Tag Archives: Glastonbury

Rocks In The Attic #804: The Band – ‘Moondog Matinee’ (1973)

RITA#804If The Band had been born thirty years later, and were from Southport, they’d be called Gomez. Stay with me here…

Not only is there a rootsy vibe going on in both bands, but they both feature multiple vocalists and occasionally swap instruments. The biggest difference, apart from time itself, is their nationality. The Band are Americana incarnate whereas Gomez couldn’t be more English. Members of The Band have strange North American names like Levon and Garth, while Gomez have middle-class English names like Tom, Ben and Olly.

I first saw Gomez when they were touring second album Liquid Skin, on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 1999. Last week, twenty years later, I finally saw them for the second time. They played at Auckland’s fantastic Powerstation, as part of their Liquid Skin 20th Anniversary tour, a full seven years after the last time they graced our shores. I missed the 2012 show for some reason, but really glad I caught this one: a full play-through of their 1998 debut Bring It On, followed by a full performance of Liquid Skin.

RITA#804aI’m glad to report the years have been kind. When I first saw them, I was as curious as everyone else at the voice of guitarist Ben Ottewell. In 1999, he was just a podgy twenty-something with a much bigger voice than himself. He’s now grown into his vocal chords, a genial bear of a man. Performing live, he was dependant on too much reverb, but you could still hear the magic in his soulful voice. It reminded me a bit of Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene, another band I recently saw at the same venue.

The rest of the band were exactly the same as I remember them from ’99. The genial Tom Gray (vocals / guitar / keyboards) talked the most to the audience. Twenty years ago I remember him telling the Glastonbury crowd to turn around a look at the sunset. He hasn’t changed a bit. Neither has the other guitarist / vocalist Ian Ball. Still as scrawny as he was all those years ago, he’s the most cocky and aloof of the three frontmen. Drummer Olly Peacock hasn’t aged a day, and the only real casualty of the band is the hairline of bassist Paul Blackburn, now fully shaved.

Given the type of material of the three songwriters, it is Ball’s songs that seem the most normal – straightforward post-Oasis Britpop that you would hear in any band (including my own) from that time around the late ‘90s. It’s the mixture of Ottewell’s southern-fried soul and Gray’s jazzy melodies that gives Gomez their unique sound. If anything, it feels like Ball is the lucky one of the three, for finding other songwriters that would provide an interesting counterbalance to the ordinariness of his own material.

After they played through both albums, they returned to the stage for just one song – a frantic, AC/DC-inspired version of Whippin’ Picadilly, played ‘like we did when we were teenagers.’ A magical night, for sure, and I still made it home to watch the All Blacks beat Wales to take bronze in the World Cup.

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I’m serious about the comparison to The Band though. And of all the Band’s LPs, studio album number five, Moondog Matinee, is perhaps the most Gomez-ey. It’s one of the more kookier entries in the Band’s back catalogue, and finds them recording an entire album’s worth of cover songs.

The original idea was to replicate their mid-‘60s setlists, when they were known as Levon & The Hawks, but only one song – Share Your Love (With Me) – from this period appears. It sounds like a happy album, but the reality was a band starting to come apart at the seams. ‘That was all we could do at the time,’ Levon Helm later explained. ‘We couldn’t get along; we all knew that fairness was a bunch of shit. We all knew we were getting screwed, so we couldn’t sit down and create no more music. Up on Cripple Creek and all that stuff was over—all that collaboration was over, and that type of song was all we could do.’

Hit: Ain’t Got No Home

Hidden Gem: Mystery Train

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Rocks In The Attic #783: Travis – ‘Live At Glastonbury ‘99’ (1999)

RITA#783I can’t help but think that Travis missed the boat. They were actually stood on the boat at one point, and everybody was waving them off. Then they looked behind them, and realised that everybody was waving at Coldplay, who were stood on an even bigger boat, sailing off into mainstream waters.

1999 marked the year of my first Glastonbury, and Travis were crowned the breakthrough performance of the festival. I stood there with thousands of others on the Saturday afternoon as they played the Other Stage. The festival had been dry and sunny so far, but threatening rainclouds started drifting over the fields.

