The gold-dust of the journalist and the music-hipster alike, the Next Big Thing tends to steal most of the festival audience’s attention. But every year a small army of agèd stars shuffles out to headline stages with time-honoured class – and 2014 was no different.
As summer starts to feel quite long ago and the end of another year creeps just that little bit closer, we start our look back over the 2014 festival season with some old-timers who lit up the circuit this year.
Dolly Parton (Glastonbury)
When is comes to the queen of country, she says it best herself. Dolly is still so good that she was accused of miming at Glastonbury this year. Her response? “My boobs are fake, my hair’s fake but what is real is my voice and my heart.” Enough said, to be honest.
Sven Väth (Time Warp Netherlands, We Are FSTVL, SEMF, Balaton Sound - the list goes on)
From his very first sets in his parents’ nightclub at the age of 16, Sven Väth has risen up as one of the driving forces of the early naughties techno explosion in Ibiza, and as a true electronic autocrat. Since the debut of his Cocoon residency at Amnesia, he’s barely slowed down at all, helping a ton of younger talent along the way to find their voice and a place behind the decks.
The Rolling Stones (Roskilde)
The Rolling Stones have divided opinion in the last few years. Some continue to lap up the husky jilt of their undeniably great back-catalogue, while others feel like age has robbed them of their edge. “The kings of diabolical music are not supposed to be ‘nice’”, as one Danish reviewer put it after their appearance at Roskilde this year.
But if it’s energy you want, The Stones still have it in abundance, and though they’re not in their twenties anymore, it’s hard to say that the force and vigour that made them great in the first place are not pretty much intact. Ultimately, they will be adored right up until they finally decide to call it a day. And quite right, too.
Van Morrison (Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival)
An array of hits from the fiercely bluesy Baby Please Don’t Go, through the jazz lilt of Moondance and the honey-pop of Brown Eyed Girl, demands a certain skill to produce a coherent 2-hour set.
The man born George Ivan Morrison thankfully still has the swagger to pull it off. Though understandably not the same as it once was, Van Morrison’s voice still carries a characteristic kind of power and versatility, and seeing his daughter Shana join his band to sing backing vocals is a beautiful image of his music’s surviving relevance.
They lit up the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, putting on a show that Herald Scotland described as a “triumph of an artist still finding new ways to transport and be transported”, and putting Jools Holland, I’m afraid to say, firmly in the shade.
Pixies (INmusic Festival, Beauregard, Glastonbury)
Reunions don’t often go this well. The aggressive dynamism of the Pixies’ earliest material has been becalmed by the quarter-century since Surfer Rosa, but then again a good chunk of their fans felt they had lost their edge by the early 90s, with Bossanova and Trompe le Monde.
Their return to touring in 2004 could barely have gone any better, selling out four nights London’s Brixton Academy in the quickest time ever and producing great moments like Leeds Festival 2005 when they held a band meeting on stage to try and figure out if they could remember any more songs, as the 45,000 crowd brayed for more.
“Boston’s iconic pioneers of biblical and sci-fi screamelodica add precision, mania, panache and pop accessibility to the metallic arts” (The Guardian). They weathered the loss of bassist Kim Deal in 2013, and whatever you think of their 2014 album Indie Cindy, the Pixies still put on a hell of a show.
Pearl Jam (Rock Werchter, Austin City Limits Festival, Open’er Poland, Big Day Out Australia)
Evergreens of the turbulent rock world, Pearl Jam have been clean-grungeing their way through generations of listeners with the kind of grace that makes Eddie Vedder’s wet-concrete vocals so distinctive.
They have allowed their sound and style to mature with the years, and the result is a band that is unusually comfortable with not being as young as they once were. But the creativity and charisma are all still there.
B.B. King (B.B. King Homecoming Festival)
The mouth-dropping endurance of one of Electric Blues’ most heralded trailblazers continues to astound. B. B. King is still playing over 100 shows per year, having worked at twice or three times that rate until well into his seventies. His beloved Lucille’s smooth yet cutting tone is still screaming of unfaithful loves and remembered romances, even as generations of younger bluesmen inspired by the King of Blues himself come and go.
On 25th May, he appeared at the B. B. King Homecoming Festival, held in his honour in his home city of Indianola, Mississippi. A fitting tribute for a real titan of modern music. Long live the King.