With Glastonbury only days away, excitement is building with those attending. Of course, nowadays with extensive coverage across the BBC, millions more at home get to see performances from across the weekend. As great as this is, it can lead to a climate of armchair viewers who, coupled by the media’s influence, make poorly informed judgements about the festival without having really experienced it.
Anyone that’s been to Glastonbury knows that watching it on the BBC is actually nothing like attending the festival itself. Although there’s cameras across six of the main stages these days, that is still is only a fraction of the performances available at any one time, and only a tiny percentage of the festival experience as a whole.
TV coverage also suffers from a sense of seeing behind the curtain, with endless band interviews and backstage hangouts that take away much of the mystery surrounding the acts. While the glorious HD camerawork and access can be incredible, shots from every angle (particularly from behind the bands, which you would never see when attending a gig) can put you too close to the artists and ruin the magic of many performances.
a real lack in bands making the leap from reasonably famous to international stars
Of course, as with much live sport, the armchair viewers are a problem in themselves. Driven by lazy media articles, the festival has become something of a target for online critics in recent years for its perceived ‘lightweight’ line-ups. Again, this completely misses the point of the festival – which boasts over 80 venues and thousands of performers – but, more importantly, simply is not true, and is worth addressing.
The headliners especially are an easy target – particularly as there has been a real lack in bands making the leap from reasonably famous to international stars in recent years. This year’s three top billing acts – Adele, Muse and Coldplay – are themselves very easy to criticise, which they have widely, and incorrectly, unfortunately been.
While with ‘25’ Adele has no doubt placed herself firmly as a ballad singer, there’s no doubting her soulful roots. That much is obvious to anyone that’s followed her career. Not only is she an incredible singer, but also a very decent musician and songwriter. You just have to read how nervous she is about playing the festival – something she said she previously couldn’t do because of the anxiety – to realise what it means to her. We should be celebrating her international success and pathway to becoming one of the greats, not mocking it in a our usual British way.
Muse have won countless acclaim and awards for their live performances, but with this being their third Glastonbury headline performance in 12 years their inclusion has been subject to some criticism too. It’s is a fair argument, and while there are only so many arpeggios and falsetto vocals arrangements one can handle, they will, as always, put on an incredible show.
Which brings us onto Coldplay. Even mentioning their name now causes sighing within a room. For years it used to be U2 that carried that unfortunate baton, but now it’s Chris Martin and co. Many cite the blandness of their music as the fundamental criticism – and in some cases it is a valid point – but largely it’s their clean-cut image, longevity and subsequent popularity that most people have issue with, even more so given the tone and content of the majority of their songs.
Anyone who’s been a fan of the band from the very early days can understand the argument. There’s a copy of the ‘Blue Room EP’ on my shelf that I treasure to death, and remains one of my favourite records, but their recent releases are lightyears away from the band that produced that. Had they stopped after ‘Rush of Blood to the Head’, it’s undeniable that music fans of all persuasions would’ve considered them one of the greats.
Truthfully though, most of their critics’ claims are pure indie snobbery.
Unfortunately it is true that their output since has slowly diluted in quality, although it should be said that even the more recent albums – when judged solely as an individual piece of work with no preconceptions or unfair bias – are far ahead of what most other bands will ever achieve.
Truthfully though, most of their critics’ claims are pure indie snobbery. As a music fan, when you discover a great small band you often root for them as the underdog, but once they do hit those highs and there’s millions of people sharing the same feelings it’s never quite the same. It’s the exact same feeling – and bear with me on this – that I had about Snow Patrol years ago.
Being a big fan of ‘Starfighter Pilot’, I can remember the excitement when Steve Lamacq – having been privy to a pre-release listen of Snow Patrol’s third album Final Straw – mentioned on the Evening Session that there’s was a huge song on the album, that was by far and away the best thing they’d ever done.
