I’ll be honest, at just after 7pm on Friday evening, I was not in the best of humours. After the (actually quite nice) drive down from Teesside, I’d managed to to spend just under 2 hours in a queue getting into Jodrell Bank, then through the main gate into the venue. But by the time I got in and pitched tent I’d already missed the recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage (which had happened at around 5.30), and as I walked to the main arena, I could tell that Public Service Broadcasting had already started their set.
However, after that point, things improved markedly. Public Service Broadcasting were really rather fabulous. They’re a lovely, playful, intelligent experience, and songs like Go! and The Other Side have a real drive and emotional pull. They have a silly side too, as the dancing astronaut and the brass in Gagarin show. The set finishes with two other top-notch songs from their the first album: Spitfire, and finally Everest, before they are gone. Since first hearing them, I’ve wanted to see what that experience was like live. They really didn’t disappoint.
After that, I had time for a quick wander around the rest of the site, and a few moments to take in the sheer size of the Lovell telescope. Truly impressive, and made to look even more amazing by the Brian Eno installation that lit it up after the end of the main stage acts on Friday and Saturday.
The other big draw for Friday was Underworld. If you were at Glastonbury, or saw the gig on TV, you don’t need me to fill in any more blanks. Great band, good performance. Audience (me included) more than happy.
Daytime on Saturday begins at a more relaxed pace, first with a breakfast of Argentine street food (nice hot beef and vegetable sandwich), then continuing with a stroll around the Discovery Park, chock full of great exhibits and proper good geekery all around. During the day, it really feels like being at a conference in a field, with wellies. I watch Channel 4 News’s Geoff White, the man behind the channel’s The Secret Life of your Mobile Phone as he does a great session in the Contact tent. To anyone in the industry, stuff like Wireshark network sniffing, and snarfing wifi passwords and network metadata over the air is not a surprise, but it is great to see this explained really well to a mainstream audience. And any man who explains packet-switched networking with a Mr Potato Head really can’t be all bad in my book.
So by early afternoon, it’s time to relax a little, and listen to some Lanterns on the Lake on the main stage, with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. They do make a very lovely noise indeed, and it puts me into just the right mood for a bit more science. I go and listen to Professor Danielle George talk about building some of the latest generation of high performance astronomical telescopes (SKA and ALMA), and the huge amounts of data that they are going to collect (9GB per SECOND). The first question she is asked is about how all of this wonderful work is going to be affected by the Brexit vote. She looks rather downcast for the first time. She says she is very, very nervous indeed. She has at least three major projects in which she is involved that may be affected. Sad times.
But I don’t want to dwell on that. So off I go to see Marc Abrahams (founder of the IgNobel Foundation) for a nice session about levitating frogs, foreign bodies inserted into the anus (yes, there have been studies), and a fastidious recording of the pain caused by stinging insects, as read by QI elf, James Harkin. After a paella break, its time to wait for the evening music. Tom Middleton‘s DJ set is decent stuff, but it’s the two big acts I’m up for. Firstly, it’s Air. Their hour-long set is, as you might expect, a thing of beauty indeed. The musicians wander on, all dressed in white, and proceed to wow a field in Cheshire with a lovely mix of the wistful, the ethereal, and the frankly batshit wig-out. Marvellous.
But of course, these are only the hors d’oeuvres before the main course, Jean-Michel Jarre. This show is the eighth time I’ve seen him live, and it’s the first in just under six years (the previous one was at the 10.10.10 show in London), so the question was whether this new show was going to cut the mustard.
In two words: “Hell, yeah!”
The set design is fabulous, with huge panels being used to project images. The sound is AMAZING. During the set I can feel my shins literally throb with the bass. The video fragments I uploaded to youtube don’t quite do the spectacle justice, though you do get some idea.
It’s a set of mostly new material, though older stuff that does get played, like Oxygene 8, and Equinoxe 7 are given major retools to fit the dynamics of this crowd-pleasing festival set. Songs from the latest albums like The Heart of Noise and Automatic are just stunning. Even a Pet Shop Boys-free version of Brick England is a wow, with rotoscope-style images of the group projected as a vocoder version of the lyrics are played.
The set is pulsating, and finishes off with The Time Machine (complete with a Laser Harp solo) and a bouncing version of his collaboration with Armin van Buuren, Stardust.
The wonderful thing about it is that there were still, for an artist in his late 60s, some surprises, some risks. And the fun he was having was obvious. I can’t wait for the full arena show in October, when we’ll get another half hour of this stuff.
Last order of business for Saturday is to go to the comedy tent. Before that, I nip for a beer, only to see a guy who used to work in Scarborough at the University. Ciaran was looking well. The new job suits him. Oh yes, and the beer was pretty decent too. After a leisurely pint, I wander across to see Adam Kane do a great set. He was a doctor, so he has some medical horror stories mixed with songs, which are medically-inflected parodies of familiar tunes. His song about drug names to the tune of The Elements is a beaut. And then, finally, at around midnight, comes Robin Ince. I have a lot of time for Mr I. My twitter bio contains a description of me coined by him: “enlightenment nincompoop” (which was a compliment, and which I wear as a badge of honour). He really is a force of nature tonight, by turns musing on the aftermath of the last month or so, a cracking Brian Blessed impersonation and top-level Brian Cox piss-takery, before making an impassioned plea to the younger generation in the room to remain curious, because that’s what humans should be. It’s the perfect end to a perfect night.
On Sunday, it’s time for me to pack up and go home (even though there’s a full day of stuff left). Apart from the inevitable queue to get in, this has been a blast, and generally really very well organised and put together. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, relaxed and overall, it was just great. And it looks like they’re going to do it again. Could be a possibility next year if the bill is good…