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The Stones at Glastonbury: the greatest show EVER

6 July 2013

9:00 AM

6 July 2013

9:00 AM

Yes, I’m sorry, the Stones at Glastonbury really were that good and if you weren’t there I’m afraid you seriously need to consider killing yourself. You missed a piece of rock’n’roll history, one of the gigs that will likely be ranked henceforward among the greatest EVER. So again, sorry if you weren’t there to enjoy it. Boy and I were. And we did. A lot.

Perhaps it helped that so few of us were expecting much. I was hanging around the afternoon beforehand in the EE tent waiting for my phone to recharge, having one of those random Glasto conversations with strangers — an A&E nurse, a geeky kid — and we all agreed that the Stones were a band we planned to see more out of duty than pleasure.

‘It could be our last chance,’ said the nurse. ‘Oh, I dunno, they’ll be doing this well into their eighties,’ I said. ‘But one of them might die soon,’ said the kid. We then moved on to the vexed issue of viewing tactics: should we turn up early — and if so how early: during the preceding set by Primal Scream, maybe? — or should we try to wing it and risk getting a really rubbish spot?

If I hadn’t had Boy with me, what I would probably have done is loaded up on chemicals, given up on the Stones and gone for the more reliably dancey basslines of Example and Chase & Status. But parental responsibility made me conscious that Boy’s first major rock experience had to be perfect, so we got there an hour early, found a pretty decent slot level with the front of the mixing desk and waited, praying to God we wouldn’t need a pee for the next four hours because once you’re in the middle of a crowd of 100,000 that isn’t an option.


It was worth it just for the atmosphere. Everyone’s prior cynicism had vanished and all any of us could think was: ‘I don’t believe it. Finally, after 40 years’ wait the Stones play Glastonbury and I’m here, I’m actually here to witness it.’

Then suddenly it was happening. ‘This is legend, Dad,’ said Boy, as Mick stripped down to his black shirt and the giant screens went black-and-white for ‘Paint It Black’. All that snide stuff you keep reading in the papers about how old they are, all those raddled close-ups: let me tell you that as soon as those boys started playing, the age thing became a total irrelevance. Here was the defining band in the history of rock, going through their greatest hits — ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, ‘Wild Horses’, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and, the inevitable finale, ‘Satisfaction’ — not just quite well under the circumstances but as tightly and thrillingly as they’ve ever been done.

Before their Glasto set, I’ll admit, I was a bit of a Stones agnostic: not as melodic as the Beatles, nor as epic as Led Zeppelin. What I hadn’t really appreciated before, though, was Mick’s diabolical energy, charisma and charm, the amused insolence with which Keef slouches into his licks and riffs with timing so immaculate you wonder why you’d ever bother with any other guitarist again. Even the potentially boring jazzy, bluesy guitar work-outs with Mick Taylor in the middle were great. But as I say, really you had to be there.

The other thing you missed was the Glastonbury debut of Tom Odell. He’s a nice Home Counties boy — 23 but looks about 16 — with the voice and yearning melancholy of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, the piano pyrotechnics of an Elton John (as he showed during a version of ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ almost on a par with the Stones’ one the night before) and a songwriting talent that makes Coldplay look like Chas’n’Dave.

Boy and I bumped into him backstage the day before and, modest and polite, he simply had no idea of the triumph that awaited him. ‘I’ve just heard. My album’s gone to number one,’ he announced, his voice cracking with disbelief, halfway through his swoonsome set. He then tried manfully to regain his composure. But he couldn’t and his face split into a grin so helpless it felt almost impertinent to intrude on such private joy. Another Glastonbury moment to treasure.

People are always saying Glastonbury isn’t as good as it used to be. Not true. When the weather holds out, as it did on this occasion, it remains the greatest show on earth: happier, friendlier, weirder, more magical than any other experience you’ve had anywhere else, ever. Thanks, God. I owe you one: you’ve just set up my boy for the rest of his life.


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