Kessiah Gordon

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Rolling Stone speaks with Confidence Man and Courtney Barnett about returning to the biggest festival on the planet.

It’s been a long, long time coming, but finally, Australian artists have been let loose from the locked box of our island home and are wasting no time in reminding the world exactly what our homegrown talent can do. What better place to burnish our credentials than Glastonbury 2022.

The event is one of the longest running and largest music festivals on the planet. Name an iconic band and they’re guaranteed to have appeared on the festival line up in some capacity during its 50 year history. 

Glastonbury 2022 is particularly special given live music has been all but shut down over the past two years. Glastonbury is no exception to that, with the half-century anniversary celebrations in 2020 having to be postponed twice until the pandemic could be brought under control. Now, over 200,000 punters have once again flooded the rolling green fields of Pilton, Summerset, buzzing to be back at what is widely acknowledged to be the spiritual home and blueprint for festival culture worldwide. 

We’re a small nation, in terms of population at least, but we punch well above our weight when it comes to musical talent. The bill this year was stacked with local heroes, including legendary Aussie heavy hitters like Crowded House as well as established names like Courtney Barnett and Confidence Man. Relative newcomers to the scene, like Amyl and the Sniffers have also pulled big crowds and the punters on the ground seemed eager to get a look at the artists who have been locked down down under. 

Barnett, who recorded her latest album, Things Take Time, Take Time, in the depths of the darkest days of the Melbourne lockdown, told Rolling Stone what it means to be playing those tunes that in some ways saved her sanity to a crowd on the other side of the world singing all the lyrics back to her.

“I wrote the majority of it in lockdown,” she said.

“I was living by myself. My best friend lived around the corner so we kept in touch and we would go on walks and stuff, but it was quite a solitary and lonely time.”

“Not to be too pessimistic, but there was a while where the music industry was crumbling, planes weren’t in the sky. It was just like, ‘Oh, who knows when [playing music again], realistically, will happen?’ It’s wild to think back to.

“I eventually started writing and I kept writing and I was like, ‘Well, this is what I can do so I might as well do it and see if that helps me process whatever I was thinking about’. In a way it was kind of nice to have that time and space.”

This is Barnett’s third time at Glastonbury. The last time she played she was on The Park stage and this year she returned to close it, one of the biggest at the festival.

“It feels like a pinnacle kind of show. A lot of the time I don’t take the chance to revel in a moment and, yeah, be proud of myself. I’m normally trying to not be too nervous but it is a really nice moment,” she said.

Although she managed to weave the restrictions and play a few shows in between lockdowns, Barnett says this one feels even more significant.

“We were touring in America and it was a very strange time. We were bubbled and doing a lot of testing and all of that stuff.”

“I just feel like, since COVID times, there’s this whole other level of gratitude in the air, from both sides. I think the crowds are so excited to be seeing music again and we’re so excited to play music again. I feel like it has a new level of depth and meaning. It’s just really special.”

courtney barnett

Courtney Barnett at Glastonbury 2022. Photograph by Kessiah Gordon

Glastonbury makes history every year, but this year was something else. Not only did we see the youngest ever headliner for the festival, 20-year-old Billie Eilish, we also saw the oldest headliner to ever play, none other than Sir Paul McCartney, who brought along a few surprise guests in the form of David Grohl and Bruce Springsteen. For Aussies though, this moment was historic for signalling the end of what was quite a brutal time.  

Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, the front-duo of Confidence Man, echoed Barnett’s sentiments in telling Rolling Stone that playing the festival has been something that they had dreamed of during the pandemic. 

“The Aussie festivals, they’re really great in a lot of ways, but just the scope of Glastonbury just kind of makes them tiny,” Bones said.

“I definitely remember that I knew about [Glastonbury] from a young age and it just had, you know, this legendary status, especially being in Australia, so far removed from the European music world. 

“I remember thinking ‘Yeah, one day I just want to go, like, as a punter. But to come and actually play is like a dream.” 

The high-energy “Boyfriend” singers had the crowd grooving in the early afternoon, sunshine blessing their stage. The heat and the tunes felt like being transported temporarily back to Aus.

