Silences have long been tipped as one of the next big bands to come from Northern Ireland. Their penchant for releasing exquisite and engaging new music is undiminished and it was no surprise that they managed to secure themselves several slots at one of the biggest music festivals in the world. With Glastonbury calling, we asked if they would record be willing to chronicle their trip for us. This is the experience of Silences at Glastonbury 2017 according to Breandán White and Michael Keyes.
New Orleans, Louisiana – March, ‘17
Five lads who had just had the best experience of their young lives nursed what can only be called “hobo hangovers”. Sat in their shotgun bungalow, pathetic fallacy was at play. New Orleans was as miserable as they were. Three weeks they had been travelling, through the Southern states after having played SXSW at Austin, Texas. They had been living the dream but it was coming to an end. Home was calling, their heads were sore and their bank accounts sorer. What was next? Where to now?
Then a call came from the front of the house. An email had been opened. The five weathered friends had made it through to the final eight acts of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition (ETC). What is the ETC you ask? It’s a little event held in picturesque Pilton, Somerset and its goal is to find out which new grime artist will play a major stage at the festival. Despite being a favourite of many judges, the lads’ grime artistry did not prove enough to win but they luckily did leave with offers to play other stages. They were in.
The High Seas – June, ‘17
Conchúr, the band’s long suffering and doggedly determined leader, heaved the “Big Red” LDV up the 89° angle of the Stena Line traffic ramp. An eon was spent trying to park Big Red perfectly, the van’s narcoleptic battery not helping. It would be a comfy evening voyage complete with a cushy birth. Goose (drummer, “musician”, all around dose) decided after two pints that it was best he retire. The rest of the band followed shortly after. They felt sorry that he had missed an hours’ worth of merriment so they brought it to the berth with them. The door was battered down and they hollered in. They could tell that Goose positively loved their attempts at folding up his upper bunk while he lay atop it. The lads always aim to ensure everyone is in good spirits…
Glasshouse Studios, Oxford
The boys had the distinct pleasure of having a (almost) doctor in their midst. Jonny Downing, the resident ebony tickling synth wizard was finishing his PhD in Machine Learning (aye, me neither) at Oxford School of Witchcraft and Sodomy. It was a toasty day of 30°C and a lovely 35°C indoors. They were all in amicable spirits and there was not a single quarrel between them. Nope. Not a one. After brushing up on their mega mixtape of a set, they decided to try and beat the rush to Glastonbury leaving that evening at 6.
Airbeds, snacks and copious drink were bought along the way. Big Red continued its flaky reputation, passing out on more than one occasion. As a consequence, Conchúr was very nearly lethally electrocuted while attempting to rouse the sleepy battery. The early departure was a good call but a better one would have been to look up the Artist Relations Pack email which said that registration closed at 10pm. It was 10.30pm. A night spent in the van outside the greatest festival in the world loomed. Fear not though, Jonny Downing with his enigmatic charisma (impeccable shite talk) managed to blag them in. It was 2am by the time the group pitched their tents. Knackered and poorly pitched on the side of a hill, they sprawled out and cast their eyes over a pop-up city of over a quarter million punters, staff and all. Glastonbury didn’t look half bad.
Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm
Thursday morning brought them their first true view of the gargantuan site. Tents, cars and folk sprawled for miles in every direction but there was little time to awe for duty called and the boys left the campsite.
“Remember lads, our tent’s the blue one!”
Harbo (guitarist, Norse god of mischief, human keg) and Goose attended an interview with a local radio station which was to be held at “The Sauna.” There turned out to be two saunas, the first of which was frequented by nudists. The pair beat a hasty retreat to the correct sauna where they then discussed the merits of UV paint fighting verses rock ballad yoga.
On the way to their first venue, the Wonderland-esque Rabbit Hole, the band passed the Ribbon Tower. A party of a half-dozen held up signs spelling,
“Fran, Will You Marry Me?”, aimed at an unseen couple high above. Two thumbs up shot out from over the balcony and received rapturous applause.
Barring a few initial technical difficulties, the first show went over incredibly well. A packed tent chanted Silences’ lyrics back to them. Not a regular occurrence by any stretch but a most welcomed one. The air was thick, hot and lit purple. Goose shed a tear as he watched Conchúr shatter yet another one of his drumsticks. He had stopped naming them a while back for growing attached became too painful. Doni (bassist, expert impressionist and the most certain man in the world) impressively managed to finish the gig partially sighted (even more partially than usual). With his glasses steamed and his eyes smarting from a mixture of sweat and copious Factor 50, he battled on like a dogged Joe Frazer at the Rumble in the Jungle. At the conclusion of final track ‘There’s A Wolf’, the crowd gave a very boisterous cheer of approval. Sadly, the boys’ post gig revelry was snubbed for they had an early start in the morning.
After collecting themselves following a surprise glimpse of Kit Harrington on Friday morning, the lads shipped their gear over to Greenpeace. There were skateboarders, rollerblading, rock climbing, hula-hooping, virtual forests and (last but not least) membership drives. Goose was all for giving a little to a good cause but it was only after he disclosed his bank details that he remembered he was unemployed.
Technical setbacks on the stage meant they did not start until ninety minutes after their start time. Solace came in watching a Napoleon Dynamite dance troupe. This set was a little less raucous but every bit as enjoyable. It was a beautiful day with an incredibly attentive audience.
