On Friday night, Kate McGill gave a sensitive
performance in the old skatepark, which was once Stage One, and
which opened this year again as a venue for live performance for
new musicians, as The Canopy.
Ambient in feel and tastefully lit, the space is conducive to
sensitive solo sets and Kate McGill certainly delivered.
This sweet-shop assistant is often emotional when performing,
and sometimes breaks down mid-song.
Joined by guest musicians at times, this guitarist's lyrical
concerns are intelligent explorations of her yearning for the
reality of God, not least with The Key, which initially seems
critical, but develops into a loving homage to old churchgoers,
whose prayers have helped many to find such reality.
On the mainstage, the veteran Canadian singer-songwriter
Bruce Cockburn (Features, 24 August) turned the
arena into his living room.
It was remarkable to see one man and an electric-acoustic guitar
fill the space with such confidence. But then Cockburn is very much
at home at Greenbelt, having played here on and off since 1987.
His performance was a slow burn, warming the audience on a damp
night. He doesn't preach, or wind up an audience, he chuckles,
makes asides, and allows the power of his poetic, and, often angry
songs to do the talking.
Classics such as "After The Rain" and "Lovers In A Dangerous
Time" sat alongside contemporary material, such as "Boundless" and
"Call Me Rose", which, Cockburn reveals, "came" to him in his
sleep, about hypothetical attempts to improve Richard Nixon's
Concluding with "Lord of the Starfields", Cockburn's psalm of
praise to God, an appreciative response greeted a favourite
There was support for the Devonshire songstress Ellie
Williams, at a lunchtime gig in the Performance Café, on
Saturday. As people downed flapjacks and Fairtrade coffee in the
music-diner, an unassuming "Oh, hello", from the surprised artist,
was greeted by cheers from the feasting crowds.
The Adele influences in the vocals were matched by Keene-esque
keyboards, two acoustic guitarists, and a bass player. And the
sound matched the images evoked by "Stars", growing-up memories of
nights on Dartmoor, before giving structure to her dedication to
Williams's husband on "These Walls We Built".
After a while, Williams's melancholic tone gave rise to
restlessness among those less familiar with her songs, but there's
clear potential here, nevertheless.
It takes a pretty special band to keep people at mainstage in
conditions like Saturday's, but Weapons of Sound
proved that they were up to the job.
Generating raucous beats by smashing junk instruments - bins,
bottles, tubes, and even a shopping trolley - these veterans of
improvised percussion whipped the crowd up into a suitably muddy
Even though the ground was being fast reduced to a quagmire,
shoes were kicked off, hair let down, and mud thoroughly danced in.
It takes talent to draw people out of their shells, and Weapons of
Sound have clearly got it.
The singer-songwriter Chris T-T had caused a
bit of a social media sensation with his acerbic review of the
Olympic closing ceremony, but the burly Morning Star
columnist was in a much better mood as he delivered a set of A. A.
Milne poems, set to his own music, in the Performance Café.
"Children, this is a song about communism," he said, introducing
his version of "Market Square". "Adults, this is a song about
This avuncular style seemed at odds with his reputation as an
angry protest-singer (he did a set of those songs later in the
weekend at the Performance Café), but there was more than a hint of
ideology in his approach - he just managed to avoid the earnestness
that dogs so many of his peers.
Harry Bird and The Rubber Wellies are a
delight. Having started playing together at university they now
live on separate continents, getting to play together only for
special occasions, such as the Performance Café, on Sunday.
This time, with Harry's brother Jamie guesting alongside the
regulars Harry and Christophe, their positive and upbeat sound -
blending guitar with mixes of banjo, ukulele, fiddle, and kazoo -
burst like the sunshine on Sunday after the downpours of Saturday
Their joy-filled tunes reflect influences on their lives in
Ireland and Spain, and contrast with their challenging and
thought-provoking messages about freedom, hypocrisy, and politics,
making their impact all the more potent.
As well as offering new songs, they pleased the crowds with old
favourites such as "The Beard Snood", and "Ban the Bomb".
Playing at his first British festival, Willy
Porter, a singer-songwriter from Milwaukee, welly-less, so
barefoot at what had become "HMS Performance Café", brought his
audience a unique sound, fusing rock-style guitar-picking with a
moderated folk tuning.
Dancing his way across the strings, he shared some delightful
stories linked to his songs, such as "Paper Airplane", inspired by
a six-year-old neighbour who wanted to play with his cat.
He concluded by getting the audience to write a song with him
reflecting on the weather, typified by the line: "God says,
'There's a nice little festival; I think I'll rinse it!'"
