Glastonbury you leave me a hobbled, hunched, blistered, broken wreck every time. You drain me to the bone, drown me, burn me, blow my eardrums and smoke my mind. My frazzled nerves won’t heal and my head feels like it’s been inside a tumble dryer with a bag of rusty nails. The gagging stench won’t leave me. My feet are throbbing violently. I have seen things in the long drop loos that defy human logic. Yet I can barely bring myself to cut away your wristband and snap back to reality. It’s hazy, but here’s what I think I remember.
@yokoono Imagine one thousand suns rising at the same time. Dance in the field.
The chaos is organised these days. The Utopian dream turned into utter anarchy when the fence came down in 2000 and drug-crazed gangs rampaged through the site like packs of wolves. Things had to change. Security got tighter, Kate Moss brought some glamour, the new age traveller’s convoy of crusty, punk wildness found a home running the late night areas, the ravers got their own village and the green brigade set up solar powered communes of free love, craft stalls and organic mulch on the outskirts. The gentrification of the festival allows its critics to sneerily decry the place as an event in the social calendar alongside Ascot, Wimbledon and the Proms, but it doesn’t really feel that way as you’re knee deep in mud squashing your way through Hari Krishnas, cyber punks, junglists soundsystems, tie-dyed onesies, trapeze artists and foggy ganja clouds.
“It’s like God has been sick on the world,” Jo Whiley.
By Friday morning they’re tumbling out of their tents and skipping excitedly down the hills from all angles. Drizzle and sludge are bearable, as a wide eyed wander takes in a not-so-secret Kaiser Chiefs bounce-along, clattering Japanese bedlam from the brilliantly bizarre Turtle Island, the spectral Americana lushness of War On Drugs and Debbie Harry pouting away to an incredibly packed Other Stage. Not bad for a morning’s work, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that you aint going to see the endless list of must-see acts you’ve ticked off. Stage-hopping is fool’s gold. Stay in a field and get sloshed with your mates or bimble randomly. The fear of missing out is a disease. It’ll all be “aaaah-mazing” according to the goons on the BBC anyway.
“A cross between a medieval refugee camp and a recently detonated circus. Roads of sloppy mud and drunken civilians shivering in tents; this is what London would look like if I’d been in charge for 100 years. Not because I’m some kind of laid-back dreamer, but because I couldn’t organise a piss-up in a pissery.” Charlie Brooker, The Guardian, 2007.
The grand, sprawling wonder of it all is always a thrill. A big sloppy mess that has sucked in youth movements, fashion trends, alternative cultures, political causes, art, theatre, cabaret and circus acts from the last 40 years. The last Bastian to the Eavis’ collection of oddities is Heavy Metal and the big story is that Metallica are here to scare the children and eat hippy corpses. By all accounts their thundering, Satan-worshipping pantomime is a triumph. I’m too busy staggering through Jake Bugg’s empty field, chuckling along to John Cooper Clarke and raving under Arcadia’s fire-farting, giant robot spider to really notice, but Lars’ post-match interview proves that he’s embraced the spirit of the festival more than any other act and is not the preening, Spinal Tap, rawk-prat that we all thought. Wish I’d seen them now.
“In a lifetime of impossible things that has happened to our band, this has gotta be the highlight.” Win Butler, Arcade Fire.
There’s a genuine emotional reaction from most of the musician’s. Kelis snaps a selfie with the crowd – “aww, you look cute”. Sharon Jones pays tribute to Bobby Womack. Palestinian rapper Saz declares it the best time of his life in front of 30-odd people in The Glade (he is fantastic, by the way). Lana Del Ray’s fixed Valley-girl smile momentarily flickers with life. Charli XCX seems to be the most excited person on the planet and all three headliners wistfully reflect on how their careers have led up to this point. In short, Glastonbury is their World Cup – and most of them aren’t England.
Other personal highlights include crashing out to Deltron 3030’s swaggering jazz-hip hop, thrashing around to the mighty roars of buzz bands Drenge and Royal Blood and swooning at country starlet Kacey Musgraves in the acoustic tent. The Pixies’ raw, violent screams and outsider art feel as vital as ever, The Horrors feel equally as important and 65-year-old soul singer Charles Bradley delivers the most life-affirming moment of the weekend when he brings out James Brown’s repertoire of dance moves, leaps in the air and lands gymnastically in the splits.
