Nestled deep in the idyllic rolling hills of Somerset, Glastonbury is one of the worlds longest running festivals and it shows. From the free shuttle bus out of Castle Cary train station (only two hours from central London) to the free souvenir canvas bag you receive on entry helping encourage people to stop using plastic bags post festival, everything is planned to perfection. Some truly canny individuals even cycle to Worth Farm and take advantage of a new incentive to cut the festivals carbon footprint, they are rewarded handsomely with sole access to solar showers, discount on meals, free festival t-shirts and even their own camping field! I’ll be cycling next time then! Started over 40 years ago, Glastonbury has grown into something much more than a music festival, a remarkable fusion of cultures and the arts, performers from around the globe and a chance to leave the worries and stresses of the modern world behind!
Heavy rain means rivers of mud are in full flow by Thursday afternoon and it’s a serious work out getting between stages. Nevertheless it’s going to take more than a little mud to dampen the mood of the Glastonbury crowd. If anything the weather actually fells like it brings people together, there’s a real spirit of elation at being here and most people seem to have the attitude of having a blast whatever the weather. Some take to covering themselves in the mud others are happy to ignore it completely and enjoy the fringe theatre, film screenings, painting, flower arranging and hands-on craft workshops. You can even go to the circus or simply walk around, space out a little and be dazzled by it all. All that excitement builds up a healthy appetite and fortunately on hand is some of healthiest food on the planet, all freshly cooked on site, there’s even cafes offering wonderfully tasty spicy chai and rather decedent afternoon tea and cake! As part of the festivals goals to be kinder to the environment all cutlery used is compostable or reusable, coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate is Fairtrade and even the festival’s official t-shirt is printed using water-based inks and vegetable dyes…it seems at Worthy Farm they go further than most in their goal of becoming sustainable.
You might also be forgiven for thinking the festival is just for the hip young things, and while there are many here, there are actually people of all ages from babies at The White Ribbon Alliance rite up to BB King performing on the Pyramid Stage aged 85!! Glastonbury is as much a family event as anything else and kids have a whole field of mischief to themselves; helter skelters, stories and singalongs, kids are also treated to headline performances from The Zingzillas, The Gruffalo, Ratamouse and of course the highly controversial booking of The Wombles!
Thursday night kicks into gear with Glasgow legends Optimo spinning in the Stonebridge Bar. The dancing continues down at Shangri-la and the Snake Pitt gets ever sexier, a space that actually runs until 6am on Friday, there are nightclubs constructed out of New York tenement buildings and transvestites dancing to the crowds below at the Pussy Parlore. The ridiculous Arcadia takes centre stage though, trapeze artists hang from a spaceship like contraption that blasts fire high into the sky all sound-tracked by dj’s to rival anything in Ibiza, its a truly mesmerising experience and a masterclass in performance art!
If all the dancing and loud music gets too much then theirs the spiritual Stone Circle, perched high on the hill above the vast 900 acres site. Under a Chinese lantern lit night sky this magical area is perfect for building fires and making new friends. It doesn’t get more surreal than this especially when an impromptu bagpipe solo pipes up at 3am to cheers from the appreciative crowd! With so much diverse entertainment on offer the only problem is remembering to go to get some rest!
Things kicked off on Friday with Group Love up at the park before heading down to the Wu Tang Clan on the iconic Pyramid Stage. The group provided all the reason you could ever need to start listening to hip hop. Godfathers to the likes of Kanye West and his many collaborators, Wu Tang continue to spit rhymes and make mixes with the best of them.
Although still mourning the loss of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, veteran members RZA and Method Man had a great chemistry on stage, bouncing off each others’ quick-fire improvisations to create a set that was exciting and invigorating to watch. It was an afternoon fit only for the royalty of American music, as following the godfather’s of rap came the King of the Blues. B.B King is approaching 90, but is definitely the most energizing octogenarian I have ever seen. Whooping at the crowd to “make me shake ma booty!”, he unfortunately did not seem so invigorated by his performance that he could shake off thirty years and start cutting the rug!
Los Angeles quartet Warpaint provided some sexy grooves late afternoon at The Park for the first of two appearances over the weekend and the bewitching sun kissed Elephants provided the perfect tonic for the British rain!
Evidently finding the lure of Glastonbury too great to resist, Thom Yorke returned and brought his friends with him. Radiohead made their appearance as the surprise special guests on Friday evening at The Park. Having spotted Thom earlier stoating around in a strange fedora hat and black trench coat being uncharacteristically sociable, we knew that we might be in for a slightly strange night. Declaring that they would be playing only King of Limbs, you could almost hear the collective inward sigh of a great majority of the crowd who had been eagerly hoping for a Greatest Hits package. Catching up with him later in the weekend he even admitted so much himself ‘last year was special with the full moon, like something spiritual, this year didn’t quite feel the same’. Whether greatest hits or not, this was still Radiohead in a rather cosy setting and their absolute brilliance did came through on ‘15 Step’ and ‘Nude’.
