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Beef Of The Week #361: Ed Balls v Radiohead

By | Published on Friday 30 June 2017

Radiohead

“Glastonbury gets political”, shouted the headlines, forgetting the festival’s long history of getting political. It was the “wokest Glastonbury ever”, cried others, stressing just how political it had all become. “Even the police have glittered cheekbones”, squealed former politician Ed Balls.

Of course, the actual politician who became the centrepiece of this year’s Glastonbury Festival was Jeremy Corbyn. A man who, if nothing else, has given hope to a significant percentage of young people and now has to try to deliver on all that promise, despite not actually winning the General Election and despite him being much more pro-Brexit than many of his young fanbase.

But those fans are still onside for now it seems. Across the vast Glastonbury Festival site, crowds regularly broke into chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’. Not least when Corbyn himself appeared on stage to deliver a little speech and introduce Run The Jewels.

As well as Corbyn, Labour was well represented at the event. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also attended – favourite acts: Stormzy and Alison Moyet – as did Deputy Leader of the party Tom Watson, who was back a year after the collapse of the shadow cabinet forced him to leave the festival early. Thankfully this year they delayed that collapse until just after the event.

Tories were lesser spotted on site – perhaps unsurprising at an event that has an entire field devoted to leftwing politics. BBC Two’s ‘The Daily Politics’ did manage to find a nineteen year old Conservative Party member preparing to attend. Although he admitted that he’d be keeping quiet about that once he arrived at the festival. Also, it turned out, like the majority of young people in the recent election, he didn’t actually vote Conservative.

Boris Johnson apparently watched it all on TV, which is possibly as close as we got to a Tory MP ‘doing Glasto’. He subsequently mounted a campaign to change the pronunciation of the festival’s name during a speech attempting to mock Corbyn and co, which, as far as I can see, just further damaged the ‘jolly man’ veil that has long hidden the shitbag inside.

Anyway, we’re not here to talk about current politicians – shitbags or otherwise – we’re talking about Ed Balls – one time Labour leader contender who bowed out of politics after losing his seat in 2015. He’s since made a name for himself as a dancer, of course. And keen to show off his moves, he decided to attend Glastonbury for the first time. Though it’s hard to judge exactly how keen he was to go really, given he had a free ticket provided by the BBC and then reviewed the event for a Guardian article sponsored by camera maker Canon.

Whatever, he got there, and he found exactly the atmosphere described above. “As we survey the scene, with different musical beats surging and mixing and clashing from venues left and right, we hear the first ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant drift up on the wind”, he wrote.

“Countless people – young and old – grabbed me over the course of the weekend to talk about how hopeful they felt about the possibility of change”, he recalled. “Surprisingly, perhaps, Brexit was – in my experience at least – little mentioned. But at Glastonbury, the consensus was that austerity has run its course and Corbyn was definitely the symbol of that sentiment”.

Despite all that hope swimming around Worthy Farm, Balls’ own hope was almost dashed on Friday night, when he discovered he doesn’t actually like Radiohead that much. Which, to be fair, was the conclusion of many at the festival and at home when the first Glastonbury headliners took to the stage.

If social media is any indication of general opinion – and I think we all know that it definitely is – the country was more deeply divided on the first headline set of the weekend than with any of the tedious political votes we’ve been forced into of late.

“One musical aspect the BBC coverage cannot quite capture is the revealing audience reactions to different sets”, decided Balls, apparently having spent Radiohead’s two hour performance moving around the audience to survey the reactions of the tens of thousands also watching. All but “the hardcore fans at the front” hated it, he concluded.

“The atmosphere for Radiohead is funereal”, he said of the notoriously downbeat band’s audience. “The end of each song barely acknowledged by anyone other than the hardcore fans at the front. People around us chat through the songs, openly bored at the dirge-like offerings”.

Balls is clearly not a seasoned gig-goer – people talking through shows is pretty common. No fucker watches anything anymore, except for the two minutes of their favourite song that they film on their phone. So talking isn’t a valid indication of lack of enjoyment, really. Also, people are welcome to leave if they don’t enjoy things. There are always many other things going on at Glastonbury other than the big acts on the Pyramid Stage.