A fortunate bit of serendipity occurred when the heavens opened as the band played their current single, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? The soaked crowd was delighted, as were the BBC executives broadcasting the highlights of the festival, and the music press heralded the band as the champions of the festival. They returned to headline a year later.

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I saw Travis headline in 2000, but I also caught Coldplay, playing the Other Stage at a similar time slot as I had seen Travis the year prior. I already knew a few of Coldplay’s singles – Shiver and Yellow had already been released, and the radio was already playing Trouble in advance of its October release. I bought their debut LP, Parachutes as soon as it was released a few weeks later.

History seemed to repeat itself: Coldplay were labelled the breakthrough performance of the 2000 festival, and they swiftly became the darlings of the music press and BBC Radio. Just like Travis, they returned to headline the next Glastonbury (in 2002, with 2001 being a fallow year).

But over the years, while Coldplay went from strength to strength, becoming a household name for casual music fans and a shortcut for bland, post-Britpop radio-friendly rock, Travis just seemed to…disappear.

Everybody had agreed that The Man Who, Travis’ second studio album that they were touring at the time of their ’99 performance, was a belter. It spent 11 weeks at number 1 in the UK album charts, and sold over 3.5 million copies. But then Coldplay came along and seemed to blow them out of the water, probably while Travis were stood on that boat in the harbour.

Aside from hearing about their drummer breaking his neck diving into a swimming pool, and an out-of-court settlement for ‘borrowing’ the Wonderwall chord progression for Writing To Reach You, I haven’t heard much else from Travis. Their third album, the aptly named The Invisible Band, was the last I heard from them. What happened?

Hit: Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Hidden Gem: Blue Flashing Light

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Rocks In The Attic #771: Scissor Sisters – ‘Scissor Sisters’ (2004)

RITA#771I’d heard a few of this band’s singles – most probably Laura, Comfortably Numb and Take Your Mama – on BBC Radio 2 (where else?) before I dragged my friend Denise to see them play the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday morning at Glastonbury 2004. I was so glad I did; it was a performance that has really stuck with me, regardless of the direction the band went in after this first album.

The band started playing the opening bars of Take Your Mama, to a huge cheer, before their vocalists hit the stage. The huge screens either side of the stage caught Jake Shears and Ana Matronic walking backstage as they spotted the size of the crowd. They almost fell over each other in shock, which just made the crowd roar even louder. Unfortunately, although the performance is available on YouTube, that particularly joyous moment isn’t captured.

RITA#771aOne of the things I’ve always loved about Glastonbury is that bands don’t always turn up, play their set and leave straightaway. Occasionally, they’ll stay for the whole weekend – particularly if it’s a fresh up-and-coming band enamoured with the festival itself – and you may even catch a glimpse of them walking past you. At some point the next day, I ran into the Scissor Sisters as we both queued up to buy some potato wedges and sour cream from one of the food trucks. Rock and roll!

I lost touch with the band after this record. Their brand of music – half Elton John, half Talking Heads – is perfect radio-friendly single material, and their brilliant collaboration with Elton on I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ from their follow-up album is a prime example of this. They seemed to head towards the pop charts and away from the indie-rock charts, and so I didn’t hear as much from them.

I also lost my job around this time, and so I stopped spending as much time in the car listening to the radio. Maybe I lost touch with the Scissor Sisters because I stopped listening to Radio 2.

Hit: Take Your Mama

Hidden Gem: Mary

Rocks In The Attic #734: Manic Street Preachers – ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ (1998)

rita#734Love and hate. Loved the Manics at this point in their career; hated this album.

It makes for a hard listen: This Is My Migraine Tell Me Yours. If you didn’t know anything about the band, and were asked which album they recorded immediately after losing their friend and band member Richey Edwards, you’d think it was this, not the anthemic Everything Must Go from 1996.

It’s almost like a delayed hangover. Lose your bandmate, record a positive, feelgood hit of an album, then retreat and make something reflective and inward-looking. I struggled for so long trying to make some sense of its bleakness, and then all-but gave up when the desolation continued with 2001’s Know Your Enemy.

rita#734aI first heard lead single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next at a friend’s house with a few other people. My friend was channel-hopping and landed on MTV. The music video for the song started, and after 30 seconds he changed the channel again with a resounding ‘Ugh!’

