Each year on the last weekend of June, thousands of expectant revellers make the pilgrimage to Worthy Farm to witness the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. Whether it’s the hippy, counter-culture heritage, the impressive and iconic line-ups, or the British masochistic affection for terrible weather, it is the archetypal festival on anybody’s calendar.
Started in 1970 by the impressively bearded Michael Eavis, it was originally called the ‘Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival’. The headliners then were T-Rex, tickets only cost £1, and the 1,500 festival goers were provided with free milk. Fast forward to the year 2014 and things are a little different. The headliners are Arcade Fire, Metallica and Kasabian, tickets are £210, and the 175,000 in attendance are offered plenty more than the white liquid secreted by our bovine chums. I know, because for the first time in my life, I got to go to Glastonbury.
From registering online and submitting a passport photo so offensive I’m surprised Operation Yewtree weren’t on my case, I eventually purchased tickets for myself and my girlfriend on the last day of the re-sales. Hours, days, weeks then passed, and before I knew it I had my Glastonbury wristband and was ready to go.
Now it’s over, and I’m still here to tell the tale. Was it what I expected? Yes, and no. Did it rain? Yes, on an almost biblical scale, but not without the sun making an occasional appearance. But most of all, did I enjoy it? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?! It was the most complete festival I’ve had the fortune of being part of, and here are just some of my highlights (and lowlights).
Michael Eavis’s tribute to Tony Benn, The Leftfield Stage
When flicking through my pocket-sized Glastonbury guide, one of the first things that caught my eye was that on the Friday, to kickstart the festival, there was to be a tribute to the late, great Tony Benn by Michael Eavis. Located in the Leftfield Tent, an area in Glastonbury dedicated to mixing visual arts and politics, I dragged my girlfriend to go and check it out.
Tony Benn is a man that I greatly admire. For me, he is the quintessential conviction politician; regrettably, he represents a dying breed. Since my Mum decided to pop me out in the late Eighties (yeah, thanks Gill!), I either wasn’t born or was far too young to witness his political tenure, but I have since been able to read and study just how inspiring and influential a man he was.
For the 10 years that the Leftfield Tent has been running, Tony Benn has been a Glastonbury stalwart. A real showman. The tribute started with a five minute film made by local students, documenting Tony’s festival appearances. From the interviews and soundbites, it was clear to see his love for the Glastonbury’s coming-together of like-minded people. Glastonbury was his “morale boost”, he said, “and in these difficult times it’s important to keep up the morale”.
A visibly moved Michael Eavis then took to the stage, offering kind words and humorous anecdotes involving Tony Benn’s vivacious personality.
“What a fella, hey?”, Eavis said. “He didn’t do what was popular, he did what was right”.
This was followed by two emotive speeches from Tony Benn’s granddaughter, and Labour MP, Emily Benn, and his eldest son, Stephen Benn. It was then Billy Bragg who closed the tribute, ending with a mass singalong to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’.
It was a moving memorial, reminding me of the essence of which Glastonbury existed, and exists. As we left the tent, I saw the ‘Benn Tower of Strength’. Named after Tony Benn himself, the tower structure depicts people from all races and creeds pulling a rope in the same direction.
Whilst outside in the big wide world, our Tory-led government is dismantling the NHS amongst other things, but in Worthy Farm, after the Benn tribute, there was a real sense that things could, and would be put right. And it felt bloody lovely.
Ed Sheeran, The Pyramid Stage
I’m going to admit something here. I only agreed to go and see Ed Sheeran because my girlfriend wanted to. Dismissing the red-headed wonder kid as just another singer-songwriter type that writes wishy-washy love songs for girls, I thought I’d stick it out for a couple of hours, half-heartedly sing-along to ‘The A-Team’ and then crack onto seeing other more interesting acts. How wrong I was.
Gracing the stage with his trademark orange mane and his miniature acoustic guitar, he launched straight into hit single ‘You Need Me’ with the showmanship of a proper star. Rattling through the rest of his crowd-pleasing set, it was at times hard to hear for all of the screaming girls. The set included mass impromptu rapping, mass sing-alongs and audience participation (at one point he got everyone to take off an item of clothing for the chorus of ‘Sing’ and swing it in the air. Unfortunately a rather rotund chap to the right of me took the memo a bit too seriously, taking his top off to reveal the bare-chested physique of a pie-eating Newcastle United fan). His stage presence was made all the more astonishing for the fact he was completely alone. No band. No backing singers. Just Ed Sheeran, a guitar, and a loop pedal.
