Glastonbury 2019 came to an end last night with one of the most controversial headline acts of recent years. There had been widespread doubt that one man would have enough presence to fill the Pyramid stage but one man did just that leaving the crowd in raptures after a two hour set that included many of his greatest hits.
There were still cynics, of course, who questioned if John McDonnell was a big enough name to close the biggest music festival on the planet. In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn had wowed the crowd simply by turning up. This time it was the turn of McDonnell who, initially, cut a solitary figure. The solitary figure had been setting up the microphone and didn’t spot McDonnell approaching or the flick knife tucked into his boot, but once the wounded man had been dragged from stage, McDonnell quickly calmed the crowd. With nothing but a ukulele in one hand and a little red book in the other, he quashed the doubts of sceptics with a blistering version of his populist anthem, ‘I Thumped The Sheriff (and I Might Have Kicked His Deputy)’.
The theme of the set was to ‘foment the overthrow of capitalism’ and, in those terms, it perhaps failed to win over the audience of mainly middle-class credit analysts, yoga instructors, and hipster owners of soup emporiums. ‘Sitting on the dock of the bay (strict three day working week)’ got a few dancing but a sense of lethargy had begun to settle over the crowd by the time he launched his acoustic version of the Neil Young classic, ‘Rocking in A State-Subsidized World’.
The audience only came to life again once he sang the opening refrain from his Top 10 hit, ‘Let’s kick the **** out of the Tories’. The crowd didn’t seem to mind that this was adolescent bubblegum politics that only a few years ago would have been considered unworthy of Worthy Farm.
The middle portion of the set was less popularist and began with his controversial version of the Simon & Garfunkel hit ‘Old Friends (in the IRA)’ which has always divided audiences. Clearly aware of the sensitivity, McDonnell ad-libbed a middle eight about Hamas which was warmly welcomed by those in the crowd who clearly confused the terrorist organisation with Haribo, the manufactures of chewy sherbet treats. Cries of ‘sing about fizzy cola bottles’ produced an uncharacteristically light-hearted response from McDonnell whose attempt to surf the crowd was later upgraded by police to ‘public affray’.
He ended his set predictably with his biggest hit yet. ‘The Tories are murdering scum’ has been the song of the summer and few could not have been moved by the thousands of people rationalizing the argument with the words ‘murdered by political decisions’. It was surely also music to the ears of new Labour Leader Dianne Abbott who must still have been surprised to find herself watching from the sidelines. Her elevation to the leadership role has shocked Westminster after Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise decision to step down and devote himself to quoting Ben Okri full time.
The night, however, belonged to McDonnell who surprised the crowd by re-emerging on stage, joined by Nicola Sturgeon on spoons, Len Mccluskey on bassoon, and, making a surprise appearance, the spirit of the late Mao Zedong, in a rousing cover version of Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is (So I Can Punch It In The Face)’.
It was the perfect end to the weekend and the crowd departed happy, slightly drunk, and certain they’d seen the face of the next Labour government, even if they weren’t later able to pick them out from a police line up.