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Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza

Saturday 8th August 2015

Glastonbury Abbey

I rose early in anticipation of a 150 mile drive to Glastonbury for its annual Extravaganza. No, I wasn’t six weeks too late - I may have been known to miss the start of an event, occasionally by an hour, maybe even two - but never by six weeks!! The Extravaganza is held in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, right in the heart of the town - not at a remote farm six or seven miles away! The Extravaganza helps raise funds to maintain what remains of the Abbey, a National Trust property. The event is supported by Michael Eavis, who provides ticket holders with free camping, together with a shuttle service to the campsite alongside Glastonbury Tor, just over a mile away.

Helped by the clear blue skies, glorious sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20’s, the Abbey grounds provided an awesome setting. There was ample room for several thousand people well away from the Abbey ruins; they just had to find a viewpoint unobstructed by trees and, even more important, not too close to the lake which looked down on the stage from the right.

The atmosphere was remarkably relaxed for a music festival. Virtually everyone was seated - on several thousand folding chairs! Many groups even had picnic tables, laden down with far more food and drink than they needed - unusually these days, there was no restriction on bringing your own food and alcohol.

Even more unusual, on arrival I decided that, after several hours walking and sunbathing in sweltering temperatures on the Tor, to avoid dehydration, I really ought to drink something non-alcoholic before entering the beer tent! Not a decision I’d always be able to keep to, but helped on Saturday by the long, snaking queue to the beer tent and the empty counter at the adjacent coffee & cake stall! Even better, later in the evening the combination of high temperatures, alcohol already consumed and wrinkly audience led to easily the longest queue for coffee I’ve ever seen - which I had to keep cutting across on my way to the near-empty beer tent! And very pleasant beer it was too. Initially disappointed not to find my local favourite (Wadworth 6X, brewed just over the county boundary in Wiltshire), I soon developed a taste for the Otter beers, brewed just over the other county boundary, in Devon. They could do with a more imaginative marketing department though - when both beers on offer are bitters and real ales surely they can come up with two names more descriptive, and less confusing, than ‘Bitter’ and ‘Ale’.

Anyway, enough frivolity, what about the music - this is meant to be a music review after all! The first news was that illness had forced star support act Joan Armatrading to pull out that very morning. Most of the audience were mightily disappointed to hear this but, not being a massive fan of romantic ballads, I wasn’t too upset - she might be replaced by some local hard rockers readily available at short notice. This wishful thinking soon proved to be just that; the Drystones were indeed local, but a folk duo who, at 19, must have been the youngest people at the Extravaganza - apart from a few kids on their Dads’ shoulders and the odd teenager, probably there under duress!

The Drystones, comprising Alex Garden on violin and Ford Collier on guitar, flute & whistle, were not in the slightest fazed by the huge audience, despite their youth and minimal preparation time - they’d only been booked six hours ago! They had already played at several 2015 festivals, including the Larmer Tree, and another June event, on a farm near Glastonbury! Their set was almost entirely instrumental, a mixture of gypsy-style tunes and Celtic jigs, but exceptionally lively and spirited - rousing many spectators out of their folding chairs to dance on the spot! Their obvious enthusiasm and energy rubbed off on the audience, including me. I hadn’t realised there was still so much scope for re-inventing traditional music - I doubt I would have enjoyed Joan Armatrading more!

Next on were The Shires, a country music duo comprising Chrissie Rhodes, vocals, and Ben Earle, guitar and vocals. They’re based near me in St .Albans but, as Ben was quick to point out on Saturday, he was raised in nearby Wells. They’ve had a successful year: their debut album is currently in the charts; they were in Nashville for club and radio performances in May and they played the Acoustic Stage at that other local event in June.

Early on, The Shires didn’t endear themselves to me by playing a Fleetwood Mac cover. That could have been awesome if they’d followed Haim’s example and chosen a song from Fleetwood Mac’s early Peter Green years, especially if they’d covered it half as well as Haim covered ‘Oh Well’. But no, they chose ‘Dream’ from the insipid Green-less years - it did nothing for me at all! From that point the set could only get better - and it did! ‘Friday Night’ was a gentle country rocker about getting drunk that we could all relate to, and the lively momentum was enhanced with a song demonstrating the powerful side of Chrissie’s voice: ‘Jekyll & Hyde’, my personal favourite. ‘Made in England’ slowed the tempo down, but was a good sing-along that had most of us joining in - not sure they should include it at any Scottish gigs though!!

Finally, it was Ray Davies’ turn, playing an extended set of nearly two hours to help make up for no Joan Armatrading. Ray had a full supporting band, but no other Kinks - and he ruled out any prospect of a reunion because “we wouldn’t want to do another Who”. However, even if the band wasn’t pure Kinks, the songs were. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ had the whole crowd standing, singing and dancing - I did vaguely wonder where those thousands of folding chairs had got to, but didn’t know, and didn’t really care. It must be said that Ray’s voice is past its best - he his in his 70s for Chrissake!! Not that it mattered one jot - the musical support was perfect and the audience didn’t need to hear the words - they knew them all already. In fact at times Ray just stopped singing, giving his vocal chords a rest and letting the crowd get on with it.

‘Where have All the Good Times Gone’ was followed by ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, with a deafening crowd echo of “oh yes he is”, ‘Dead End Street’, the mellower ‘Days’ and livening up again for ‘Tired of Waiting’. Ray did threaten to play a few songs from his new album, but then remembered he hadn’t written them yet - so had to fall back on more Kinks favourites!! Despite numerous requests throughout the evening, ‘Lola’ was saved for the encore, along with ‘Waterloo Sunset’, still sung with feeling after all those decades, and a fitting finale of ‘You Really Got Me’. Musically that was it. There was still a spectacular fireworks display to come - and then hoping I could find the right tent - assuming I could even find the right campsite! I did!

Ian Cawthron

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