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On the Road Again
Live Reviews:

The Glastonbury Festival

June 25-27, 1999

Worthy Farm, Glastonbury Township, Pilton, England

This is Chart photographer Richard Beland's Glastonbury diary. The times included help to give a sense of just how much activity goes on at a UK festival, as well as how all the variety ensures that every single concertgoer can have a truly unique experience simply by wandering from field to field, stage to stage, beer tent to beer tent.

Thursday June 24, 1999

  • 6:00pm
    Departed from King's Reach Tower in Central London, home of New Musical Express. Six of us crammed into a mini van but all alive with excitement. The passengers include 3 NME photographers, 2 NME journalists and myself — photojournalist for Chart Magazine. Please note that I use the journalist part of that with some reservations. As we crawl along through London during rush hour headed towards the M4, I begin to realize exactly who I'm actually on my way to Glastonbury with. The NME is quite possibly the largest weekly music magazine in the world, and also one of the most influential. These people make and break bands constantly and consistently every week, and the world listens... at least the UK part of the world. I wonder if these people I'm with even realize the influence they have on music culture. Whatever the case, I don't dare bring this up as being aware of this may make them more dangerous.

  • 10:00pm
    Arrive at the Glastonbury site. The last two times I was here, I had to walk 45 minutes to get to the backstage camping area. Because I arrive in a van full of NME people we simply drive straight to the backstage area and park 2 minutes from our camping spot. Funniest thing. We roll out our tents but this is about how far the NME'ers get. It turns out that they really don't know how to set up a tent. Serious influence on what music people around the world listen to, but no one can pitch a damn campsite. Well, the least I can do is help as they did give me a ride to the show.

  • Midnight
    The NME photographers and myself head out for a beer and to the cinema to check out Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on the outdoor screen. Much to our dismay, they pull the plug on the movie at 1:00am sharp. It turns out that there is some sort of curfew tonite. Shame, as we were just getting into it. From the theatre, we wander to the other side of the site to take a look around. Following the sound of Jimi Hendrix, we happen upon a food stall and stop for a listen and a drink of wine. Some cat there is totally jamming on an elaborate air guitar — whammy bar, foot pedals, the whole deal. Hilarious. He notices our apparent amusement, and saunters over for a laugh with us. He's off on some tangent about Yes and as I interject with whatever I had to say, he thinks he recognizes my accent and asks if I'm American. I say "no, actually I'm Canadian." He looks at me and smiles and retorts "Ah, that's all the fooking same, isn't it mate?!" We laugh, he laughs and he's back to his (air) guitar.

  • 3:00am

    Friday June 25, 1999

  • 2:00am
    No time to write all day. Great day of music and photography, though.

    Debbie Harry

    Everlast. Nothing much to say really. I don't know the disc at all. Fair way to start the day. Not too intrusive.

    Barenaked Ladies. Same goofiness as you would see in Toronto, but it really appears that they are trying to prove something here. Unfortunately for them I'm not sure if it works. Their humour is not greatly received but it's their own fault — as it's not that funny. "We're here from Canada and we're headlining the main stage (it's 1:30 in the afternoon). You'll all be going home by Saturday." Fuck, you can swing a cat in Canada and hit a comedian; leave the funny stuff to them and play your music...

    Queens of the Stone Age. Personally, this is one of the bands I was here to see. One thing Britpop lacks is guitar. Thank god for the Yanks — air guitars to rival our concession stand friend abound; crank up the lost Sabbath tapes!

    Blondie. Dressed in roses, she looked a little like my Grandmother heading to her weekly game of bridge. Blondie was very well received by the crowd. Unfortunately her voice suffered from some creaks and cracks. If you've ever seen Ozzy Osbourne halfway through one of his tours, you know exactly what I mean.

    Gay Dad
    Gay Dad's
    Cliff Jones

    Gay Dad. Hmm... not sure about the name. Not sure about the music. Pop music written by a former British pop music journalist. I think he knows the formula for getting some press, and by the looks of every music journal in Britain during this trip, it's working. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't work for me — I still don't (and won't) buy it.

    Courtney Love

    Bush. Terrible hair. I just can't give in to Gavin Rossdale's attempt at sugary grunge. He opens with "Machine Head" which does rock but it slides from there. I will say that he has the 'rock and roll face' down. Someone did their homework...

    Hole. I'm not a fan, and to my misfortune her performance was quite good. As we all know, Courtney Love is well rehearsed in every rock cliche there is, and she pulls off nearly every one of them in this set alone. At least we got Bush and Hole out of the way in the same day. (Slam!!!) If only Lenny Kravitz and Dogstar were today! (Slam-dunk!!!)

    Wilco. This is what it's all about. Wilco are real and Wilco are pure. No pretense whatsoever. NONE. Just music and smiles within the band. What a relief after the last couple acts.

