June 27, 2011 6:43 pm

Beyoncé, Glastonbury Festival, UK

Beyoncé at Glastonbury

Beyoncé at Glastonbury

The sun shone and the mud dried up. For the first time since the opening day’s rain, Glastonbury was easily navigable. The festivalgoer could begin Sunday promenading the hippy fields on the southern slopes of the 1,100-acre site. Should he acquire new skills at a coracle-building workshop? Should he tell the owners of a poster showing a calf saying “Abducted! This child was seized to make her mother provide milk for humans” that they were in fact on a dairy farm?

Mulling such questions, I found myself in a tent confronted by five odd creatures with pointed snouts and shaggy hair playing hits from the 1970s. Sunstroke? No, it was The Wombles, the 1970s children’s television characters, whose enduring hold over popular imagination was vividly illustrated by a packed audience singing along merrily to “Remember You’re a Womble”.

Elsewhere Jamie Woon’s nocturnal ballads proved strangely soothing under blazing noon sunshine, Paul Simon made his Glastonbury debut and Hercules and Love Affair charmed with their underground New York disco. But the day belonged to Beyoncé, the first woman to headline Glastonbury in its 41-year history.

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Despite her rapper husband Jay-Z playing there in 2008, Somerset was a challenging setting for the US R&B star. The Pyramid Stage usually hosts rock bands such as U2 and Coldplay, the previous nights’ headliners, but Beyoncé’s set was designed to win over non-partisans; dazzling showmanship ensured it did so.

It opened spectacularly, Beyoncé power-strutting to the front of the stage in time to the swaggering beat of “Crazy in Love” as fireworks exploded in the night sky. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” followed, front-loading the show with her two best-known hits. There was a risk that she might lose the audience with the ballads that sail through her work like hot air balloons, but it didn’t materialise. Her singing was dynamic, giving emotional heft to “Why Don’t You Love Me” and vibrancy to up-tempo numbers, such as “Run the World (Girls)”, from her new album 4.

Tireless choreography and covers that ranged from Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” to Etta James’s “At Last” ensured she touched all bases. The first woman to headline Glastonbury will be a hard act to follow.

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