Theo Wargo, Getty Images - Ozzy Osbourne fails to recall a rather hazy period of…
- Posted on Jul 7th 2009 4:30PM by Maximo Park
Britain is gripped by its first heatwave of the season. As I type, clear beams of sunlight hit the face of my wristwatch, giving the effect of an tiny, erratic mirror ball pinging around the room. I think the first signs of this weather came on Thursday. That day, our band had the pleasure of opening the Glastonbury festival in a small tent called the Queen's Head before going on to play the Other Stage on Saturday night. I immediately regretted the decision to wear black as the West Country sun bore down on my cheap, easy-iron shirt. Just to cool myself down, I ate some festival jerk chicken -- mistake number two. Amidst the chemical toilets and the guide ropes, I found a little peace in reading 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' by Carson McCullers, about a deaf-mute in the Deep South.
About half-an-hour before the show, people were finally allowed entry to the tent. I'd been told that there were a lot of people swelling around the tent but nothing could have prepared me for the noise -- it was like a football match, with people chanting "MAX-EEE-MO! MAX-EEE-MO!" Usually, before a show, we're in the dressing room and we have no conception of the atmosphere until we step out into the limelight, which made this particular experience a little more intense. Moments before we were about to go onstage, our sweating manager informed us that there had been a crush to get in and extra barriers were needed to reinforce the crowd's safety. The extra 15 minutes made me feel like I was about to be fed to the lions in ancient Rome, but once we were announced the show went like a dream, albeit a dream directed by David Lynch. Maybe that feeling was enhanced by being in a dark 'big top' tent, or maybe it was my baby-blue suit in the fearsome heat that made me feel like a '50s nightmare was unfolding. By the end I was giddy and the people were feverishly happy, thankfully.
On Friday, I had license to roam, without a show to play. The day was overshadowed by the final, tragic tumble of the King of Pop from his repossessed throne. The previous evening I had watched the updates on the L.A. Times website as they changed each quarter of an hour from "not breathing" to "coma" to "Michael Jackson is dead." An air of disbelief hung over the festival site, which had changed in appearance since a late-evening thunderstorm. Where the grass had been bountiful, there was now a scrunchy brown sludge that on the surface looked like the hair of a baby who'd just got out of the bath. I could try and mention all the bands I saw but there are plenty of other reports on the festival that'll tell you about Fleet Foxes' tingly harmonies, and how 'In For the Kill' was a "large" moment in Skream and Benga's DJ set (which it was), but the whole day was dominated by seeing one of my musical absolutes, Neil Young. From breakfast time, I was like a kid who'd had too much fizzy pop. By 10 pm, when the Youngster appeared, I probably had, indeed, drank too much fizzy pop. He was magnificent, belligerent and utterly committed to his own cause. Rarely have I seen someone in command of an electric guitar -- which, by the way, sounded ultra-gnarly -- so that it seems the notes are being transmitted directly by their soul rather than some preordained technique or knowledge. If you'd have told me that Young's worn Gibson guitar was actually cloned from his own DNA at that point, I'd have believed you. Proof of his eccentric genius came in the act of removing one arm from his stained shirt, mid-song, and leaving the other one on for the duration of the set, a strange performance gesture that left Young looking like a human washing-line as his wispy hair shook about in the wind.
Our second Glasto set took place as the sun was on its way down, casting the band against a flush of mango-colored sunlight. The day had been full of interviews in the hospitality area, a perilous place where people size each other up and photographers sniff about for a soupcon of glamor or a tidbit of scandal. Or, as venerable Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan might say, is it just me?
After our set had finished and our instruments had been destroyed in a ritualistic rock 'n' roll fit at the performance's crescendo, we rushed off to see Bruce Springsteen and his workmanlike worship at the altar of stadium rock. That, by the way, is not an insult, or even faint praise; no, it was a life-affirming display of mass connection achieved with the sort of application that many drug-addled, so-called musicians can never hope to match -- their loss. To be in the crowd was to work too, giving yourself to the experience and feeling the redemptive quality of popular song, as Springsteen trawled through his discography, selecting prime cuts from 'The River' and 'Darkness at the Edge of Town' (a personal favorite was 'The Ghost of Tom Joad,' with its haunting refrain of dashed hopes, "The highway is alive tonight/But nobody's kidding nobody about where it goes"). Symbolically, the big screen caught Springsteen in a bowed pose, bent over his butterscotch Telecaster with opulent steam floating from his statuesque frame; a cardboard request grabbed from the audience lay at his feet declaring 'No Surrender.' In that moment, I was both amused and in awe. "Goodnight Glaston-Berry!"