On first hearing that track, it was incredible that an underachieving, and dare we say it, fairly average band could write something so grand. While both the band and their indie fans revelled in this breakthrough moment, but no-one could’ve predicted what was to come.
That song, of course, was ‘Run’, after which Snow Patrol were never the same again. What had once been a hugely exciting band full of potential, suddenly started producing vanilla music to suit their Ford Focus loving audience. An audience, which, unlike their original fans, had no respect for ‘Run’ and its wonderful contrast to their other work, but purely on its own easily accessible emotive content, and wanted more of the same.
And, of course, it’s largely the same for Coldplay. ‘Yellow’ works brilliantly amongst the juxtaposition of the stark, sparse arrangement of Parachutes. It’s the lighter romantic song that perfectly divides the album and gives light to the other songs’ shade, before the wonderful bittersweet climax of ‘Everything’s Not Lost’ and ‘Life Is For Living’.
Similarly, their second album ‘A Rush of Blood To The Head’ suffers the same fate. While the heartbreaking ‘The Scientist’ sits perfectly between a series of narrative peaks and troughs, its more straight-forward melody and literal lyrics mean its popularity far outweighs its presence on the album.
It’s a common theme, and few bands survive it.
These more directly emotive songs, further encompassed by ‘Fix You’ on their next release, quickly gave rise to a whole new fanbase for Coldplay, one that was far different from that which had championed the band to their early success.
It’s a common theme, and few bands survive it. Recently Elbow, who gained a huge temporary new audience from the excessive over saturation of ‘One Day Like This’ everywhere including romantic comedies, sporting montages and wedding ceremonies, simply embraced the fame and ended every gig with a triumphant performance of the song, seeming to enjoy every minute. Their salvation came from their next record, the very deliberately introspective and ‘Build A Rocket Boys’, which stuck true to their roots and won back the respect of their devoted original fans.
Then there’s Ed Sheeran – who started his career as an incredibly well respected toilet circuit artist – who merely embraces the irony of pre-teen girls singing along to the story of a drug-addled waster as par for the course now. He’s a great singer-songwriter despite his new fanbase, and anyone with a modicum of musical knowledge, but without that pretentious chip on their shoulder, will freely admit that.
The same can be said for Coldplay. While there will always be the ill-informed or deliberately snobbish critics, the band remain as tight as ever. While it’s true that a fourth headline appearance in only fourteen years may be overdoing it, you can’t deny they are still one of the best acts in world, and throughly deserve, and respect, the top billing.
Having stood in the crowd watching Coldplay headline Glastonbury in 2002, we as a crowd that night witnessed a band change from indie favourites to superstars. It was a slot which at the time no-one thought they could handle – ‘Parachutes’ is an acoustic album at best and new single ‘In My Place’ had only just airing on radio.
But the passion and respect all four band members – lead by the the ever humble Chris Martin throughout – had for the festival was overwhelming, and indeed delivered one of the best sets that Worthy Farm has ever witnessed.
It really had it all: the epic unexpected opening of ‘Politik’, a huge choral singalong to ‘Everything’s Not Lost’ with lyrics altered for those “outside the fence without a ticket” and an incredibly touching solo performance of ‘See You Soon’. Ending with the first ever performance ‘The Scientist’ and with an encore that climaxed with a rousing ‘Life Is For Living’, it was a triumph that left Glastonbury stunned and changed the perception of the band forever.
There’s no denying that since then everything has become far increasingly clichéd for Coldplay – the majority of their fanbase has indeed switched from being indie kids to mumsie parents who love the more romantic songs – and unfortunately awkward recent collaborations with younger artists only serve to highlight their lack of current credibility. This is 2016, after all, not 2002.
But credibility isn’t everything. The current ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ tour is an epic blast of the newer side of Coldplay, full of colour, flashing lights and bouncing balls. There are, however, a few touches of old Coldplay along the way too which they will hopefully bring to Glastonbury as well. Either way, it should be a great end to the festival weekend, which will hopefully be enjoyed equally by those who are and aren’t there.