Just a brief dispatch from the Glastonbury Festival. It’s been a spectacular one, good weather, great music and good times had by all. For me, the highlights included Franz Ferdinand, Pete Doherty, Joan Baez, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Ben Folds and, curiously, a set by the conductor, pianist and broadcaster Charles Hazlewood.
His role for this performance was as keyboard player and generally hands-off co-ordinator. The group he had assembled was as distinguished as it was varied and included the composer Graham Fitkin (also on keys), Adrian Utley (the bass player from Portishead), the cellist-cum-reality-TV-star Matthew Barley, jazz sax legend Andy Sheppard, appropriately new age percussionist Tony Orell and all-round surreal sound source Will Gregory from Goldfrapp on synth, sax, sampler etc. The music of Terry Riley formed the basis of the repertoire, with his greatest hits forming the basis of stylistically sympathetic improvisations. These were interspersed with lighter offerings from Moondog, who was described by Hazlewood as ‘one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century’ before adding ‘who spent most of his life living rough dressed as a Viking’.
‘In C’ set the ambient mood. Hazlewood described it as the musical equivalent of a lava lamp, and in this performance that wasn’t far off. ‘Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band’ was a vehicle for Andy Sheppard’s soprano sax improvisation, with the other players ‘ghosting’ harmonies and atmospheric obbligatos. We were treated to a premiere from Graham Fitkin (didn’t catch the name), which consisted of a heavy repeated note minimalist continuo from the keyboards with semi-improvised solo lines above. The term ‘industrial minimalism’ is a little too sophisticated, ‘loud minimalism’ is closer. Like ‘In C’ but turned up to 11.
They weren’t exactly headlining, the slot was at 12 noon on Friday on an out of the way stage called ‘The Glade’. It was well attended though. A respectable crowd turned up at the publicised time and virtually none were put off by the forty minute sound check overrun. Most, I think, had been attracted by the final work on the programme ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air’. This too was freely interpreted, as if it were a standard from the shared pre-history of ambient electronica. It proved to be the ideal piece for this combination of acoustic instruments and high power amplification. And when those overdubbed analogue synth riffs kicked in at the very start, filling the whole field with warm ambient sound, it was absolute magic. The first great set of a memorable weekend.