Luke Sital-Singh's gentle melodies drew in damp
audiences to hunker under the shelter of The Canopy, late on
Sital-Singh played only a short 30-minute set, but left the
audience with plenty to remember, mainly his haunting lyrics and an
endearingly introverted stage presence.
Unlike many singer-songwriters, his original songs were
completely accessible for an unacquainted audience; the simplicity
of his song-writing a testament to his obvious talent.
His uplifting musical artistry cheered the soggy spirits of a
The legendary Woodstock Festival had concluded in surreal
fashion, with Jimi Hendrix, at 4.15 a.m., before a few hundred
remaining fans who stood in quagmires of mud.
While hardly a credible comparison, Bruce
Cockburn's long-awaited second, acoustic set saw a similar
hard-core in ankle-deep mud, inside a Big Top partially closed
owing to extreme weather. It was worth it, though. For 30 minutes,
he addressed a variety of questions, and, in response to one, about
controversy being a potential blessing, he again returned to the
importance of turning everything over to God, in troubled
Humble, well-spoken, with a Canadian drawl, he was remarkable in
his self-effacement. His faith seemed honest and hard-won. In the
attendant acoustic set, it continued shining in songs omitted from
the previous night, such as "All The Diamonds In The World",
"Mystery", and "Waiting For A Miracle".
At The Canopy, the folk-electronica duo Golden
Fable grabbed listeners from the concourse with their
breathy and atmospheric sound. Reminiscent of bands such as Belle
and Sebastian, listeners cottoned on quite quickly to why the pair
have been lauded by BBC Radio. From sotto voce to
shimmering crescendo they were another little nugget in the
impending weather gloom.
Rivers of mud only improved the dancing conditions for
Asian Dub Foundation's mainstage set. Their fusion
of punk, dub, rap, guitars, and ragga was punctuated by the joyous
squelching of hundreds of Greenbelters leaping up and down. "I
wanna see that mud spraying above your heads, people!" said one
band member, and everyone was pretty happy to comply.
Apart from a couple of mellow, hypnotic tracks, most of the set
was furiously paced, which kept everyone toasty. Vocals were fast
and rap-based with the odd "bo!" thrown in. There's an urgent
political vein to their music: "History of Now" was dedicated to
the people of Syria.
But brilliantly executed, life-affirming dance is what this band
major in. Woolly-hatted heads nodded, young and old behinds
waggled. The joyful finale with drumming ensemble Ministry
of Dhol made the last mud fly high into the air, before we
all squished off into the night.
MaLoKai, the heavy Manchester-based act, have
been around for a while; they immediately sound competent. Although
they initially displayed a few clichés - all Slayer shapes and
low-slung Korn guitars - it was hard not to give in to their
infectious energy, as they obviously love what they do and love
God. Unafraid to reveal their Christian faith to a large audience,
these four head-bangers are located somewhere between Sum 41 and
Needing a stand-in, because the drummer gets married the next
day, you wouldn't know it as they rip up The Canopy with a calm,
assured performance which reaches "wowser" levels with an
unexpected rendi- tion.
Three-piece acts always conjure-up memories of the Jam, and
Tiny Dragons are no exception: taut, anxious
sound, and passionate (female) vocals, complementing her fret-work
on the bass, there's more than a hint of Red Hot Chilli Peppers in
there, too, as this Brighton combo veer from post-punk to funk.
With a mosh breaking out, and Paramore fans apparent, the
refrain, "Where did I go wrong?" fills the warm, Sunday afternoon
air, and suddenly we're reminded of 90s Britpoppers Echobelly.
"Tremors" and "For The Dark and Handsome" stand out, and you
realise that this group wouldn't be out of place on Zane Lowe's
Radio 1 show; not least, because of excellent guitar playing.
This year at the festival nods (and sometimes shouts) of
approval greeted any mention of Britain's multiculturalism. So it
was some surprise to see that musical acts that fell outside the
country's traditional musical heritage were sometimes sparsely
The Mercury Prize-winning hip hop artist Speech
Debelle (Features, 24 August) took some time to warm up
given the low numbers at mainstage, but as night fell, her small
but appreciative audience warmed to her impassioned take on the
state of Britain today.
From songs about last year's riots to pleas for a world in which
money is less important than spiritual wealth, she fitted
Greenbelt's social conscience perfectly. It was just something of a
shame that the festival audience did not have as much confidence in
her as its programmers.
It's rare, in popular music, for an artist to communicate that
most elusive of emotions, joy, but that's what comes across with
Hope and Social - the new Fat 'n' Frantic,
There's a flavour of Madness in their Ska beat, as these
nutty-boys energetically get the crowds, standing in mud, dancing
Their performance on mainstage on Sunday can variously be
described as "tight", "expansive", and "fun". It's enough to get
the fans (some waving placards) running on the spot, despite the
brown stuff underfoot.