Talking of surprise guests, last years outrageously awesome guest at The Park Biffy Clyro have moved over to the Pyramid Stage and actually join a growing number of Scottish artists appearing this year, form Deacon Blue and Glasvegas headlining the Acoustic and John Peel stages respectively to Paulo Nutini, Kassidy, Admiral Fallow and Edwyn Collins at the University of Glastonbury.
Its a difficult decision but ignoring a very strong lineup on the Other Stage with Bright Eyes, Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons who seem to be moving higher up the bill every year we decide to head for U2 at the Pyramid Stage. As the weather turned truly despicable, rain that penetrates the soul thunders down, it’s so heavy my camera even stops working! It will take more than a little rain however to dampen down Bono and The Edge who seem to be reveling in their first festival performance since the early 80s. Maybe because they are taking a gamble and playing to unconverted but for part of the set perhaps Bono seemed a little nervous. They make friends though giving a nod to Other Stage headliners Primal Scream with a couple of lines of ‘Moving on up’ on the intro to ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’. They certainly take nothing for granted and their greatest hits set demonstrates why they are still even after after a quarter of a century one of the world’s biggest and best rock bands, job done then and perhaps an initially sceptical crowd are won over!
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Will Follow
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Get On Your Boots
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Pride (In the Name of Love)
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Out of Control
Saturday brought fair weather and great promise. Gaining comparisons to the likest of Mumford and Sons and Arcade first first act of the day was Glasgow band Admiral Fallow, down at the Avalon Stage with some soaring anthemic tunes. Their set might have started out in a sparse tent but by the time they’d powered through tunes such as ‘Squealing Pigs’ and the touching ‘Subuteo’ the tent was fit to burst, singer Louis Abbot seemed genuinely surprised by the adulation but with a debut as good as Boots Met My Face it’s perhaps a reaction there going to have to get used to!
Saturday afternoon was a chance to explore a little, sometimes the best part about the festival is simply cancelling all plans and wondering aimlessly soaking up the incredible atmosphere and vast number of activities on offer, this leads to a wonderful massage session in the very relaxing Healing Field, after traipsing through mud for two days this is most welcome relief! The Healing field is a sanctuary of spiritual renewal offering Yoga, chanting and Tai Chi,it’s an area George Harrison would have been proud to call home. The Green Area is set aside for complementary and alternative medicine, demonstrations and displays of environmentally-friendly technologies and techniques, various forms of religious expression, and a forum for debating environmental, social and moral issues, Glastonbury even has it’s own University, if only being a student in real life was this much fun! The inspirational Green Fields area is powered completely by renewable energy, possibly from the home of the Glastonbury cows, the Moo Hotel, the buildings roof actually doubles as one of the largest solar power producers in the UK!
After some rest and recuperation within the Green Area it was time to get back to the music, and where else but The Park. Not just to be famed for its outrageously good secret guests, the stage curated by Emily Eavis is fast becoming the place to go for upcoming acts and a chance to see groups before they get huge. In recent years headliners have included The XX and Bon Iver. Incidentally we spot The XX here this year, not playing but simply chilling and enjoying Warpaint. The Walkmen from NYC fill the difficult late afternoon slot with tunes so forceful its hard to distinguish singer Hamilton Leithauser’s face from the red background lights, on the indie classic ’The Rat’ he truly gives it his everything, much to The Parks delight, another standout is the wonderful ‘Blue as Your Blood’.
The Walkmen was just the start of what was to be a truly magical night. With The Horrors, Janelle Monae and The Kills all playing in the next hour or two, there was a real dilemma. There’s certainly never a lack of options at Glastonbury, being spoiled for choice is probably the most difficult part of the festival and having to choose between who to go see! Having run into a very very merry Paulo the previous night, in the end we decide to check out Paulo Nutini at the Pyramid Stage just to see how he is feeling! Paulo was cackling that he had to be up by 3 pm the next day for his set and he was clearly loving every moment of being at Glastonbury. He also spoke about having a bottle of his favourite Irn Bru with him onstage and that he actually was recently gifted a lifetimes supply of the Scottish beverage after his tune appeared in one of their adverts, lucky man! Fortunately he was not in need of the famous hang over cure and thrilled the impressive crowd with ‘New Shoes’, the swaggering ‘Pencil Full of Lead’ and even managed a cheeky cover of Hot Chip’s ‘Over and Over’.
Next it was time to sprint up to The Park for the heavily rumoured guest slot from Pulp appearing in one of the worst-kept secrets of the weekend! The scramble to get inside the park was truly immense, apparently even Kate Moss couldn’t get in! Clearly having a ball Jarvis was on fine form as he threw frisbees signed by the band into the crowd and gave out sweets to those down the front, one girl I met, Jasmine from London, got a fancy Lindor chocolate ‘I’ll cherish this forever, it’s never getting eaten!!’. Highlights of the greatest hits set were Disco 2000 and ‘Sorted for E’s and Whizz’, a song highly appropriate for the crowd. Climaxing with the anthem of the under dogs, ‘Common People’, there were what felt like a lot more than 20000 people standing in a field as Pulp brought their set to a close. With the sun setting in the background and the huge crowd screaming for more, the feeling of happiness was completely overwhelming, having never seen them play before this was the true emotional highlight of the weekend, something very special indeed.
