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LIVE REPORT: Glastonbury 2022, Day One
Patrick Clarke , June 25th, 2022 13:33

Our man on Worthy Farm reports back from the Friday of 2022's Glastonbury, which sees imperious sets from Little Simz, Confidence Man, Arooj Aftab, St Vincent and more. All photos by Jim Dyson

Kalush Orchestra

It is nice to wake up after a bludgeoning Thursday night of raving to Giant Swan to the sound of distant music thumping gently over the campsite, even if is The Libertines' late-morning opening set. A video message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky precedes them: "The more people who join us in defending freedom and the truth, the sooner Russia's war will end," he says, to a reception that, although expected, is still moving in its enormity. It's nice, too, to wander past the Pyramid stage to hear Ziggy Marley playing mainly his dad's old hits to a chilled and jolly crowd of tens of thousands, and it's nicer still to settle down at West Holts for Arooj Aftab. Her precise, lushly textured music and full voice takes a grip slowly but firmly over her audience as they re-apply glitter around bleary eyes. Dark grey clouds are gathering, "I hope they don't spoil your party," says Aftab between songs, but so far we've been spared the rain that's been threatened all festival.

Back on Worthy Farm for the first time since 2019, everything feels largely as we left it, but the abiding atmosphere among festivalgoers, for now at least, is a sense of calm. The overwhelming euphoria that defined Green Man and End Of The Road when they returned last summer isn't here; it feels more like relief than release.

For those of us not caught in the mad crush of The Park stage for Wet Leg, whose colossal popularity far outstrips the stage's capacity, the slow hypnosis of Friday gets heavier as we stumble on to The Utopia Strong at The Glade instead. Steve Davis sits on an office chair as he methodically arranges a tangle of wires that sprawl from his modular synth, looking like the commander of a run down alien spacecraft. Kavus Torabi in his glittery silver winkle pickers is his opposite, thrashing with intent as he stoops over his guitar, projecting intense psychic energy when he takes the mic to deliver an intense, droning chant. Michael J. York is somewhere in between, flitting between his Moog and a selection of bagpipes and wind instruments that look like they were.

If it's been a gentle start, however, Confidence Man are keen to obliterate that vibe. They bounce around The Park stage with such high camp ludicrousness that the already converted are in rapture, and that casual passersby are made zealots. Pounding Weatherall beats, four costume changes in an hour, synchronised dance moves that look like they were devised by children as a performance for extended family (in a good way), this is pop of the most magnificent order, and kicks the festival into gear.

The Libertines

"That was a weavers song from the 19th century" says Mataio Austin Dean of the excellent radical trad-folk outfit Shovel Dance Collective, as they play a set at The Crow's Nest, high up on the hill overlooking the festival that has been delayed due to Dick And Dom (of Da Bungalow fame) overrunning - it's unclear why, but they're being interviewed by Shaun Keaveny. It's a delay that means the heavy bass from Dry Cleaning's set at The Park sounds loudly in the background throughout. Armed with only a flute, a fiddle, an acoustic guitar and their voices, this reduced version of the group (a four piece rather than the usual nine) is still effective, performing ancient songs not as museum pieces, but as deeply resonant continuations of tradition.

Dry Cleaning, for their part, provide a rager of a set; they're loud and powerful. You can tell that guitarist Tom Dowse used to be in a grindcore band – the group have a chaotic and brutal intensity to their sound live, making the contrast with Florence Shaw's elegantly twisting and turning vocals – which has always been at the core of their sound – all the more pronounced. It's unfortunate they clash with Sleaford Mods, whose ability to command an impressive West Holts crowd is testament to the duo's long-term graft; let it never be said that difficult and intense music can't also resonate with a large audience.

There are plenty of crowd-pleasers through the afternoon. Supergrass play the hits well on The Other Stage, and the hugely popular Sam Fender at The Pyramid looks like he's having one of those big moments that later define the rise of a genuine superstar. The only shame is that they seem to have hoovered up a lot of the crowd for Seun Kuti at West Holts – he and his band, Egypt 80, are on killer form as they hurtle through a set of relentless afrobeat without pause. St Vincent, too, deserves a bigger crowd than she gets on the Other Stage, although it doesn't seem to phase her. Her latest album, Daddy's Home, felt undercooked on record but not so on stage. Its retro sleaze is delivered with ultimate slinky poise, Annie Clark joined intermittently by a dancing 1950s diner waitress. She and her band run a tight ship, and there are regular reminders that Clark is one of the most artistically gifted guitar players of her generation, but what's most notable is how she uses those talents sparingly, and therefore to maximum effect.

Billie Eilish headlines The Pyramid, although without the secret Harry Styles guest appearance that had been rumoured to the point it was assumed certain. By all accounts (other than those of tedious Facebook commenting men), her show's a triumph nonetheless, and features a well-timed attack on the US Supreme Court's decision, which broke that morning, to overturn Roe vs. Wade and the federal right to abortion. Phoebe Bridgers also leads her crowd in a chant of 'fuck the Supreme Court' during her show on the John Peel stage.

Sleaford Mods

It might have gone a little under the radar due to the significance of Eilish, who at 20 is the youngest ever solo Pyramid headliner, but at the same time at West Holts, Little Simz is having a similarly significant moment. "I was really, really nervous about this one," she admits between songs, but it's evident as soon as she steps onstage that this is exactly where she belongs. "I've been doing this for a very long time, and when they tell me, 'You're reaching too far', that I couldn't get where I wanted to get to in this life, you know what I said?" she asks the crowd, before launching into a storming rendition of 'Fear No Man' as a magnificent and mighty riposte. It's a set that contains multitudes, the energy peaking when she leans into her powerhouse flow, and levelling out beautifully when she pulls back into introspection.

From there, it's onto the Shangri-La area until the early hours, where Grove's unbelievably intense, constantly flipping set of rap, noise, UK garage and 2-step is the perfect soundtrack to growing late night pandemonium at the Gas Tower. Fittingly, the Friday closes on similar lines as Zelensky opened it, with Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra playing their first-ever British show at the Truth Stage into the early hours of the morning. By playing their Eurovision winning song 'Stefania' early in their set, they cleverly sidestep the pressure, and allow the crowd to enjoy their music on its own terms – thankfully, their mix of quick staccato rap and traditional Ukrainian instrumentation is excellent. Aside from the occasional brief shower, the weather's held up too.