tue 16/07/2024

Glastonbury Golden Greats, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Glastonbury Golden Greats, BBC Four

Glastonbury Golden Greats, BBC Four

A musical montage that sacrificed spirit on the altar of showbiz

Johnny Cash, walking the right side of the line

Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury is an odd time. For some it means carrying on carrying on, trying to wring the very last drops out of the weekend and putting off the inevitable, stomach-churning lurch that will signal a nosedive into a colossal comedown.

For others, it’s simply a day to be a bit more sensible: after all there’s a long drive tomorrow… Whichever, there seems to be a clamour for the familiar, something to cling to while you take the edge off with more booze or think about A-road alternatives to avoid congestion. This is where the faded glory of the "once-greats" comes in: mid-afternoon on the Pyramid stage, the legends come out to play…

Of course, everyone’s a legend these days, aren’t they? Steve from ad sales, he’s a legend. And Mike in accounts – he’s a proper legend… And Dave! Remember that time he shat himself in Nandos? Absolute legend mate! In the face of this freefall of our linguistic currency, BBC Four’s clipped collection of performances from those who’ve played the spot that has become set aside for big-name giants did its best to redress the balance. So how did these performers measure up to a stag party with a fondness for hyperbole?

Taking off your jacket and putting it back on again isn't showmanship – it’s an inability to judge ambient temperature

Broadly speaking, they fell into two categories. The first looked comfortable in its own skin, owned the stage and led with authority. Issac Hayes, refusing to take both himself and the “Theme from Shaft” too seriously, was phenomenal – here was a man who double-denimed with an easy élan (triple if you count the two-tone jacket) and sang with the authority of a performer who knows he’s still got it. Similarly, Johnny Cash did Johnny Cash as well as he ever did, while BB King proved a comfortable watch, with the added TV bonus that, up close, you could see what incredibly beautiful hands he had.

Much of the rest of the bill, though, elicited little more than a disinterested shrug: file under "Meh". I can’t presume to know others’ minds, but when the cheering for an act sounds like it's comprised almost entirely of ironic nostalgia, you’re probably not in for a treat. Unless, of course, you love ironic nostalgia. Which, to be fair, the Sunday afternoon crowd seem to. Willie Nelson, with his off-kilter phrasing of “Always On My Mind”, seemed to think he was owning the song. In fact he just sounded out of time. There must have been better material from his set they could have used here – something that would have served an incredible artist rather better. Meanwhile, although Al Green belted it out on “Take Me To the River”, it couldn't be considered a great performance, particularly as he delivered a confused shout out to both “Bristol” and “London”, before mistaking taking off his jacket and then putting it back on again for showmanship. It’s not, it’s just an inability to accurately judge ambient temperature.

James Brown did what James Brown used to do, but with less impact and a workmanlike band, devoid of flair or showmanship, presumably in case they eclipsed the dying star that had once shone so brilliantly. You could almost hear people in the audience ticking off the box marked “see James Brown” in a list of “Life Goals”. We also had Ray Davies speeding through a too-fast version of “All Day and All of the Night” that sacrificed punch, impact and drama, opting instead for an inexplicable, mid-song “Wheeee-oooh” audience call-and-response.

Still, at least Ray looked like he was having a good time. It was almost impossible to tell with either Kenny Rogers or Dolly Parton, whose ongoing fight against the ravages of time, armed only with scalpels and staple guns, has left them both looking like laminated caricatures. When Rogers, during “The Gambler”, sang “And his face lost all expression” it certainly raised an eyebrow. Well, it might have done – it was tricky to tell to be honest. Anyway, Rogers shuffled about, while Parton appeared to lip-synch her way through much of the show, and everyone else seemed to be having a whale of a time.

While I'm trying really hard to see the appeal of the legends slot, it just doesn’t seem to capture the spirit of Glastonbury – or indeed anything much. In fact, in most cases, spirit seemed to have been sacrificed at the altar of showbiz professionalism, or hidden behind a rictus grin and studied stage craft. I guess it’s true what they say – to appreciate it fully you had to be there. Somewhere around 1972 I’d have thought.

When the cheering for an act is comprised almost entirely of ironic nostalgia, you’re probably not in for a treat


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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