The headliners may be hit and miss, but there are gems elsewhere. Hazel Sheffield and Tim de Lisle find diamonds in the mud
The forecast is grim, there’s a heavy-metal band topping the bill for the first time, and one of the other headliners is a bunch of lad-rockers. But Glastonbury is still the world’s leading music festival, and 140,000 people are getting excited, hundreds of thousands more are feeling sore that they couldn’t get a ticket, and millions will be turning on the telly, the radio or the iPlayer to get a taste of the action. The bill, as ever, is enormous, an unmanageable tangle of the good, the bad and the unknown. Here are the 20 acts our critics are most looking forward to, in chronological order.
East India Youth (William’s Green, 2pm)
William Doyle’s Eno-inspired electronica often gets trapped in headphones or clubs, where he prefers to play shrouded in darkness in front of screen-saver-like visuals. It needn’t: these pretty, euphoric songs are strong enough to stand up to the afternoon light.
Courtney Barnett (Park, 3.30pm)
Barnett makes the kind of low-key slacker rock that could have been designed for afternoons up at the Park Stage. You'll find her hunched over an electric guitar, wearing a wonky grin under a straggly mop of brown hair, delivering smart, self-effacing lyrics about failing to fix a TV and hyperventilating in her garden.
Wild Beasts (John Peel, 6.15pm)
It's been a good year for Wild Beasts. Their fourth album, “Present Tense”, launched them into big venues which they filled with their new, more electronic sound. Underneath the lasers and lights, they’re still the same rhythm-obsessed romantics that hooted and howled their way out of Kendal.
Parquet Courts (Park, 6.30pm)
This ragged post-punk band are based in New York, but hail from the Texas DIY scene, where they ran labels and record-listening clubs. They’ve just released their second album in two years, featuring stream-of-consciousness lyrics, walls of feedback and hypnotic, two-chord tunes.
tUnE-yArDs (West Holts, 7pm)
Merrill Garbus was a children’s entertainer before she became a full-time songwriter. A playfulness still infects her music, but her latest album “Nikki Nack” grapples more than ever with social issues, painting scenes of poverty and violence in contemporary America in bright hues.
Elbow (Pyramid, 8pm)
Guy Garvey and his gang, originally teenage friends in Bury, have inched their way into the premier division with their signature mix of subtlety and warmth. The BBC won’t want to miss “One Day Like This”.
Arcade Fire (Pyramid, 10pm)
With the resounding success of their fourth album, Arcade Fire have become one of today’s biggest bands. Their Friday headline set is a chance to cement that position. If the tour is anything to go by, expect a Haitian mariachi carnival and a light show to match the title of the album, “Reflektor”.
Nick Mulvey (Pyramid, 11am)
Once the drummer in the Portico Quartet, now a distinctive, African-influenced singer-songwriter. He may never get a better chance to say “Good morning, Glastonbury”.
Kelis (Pyramid, 2.30pm)
In a chameleonic career, Kelis has swung from outsider R&B, with her debut album “Kaleidoscope”, to massive chart success with the single “Milkshake”, to being dropped from her label in 2007. Her comeback with “Food” is wilfully left-field. Her live shows, a mixture of cabaret and greatest hits, are nothing short of a party.
Robert Plant (Pyramid, 5.30pm)
The crowd long to see him perform here with Led Zeppelin, but at 65 Plant is more interested in playing the thoughtful troubadour.
Nick Lowe (Acoustic, 7pm)
Immaculate songsmith whose skills have carried him from pub rock to post-punk and sophisticated country. If the weather forecast is accurate, his dry wit will be much needed.
Anna Calvi (Park, 8pm)
Singer-songwriter whose performances tend to be darkly theatrical. Even if the midsummer dusk doesn’t suit her, the songs will still ring out.
Bryan Ferry (West Holts, 10.15pm)
Britain’s second-greatest art-rock singer has done most things in a 42-year career, but he has never played Worthy Farm. His timing is good: up against Metallica.
Connan Mockasin (Park, 3.30pm)
At a recent sold-out show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, Mockasin played a whole song under a duvet. Not so strange for this childlike New Zealander, whose psychedelic pop explores his love of dolphins and how caramel might sound.
Public Service Broadcasting (West Holts, 4pm)
Instead of lyrics, this lot paste soundbites from public-service films and propaganda pinched from the British Film Institute archives over rousing soundtracks constructed from computers and guitars. It’s a simple concept that brings exhilarating, often affecting results.
Dolly Parton (Pyramid, 4.20pm)
A superb choice for the Sunday-teatime legend slot—except that, with her singalong tunes and polished one-liners, she should be one of the headliners.
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band (Park, 6pm)
Another intriguing Glastonbury debut, as one highly successful survivor of the hippie era meets another. Fact of the weekend: Yoko is 81.
Ed Sheeran (Pyramid, 6pm)
If his first album was strictly for the kids, Sheeran’s second is much more promising, with less of the cheesy rapping and more soul and sophistication. Seeing him perform, all alone with his guitar, pedals and loops, is like watching him write a song.
St Vincent (Park, 7.30pm)
A chance to see one of America’s most interesting songwriters at the peak of her powers. Annie Clark’s razor-edged guitar may not have softened over the years, but she has perfected her high-concept live show, incorporating robotic dance moves and a dead-eyed glare that seem to question the nature of performance itself.
Massive Attack (Other, 10pm)
In concert, Robert Del Naja’s perfectionist trip-hop can be deliciously brooding or drearily lugubrious. Either way, it will be more interesting than Kasabian.
Hazel Sheffield is a contributor to NME and the Guardian, a reporter at GlobalCapital and a former assistant editor of the Columbia Journalism Review
Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life
Image Samir Hussein