Well, Kenny Rogers did at least come up with the best line at Glastonbury, when he announced himself somewhat out of his comfort zone – because he didn’t normally perform to audiences that small.
He clearly doesn’t normally perform to audiences that randomly mixed, either, and ran into some embarrassment on Sunday afternoon when he called for singalongs to numbers only his hard-core fans would know. He had had better crowd participation in Morocco the week before, he teased.
You could spot people in Kenny’s audience who barely listen to music at all. They were there to sway along to Fine Time To Leave Me and The Gambler and they were happy with that.
Kenny was quite funny about it.
“For God’s sake, don’t sway,” he appealed. “It’s like watching ten thousand Ray Charleses.”
He did reprise his most outlawish number, Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In, a sort of country Walk On The Wild Side, but added a little warning against the stoner lifestyle it celebrated, back in the 60s. Otherwise, he had lost the profundo which sometimes made his voice exceptional and although amiably professional, he was a little bit tame, as you might expect from a 75-year-old who told the BBC he regarded himself as an entertainer rather than a singer.
The other high point of Sunday, for those of us following Glastonbury on tv, was an airing for a Stones number which was not broadcast from their set on Saturday. Mick Jagger had rewritten Factory Girl on the back of an envelope so he could sing about waiting for his Glastonbury Girl, who he met taking a pee in a ditch.
The Glastonbury Girls made it clear they were available for selection and males of Jagger’s generation sucked in their stomachs and spent the rest of the night naming performers in their 60s who could blow whichever act was currently on screen out of the water.
John Lydon and Public Image Limited came on to prove our point by generating more excitement in one track than student favourites like The Editors and Vampire Weekend managed in their whole sets. It was hard to make out what they were on about but they made a powerful sound.
Tom Odell, who looks like Boris Johnson’s nephew and is more or less competent on piano, came on after discovering his album was suddenly top of the charts. He was gobsmacked and so were those of us who remember, say, Alan Price or Georgie Fame. Then Mumford & Sons came on, trying to make like a collision between The Band and the Clancy Boys, only to be revealed, on closer inspection, to be only half as hairy as they wish they were and to be singing little poems of their own which only superficially sounded like folk. They stand out only in a sea of X Factor style but somehow they got lucky enough, last year, to make a film with Old Crow Medicine Show, an American equivalent who are about ten times better.
My wife reminds me that there must have been old blighters shaking their heads in despair back in the 1960s, when we thought The Yardbirds did quite a good job on Smokestack Lightning, because we had never heard Howling Wolf. And she is right of course. But so were the old blighters.
Glamour queens of the weekend on the big stage were Laura Mvula, a kind of Nina Simone with false eyelashes and high heels, and Lianne La Havas, a stunning mix of Jamaican, Greek and Brit, who is quite handy with both guitar and attitude. Both looked sensational but neither sang a set list designed for the casual visitor and that left a gap in the market which Mark Radcliffe filled by hauling First Aid Kit into the BBC studio for a special performance of their Scandibilly hit Emmylou (I’ll be your Emmylou and your June/If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny). First Aid Kit are two Swedish sisters who, in harmony, could usher the entire middle-aged male population into line to give up their right arms for any cause the girls liked to mention.
A teenage Irish band called Strypes also went down well with the oldies – playing good old r’n’b in a way which, as Mark Radcliffe commented, must have reminded the Stones of themselves at that age.
Radcliffe and Jo Whiley threw a bit of genuine musical understanding into their commentary. Whiley, for example, was interesting on why the Stones were lower-pitched than Vampire Weekend –“ because they play off Keith, rather than Charlie” (while the younger band are driven by their energetic drummer).
On Friday, the opening day, our sofa was left cold by nearly everything except Seasick Steve – and he sang a couple of songs too many in celebration of his own hokeyness.
* Chris Benfield is a former Yorkshire Post journalist who blogs on music and other matters at https://hack4hire.wordpress.com/