After the madness of Pulp, things calmed down at The Park and mellow out nicely with James Blake. Most of the crowd it seemed were heading down to the Pyramid stage for a magical set from Elbow. The warm energy that emanates all round Glastonbury radiates especially from Elbow front man Guy Garvey, earlier seen storming around in his welly boots, if Glastonbury was a nation Guy Garvey would be it’s ambassador! He announces quite unbelievably from stage that Elbow are 20 this year before launching into ‘Weather to Fly’, the band appear more youthful and energetic than ever, especially on the sublime ‘One Day Like This’ and the audiences overwhelming positive reaction feels like something rather elating.
Coldplay of course are the main draw on Saturday evening but we decide to take a gamble and instead head back up to the Park Stage. Our reward was at this moment perhaps one of the most under-rated bands in the country, Kendal’s finest Wild Beasts. Co vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming are in their element pounding out strangely exciting and incredibly infectious tunes. Their innocuous hipster boy look belies the skill and depth of their musicianship. Opener ‘Lion’s Share’ exhibits the provocative quality of their lyricism “I take you in my mouth like a lion takes it’s game” is rather exciting, and incredibly infectious. The set drew mostly from their recently released 3rd album Smother, although ‘Hooting & Howling’, ‘All the Kings Men’ from Two Dancers make welcome appearances the true highlights are the infectious new songs, ‘Reach a Bit Further’ and Loop the Loop. Like the album the band end the set with a stirring extended version of ‘End Come Too Soon’, a sentiment shared by the crowd and you cant help but feel that like Elbow before them future Glastonbury’s may well see this lot shuffle up the bill!
Sunday dawned hot and humid, sunshine really is the best alarm clock as temperatures inside the tent force an early start, the reward was a surprise in the way of infectious Indian band Raghu Dixit over at the John Peel Stage. Their charismatic blend of violins and guitar funkily fused with Indian folk is the perfect sermon for any Sunday morning, especially delightful is ‘Gudugudiya sedi nodo’ and even a slight interruption in electric power to the stage can’t dent the early starters enthusiasm for these very likable Indian superstars.
Sunday’s early start also gave an opportunity to spot around a hundred people in front of the Pyramid, they are not there for the music but are actually an army of litter pickers. Teams of volunteers who work 12 hour shifts tirelessly trawling the site picking up and separating all the cans, glass, paper, wood and organic waste that is cast aside by the huge audience, even with 15000 bins on site this seems like an endless task. The numbers are impressive, back in 2008, 863.32 tonnes of waste were recycled including 54 tonnes of cans and plastic bottles, that is a hell of a lot of beers! On a serious note perhaps if litter was reduced there would be less of a need for the one year break every now and then to let the fields recover. Glastonbury is a mini ecosystem and maybe the solutions they are working on here could have wider positive environmental implications, it’s inspiring stuff.
So on with the music and a stunning set by Laura Marling, perhaps slightly overwhelmed by the vast crowds of the Pyramid. Paul Simon starts a little slowly but sets the pace perfectly for the chilled crowd to relax in the sun and enjoy the glorious ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. He then pretends to leave the stage, yet to return for the rousing version of ‘You Can Call Me Al’.
The definite highlight of the early evening is a band we caught at the Captains Rest in Glasgow late last November. The Vaccines seem to have come from nowhere to be one of the most buzzed about British bands of recent years, the sizable crowd packed into The John Peel tent know it! Playing mostly tracks from their killer debut What Did you Expect from The Vaccines rite from the opening chords of ‘Blow It Up’ to rousing numbers such as ‘Post Break Up Sex’, ‘Wolf Pack’ and ‘Norgaard’ the whole performance is something of a treat!
So as the scorching Sunday comes to an end with Queens of the Stone Age rocking out the Other Stage its time for Beyonce’s highly anticipated entrance over on The Pyramid Stage. With husband Jaz Z looking on goodness what an entrance it was, with fireworks exploding out over the opening beats to ‘Crazy in Love’, the Bootylicious performer in turn produces a stunning set set packed with Destinys Child hits and even includes a cover of King of Leons ‘Sex on Fire’. There’s no chance to draw breath as we are treated to one last reminder of just how good Glastonbury is, indeed a festival that truly has the ability to take risks and surprise like no other.
Maybe its the fact that everything is temporary and a reflection of the collective euphoria experienced from leaving behind worries and stress of real life but when Monday morning arrives many are in complete denial that it’s all over. Listening to Michael Eavis speaking over the weekend he reminisces about a chap found several years back wandering aimlessly the Thursday after the festival had finished. Everyone else was gone Eavis recalled, he went on to explain how he personally paid for a taxi home for the man who simply didn’t want to leave. There are a lot of people who don’t want the weekend to be over and it’s feeling that makes the absence of the festival in 2012 even harder to imagine!
Absence as they say makes the heart grow fonder, so expect things to be back bigger and better than ever in 2013! Plenty of time to rest up and sleep for the next one!
You can register here for Glasto 2013!!