Take a moment, possibly as you stop-start into the festival car park, to get clued-up on some of the finest guitarists at Glastonbury this year…
It’s summer, it’s raining and the country’s about to tear itself apart at the seams. That can only mean one thing - the festival season is upon us!
Alongside, the cows, stone circle and free dahl, part of Glastonbury’s charm is it’s diverse and extensive range of acts, so picking just 10 highlights from a list of players longer than the queue to get onsite is something of a challenge.
This year our pick of the pickers takes in a blend of exquisite British and US talent. And yes, obviously, Matt Bellamy is in there…
Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke)
If you like your Southern rock to issue forth from genuine Stetson-wearing son-of-a-guns, then look for the shining, err, Starr on the Avalon stage this Friday.
2015’s Holding All The Roses hit number one on the US country charts and broke the top 20 in the UK, providing a much-deserved hit for the Atlanta five-piece.
This is a band that have toured constantly for 16 years and know how to deliver the goods in almost any live situation. Meanwhile, frontman Charlie Starr’s exchanges with Paul Jackson are a killer blend of tasty lick and bar-grime authenticity.
Gemma Thompson (Savages)
Savage's Gemma Thompson is quite simply the finest noise-rock guitarist to come out of the UK in the last decade.
Gemma's is an artist’s approach to the instrument, using alternately broad, circular riffs and squeaking creepy harmonics to craft huge sonic canvasses. She’s a master manipulator of feedback, as proven on this year’s very good second album Adore Life.
We can see that record’s title track (sort of – it’s called Adore), a slow-building, charged and cleansing paean to life’s light and darkness, providing a moment of true catharsis for the Pilton crowds.
You’ve probably not heard much of Michael Kiwanuka’s new album Love And Hate yet, because, well, it’s not out for another three weeks, but we have, so you’re just going to have to take our word for it that he’s nailed it.
While he’s always been a fine acoustic player, and that anguished-yet-honeyed vocal still send shivers down the spine, an exciting combination of a darker sound, Danger Mouse production job and an expanded band have helped him to tread boldly into new territory. Check out the expansive title track below for a little taste of what’s to come.
We thought it important to include some new blood in this list and, due to his updated take on Fairport-style finger-picked folk rock, songwriter Blair Dunlop has that dubious honour.
Blair also claims Brit folkster Nic Jones as a sizeable inspiration and it’s his live acoustic shows that bring his flashiest playing to the fore. We’re hoping his Acoustic Stage set on Sunday will be no exception to this rule. Check out She Won’t Cry For Me from new album Gilded for a little sample of what’s to come.
Few songwriters have achieved Hawley’s balance of sentimental vignette and classic tone, while still sounding remotely relevant.
This is songwriting for the ages and if you don’t shed a tear amid a performance of I Still Want You or Coles Corner, then you’re probably severely dehydrated. If that doesn’t get you to the Park Stage at closing time, then do it for your ears - Hawley must have one of the finest combined hauls of classic gear and vinyl in Britain. Live shows are a tonal treat and the closest you’ll get to actual ear candy without shoving gobstoppers in your lugs.
Michael James, Mona Rayani and Mark Smith (Explosions In The Sky)
The American post-rock kings have elevated their art form to heights that must have seemed unimaginable when they first emerged in 1999.
Having three guitarists and no singer in a rock band is now not quite the gob in the eye of conformity it might have been 17 years ago, but it’s Michael James, Mona Rayani and Mark Smith’s fine, intuitive ear for arrangement and composition that has proved the enduringly astonishing thing about this group.
Their live shows have helped them build a following of cult-like devotees and there can be few better settings for new album The Wilderness than the fertile fields of Worthy farm.
James Petralli (White Denim)
Austin crew White Denim have always been tighter-than-a-duck’s-bum, but those worried that recent additions in drummer Jeff Olson and guitarist Jonathan Horne may have loosened the formula needn’t worry.
Guitarist/frontman James Petralli and Horne have developed a simpatico relationship that has elevated their already astonishing blend of psychedelic-garage-rock-jazz-madness into genuinely thrilling new heights. This is a band that play like they sound, which is to say, constantly on the edge of coming undone. We don’t know how they do it every night, but it’s unmissable.
Gary Clark Jr.
We don’t know what they’re putting in the water in the Southern states, but they’ve produced more than their fair share of guitar heroes since the turn of the century.
In the guitar world (is there another one?), Gary Clark Jr.’s rise is now the stuff of legend. He has an uncompromising approach to sawtooth tone and a set that acts like a guided tour through the history of the blues, from Delta rawness to Hendrix-esque howling and hip hop swagger. The likes of Numb and Bright Lights have established his credentials as the real deal.
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
The beard! The hats! The ‘what-in-the-power-of-grey-skull-is-that’ guitar!
Billy Gibbons will be supplying Pilton with all of the above in what is sure to be a set heavily-laden with hits, because, frankly, one does not simply walk into Glastonbury and play the Pyramid on a Friday night, if they’re not up for that.
Recent sets have been peppered with the likes of Sharp Dressed Man, Legs, Pincushion, Gimme All Your Lovin’ and their signature Foxy Lady cover. And, should you need to know, we can tell you that guitar is a John Bolin custom creation.
Matt Bellamy (Muse)
Once, twice, three times a sizeable space rock show from Glastonbury’s near(-ish) neighbours Muse.
Recent frothy-mouthed reviews have the band on strong form following the release of Drones just over a year ago. The Teignmouth trio have never exactly been backwards in coming forwards when it comes to bombastic headline opportunities and Matt Bellamy is perhaps the 21st century’s finest proponent of the guitar hero art form.
All arching limbs, whirling arpeggios and acrobatic solos, he doesn’t just fill the gaps vacated by ageing classic rockers, he juggles them atop a grand piano. In true Brit guitar hero style, this weekend he’s bringing it all back home.