It’s 30th of July 2013. A warm Saturday evening at a farm in Pilton where only minutes ago the Rolling Stones made history with their first performance at Glastonbury festival. The night is still humming from the last chords of “Satisfaction”, the fields are full of the desire of 177,000 revelers wanting more. But what’s next? While some choose to take the epic passage to the world of district 9, others march to the dirty burger bar or the cider bus to end their evening in style.
Meanwhile however, be it by chance, purpose or written in the stars, some of us end up at the Crossiant Neuf Stage waiting eagerly for a performance from five men from Bristol and South Devon.
The crowd, (what there is left of them) are both tired and exhausted, much like the Stone’s logo t-shirts which have very much outworn their welcome over the last few days. With ears ringing, heads pounding and feet aching from wellies dancing in the madness among the pyramid stage we wait. Then it starts.
The pure energy of the band is enough to make you stand up and take notice from the first chilling stroke of Aaron Catlow’s violin. The enticing introduction of Lost In Transitvania cannot fail to bring a smile to your face and keeping your feet still during this song proves to be the most impossible task. I envy those who have stumbled upon the Crossiant Neuf by happy accident to witness the unique and quirky, frenzied folk legends that are Sheelanagig. To see the crowds staggered faces as they marvel at the brilliance that is thrown upon them is captivating, especially during the haunting rendition of Lamento Di Tristano where the band’s musical talent really comes alive. For me, this is Sheelanagig at their very best. Violin, percussion, guitar, banjo, flute and drums are all part of the magic and the combination is world class.
My journey here this evening however is not by chance. I had never experienced Balkan music before but after having been privileged enough to see this band at my local pub in Chippenham Wiltshire (following several high recommendations from the pub’s manager), Sheelanagig were hastily added to my list of musicians not to be missed at Glastonbury and I was far from disappointed.
Walking into the Crossiant Neuf tent whilst Sheelanagig are playing is like venturing into a magical funfair of folk tales, drinking, dancing and madness. The audience continues to build up and the tent becomes even more crowded as people seemingly appear from nowhere, all drawn to the mayhem of this circus. Vocalist Aaron Catlow felt it was one of the band’s highlights of the year, “We had a great gig at Glasto, you never know how many people are going to turn up to your show because of the shear size of the festival and amount of things going on but the crowd turned out in force to see us. from the first note every one was bouncing around like kittens possessed.”
And like kittens possessed we bounced. The band’s ska influence becomes evident during the band’s imaginative rendition of “Vlad The Inhaler”. Storytelling is still very much a part of the Glastonbury experience and the audience listen intensively as Dorian Sutton unveils the magical tale of an ageing vampire known as Vlad with his mystifying vocals.
The performance becomes even more surreal during the dreamy rendition of Al Fresco’s Love Temple Waltz/Salterello as the crowd sway merrily in an almost hypnotic trance! It gets even weirder later when everyone is told to crouch down during the introduction of another magnificent number, but of course at Glastonbury it feels like the most natural request in the world and the crowd obediently crouch down to the floor before jumping back up again to bounce their way through the rest of the performance! What ever your taste in music, I challenge you to keep your feet still whilst watching this band.
Visiting Glastonbury is always going to be a special time, whether it is your first visit or your last but sometimes the most magical moments are not just those enjoyed whilst witnessing the performances of the headlining acts. Sometimes those moments happen whilst discovering the crazed human pyramid of folk musicians you stumble upon in the Crossiant Neuf with a pint of cider in your hand. My wellie’s endured plenty of dancing and my voice plenty of cheering during that memorable weekend in July, but following the performance of Sheelanagig very little compared to the sheer joy and excitement of the crowd on that Saturday night roaring for one more tune!
Photography by Neil Melville-Kenney