    Beautiful South
    The Beautiful South's
    Paul Heaton

    Beautiful South. I love the Beautiful South. Happy music. Maybe too happy, but there's nothing wrong with that. Their set consisted of nearly all the hits. (Yes, they have a whole set's worth, you bastards.) For a bloke that looks like one of your older brother's mates who hangs at the pub way too much, Paul Heaton has the voice of an angel.

    Gomez. I can't shake these guys today. I swear they are following me. This is a good thing though, as this means they are not here to pose, they are out and about grooving to the music and the scene. No problem at all with their set. Has anyone even heard of them in Canada? I haven't a clue how that one guy sings like that night after night and can still talk. The guy must gargle gravel before every show or maybe that's what he's doing onstage. I like their music and their performance was very good. In fact, one of the best of the day.

    Michael Stipe

    REM. Headliners and winners. REM proved during their premiere Glastonbury appearance why they are a world class band and why every band before them are not. The songs, the lights, stage presence, front man, they have all of what it takes plus some undefinable extras. REM have the natural craftsmanship of the quintessential rock and roll performance down.

    Fatboy Slim. What's his real name? Norman Bates? The psycho sampler rocks the whole of Glastonbury. I guess the Dance Tent at this festival is the biggest tent in all of the UK and it still can't house half the people there who wanted to see Slim. It took me nearly an hour to walk to the tent. I listen to one song and then keep moving so I could get to REM's set in time. I think maybe the Fatguy might have been more wisely booked on the main stage. Whatever the case, what I heard sounded good and by the amount of Funk Soul Brothers cutting the rug in and around the perimeter of the tent, I'd say he delivered the goods.

    Saturday June 26, 1999

    Joe Strummer
    Joe Strummer
    The Cardigans'
    Nina Persson
    Sharleen Spiteri
    of Texas
  • 2:30pm

    On the way to the main stage for Joe Strummer, I pass the "Naked Protesters". I'm sure their intentions are good but to be quite honest I'm pretty happy with people walking about clothed... you know what I'm saying — "Cover that thing up, brother!" How about protesting with a loincloth? Ha!!!

    Joe Strummer. Second song in — "London Calling". Maybe this was a strategy of sorts but it didn't matter... The Clash is what we want to hear anyways. Joe not only shows his age well, but his vocal chords also have moved on with time. The Clash's style of punk is rather user-friendly, and it goes over well here at Glasto. I'm definitely glad I caught his set. He did subject us too a wee bit too much idle banter in between songs though.

    The Cardigans. I donąt know much of their music so it's difficult for me to give a totally educated view. Like what I've heard on the radio, their performance was sweet and very easy to listen to.

    Texas. I admittedly went into this gig not really liking Texas. Funny thing is, I know nothing of their music. All I know is that they get a lot of press in the UK and I get a little tired seeing Sharleen Spiteri's face on the cover of every magazine. Fortunately, I left the gig with the intentions of buying the disc. I guess this is (at least in part) what an artist is hoping for. No air guitar on my part, but their performance won me over. Sharleen worked the afternoon crowd exceptionally well, and I now see why they get such blanket coverage.

    (Karl Hyde, centre)

    Underworld. Underworld were my favorite last year, so I had rather high expectations for them. They opened with "Cowgirl" which quite effectively put every one in a frenzy. Jumping around the stage, only stopping to pull off a couple Pete Townshend-style windmills, Karl Hyde was nearly the show himself. Musically, Underworld were not as sonically pleasing as I hoped. I guess maybe they're a little tired of playing or hearing "Born Slippy", as tonight's version was short devoid of emotion.

    The Manics'
    James Dean Bradfield

    Manic Street Preachers. Much as Canada has our beloved Tragically Hip, the UK has The Manics (at least for now). Saturday night's headline slot is rather a prestigious one to fill. Only tonight, in my eyes, they didn't quite pull it off. This is not say that they weren't good. Indeed they were, but as the band rolled on through the songs it appeared just that — they were rolling on through the songs. I really feel more substance on the recorded versions. The Manics did come to the festival prepared though, as their stage show was very impressive — stadium-style lighting and huge display screens accompanied their performance. I think I summed up the performance in one of my photographs. A shot with James Dean Bradfield juxtposed with the phrase "My perception". I think it was his perception, meaning maybe the show was a little too much about them, possibly a little too self-indulgent. That said, I did really like what they offered but it just lacked any spontaneity.

    Sunday June 27, 1999

    Al Green. The Reverend Al Green must have been in all his glory this afternoon as he went on at 3:20pm on the Lord's Day. He did take the opportunity to thank the Big Guy for all sorts of things, and why shouldn't he? It's Sunday and it's his stage. Whatever the case, the music was perfect for a nice sunny afternoon.