If the song can’t hold the attention of your average (non-Manics) rock music fan, what chance does everybody else have? Still, the album reached #1 in the UK album charts (probably on the strength of its predecessor), and the band went on to headline the following year’s Glastonbury festival.

I attended that Glastonbury, it was my first one, and I was so excited to finally see one of my favourite bands at the time. The setlist, not surprisingly, was comprised mainly of songs from Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth. Only Motown Junk and two songs from the debut (Motorcycle Emptiness, You Love Us) were aired. Gold Against The Soul was the most underplayed (La Tristesse Durera), and only two songs from The Holy Bible were played (Yes and P.C.P.). Such was the rabid fervour of Manics fans that Yes was abandoned mid-song due to a crush in the crowd, before being restarted.

rita#734bAny discussion of the Manics’ ’99 Glastonbury show would be incomplete without mentioning their toilet faux pas. In a misguided – but to be fair, probably just misunderstood – display of elitism, the band had their own exclusive port-a-loo toilet installed backstage. It didn’t take long for the music press to latch onto it, who pointed out how far the band had come from their anarchic roots. This is my loo, go use yours.

Listening now to this pristine 20th-anniversary pressing, it’s clear that This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours is a beautiful album. It’s just dull as dishwater for the most part. The sound of a band heavily sedated, deep in therapy. Just look at that cover. They look lost.

Hit: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

Hidden Gem: Black Dog On My Shoulder

Rocks In The Attic #720: David Bowie – ‘Glastonbury 2000’ (2000)

RITA#720The year 2000. My second Glastonbury festival, aged 21.

My friend Vini came with me this year, and we got the train down from Manchester to Somerset. All of the other years I’ve been to the festival, from 1999 to 2007, I’ve driven. It was just the two of us heading down this year, but we were set to meet up with friends in the same area of the site we had camped the prior year.

The trip down to the South West was quite quiet as we were travelling down on the Wednesday morning, as the music and the festival doesn’t really kick off until the Friday morning. The only bit of the journey that slowed us down was a small queue at the Castle Cary station to wait for the shuttle bus to the festival grounds. It didn’t matter; the sun was out in force.

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Vini and I circa 2000

We got to the campgrounds and met up with my friends from University, Robbie and Natalie, and various other people they’d travelled with. We pitched our tents by the perimeter fence, between the Other Stage field and the Dance Tent field.  I seem to remember the year 2000 as being one of the last years before they started to curb down on campfires, so Thursday night found us stocking up on firewood.

2000 was the also the last year before the dreaded security fence went up, so it was probably the last Glastonbury with any ounce of anarchy in it. From the following year, it all got a bit safer, a bit more middle-class, a bit more Radio 2.

People started breaking into the festival on the Wednesday night. There was still a fence at this point – but it was still quite easy to get over, and wasn’t anywhere near the height of the megafence that went up by the time of the next festival two years later (2001 was a ‘fallow’ year for the festival).

By the Thursday night, the fence had been damaged near where our tents were pitched, and people were starting to spill into the grounds. By the time we woke up on the Friday morning, the fence had been completely breached, pushed aside, and people were just walking in. The security staff had given up trying to stop them, it was just too hard. The organisers sold 100,000 tickets, but it’s estimated that a further 150,000 entered without tickets.

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As a result of the increased numbers, the infrastructure of the festival started to break down. Toilets and litter started to build up, and lawlessness was in the air. At one point, as Vini and I queued up at a food truck, two gypsy teenagers got into a fight next to us. Well, I say fight, it was more like one aggressive gypsy was battering another gypsy, who wasn’t keen on being battered.

Vini’s tent got broken into at one point, and Natalie woke up to an intruder in the middle of the night. We would laugh at this whenever she brought it up in subsequent years – ‘Do you remember that year I woke up and this guy was on top of me going through my stuff?’ – and I’d jokingly apologise.

