Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Glastonbury 2005, part four: which side are you on?


Some commentators argued that there was literally nothing worth seeing on the Acoustic Stage. Rockist nonsense. I caught two enjoyable acts on that stage, and in retrospect wished I'd seen a few more. Martha Wainwright (of the McGarrigle-Wainwright Co-Prosperity Sphere) was not the revelation I was hoping for, but she was entertaining enough. And she did reveal that the last time she had played the acoustic stage (with Kate & Anna McGarrigle, one of which is her mam) she had been E-ing her nuts off. This is amusing on any number of levels. I was actually there when she played with them, and she didn't look like she was buzzing to me. But then, I probably wouldn't either if my mother was sitting next to me.

Anyway, deadly buzz.

Steve Earle headlined the Acoustic Stage on Friday night, playing solo. I think now I see why Claudia Gonson of Magnetic Fields threatens to give her guitar to Steve Earle. He played lots of hard-edged politically conscious songs, a well as a love song to Condoleezza Rice. And he went off on a long ramble about the American Civil War, which was cool by me. Some poor fuck in the crowd was flying the Confederate Battle Flag (you know, the Southern Cross), and Earle set the mob on him. My own views on whether that flag is straightforwardly a symbol of slavery and racism are a bit more complex.

Earle was joined by Alison Moorer on one song, much to the delight of the audience's more neanderthal elements. I was very taken by her playing and singing. She reminded me generally of how the whole phenomenon of women avant-country artists is something I've been meaning to investigate, ever since being ensnared by the voice of Paula Frazer from Tarnation who sings on Cornershop's 'It's Good To Be On The Road Back Home Again Again'.

Earle finished off with 'Copperhead Road', obviously.

On Sunday I sauntered along to see Billy Bragg playing the Leftfield Stage. Bragg plays every year, but I always manage to miss him. In fact, I have not seen him live at all since 1987, when I attended a gig of his in Dublin. Blimey. So I had kind of forgotten how good he is. This man is one of the greatest live performers the world has ever seen. And if you are even slightly left-wing the man will reinvigorate you with the white hot zeal for the struggle. This was almost like a religious experience. Bragg was telling us how upset he was that the BNP had won a seat on the council of his home town of Barking; when he revealed that at a Glastonbury Thursday by-election they had lost it again, I felt like I knew what it was to be touched by the Holy Spirit.

But the songs! Many feel that Bragg's music went into decline when he started recording with a band rather than solo. It was therefore great that to see him playing onstage alone with just his guitar, playing the songs that suit that sound like he actually was a born again Woody Guthrie. He even played the Guthrie tune from which Andy Irvine ripped the "All you fascists bound to lose" refrain, leading me to wonder how great an Irvine-Bragg double-header would go down.

Bragg also played popular Civil War anthem "The Battle Cry Of Freedom", albeit with the lyrics changed to make it about joining trade unions. And he was joined at the end by popular comedian Phil Jupitus, to do a song called 'Bestiality' ("I've had relations/ with a great number of Dalmatians" etc.). But he didn't do 'Which Side Are You On?'.

Which side are you on? I heard that some people, notably those from the world of internet forum ILX, found Bragg hard to take. This does not surprise me. In our time of ironic attachment, it is difficult for an ironist to fathom someone of actual beliefs.

Anyway, the highlight of the festival, in fact one of the all-time great Glastonbury performances? Oh yes.

This is part four of nine, incidentally, so you may want to pace yourself. Some of the later installments will be a bit short.

The story continues

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