    Keanu Reeves

    Dogstar. Two word review — Dog Shit. I have to get this out of the way first. Keanu Reeves — Fuck Off! Alright, the guy is good looking and he's a fair bass player, but keep your shit tunes in the basement and definitely keep them away from the stage of Glastonbury. This isn't even funny. Keanu must have used his "$20 million a picture" fortune to buy his way onto this stage, and it isnąt fair to all of the bands that really do have good music. For all the mean things I have said (and could say), I will add that I did feel a little sorry for him as people threw full beers and fruit at him throughout the whole set. At one point, a well-aimed tennis ball bounced right off his strings and reverberated throughout the Other Stage area. In the end, Keanu and Dogstar deserve that treatment, as I said, he really shouldn't be there. (Whew, that ended up being more than two words, didn't it?)

    The Corrs
    Andrea Corr

    The Corrs. Up until today, I knew nothing about the Corrs. I only knew that my agent wanted photos of the sisters. She failed to mention that 'the sisters' are 3 of the most attractive women in the music industry. Good God! The music itself, in all of its Gaelic splendor, is great fare for a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I'm glad I caught the set, and indeed hope to see one of their own shows sometime soon.

    Lenny Kravitz
    Craig Ross with
    some guy...

    Lenny Kravitz. Another two word review — Craig Ross. I am referring to Lenny's guitarist. You know, Lenny can bounce himself all over the stage wearing his high heels and rock 'n roll sunglasses, but he doesnąt exist without Craig. This guy is definitely one of the most soulful guitar players in this genre of pop music. Unlike Lenny, he knows when enough is enough, and by doing this he adds life and taste to Lenny's otherwise shallow songs. Kravitz's performance itself appeared to be very well choreographed (maybe He's employed someone who works with Janet or Michael to help him get his shit together?). I might also suggest that the extended drum solo be left back in the 70's or, at the very least, in the comfort of the drummer's own home... they are far too boring for a festival.

    Fun Lovin' Criminals'

    Fun Lovin' Criminals. Attitude, and lots of it. With their names in neon lights behind each of them, you can tell that they hit the Glastonbury stage with confidence. Why shouldnąt they? England loves them. I do too. My brother turned me on to them first and now I'm a lounge core believer. Opening with "Korean Bodega" was a good idea. From there on, it only got better. Huey and the boys have the performance thing down, and it's believable. From their gig, I gather that these guys are happy to be onstage and they don't think of it as work — they truly love it and it shows. I think this is what a lot bands lack — being able to show the audience (with authenticity) that you really do love the music you are playing.

    Mercury Rev. Another band that I came to Glastonbury to see. I actually turned down photographing this one so I could enjoy their whole show. Anyone that saw the Opera House show in June should know what I mean. With a full moon off to stage left, the mood was set. Song selection was great. The only part of Mercury Rev that I'm not totally keen on is Grasshopper, their guitar player. I don't know if it was where I was standing or the soundman, but he was way too loud in the mix. May I suggest the 'less really IS more' technique? Aside from that, it was a top performance and I'm very glad it was a part of my '99 Glastonbury experience. I must add that I think their latest album Deserter's Songs is one of the best records released in the last couple of years, and it was well represented this evening.

    Skunk Anansie. I have to admit that I was not sure that Skunk Anansie could pull off the Sunday night headline slot. Deborah (aka Skin) and her band handled the challenge with a vengeance. This is no exaggeration neither. Skin took charge from the get-go, and never let go. She covered every inch of the massive stage, whether she was running, dancing or prowling with that sneer of the Devil's daughter that she wears so proudly. The band itself were perfect. By the looks of it, S.A. took this opportunity seriously, and very wisely prepared for it. I'll even dare to say that their set was flawless. Everything that was given to them was used to the fullest, be it the lights or the big screen. Musically, the band showed off their dynamics with pride. Exactly what I look for in a rock and roll performance.

    It's the end of Glastonbury for me. Although there are a couple things that I would change, I can honestly say that I am walking away satisfied with my stay. Among the 'room for improvement' items, I would suggest the following:

  • Although improving every year I have been at Glastonbury, the latrines are still disgusting. In the heat, they're nearly unbearable.
  • There are far too many photographers let into the festival. 36 alone for REM. Honestly, what is the guy from Germany doing here with his two Instamatic Cameras? It's a joke for him, but quite annoying for anyone trying to do a professional job.
  • As I said earlier, someone as big as Fatboy Slim really should be booked on to one of the bigger stages.

    Aside from those, I have no complaints. The festival itself seems to get more efficient and better organized each year. The lock-up for our camera gear is great, there's loads of amazing food (if maybe a little pricy). Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Scottish, Indian, Vegetarian, even a stall for 'Canadian'. Another huge improvement over last year was the notable lack (almost) of rain. The good Lord smiled on all of us this weekend.

    — review and photos by Richard Beland

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