I saw lots of great bands that year, as I did every other year at Glastonbury: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Bluetones, Dark Star, Muse, Idlewild, the Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, the Wailers, Live, Death In Vegas, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay, Robert Plant’s band Prior Of Brion, and many, many others. Vini swears to this day that we saw one-time James Bond George Lazenby there, introducing Ladysmith Black Mambazo on stage, but I don’t remember that at all. It sounds like the makings of a fever dream.

By the time Sunday night rolls around at Glastonbury, I’ve usually had enough. Festival fatigue kicks in, sometimes with disastrous consequences – and I hate to think about the time I chose to miss Muse headline in 2004. In 2000 though, I was excited to see Bowie play; energy levels were high. This was the first time he had played the festival since its second year in 1971, so it felt like the festival and the artist were somehow coming full circle.

At that time, I wasn’t too much of a Bowie fan. I adored Hunky Dory and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. But aside from a couple of other singles, I could take or leave everything else. I had heard that his live shows could be quite abstract affairs too, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. His last tour had been in 1997, promoting Earthling, but apart from a 50th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in that same year, he had only sporadically playing the hits throughout the decade.

Surely he wouldn’t do a greatest hits set on his return to Glastonbury. Would he?

RITA#720dHe walked onto stage to the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind from 1976’s Station To Station –starting a lifelong love affair with that song for me. So far, so deep-cut. He looked beautiful, with a long elfin coat and flowing blonde hair.

Then he played China Girl and Changes. Was this just an attempt to get the audience onside before he started playing Tin Machine b-sides?

Another Station To Station track was up next – Stay. The second of three Station To Station tracks played, with the title track being the third. This was undoubtedly to showcase the guitar playing of Earl Slick who had played on that album and was among the band at Worthy Farm that night. Perhaps this was the start of the setlist slipping into the esoteric?

Life On Mars?, Absolute Beginners, Ashes To Ashes and Golden Years left little doubt that Bowie was in fact doing a greatest hits set. Amazing.

Vini and I had been performing a cover of Ziggy Stardust in our band at the time, and while I thought it was unlikely Bowie would play the song, Vini was hopeful. “Nah,” I said. “He doesn’t do it anymore.” He hadn’t played it regularly in his set since 1990, although the excellent www.setlist.fm shows that he had played the song in a warm-up show in New York, nine days prior to Glastonbury.

Bowie finished the main set with Under Pressure, but despite all the big hits I was hearing, I was still sure I wouldn’t be hearing my favourite song of his. The band left the stage, and returned five minutes later for the encore. “It’s gonna be Ziggy Stardust!” Vini proclaimed. And BLLLLLLAAAAAAANNNNNNNGGG – it was!

Hands shooting up in the air, hugging, huge grins. Wow. We were ecstatic.

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My one blurry photo of Bowie on stage

Since Bowie’s passing in 2016, the Glastonbury set has taken on an almost mythic status. It was a watershed moment for the festival and its presence on the BBC. From that year, it became almost expected for the big headlining slot to be broadcast live on television (even the decision to show the Bowie set ruffled a few feathers at the Beeb).

I would never see Bowie in concert again. His heart attack on stage in 2004 led to a change in priorities, and big tours were taken off the agenda. I’m so glad I saw him when I did. It turned me into a Bowie fan, and I started to go back and listen to the albums I hadn’t heard before. There isn’t a period of Bowie’s career I don’t love now. He’s the ultimate artist with something for everybody.

Hit: ‘Heroes’

Hidden Gem: Wild Is The Wind

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Rocks In The Attic #704: Suzanne Vega – ‘Solitude Standing’ (1987)

RITA#704Living in the arse-end of the world, there are a number of things you just have to get used to. New Zealand are unlikely to ever host the World Cup, but on the other hand we’re probably likely to survive nuclear armageddon (if it ever happens). Give and take; rough with the smooth.

The other thing is that we’re quite easy to forget about when musicians and bands are planning their world tour itineraries. Sure, we get a whole heap of bands touring here – we’re an attractive destination to tour during the northern hemisphere’s winter – but there are always a number of artists who overlook our small islands.

