Glastonbury 2009: The Dice Man

Choosing what to see on the roll of a dice...

Glastonbury 2009: The Dice Man

Photographer: John BownasDaniel Fahey on 01 July 2009

With the bags dropped off, a pair of dice in my right hand and a miniature Glastonbury schedule around my neck, I’m stood, chest puffed, ready to take on the biggest festival in the world under the guise of 70’s cult classic monster – The Dice Man. The plan is simple: to allow a set of dice to pick where I go, what I watch and what I drink (I’ve pulled the idea of what to wear when the word ‘monsoon’ was being banded about as I packed my bags) as I try my best not to end up the way of the book’s author Luke Rhinehart.

Friday


Roll one:
Band – Baskery, Avalon Field
Drink – vodka orange

So mid-afternoon, the number-indented squares bumble over my notepad in unison to reveal the first number of the festival – a seven. That means a trek up to the delightful Fields Of Avalon for Swedish trio Baskery. The all-female group are charming as their fast-paced country and western rouse a healthy afternoon crowd, “are you guys ready for some mad country music?” they ask – yes, the madder the better please.

Roll two:
Band – Hugh Cornwall, Acoutsic
Drink – water

A six takes me towards ex-Stranglers man Hugh Cornwall via the cabaret and poetry tents, where Bristol storyteller Bartholomew Rakehell Ne’er Dowell twists a poem on a makeshift stage like an extra from The Canterbury Tales. If the anecdote of highwayman, brothels and girls isn’t enough, he’s also giving out free badges, but only to those watching it would seem. At the Acoustic Stage, Cornwall is busting out “recession free music” from his new album with some of The Stranglers’ numbers (‘Nice And Sleazy’) throwing in for good measure. I am, however, sipping water (thanks to rolling a one at the bar) among the sea of chairs that have been lodged inside the tent, just next to the ‘No Chairs’ signs.

Roll three:
Band – Babyhead, Arcadia
Drink – red wine

The dice provide their first liberating moment of the festival as I stumble upon a set by Babyhead in Arcadia. The ska-fuelled show, played from the top of a spaceship structure, is the type of special moment you’d kick yourself for missing because of Lily Allen. Hundreds of sun-soaked fans bounce below the band, as they work up a sweat above in their apocalyptic tower. “This is our last song,” says Benny Legs to a crowd that just won’t let go, “then we’ll come back on!” This new craze of playing an encore pleases the hoards below.

Roll four:
Band – Orkestra Del Sol, Avalon Field
Drink – red wine (still)

By the time I’m at Scotland’s finest (and possibly only) Balkan funk group Orkestra Del Sol, the tent is already full as fans take instructions from the singer: “take the hands from the person next to you, it doesn’t matter if you know them or not, this dance is the Polka.” The crazed group who have enough brass instruments to keep Brasso in business for another century, make mincemeat of the masses who droop out of the tent sweating and gasping for air.

Roll five:
Band – Jamie T, John Peel Stage
Drink - bee
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Things are much the same for Jamie T in the John Peel Stage (I rolled a four) who seems to have collapsed in a heap after a raucous rendition of ‘Salvador’. Luckily the Wimbledon troubadour can rely on the crowd belting out the lyrics to set closer ‘Sheila’. “If you see someone fucked up, you have to help them – this is what this festival is all about,” T says, someone best give him a hand then.

Roll six:
Band – Animal Collective, The Park
Drink - vodka orange

After rolling a ten I’m confined to Animal Collective with a vodka for the headline slot this evening and after three heart-attack inducing sets in a row, the trio look set to send me to bed early. A large crowd is up at The Park in time to see that the group still haven’t managed to crossover into the mainstream as they mix awkward beats with gleaming synths for a deflating end to the day.

Saturday


Roll one:
Band – The Memory Band, The Park
Drink – red wine

Starting where I ended last night at The Park, The Memory Band are doing little to lift the mood from Animal Collective’s disappointing showing as they perform the score from the film Wicker Man. Having not seen the movie and being forced to drink red wine (the variety was my choice, the drink the dices’) it’s safe to say I’m far from electrified. A Mexican-hatted gentleman seems to be in the swing of things though, with the band dubbing him Folk Bez. Celebrity Big Brother 16 beckons.

