This will be our fifth Glastonbury – we’ve played every year we’ve been a band,” says Mumford & Sons’ keyboard player Ben Lovett with a mixture of pride and gratitude from his Texas hotel room. Considering that the band’s bassist, Ted Dwane, was in hospital two weeks ago having an operation to remove a blood clot on his brain, their dedication to the festival and their fans is more than admirable.
“To be honest, Ted dealt with the whole thing better than any of us could have imagined,” continues Lovett, part of the hugely successful, public school-educated, banjo-playing home-grown folkies. “And I don’t think there is any need to dramatise what was obviously a very dramatic situation. All we feel is incredibly grateful and happy that he’s going to be OK, and that we’re going to get back out on that stage at Glastonbury as four brothers and do what we do.”
Mumford & Sons’ first appearance on Worthy Farm came in 2008, just seven months after the band formed. “To have 1,000 people turn up and sit in a field and watch us play some songs… that completely blew my mind. Each time we play we’re slightly out of our comfort zone,” he admits of their steady progress up the festival’s billing – they headline the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night. “But that’s an inspiration – every time it’s just a bit madder than we were expecting. But whenever we tour elsewhere then come back to Glastonbury, it always reminds us how brilliant it is to be British, and what a great British institution it is.”
Their improbable rise to mega-stardom has taught us to expect the unexpected. How, for example, I ask Marcus Mumford (the band’s lead singer) did they persuade Luther star Idris Elba to direct and star in a pop video for the band’s single Lover of the Light?
“We met him at the White House,” the singer, 26, replies, wincing as he speaks. “Just saying that sentence is so ridiculous.” The band were special guests at a Presidential state dinner to mark the visit of David Cameron, who’s on record as saying that their two multimillion-selling albums are top of his iTunes playlists. Elba was in attendance, as was Damian Lewis. The Homeland star told me that the band were booked at the request of Samantha Cameron. Lewis is an Old Etonian, like the PM – plus he was on the top table, seated by Michelle Obama. His intelligence, surely, was faultless.
For all their top-drawer connections (Mumford recently married The Great Gatsby actress Carey Mulligan), Mumford & Sons pride themselves on being men of the people. As well as Glastonbury and Scotland’s T in the Park, and a stadium show at the Queen Elizabeth Park in London, they’re also hosting a two-day Gentlemen of the Road festival in Lewes, Sussex. Putting in the gigging miles is what counts for these performers, who are renowned for their singalong, hoedown exuberance. Mumford & Sons might not be rock ’n’ roll in the traditional sense, but headlining Glastonbury while recuperating from brain surgery?