He writes unashamedly catchy, poppy songs, which might not be to everyone’s tastes, but it would take a real cynic not to appreciate the supreme talent that this guy possesses. As he left the stage, I left with a new found admiration for the ginger bloke from Suffolk.
Ah, festival camping, how I love and loathe thee in equal measure. You trek for miles, lugging your booze-filled rucksacks in search for the perfect place to pitch up for the weekend. Once you’ve found your spec, you spend an age fiddling around trying to put up your tent (unless you’re one of those pop-up bastards!). After that is all done, you sit down on your camping chair, pour a cup of your warm, boxed Chardonnay and proceed to soak up the rays, until you need the toilet that is.
Now festival toilets are always a contentious issue. For guys, we can wee anywhere. For girls, things are a little different. What I will say is Glastonbury toilets are far better than the other festival restrooms I’ve had the displeasure to use. Rather than Portaloos, Glastonbury installed ‘long drop loos’ for the first time. These toilets store the waste underground, which is eventually turned into manure and spread across the farmland (mmm, lovely). As eco-friendly as they were though, the stench of the long drop toilets come the Sunday has left an irremovable imprint on my soul.
We were camping in an area of Glastonbury called the ‘Pylon Grounds’, named after, you guessed it, the pylons that run through the grounds. One of the girls camping with us was a doctor, and she said it was actually really dangerous to be camped near pylons because the electromagnetic energy can lead to cancer and all sorts. I joked that I’d come back home with a third arm. That hasn’t happened (but the extra two fingers that I’ve grown aren’t half helping me type out this blog).
One particular highlight (or lowlight, depending how you look at it) took place on the Thursday morning, after mine and my girlfriend Stacey’s first night in the tent. The night before, after several cups of said Chardonnay, we all made our way to the ‘Power Ballads vs. Indie Anthems’ Silent Disco. By about 3am, after a night of boogying, I was a sweaty, drunken mess, and it was time to sleep, but not before an early hours feast. I opted for a gargantuan portion of sausage, chips and beans, and chomped my way through it, until the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened. I DROPPED THE SAUSAGE. It was pitch black at this point, and I didn’t have a torch, so me and Stacey were clambering around on the floor in search for it. Eventually we found the sausage, covered in a combination of hay and mud. I was in such a hazy state of drunken relief, I ate it anyway. Big. Mistake.
The next morning I woke up drenched in my own sweat.
“Stace! Stace!”, I mumbled as I shook her in desperation, “I’m going to be sick!”. What happened then can only be described as utter chaos. It was a bit like the classic scene from the 1966 Batman movie, where Batman is frantically trying to dispose of an oversized, ticking bomb but is constantly faced with obstacles blocking him from doing so. Sure that I was about to puke at any moment, I was hunting desperately for something to be sick in. First I picked up a Tesco bag. “Great”, I thought. That was until I discovered a gaping hole in the bottom. Bollocks! Next I picked up one of my wellington boots. As I leaned my head in to be sick, it dawned on me that these were the only shoes I had for the weekend, and given that it was only Thursday morning, I’d need them in good condition. Yikes. What was I to do?! Finally, I somehow clambered inside my bag and pulled out a bin liner, and within a millisecond of prizing it open, I vomited inside.
“GET OUT OF THE TENT!!! GET OUT!!!”, were the words that echoed from behind me. “IT’S GOING TO STINK. GET OUT!!!”. I turned around for some moral support, the sort of TLC you pine for when you’re being sick, only for Stace to scream back,
“YOUR BREATH STINKS!!!”. Dejected, I carried the bulging bin liner to the long drop loos where there was a bin. Once I’d disposed of it, I sat myself down on one of the bogs and spent a good few hours soul searching. What a way to start my first morning at Glastonbury Festival, hey. Some days you just can’t help but throw up in your tent.