Jonny requested the Greenpeace WIFI password and an office space so he could skype his fellow Oxford wizards on classified issues; a routine request from any band member. While Jonny discussed the nuances of data mining, Goose and Doni watched the wonderful First Aid Kit while Harbo and Conchúr took part in a Worthy FM interview and studio session (where they met Phil Jupitus, now lovingly dubbed by them as “Joop-a-loop”.) They had previously all agreed to rendezvous prior to Radiohead. But for all of Glastonbury’s riches, phone signal is not one of them. Future Islands, Royal Blood and four litres of Morgans later they found each other. Fate. They unsteadily made the trip to the Pyramid stage for Radiohead who blew minds (no surprises). Afterwards they agreed to melt off the remains of their craniums at Arcadia, a pyro-maniacal wet nightmare straight from Immortan Joe.
The boys were as free as soggy birds! Not Harbo and Goose though. They had to ship their gear from Greenpeace to the carpark at 7am. Goose forgot his pass out ticket and without Jonny, the task of getting back in was left to his own modest wrangling devices. Miracles do happen and, in this instance, some poor park supervisor was simply bored into submission. A wholesome liquid breakfast fuelled the bands trek to the Avalon stage where Busted was due to play. An eager Doni almost sweet-talked his way backstage but the rest of his lily-livered band fled at a crucial moment. After watching Jeremy Corbyn on the Pyramid, their ranks were divided again; half of them paying a visit to Liam Gallagher while the others sought out “the First Lady of Celtic Music” Moya Brennan. Two stunning performances in two very different ways. The split continued throughout Alt-J and Foo Fighters with Conchúr in a particularly foul mood after confusing Father John Misty’s stage times.
To round off the night, the lads ended up back at the Rabbit’s Hole. Entrance looked uncertain when a bouncer claimed the area was at capacity. Doni, being the most certain man in the world, remembered some key details about the upper staff and took the reins.
“Where’s Posh? I want to speak with Posh immediately! Get him out here, he is not going to be happy about this! We’re with Rats on Rafts and their equipment must be inspected. Post haste!”
Doni’s certainty was undeniable and the lads were told to crawl through the alternative entrance, a giant inflatable gateway which very intentionally resembled female genitalia. Later that night Goose bumped into Tilda Swinton, Johnny played the piano to Laura Whitmore and Harbo, off his face, asked Nick Grimshaw why he wouldn’t play their music. To be clear, this all took place outside the vagina.
Conchúr and Goose rose fresh and fine to catch Lucas and King, fellow contestants back at the ETC, playing at the Avalon stage. Afterwards Goose sought an alcohol-free breakfast and Conchúr embarrassed him greatly by arguing with the staff after they were unable to boil his Tesco Value Noodle Pot.
Any lingering drowsiness was erased by the Dropkick Murphys. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard then doused the lads in psychedelia while the wonderful Lissie of Illinois brought them back to Earth with her bluesy and folky Americana. Goose rested among flattened tins and pizza boxes to the sound of Kodaline and Haim while the rest of the lads marvelled over Cinematic Orchestra and Moderat over at the West Holts Stage. The lads finished their musical feast on opposite sides of the festival, some flailing wildly to the pounding Justice, others bopping happily to Metronomy’s wonk-pop.
The group once again reconvened at the celeb laden Rabbit Hole. The lads hell-bent on making the most of their final night launched themselves into the nude Hot-Tub which in hindsight must have been squeamishly awkward for the only other two people in at the time, a middle aged couple. Darkness gradually became daylight, although the change felt almost instantaneous for Goose. The others suspected he was under a particular influence as he spent quite some time with a generous skin-head. Johnny meanwhile had made the acquaintance of one lovely lady and led her back to his campsite. Unable to find an abode they could share together in private, the magical Johnny conjured up a suitable tent from some nearby wreckage and all was well.
Packing up that morning was a hellish struggle. Their clumsily packed rucksacks and the merciless summer sunshine battered the travellers. On taking a shortcut over a dried stream, Doni’s mastery and creativity in falling down brought some much needed relief to the lads. Sweat, tears, prayers and highly colourful language woke up Big Red’s battery and the crawl from the site began. Quite reluctant to leave, Jonny had to be pulled away from an attractive traffic steward.
It would be two days before the lads saw home again. There was some respite in Oxford and the lads bid farewell and good luck to Jonny and his efforts to copulate with the entire Northern Hemisphere. Goose was almost lost at a truck stop after the others mistook him for a wandering vagrant. Big Red arrived at Birkenhead three hours early and Conchúr passed the time Snapchatting every single one of those 180 minutes. Having only partly slept in two days, been cooped up inside the rickety Big Red and eaten only Gregs and Krispy Kremes, the rest of the lads thought Conchúr Snapchatting every minute for three hours was a wonderful idea. Wonderful.
The voyage home on Tuesday morning was a far cry from the luxurious trip a week earlier. When the lads were not sleeping rough on the restaurant benches, they fought over spare change and scraps of food. The time to disembark came and, for the first time over the entire tour, Big Red started up without incident. As Big Red trundled down the ramp and onto the soapy wet Belfast docks, Goose chimed in with a question.
“So how much are we getting paid?”