Mercury Falling

Glastonbury, GB
Glastonbury Festival
Hey, what's that yellow thing?

Hey, what's that yellow thing? Caroline Sullivan catches Glastonbury's sole ray of sun - and an odd mix of music...

The 25-minute break in the Prodigy's headlining set on Friday provided an ideal opportunity to question yet again the wisdom of marrying rock and the great outdoors. Though the rain had stopped before Echo & The Bunnymen slumped on at lunchtime, the quagmire was so dismal that a Cliff Richard gig would have been more inviting, provided it was indoors.

Trial by Glastonbury certainly separated the fans from the tourists. The tourists were the ones in novelty top-hats rolling in the mud for that once-a-year buzz. The fans were the ones traipsing, grimly resolute, from stage to far-flung, intent on ticking Beck, the Seahorses or the Aphex Twin off their lists.

But this was not Glasto's finest musical hour. While someone was prescient enough to book Radiohead, the Prodigy and Primal Scream, they turned Sunday into a no-go zone with Sheryl Crow, Van Morrison, Sting and Stevie Winwood. No wonder the line-up was kept secret till last week.

Friday was a slow starter until Beck's white-boy-on-phunk act. Blond, waifish and hyperactive, he was hugely entertaining. ''I wanne see all my freaks getting down,'' he coaxed, but his freaks were already down and muddy. The sun made its sole appearance during his set, but disappeared in time for Supergrass. The doyens of sideburns and sunny Britpop rose to the challenge, which was more than could be said of the Prodigy, who'd made the leap from playing the dance stage in 1995 to headlining the big one two years later.

Around a third of the 90,000 festees were clustered on the hillside, awaiting the band that convinced rock fans it was okay to like dance music. But after just two numbers, during which a listless MC Maxim chanted ''Smack by bitch up'' (from the song of the same title, which apologists claim is a joke), the whole crew walked off, leaving the crowd shuffling perplexedly. No explanation was proffered when they returned much later. It wasn't their night; they tossed off their technorock with professional ease, previewing tracks from the imminent 'Fat Of The Land' album, but Maxim and dancer/firestarter Keith Flint, the tongue studded one even grannies know, were forcing it.

Saturday had the choicest musical selection, starting with Republica and their vixenish lead Saffron. But those in the know avoided the main stage in the early evening. This was the perfect time to take the air under a Madame Vasso-style pyramid in the Healing Field. Otherwise you risked exposure to Cast, Dodgy and Ocean Colour Scene, purveyors of hippy waffle, generic good-time pop and ''Noel-rock'', in that order.

© The Guardian by Caroline Sullivan