Hearing Manic Street Preachers perform ‘If You Tolerate This…’, The Other Stage
In 1998, when Manic Street Preachers released ‘If You Tolerate This…’, I was in primary school and spent the majority of my time swapping Pokemon cards and playing with my yoyo (not a euphemism). Yet despite this, ‘IYTT…’ was the first single I ever bought. I went into the Liscard branch of WHSmith with my Mum, picked the CD in its cardboard case off the shelf and hurried excitedly over to the cashier. Once I got home I couldn’t wait to play it. I ran up to my bedroom, placed it carefully in the CD player and listened to the title track on repeat for what felt like hours. I loved the opening flange-effected guitar. I loved the accompanying video featuring those spooky, faceless humans. I loved everything about it. Admittedly I had no idea the song was about the fight against fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Still though, it was the first time I felt a tangible connection to music.
Because of this, I couldn’t wait to see the Manic’s play at Glastonbury 2014. When they got round to playing ‘IYTT…’, I was taken right back as my 10 year old self, playing air guitar around my Robbie Fowler-adorned bedroom. Those opening flange-effected guitar chords still give me goosebumps.
Being well too drunk for Jake Bugg, The Other Stage
Jake Bugg, the dour faced Notts troubadour with a voice before his time, is known for his more laid back, no frills performance style. Where a performer like Ed McFarlane from Friendly Fires grinds around the stage like a man with acute haemorrhoids, Bugg remains stationery, expressionless, letting the music do the talking. Looking around the Glastonbury audience, there were lots of nodding heads, crossed arms and stern, muso expressions. Not from us however. Me and Stacey were well and truly plastered. It was a polar opposite scenario the night before. Stone cold sober, we went and watched Paolo Nutini shower us with his smooth Scottish soul, leaving us both in a sort of serene and breezeless state of trance. Which was great, until we discovered that following Paolo were the dubstep wobbles and high-pitched synth bleeps of Skrillex and his on-stage spaceship. We were both freaking out.
Now I’m what you’d call a moderate fan of Jake Bugg. He’s a very talented chap, with, in my opinion, a handful of great songs. My favourite being ‘Broken’, a heartbreaking acoustic ballad about a close friend of his who committed suicide. He played this song mid-way through his set, and it was probably THE highlight of my festival experience. I know I was away with the fairies thanks to my good friend Captain Morgan, but with Stacey in my arms, and the whole crowd singing along to every word, it was a festival moment that I’ll cherish.
Goan Fish Curries. Paella. Fresh lobster. Ostrich burgers. Cream tea parlours. Sushi bars. Kebabs. Thai food kitchens. Glastonbury Festival is a foodie heaven. Gone are the days of just having the choice of greasy burgers or hot dogs with fried onions slopped on top, the selection of festival food is as sophisticated as ever. Being as greedy as I am, I loved it. My favourite was a place called Pieminister, offering up gourmet pies with the most inventive fillings. The beef and stilton pie I had still makes my mouth water to this day.
I’ve since found out Pieminister has a couple of stores in London, not far from where I live. Brilliant! I’m coming for you, diabetes.
These are just some of my personal highlights of my time at Glastonbury. I would have included Dolly Parton, but I’d feel like I was cheating; we only caught the last couple of songs from her set, as we opted to see Sam Smith instead. From what I’ve heard though, the Princess of Dollywood stole the show. Other bands that we saw that stand out were Chvrches (Lauren Mayberry, phwoar), Clean Bandit, Lana Del Rey, Circa Waves and Disclosure.
But that’s the thing about Glastonbury. It’s not really about the bands. There’s so much to see and do there, you could spend the whole weekend occupied and not even have to set foot near the Pyramid Stage. There’s a Kidz Field, an Acoustic tent, a themed after hours dance village called Shangri-La, a place called the Healing Fields where you can take part in a whole host of holistic-based therapies (the sex yoga was an absolute sell out), an area called the Sacred Space with its own stone circle, a Cabaret marquee featuring performances from the countries top comedians, and a Circus field amongst other things.
It’s the best and most varied festival I’ve been to, reflected in its broad demographic. Parents with young children, 70+ year old hippies and everyone else in between, you’ll find everybody here. It’s a place where, no matter who you are or where you’re from, you can let your hair down, rid yourself of any judgements and enjoy life for what it is. Some people criticise it for its middle class, bourgeois leanings. I’d tell those people that they’re taking it far too seriously.
Michael Eavis, you beautiful bearded farmer. I’ve well and truly caught the Glastonbury bug.