But there's a serious side to this group, too, in songs like
"Red, Red Rose", which ponders "talking about religious views" at
the end of civilisation, and the poignant, Dexy's-influenced
"Family Man", complete with high-energy banjo. Watch this space:
these boys will put a smile on your face.
Right from the first line, that combination of Scottish vocal
power and harmony pumping out from the mainstage could only be
the Proclaimers, but the band now supporting
Charlie and Craig Reid gave them a richer sound than before; not
just on the newer tracks opening the set, but also on a slower and
even more lyrical "Sunshine on Leith".
Still, it was the old favourites that many in the large crowd
had come to hear. Three songs in, "Letter from America" had them
all with their arms in the air. However, "Cap in Hand" failed to
stir the couple of saltires on show; perhaps people were there for
a good time rather than political commentary.
The inevitable climax was "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" resulting
in a frenzy of hollering and singing. With thousands of pairs of
wellie boots marching on the spot, parents and teenagers shared a
rare moment of togetherness.
At the start of Sunday, the Greenbelt communion congregation had
sung "Bring 'em all in", a reworked Mike Scott song. At its close,
Nitin Sawhney's eclectic, and electric, performance did just that.
It was as if he had taken a tour of the entirety of the catering
concessions at the festival, scooping a dollop of each cuisine:
Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, North African, English - and blended
them into a spicy soul-food mix.
To say that Sawhney, a British Indian, musician, producer, and
composer, is eclectic tells the story too baldly. Even though we
were standing in a mud-clogged field in damp air, Sawhney took us
and placed us at one moment in a sultry night with cicadas, a rum
punch, and a breath of wind coming off the ocean. Then suddenly
there was the bright flash of a vivid sari, and the smell of
chillies and garlic cooking on an open fire.
The silent disco is far from silent. Even
though the music is played through wireless headphones radio-linked
to DJ booths in the Big Top, dancers scream along to the music at
the top of their lungs, unable to hear themselves, or each
Two DJs fight for musical dominance (it's possible to flick
between their channels at any time, by pushing a switch on the
headset). Pretty soon groups form, bound by the simple camaderie of
listening to the same music. It's a badge of honour to resist the
lure of 80s cheese, and stay tuned to the thumping dance music of
the other channel, but it's a hard one to keep for most.
Just over an hour after it shakes mainstage, the Proclaimers'
"I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", comes on the headphones. All the voices
in the tent are raised in unison. People stamp their feet in time.
Most, it turns out, try to put on a Scottish accent for the
This choir is a world away from the original version. All the
rehearsals have taken place in showers, in cars, and through
hairbrushes in mirrors. And without headphones on, listening to the
noise fill the arena, it sounds beautiful.
Despite the boggy quagmire in front of mainstage, a good crowd
tipped up to watch Leeds-born beatboxer Shlomo
(Hebrew for "God's peace") late on Sunday night. People
enthusiastically clapped and jumped around to his remixed classics
and original material, so much so, in fact, that children were
falling over in the mud with excitement.
Later that same evening, in front of a crowd of mostly 13 to
18-year-olds, Shlomo took on the silent disco mantle for an hour,
including a range of hip hop, Queen, and again, his own
Watching him was a privilege. Like a conductor, he co-ordinates
such a range of sounds using a loop pedal to record motifs. Yet he
has no strings, brass or timpani drums. He relies upon solely his
own vocal chords.
Folk On present a challenge for the Greenbelt
schedulers. Are they a musical act? Or are they comedians? The
truth is, they manage to bridge that gap in which so many YouTube
hopefuls perish. The quartet are talented musicians, mastering the
didgeridoo and creating the genre of folk-rap, and genuinely funny
Despite being regulars in the muddy venues of Cheltenham
Racecourse, Monday lunchtime was their first stab at mainstage.
Could they make the step up? Absolutely. The crowd laughed, sang,
and lost their dignity performing ridiculous dance moves under the
guidance of these "Real Men of Folk".
By Monday night, you might imagine that Greenbelters had toughed
it out enough. But in Imagined Village and
Bellowhead, the festival mainstage saw some of its
biggest audiences of the weekend.
Melding traditional English music with the beats and sounds of a
truly global palette, Imagined Village's lyrics called out for
social justice at every turn. They seemed like a band birthed to
play at Greenbelt.
In Bellowhead the festival got its biggest surprise ever, with a
set that felt like a party. Raucous, inventive, generous, and
euphoric, the 11-piece band blessed the thousands who danced on in
the mud with their infectious musicality and spirit.