Weekend’s TV: Glastonbury
Diarmuid Doyle enjoyed the mud and rain of Glastonbury, from the comfort of his couch
After their rain-soaked performance at Glastonbury on Friday night, the four members of U2 made their way into the BBC’s onsite studio to be debriefed on the experience.
They looked a bit smug. The performance had been a long time coming – Bono’s fragile back had delayed it by a year - and many were waiting for them to fail in front of a crowd generally regarded as bit too cool and indie to warm to a bunch of middle-aged Irish guys. In addition, a protest group was planning to draw attention to the band’s unusual tax arrangements. Disaster beckoned.
As it happened, the performance was a triumph. If you bill it, they will come, and once U2 were confirmed as first-night headliners, their fans bought tickets in sufficient numbers for Glastonbury to be a kind of homecoming. (The same kind of thing happened the following evening when Coldplay gave the performance of their lives in front of a devoted crowd, who seemed to know all the words to all the songs).
U2’s show ranged back and forth throughout their 32-year recording career, even featuring a blistering version of their first single Out Of Control, which made a lot of older fans very happy. In addition, the protest turned out to be a damp squib (saturated, actually, given the conditions). The smug looks were understandable.
The interview that followed, with BBC presenters Jo Whiley and Zane Lowe, was, in its own cringe-inducing, fingers-over-the -eyes, way, one of the tv highlights of the weekend.
Rarely can there have been a more sycophantic interrogation. Superlatives flowed: “It was beautifully directed”; “you were so brave”; “beautifully sung”; “best intro ever”. No collection of theatre luvvies could have contrived such an extravaganza of back-scratching. There was, needless to mention, not a word about the tax protest.
As ever, Bono did most of the talking, and ended up waxing lyrical about a local church. He kept referring to Damien Hirst, who had created a video backdrop for the opening songs, as Hirsty, as though the artist played for some Premier League team.
Adam said hardly anything, smiling through it all like a benign Bond villain. Larry, who has become the band’s curmudgeon in recent years, was asked for his reaction to the evening’s events. “I was a little disappointed it was so wet”, he complained, as though Lowe and Whiley had done some kind of rain dance earlier in the day, just to spite him.
Why, he wanted to know, was the crowd so far away from him? (Because you’re the bloody drummer, Larry. It’s an occupational hazard)
The interview was one of the lower points of the weekend, but it would be wrong to complain too much. There’s a lot to be said for a music festival where you can watch some of the best bands in the world from the comfort of your couch while sipping a brandy. And there’s even more to be said about being able to climb into bed when the show is over safe in the knowledge that the music will start again the following day, just as soon as you locate your remote control.
Such is the Glastonbury experience for a growing number of people every year. As the most oversubscribed arts festival in the world, with hundreds of thousands of disappointed fans unable to get their hands on tickets, it no longer has to worry that live television coverage will affect attendance.
Hence the BBC coverage, which this year could be seen across BBC2, 3 and 4, and which, the odd dodgy interview aside, was magnificent.
It’s a kind of Wimbledon for music fans and the BBC clearly treats it as an important event in its calendar, dispatching almost 300 staff and several teams of presenters to Worthy Farm to create the impression that this was a festival for tv rather than the 150,000 fans who actually showed up.
The best performances of the weekend came from acts who best understood that Glastonbury is now as much a television event as a live show. The Chemical Brothers’ set, which seemed to have been designed by Jeff Koons (or Koonsy, as Bono probably calls him), was made for television; Janelle Monae used every single one of her massive backing troupe to come up with a breathtaking visual performance, possibly the best of the weekend.
Elbow invented their own version of the Mexican wave, which looked great on tv; Jessie J, confined to a kind of throne because of a broken foot, provided the most touching few minutes when she duetted on Price Tag with a cute and confident seven-year-old girl plucked from the audience.
It wasn’t all good. Paul Simon seemed a bit out-of-place yesterday although, in fairness, he had the man flu. Plan B seemed a bit bored. Last night Beyonce failed to repeat her husband’s Glastonbury triumph from 2008. She frontloaded the performance with her two best and most popular songs, and it all went a bit flat after that. Her cover of Kings Of Leon’s Sex On Fire was humdrum.
There’s no Glastonbury next year because all the policemen and women for miles around will be on Olympic duty in London. After the weekend we’ve just had, that’s a terrible pity. Still, for Irish fans, and for RTE, it spells opportunity. Oxegen and particularly The Electric Picnic have great lineups this year. At least one of them deserves the Glastonbury treatment.