Continuing with his review, Balls said: “For anyone other than hardcore Radiohead fans, the highlight of their Friday set was when the crowd rebuffed Thom Yorke’s disparaging remark about ‘useless politicians’ by repeating the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant”.

Clearly Ed took that slight a bit personally. And seemingly failed to spot that the crowed erupted into that chant after Yorke said the word “hope”, that the band stopped their set to allow the chant to take hold, that bassist Colin Greenwood grinned and applauded the audience, and that Yorke then joined in with the chant. Albeit quietly and in a weird falsetto. But, hey, when you’re trying to go around and ask that many people what they think of the show, you’re going to miss a few things.

The problem for a band like Radiohead, though, is that people will go to see them at a festival because they’re a big name, only to realise they only actually like two or three singles they heard a couple of decades ago. Those “hardcore fans at the front” – actually a sizeable proportion of the audience from the look of aerial shots – enjoyed it because they were expecting Radiohead to do Radiohead things. Anyone wanting or expecting two hours of ‘Creep’ were always going to be disappointed.

To be fair to the Balls though, a friend of mine who is a big Radiohead fan said it was the worst performance he’s ever seen by them. Though, watching it at home, I thought it was an amazing show. As something of a lapsed Radiohead fan, it brought me back into the fold.

But that got me thinking about something Ed Balls said earlier. “One musical aspect the BBC coverage cannot quite capture is the revealing audience reactions to different sets”. I can see how the casual observer might swing either way, but how could a Radiohead superfan on site hate the performance and me at home think that it was brilliant?

Could it be that the set just worked better on TV, where it was easier to see what was going on up there on the stage? Another observation made by Balls was that “there is a good reason why the large screens sit either side of the stage to help faraway audiences stay engaged; if you fill the feed with fuzzy, blurry, psychedelic pap, then it’s no wonder you lose your audience”.

Hmm, that is a bit odd, isn’t it? Why not show clearly on the screens what’s going on up there. A big part of the Radiohead show is just watching Jonny Greenwood tinker about with various instruments. People shouldn’t be denied the sight of his lustrous hair hanging off his head like he’s being attacked by a creature from a 1980s horror movie.

Maybe Ed is onto something though. Maybe the reason the screens were obscured, and the reason that someone actually watching the show live could hate it while I loved it, was that at least some of the time, we were watching different performances. The BBC was fiddling with the feed. Perhaps the Beeb’s coverage of Glastonbury is the biggest example of the ‘leftwing agenda’ that regular BBC guest Nigel Farage seems so convinced the broadcaster is operating.

Yes, it all makes sense now. Glastonbury is probably full of Tories, all airbrushed out by the BBC. That ‘Daily Politics’ interview was just a red herring. Jeremy Corbyn probably never even appeared at the event, they were simply broadcasting an old speech from that period when no one thought he was worth listening to (anything from before the middle of May), so no one spotted the BBC’s ruse.

The broadcaster probably got some stage school kids to chant Corbyn’s name in a studio back in London and then played the audio over footage of every single performance at the festival in order to make it appear that there was widespread support for their man.

Then Radiohead come on, a band who the BBC wants to present as a high quality group of musicians on the left side of the political world. So when they start performing “dirge-like offerings”, the Beeb cut in footage of other better performances, dipping back in between songs to show footage of the real audience and capture Yorke’s ‘banter’.

But then when Thom Yorke – ever the maverick – starts laying into all “useless politicians”, including the BBC’s man Corbyn, some sneaky live editing is employed to make it look like the frontman is joining in with the pro-Corbyn chants. Though that requires an intern in the satellite van to hastily fill in the vocals, resulting in that weird falsetto.

Finally everything is falling into place. Ed Balls has unwittingly uncovered the greatest conspiracy in British media since Jan Moir discovered the truth about Stephen Gately’s death.

Oh my GOD, maybe Boris Johnson is actually right about pronouncing it ‘Glaaaaaah-stonbury’. It wasn’t the “wokest Glastonbury ever”. Only now are our eyes being truly opened.



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