A music blog from Ireland.
This is a response to Steven Rainey’s blog post on Irish bands at Glastonbury 2011. Read the full post over on AU. I think it’s time to focus on quality over quantity at the world’s largest outdoor festival and see the bigger picture.
Contemplating the line-up of Glastonbury, in order to place it in the right context, its history and the role it plays as the UK’s main festival must be considered. Music fan and dairy farmer Michael Eavis was so inspired by the atmosphere of a Led Zeppelin concert at a Blues festival in Bath, he returned home to Worthy Farm in Pilton with an idea for a rock festival lodged firmly in his mind. The day after Jimi Hendrix’s death on 18 September 1970, the Pilton Festival opened its gates, drawing hippies, rockers and new age spiritualists from all over Britain, many of whom were attracted by the mythical associations of Glastonbury Tor and the surrounding Vale of Avalon set in scenic Somerset. The headline act was T-Rex, admission was £1 and included free milk from the Eavis herd of cows.
These days, Glastonbury music festival is a drastically different affair. It’s the largest green field, open-air festival in the world and while Eavis still plays a major role in its management, the Live Nation/MCD-owned company Festival Nation control the logistics. Performing on the Pyramid stage is one of the greatest accolades any band can lay claim to and this year, after postponing due to injury in 2010, U2 will headline for the first time in their 35 year career while relative newcomers Two Door Cinema Club have also bagged a spot on the Pyramid Stage. There is a strong tradition of Irish artists appearing at Glastonbury and over the years Irish artists Van Morrison, Christy Moore, Sinead O’Connor, The Boomtown Rats and Ash have all headlined, while a multitude of smaller acts grace the billing every year, more recently including Villagers, Fight Like Apes, Ham Sandwich and The Flaws.
2011 sees U2 and TDCC joined by Not Squares, James Vincent McMorrow, Imelda May, the Hothouse Flowers, the Japanese Popstars, Space Dimension Controller, Rainy Boy Sleep and DJ Kormac along with the Belfast-based Isobel Anderson bringing a distinctly Irish flavour to the line-up. Of those mentioned, Two Door, Imelda May, Japanese Popstars and DJ Kormac are returning for a second time which is no mean feat considering Van Morrison is the only Irish artist to ever play Glastonbury three times. 2010’s line-up consisted of nine Irish acts, so it’s clear that the organisers want to give Irish music some presence on the line-up each year but what stands out is that they’re actively observing what’s happening in the Irish music scene. We have more to offer than ever before and this is reflected in the selection of bands this year; U2 and Hothouse Flowers represent Irish music as it’s formally recognised by the international community but the younger performers can engage that same audience and provide a more accurate portrayal of contemporary Irish culture where music is concerned, with emphasis on our globally-underrated electronic output. The Irish bands on the line-up this year give some insight into the way the music community at large see us, and what they’re seeing is a more adventurous and exhilarating array of new music that is representative of our cultural evolution.
By continuing to support previous performers while inviting fresh talent such as Not Squares, J.V. McMorrow and Space Dimension Controller to play at one of the world’s biggest festivals before those artists have sold out their country’s biggest venues, it’s not simply a matter of providing the UK audience with music they already know and love: it’s staying loyal to the original ethos of exciting new music that made Glastonbury such a success in the first place. That Irish music is consistently recognised at Glastonbury is proof that this tiny rock continues to make a major impact on the world. Rather than the ten most popular Irish bands, they’ve veered towards ten diverse choices to give the world a glimpse of what’s really going on. It’s truly astonishing to weigh up those bands and realise that the same list could be filled twice over with equally strong contenders from this island and amid all the other voices clamouring to be heard, ours stand out. Irish bands are well-represented at SXSW and Canadian Music Week but those are specifically industry-orientated showcases with dedicated personnel working on the bands’ behalf. When the big guns ask you to play Glastonbury, you know you’re doing something right.
Unlike Steven Rainey, I don’t agree that “only” ten Irish bands will make it to Glastonbury this year or that “because a band has played Glasgowbury, or Forfey…should not mean that they are ready to step up to Glastonbury”. Every band should strive to be good enough to play Glastonbury, to knock a different group off the bill and take to the stage. It’s an enormous achievement that, while not exactly marking a group out as having ‘made it’, shows they have the potential to do so. When ASIWYFA played Belgium’s 45,000-capacity Pukkelpop festival in 2009 they hadn’t even released an album and were practically unknown outside Belfast just a year before. A Plastic Rose stormed straight into the Reading & Leeds festival the same summer despite the fact that their debut album ‘The Promise Notes’ was only released in March this year. If a band can sell well at a local venue and tour successfully, then the next logical step to that is moving from safe ground to the world stage. It’s curious that Rainey condemns those who express a desire to be chosen for big festivals based on their local success, considering his article continues with the following statement: “it’s time that Northern Ireland stopped patting itself on the back and realised that if it wants the big rewards, it has to go out there and get them”. The supportive attitude of local scenes is exactly what instills bands with the courage and confidence to succeed beyond their home turf and scale mountains, or tors, abroad.