I heal my bones to the hypnotic beauty of kora players Toumani and Sidiki Diabate, hear Billy Bragg campaign for Scottish independence, jig about in Avalon to Rusty Shackle’s skiffle version of the Bloodhound Gang, am saved by an electrical storm from Rudimental and see my mate freak-out when a sweaty man wearing only a leopard print thong falls from the heavens and starts grinding uncomfortably close to him during Arcade Fire.
Jack White’s also on fine form. Positioned between Robert Plant and Metallica, he’s out to prove a point with a blistering whirlwind of static feedback and raging guitar Goddery, before sidling up to fiddle player Lillie Mae Rische for a countrified, crooning singalong. It didn’t quite work out for him when he topped the bill in 2005, but tonight White’s a menacing presence, slugging from champagne bottles, prowling demonically and ending up unceremoniously falling arse-over-tit and crashing into his rather hefty drummer. There are moans about a self-indulgent jam session, but it’s a mighty old performance by my reckoning. “You’ve been wonderful, you’ve been incredible – and I’ve been Jack White.”
“Shangri-La again tonight mate?”
“Urrggghh, no chance.”
“It was four thirty in the morning. I was barely able to stand, muddy, cold and falling asleep. Every part of me ached, yet all around me were these gorgeous, cool kids dancing their nuts off. Never felt so bloody old”. Overheard conversation from the tent next door.
Late night revelry is the last thing to tick off the Time Out tourist list things of essentials. The James Murphy/ Soulwax soundsytem club night Despacio’s is the uber-hipster port of call, the silent disco a drunken novelty, Arcadia obligatory – but it’s the south-east naughty corner that they queue round the block for. It’s a banging assault on the senses with sound bleeding from all quarters, spectacular installations, apocalyptic visions and wild, mind blowing alleyways of utter insanity. Divided into three parts – The Common’s lost South American underworld, Shangri-La’s heaven and hell and Block 9’s post-apocalyptic carnage, this fairground of depravity includes Snake Pit biker bars, NYC drag clubs, rum shacks, waterfalls, angelic hang-outs, Satanic raves and all manner of weird and wonderful eccentricities. We end up sipping mojitos and dancing drunken rumbas in a cocktail bar, jump around a bit at the Hell stage and stumble into bar where the DJ plays Madchester tunes whilst a portly ginger chap poses for a nude oil painting. This is not your average festival.
Good Golly Miss Dolly (headline in the Glastonbury Free Press).
As the sun comes out, clagging gloopy mud underneath hardens to clay and trench foot turns to sun burn. Our tired, trudging dazes and tetchy spirits are pushed further to the limits by the scrum to main field. We hurdle belligerent camp chair Nigels, stumble over floored comatose casualties and squint through seas of flags as a rhinestone dot in the distance unites the madness. By sheer force of personality Dolly puts a massive grin on the face of the weary troops; rapping about mud, playing the Benny Hill tune on sax, telling her life story, bringing out Richie Sambora and delivering the singalong hits. It’s a show-stealing flirt with “the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen here,” (according to Emily Eavis), and caps a year defined by herself and Glastallica. It all ends with a barnstorming set of Kasabian’s knuckle-dragging indie dance anthems to a Pyramid Stage lit up by flashes of smoking red flares, but it’s Dolly’s year.
Part carnival, part Shanty town, part Woodstock-Las Vegas theme park for weekend hippies, the festival continues to evolve. The invasion of Tarquins and Tamaras, TOWIE twats, laughing gas balloons, glamping and now (shock horror) heavy metal, inevitably leads to the complaints of – “It’s not what it used to be”. And it’s not. The great counter-culture revolution isn’t going to spring from the stone circle anytime soon, but its spirit still seems alive at times. It’s a muddled, bumbling, free-thinking, eccentric clash of cultures that still seems to work, still seems special, still seems unique and, yes, still feels like Glastonbury to me. I’ll see ya next year.