Roll two:
Band – The King Blues, Avalon Field
Drink - beer

The King Blues in the Fields Of Avalon are much more like it, filling the tent with people and expletives. “Fuck the BNP,” growls Itch during a frenzied set of punk and reggae, the sort of stuff Joe Strummer would’ve been happy with could he still be found wandering around his spiritual home.

Roll three:
Band – Badly Drawn Boy, Avalon Field
Drink – red wine

Staying for Badly Drawn Boy (yes, I’ve now realized that sixes and sevens are the most likely two dice combinations), it’s time for a Wacko Jacko tribute with the songwriter singing the lyrics to Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ from a sheet of paper over the steeled drum version by The Esso Trinidad Steel Band. He plays most of his set alone before the likes of Stephen Fretwell and more from the Manchester contingent join him for ‘About A Boy’ – nice but hardly life-affirming stuff.

Roll four:
Band – Maximo Park, The Other Stage
Drink – vodka orange

Heading back for Maximo Park on the Other Stage, I witness Lonnie Liston Smith go all elevator music on the Jazz World Stage, just as a top-hatted pianist cycles past with a grand piano on a bike, tinkling away like he’s in a concert hall - it’s all gone a little Alice In Wonderland. Maximo Park are far from fantasy though as they go down the request route: “We’ve been asked to play this,” says singer Paul Smith as a dross version of ‘Acrobat’ groans across the field. ‘Apply Some Pressure’ adds a little energy to a bland showing, but when both guitarists destroy their instruments immediately after a set, you know it just ain’t gone to plan.

Roll five:
Band – Baby Charles, Pussy Parlure
Drink – red wine

For my first excursion into the Dance Village, the dice send me to the Pussy Parlour venue – a refreshing break from the 4/4’s crashing against one another outside. The neat mirrored venue is lacking people but it certainly isn’t missing a performance with Baby Charles climbing the walls with their James Brown styled funk. Back outside Pendulum are single-handedly tearing a hole in The Other Stage, but a crooked cut of Calvin Harris is enough to get me up to The Park early for tonight’s headliner Bon Iver.

Roll six:
Band – Bon Iver
Drink – beer

The American group are playing what looks like the biggest show of their lives as thousands sprawl across the grass, it’s a shame they’re let down by some poor sound. The drummer is out of time during the first tracks, while he ends up drowning out the delicacy of ‘Wolves’ and ‘Beach Baby’ later on as well. It’s not quite the set it should have been.

Sunday

Roll one:
Band – Linda Lewis, Jazz World
Drink - beer

A sprinkling of showers at the Jazz World Stage greets a warm Linda Lewis set that passes much without incident. A nod to the late John Martyn and a salsa cover of Cher’s ‘In His Kiss’ both get the early afternoon snoozers nodding along but her set doesn’t turn sublime until ‘Reach Out’. The real highlight of the set is the £20 I find on the floor – thank you dice!

Roll two:
Band – Khaled, Jazz World
Drink -cider

Rolling another five, which keeps me at the Jazz World Stage, I’m left to sup a cider (a drink I’m not particularly fond of) waiting for French-Moroccan traditionalist Khaled, My thoughts are interrupted though as two human unicorns bound along the path like escapees from the adjoining field. A huge wicker tortoise quickly follows them and suddenly there’s panic – what’s forcing such a mass exodus from the Cabaret Field? When he comes on Khaled is superb, flicking between disco basslines, funk guitars and more traditional Arabic nuances as the crowd get into the swing of things.

Roll three:
Band – Bon Iver, The Other Stage
Drink - beer

Then, in some sort of redemption for Justin Vernon, the dice give Bon Iver a second chance to impress Glastonbury, this time on the Other Stage and boy, do they nail it. It may be much the same set as their Park Stage show, but Vernon and Co tug at the heartstrings, shimmering as the sun begins to disappear. ‘Lump Sum’ is ethereal glory, while ‘Wolves (Act I And II’ warms and breaks hearts at the same time with Vernon’s magical falsetto crushing grown men into tears. And by this point I’m almost in tears of my own, wanting to go and watch Blur close the festival. So for one last roll I throw the dice in a soggy puddle of sludge so they can lead someone else next year, because on the whole I’m not sure it was worth it…

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