One of those guilty of this is New York singer songwriter Suzanne Vega. She played in Auckland a couple of weeks ago, the first time here in a staggering twenty five years. It was almost that long ago since I saw her last at Glastonbury ’99 – one of my top five gigs of all time – and so I wasn’t going to miss seeing her again. Premium tickets put us five rows from the front, in Auckland’s fantastic Bruce Mason Centre.

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Lisa Crawley (Photo credit: Chris Zwaagdyk)

Support came from local singer songwriter Lisa Crawley. Self-accompanied on piano, she was well suited to Vega’s audience with a set-list of quirky love songs (her closing song imagined herself being the wedding singer at her ex’s wedding). My wife liked her so much, she went out to the foyer during the intermission and bought her CD.

Vega started her set Marlene On The Wall, getting her first big hit out of the way. The setlist focused on material from her eponymous debut, follow-up Solitude Standing, and fourth album 99.9F°. Between-song banter was great, with one particularly funny anecdote reflecting on the annoyance of Bono.

Backed by bass player Mike Visceglia, it was the same minimalist set-up (acoustic guitar and electric bass) as I saw at Glastonbury ’99.  There’s a wonderfully ethereal quality to Vega’s voice. It’s so rich, she almost sounds as though she’s harmonising with herself. The jovial Visceglia just looks happy to be along for the ride – he’s been playing with her since 1985.

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(Photo credit: Chris Zwaagdyk)

While I enjoyed the intimate feel of the gig, it’s the second time I’ve seen her play in this format. Hopefully she’ll bring her full band if she makes it back to New Zealand in the next twenty five years.

While the audience was mostly reserved, one incident near the end of the night really made me chuckle. Hearing Vega playing the opening chords of Luca, one middle-aged lady on the end of the first row jumped up, clapped her hands, and started dancing. “This is the one,” she was probably thinking. “Songs about child-abuse are my jam!”

Hit: Luca

Hidden Gem: Ironbound / Fancy Poultry

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Rocks In The Attic #654: Wings – ‘Band On The Run’ (1973)

RITA#654The first time I saw Paul McCartney live in concert. I couldn’t have been closer. It was at Glastonbury 2004, and I endured sets from the likes of Joss Stone and the Black Eyed Peas in the early evening to get to the crash barrier at the very front of the field. It was worth it – getting so close to a living legend.

This time around, in December 2017, I couldn’t have been further away. I went for the cheapest GA standing tickets, not wanting to auction off my remaining kidney for a ticket closer to the stage. It was still a blast, and the hi-def, crystal-clear screens at the side of stage made sure I didn’t miss out on much.

The difference in set-lists between the two times I saw him play was quite interesting. At Glastonbury in 2004, he was playing the hits for what would ultimately be a BBC audience enjoying the festival on the television, sat at home minus the mud and discomfort. In Auckland a few weeks ago, on the final date of the band’s world tour, the set threw up some unexpected numbers.

RITA#654aKicking off with A Hard Day’s Night – ostensibly a ‘John’ song – the set included a couple of other Beatles songs written predominantly by Lennon: Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and A Day In The Life. Also played were a couple of genuine 50/50 co-written Beatles songs – I’ve Got A Feeling and Birthday – which I was surprised McCartney would even bother with.

Ever since the former Beatle was happy to lean on a Beatles-heavy set-list (post-Flaming Pie?), there’s always been an embarrassment of riches. He can’t possibly play everything, so this time there was no Drive My Car, no Get Back, no Paperback Writer. So it’s even stranger that he made the decision to play some of the songs that he did include. He played Mull Of Kintyre for fuck’s sake!

The Band On The Run record was well represented though. Band On The Run and Jet are probably a feature of the band’s set-list every night, and Let Me Roll It sounds like the kind of song they just love to play live, but it was the appearance of the album’s closer, Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five, that was the most surprising. At four songs, this made Band On The Run the most represented album in McCartney’s back catalogue – not including Beatles compilations of course – a testament to how strong the record is in relation to everything else he has produced in his career.

I prefer Ram, and always will, but it’s clear that Band On The Run is the closest McCartney ever got to replicating the strength of the Beatles’ output.

Hit: Jet

Hidden Gem: Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five