this in the same league as Jay-Z’s 2008 headliner, which brought hip-hop to the Pyramid stage, and even Beyoncé’s fabled Coachella sets. It is one thing to deliver an exceptionally crafted performance without a dull moment; it’s quite another to use your platform to champion a whole culture. Historic and then some.


Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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