Nine Years since I was last at Glastonbury… It was so darned good I’ve never really felt the need to go back…
Yes back, back to 2005…
SUNDAY 29TH JUNE, AND THE DUST OF WORTHY FARM HAS BEEN WELL AND TRULY SATURATED AND CHURNED BY THE SHUFFLE OF A MILLION WELLINGTON BOOTS.
Strangely, many people seemed to head down yesterday, the Saturday. By that time the moat of cars would be at peak, blissfully ignoring the threat of long exit queues mashed with mud trenches that will hit them tomorrow. I wonder how many not at all remotely incongruous Bentleys will be stationed on a slope, asking of everyone who passes how long their handbrake tension actually is (consensus: less than three days).
It’s nine years since I was last at Glastonbury and I’m fairly confidently that was my last (in a never say never type way)…
The festival had slumped under regulation and reality
It was an inauspicious start nine years ago. We had a Thursday arrival as usual, but people were already surrendering to the Glasto week, filling up the site by Wednesday. By the time we arrived after some rather marvellous Bowie and Beatles harmonies on the road, most pitches had been laid. The half-hearted attempt to camp near The Glade or somewhere close to that enchanted inner land was blocked. Turned away several times, and rather burdened by my insistence we only make one trip, we were already behind.
Tired and mottled, it was to our piebald cousins, the cows. The gravel path leading up to farm gave refuge, although it wasn’t ideal. A lovely, somehow lonely view of the Pyramid Stage, but otherwise just a little less magical and a little more corporate. Cash points beeped not too far away. Same as it ever was. The festival had slumped under regulation and reality at the turn of the century. In 2002 the super fence was unveiled, bringing horrid connotations and two undeniable facts: One that the free festival was over or if it wasn’t , Glastonbury definitely was. The other, that it would never really be the same again.
The Wall Change
I was near an ice cream van
The year that followed the wall was noticeably empty, probably to the tune of hundreds of thousands. Worse, the crowd, whether uncovered by new found space or simply reflecting a new paradigm, was heavily corporate. City boys taking notes for their next Hedgestock. It was inevitable that the photo cards would follow, then the hour sell out. In 2005, was already difficult. I managed to secure tickets with the help of a 56k dial up modem. It was painful. I was lucky…
As usual, Glastonbury isn’t sold on acts. They are almost entirely announced after the tickets have sold out and of course it’s possible, if not encouraged, that you spend the whole festival without seeing a single slice of live music. There’s more than enough going on to hide that away.
I’d been many times before. From the odd state of affairs when Skunk Anansie headlined the 20th century to someone catching Keanu Reeves bass with an apple (and hitting the perfect E). From Roger Water’s huge quadraphonic blackmail and apparently the greatest gig I’ve ever been to, Faithless (that was according to NME – I was near an ice cream van). Of headliners, from REM to Air, Rod Stewart’s mandolin and football mash up and of course, Bowie’s peerless return in 2000 (Now, that was the greatest gig I’ve ever been to).
I fell asleep to slight growls of thunder
A first evening at Glastonbury should always involve a trip to the Sacred Space. Pre-2002, this was a classic place for all sorts of course – punctuated by daring and generally successful attempts to break over the minor wall before The Wall. Obese and neon security bumbling after wiry gatecrashers. This time, aside from the odd panda car struggling to climb the mud perimeter, there was little of the old. And perhaps it was the change of atmosphere or earlier camping disappointments but the evening ended in disharmony.
I sat at the Sacred Space for a while, kept company by some cigarettes. As I left, the night had stolen the purple skies and it was impossible to see the heavy clouds it hid. I took the long return to the Big Ground and as I walked, large rain drops hit my shoulder. I fell asleep to slight growls of thunder, fully certain that this Glastonbury wouldn’t be a classic.
That it rained overnight was undeniable. But I woke, late to fairly clear skies. The day before’s recriminations had gone of course, today was festival day. But the problem was it was already late and we’d missed. It was the year following John Peel’s passing and the Buzzcocks were to kick off the Pyramid Stage. We couldn’t hear them, but we were already well into that. There was little to comment on the weather, from people or announcements. Phones were limited, Facebook still not massively adopted. It was a fair walk to get The Glastonbury Free Press, which this year has every adjective available for download.
What was strange was the path running down to near the Pyramid area which was now a stream. Looking out from our rocky outcrop there wasn’t much to see, but in fact we were missing everything and absolutely nothing.
Heimdall had sounded the advent…
That thunderstorm had wreaked merry japes overnight, with direct lightning hits knocking out several stages. Radio 1 was down, flash floods had soaked my original camping choice with four feet of water and the first three bands on the main stage had been cancelled. Our camping solution was suddenly wise, our lateness forgotten.
Suddenly, the year defined by Kylie headlining then not headlining had something a little more traditional to worry about. Heimdall had sounded the advent of a muddy ragnarok.
That’s the thing with Glastonbury. In the indent of the valley, too much sunlight creates a dust bowl which is quickly stirred into mud by just the merest dash of lightest rain. Perfect for the English summer in other words. Fetch some strawberries.
Mud skating is easy to gain proficiency in – and by far the best way to get around. For once, the reduced numbers were a bonus. Many were conducting salvage operations in newly found lakes and there was no temptation to sunbathe and relax at the Jazz Stage arena. But most of all, when Glastonbury, with cynically overpriced rain attire packing out its markets, heads for the mud, solidarity is the only way forward. If you get stuck, it’s likely there’s a stranger opposite you who’s also stuck. Force and equal force, equal and opposite attraction. That’s what it’s all about.
An inebriant with the lightening flexibility of a thousand Neos
I stayed pristine for two days, with expertly attached surfing bin liners on each foot. That is until Saturday night, when sneaking past New Order I fell into a crater. To great cheers. From then it was all bets off, an unrecognisable long-haired golem in a Kleenex tee-shirt. Still, after that plunge there was still an epic journey to undertake – to the freshly minted John Peel Stage – through an obstacle course of mud and hay bales. And so fuelled by that same solidarity and six litres of hallucinogenic pear cider I set off.
It was perilous. And by my return, after heckling The Magic Numbers (inadvertently and constantly) the mud stretch back was almost unbreachable. And to my eternal credit, I missed Coldplay headline a festival once again. At one point, amid fits of uncontrollable laughter, I reached for support on a railing of clothes, all bundled up for the night. The result was an inevitable reconstruction of The Matrix Reloaded burly ball scene, as thousands of green screened monster merchants filed out to save their merchandise, trying to lamp an inebriant with the lightening flexibility of a thousand Neos. At least that’s how I remember it. There are absolutely dazzling photos of that Saturday that I am officially barred from showing anyone but most involved parties.
And then, on the Sunday the sun came out to burn the zombiefied gathering. Hair still caked with mud, the sun beating down I headed to the Pyramid Stage just as a festive Brian Wilson, decked in a typical Hawaiian shirt, introduced Little Saint Nick. All the people reminded him of Christmas he said. Strange days indeed,
Yes, 2005, that was a good year. Although I expect this year to be hailed the best, as is customary, Glastonbury now fits so well as a separate BBC blanket brand it’s difficult to see the appeal of heading back.
Nah, I think I’m done with that.