“It feels great to be able to show everyone our thing because I feel like our show is the shit!” Planet said.  

“I can’t wait for people to see this weird little piece of Australia that no one ever gets to see. You know what I mean? I want to shock a few Brits.”

The pair, like Barnett, were also in Melbourne’s harsh lockdowns and found solace and comfort in their art. Although bleak, they too think of the lockdowns as a period of enforced creativity and it was a productive time for them.

“We realised pretty quickly that we just had to all be in the same house. We have a home studio there that we kind of all lived in. We knew that the only thing that was gonna get us through was just writing an album,” Bones said. 

“We basically just forced ourselves into that happy musical space and it definitely saved us.”

“I was thinking about some of the lyrics for ‘Holiday’, and I think that song was built out of desperation to have a good time and hoping I would have a good time,” Planet said. 

“To be able to then come out and play the songs we wrote during what was, for everyone, a pretty dark time, that was an unbelievable experience.” 

“All that work we did really came to fruition.”

That the pandemic has been rough for Aussie’s goes without saying. While bigger acts like Confidence Man bunkered down, up and coming stars like Sahara Beck found themselves barely clinging on. 

Beck, who is a multi-Queensland Music Award winning blues rock singer-songwriter, debuted at Glastonbury this year with the cabaret group Briefs. She co-wrote the show Bite Club which filled the Big Top Circus tent with raunchy routines and dazzling acrobatics, all underpinned by Saraha’s mesmerising vocals. However, she told Rolling Stone that the pandemic almost brought her blossoming career to a halt.

“I definitely had to get my first job. I became a glassy – I never learned how to do anything else! I’ve been performing music since I was 13, thinking I’d always just do that. Then the pandemic happened,” she said.

“I was a glassy, then I became a bartender at The Tivoli. That was actually a really nice, full circle moment because Dave Sleswick, at The Tivoli, gave me my bartender job and then he actually put the first season of Bite Club on once gigs were back.” 

“I just really needed to be able to pay for food and stuff and thankfully there were some really nice people like that… We got no support from the government. Even JobKeeper didn’t kick in musicians for like six months. In that time, a lot of people just gave up. So many of my friends that played music don’t do it anymore. I don’t ever want to feel like that again. You just feel so stupid.”

While Aussie artists may not have been able to rely on the government, and watched the already fragile industry crumble around them, others across the world were waiting and praying for our lot to pull through.

Steve Symons, who has been booking artists on the West Holts Stage for the past 35 years, told Rolling Stone that he appreciates the enormous sacrifices Aussie’s have to make even to be able to get to this side of the world. 

“I do recognise how difficult it is for Australian artists,” Symons said. 

“I know of bands who have come over and played on other, smaller stages at Glastonbury, who have basically got their fans to crowdfund them to be here.”

He acknowledges that Glastonbury is “not renowned for paying the best fees” – headliners can expect about 10% of the pay they would normally receive at similarly sized festivals – and that he wishes they could do more to support emerging talent.

“It really hurts me when bands come a long way and lose money just to play here. I had no idea how many artists wanted to come here until I went out to Australia myself,” Symons said.

This being said, he’s confident the festival will be seeing a lot more of our locals in the coming years.

“We’ve enjoyed sets in the past from everybody from Hiatus Kaiyote to Bombay Royale in the past,” Symons said.

“[Melbourne] is one bubbling, crazy city. Musically, that place can compete with anywhere in the world. There’s a lot of really exciting ideas coming out of Australia.” 

That some of the greatest current Aussie talent we can muster have pulled through it all to rise up and slay these stages over the past five days is a testament to the will and passion our musos have. Better, and decidedly more fun, than any diplomatic visit or global political conference, these are our ambassadors. Knowing the artists we first loved on pub stages and tiny venues around our cities are out there spreading the good word on the global scene is resolutely life affirming. 

Glastonbury may be over but for many it represented an end point to a dark few years. No masks, thanks to the vaccines, no social distancing, and no lockdowns. Aussie artists like the ones we’ve spoken to, plus the hundreds more who are currently on tour around the globe, are emerging from a long hibernation to find that spring has broken and the world is ready once again to welcome them with open arms.

We’re back, baby. We’re fucking back.

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