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theartsdesk at the Glastonbury Festival 2011 | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at the Glastonbury Festival 2011

theartsdesk at the Glastonbury Festival 2011

Read no other account. This total Glasto journal is subjective, but also definitive

Thursday 23 June

Haven’t left yet but someone sends me an email saying, "Not going to Glastonbury this year and feeling rather smug about it." What are they feeling smug about? The fact that they’re going to have a forgettable, normal weekend while this extraordinary event is going on? It is, of course, to do with ideas of rain. A lot of the pre-Glastonbury coverage focuses endlessly on rain and mud, as if home comforts are everything. When did comfort become the big cultural draw?

Possibly when the average age of music journalists went from 27 to 45, or possibly when we began our techno-honeymoon with i-virtuality. If I hear one more person tell me they’re not going to attend a partially broadcast event when they can “view it from the comfort of my own home”, I shall reach for my metaphorical revolver. Most of the good stuff, the memories, the meat of life are not about comfort. And don’t get me started on Glastonbury media coverage, especially the preview opinion pieces – it’s like watching gnats nip away at a golden elephant. But I digress before I’ve even begun.

Glastonbury starts with the packing and preparing, with the pit-of-the-stomach nervous excitement but let’s cut quickly to Castle Cary, the nearest station to the festival. Usually there’s a queue to get on the shuttle buses, you stand there sometimes for an hour or two, but not today – a straight run past the police checkpoint, through the winding labyrinth of temporary railings, onto a bus hosted by a heavily accented, smiling local, and away we go. It’s a slow trawl to the site but the feeling as the bus turns a corner and you can suddenly see the site never fails to thrill me, the tent city that never sleeps huddled in its valley.


Once there I head for the spot where I’ve pitched for some years, in the fields facing the Pyramid Stage – Hawkwell, Michael’s Mead, Spring Ground to Worthy Farm trainspotters. I have a backstage pass but prefer to be amongst it, picking up what everyone’s saying rather than a load of London-centric music biz waffle in the VIP area. However, this time I’m a bit stumped. I wander and wander but can find nowhere to set up. Everybody has raised gazebos so that they have a chill-out area. I set up the tent in a spot I think is big enough and then have to take it down and repack it. Mud is already in evidence but the weather is beautiful, a clear sunny evening. Lovely, but I need to be pitched before the sun goes down.

Eventually I find a suitable gap but someone had thrown a load of twigs over it, not enough to make a fire but enough to emphasise, perhaps, that this is their area. Well, there’s no room anywhere so I move the twigs and start to set up. As I’m doing so a trio of young people, no older than 21, appear and say, “Oi, that’s our space."

“Sorry,” I reply, “but there really is no room left and I need to set up before the sun goes down.”

They are very understanding and give me a can of cider, tell me they’re from Enfield and help me set up. Tent erected, I wipe away my perspiration with wet wipes and put on my regulation flak jacket, a festival essential, so many pockets to put the little “bits’n’pieces” in, as well as torch, loo roll, Rennies, flasks and the rest.

First stop is the Burrow Hill Cider bus where I fill a two-litre water bottle with orange opaque scrumpy. It looks like diabetic urine but it is Glasto fuel, a rich organic sustenance for mind and body. With it in hand and my size 12 wellies and cowboy hat at either end of my frame, I stomp off across the site.

I call on my Welsh pal Wilf who’s working here as a site electrician. He’s based in a backstage area of the market and has been here for 10 days. The mud here is churned into great mounds by tractors and other vehicles but Wilf isn’t bothered. He’s housed in a Portakabin bedsit with a proper bed, a flushing loo and a shower. He provides me with a few pep-shots of Energizer Z and tells me stories, such as how someone banged a tent peg straight through a live cable the night before and knocked out half the market’s electricity supplies. The person in question was lucky not to kill him/herself. Wilf’s shift starts at 6am when he’ll be driving round the site in a Land Rover – or “Landy” as he calls it – on call for any electrical emergencies. He’s not that bothered about seeing bands. I bid him goodbye and head into the darkening evening, pepped.

In daily life he’s a social worker from Penborough but at Glastonbury he’s off the leash, like everyone else

One of the main dance tents has been converted tonight into the Silent Disco. Here you can get headphones for a £20 deposit and dance about to sounds the DJ is playing. Don Carlton, an old mucker of mine is here with his mates. In daily life he’s a social worker from Penborough but at Glastonbury he’s off the leash, like everyone else. On one famous Glasto occasion his gang adopted a 20-year-old who’d lost her friends and when she was inquisitive about MDMA he gave her some. Nothing predatory or untoward occurred, and by all accounts everyone had a lovely night, but it was hardly, I’m sure, policy as recommended by Penborough Social Services.

The Silent Disco is bizarre, a choir of rowdy voices yelling along to songs that only they can hear. After a while it becomes clear that the music selection is mostly suburban high-street Saturday-night fare and I leave after listening to painful sing-alongs to House of Pain and Reef. In truth, though, no British town offers such a range of nightlife or, at the very least, the passion with which it’s greeted. The Beatles' song “Hey Jude”, never a favourite of mine, is blaring from a wine bar and as crowds sweep into its orbit they start singing along, fading out as they pass away from it. I stop and watch and everyone who goes by does it.

glast_-_bullringI want to go into the far-flung fields, the places of midnight madness – Shangri-La, Block 9, Arcadia and so on. This usually involves a trek along the old railway track lane at the top of the site but the layout has been changed this year due to congestion issues in 2010. The new arrangement doesn’t work. People have to queue across an area known as The Glebeland. It’s a long winding queue that looks like those when the British Museum has a special exhibition. It’s not very Glastonbury but I’m not sure what else the organisers could do except move some of these attractions elsewhere to spread the burden.

I decide to head back to my tent around 2am, keeping my powder dry for the real fray the next day. Glastonbury is so large that half one's time is spent stomping across the site, especially when the mud is thick and deep, which it is. Once back I find that everything in my tent has moved about. It seems that someone has turned it over. Fortunately I never leave anything of value in the tent but I’m perturbed. Nothing like this has happened to me since the Nineties, not since Vince Power’s super-fence was erected round the site a decade ago. What’s also odd is that whoever did this didn’t take an unopened bottle of Maker's Mark whisky. I comment to my Enfield neighbours and they say that something similar has happened to them. I settle into my sleeping bag with some herbal remedies and watch the night, listen, and wait for sleep to arrive.

Usually I rather enjoy all the surrounding campsite banter, silly wasted conversations, crossed lines and general silliness but tonight, just as I’m dozing off, the fare is less entertaining. To be brief, the night air is rent asunder by braying posh sorts who can’t handle their drugs. Girls yell for Hannah to come back as Hannah stumbles into people's tents and shouts in an awful, self-obsessed Sloaney tone about how no one knows what she's going through. Her friends all amp up the drama without attempting to be of any real help.

And then, God help us, the men-folk turn up. The apparent alpha male is a cartoon braying toff teen from an Eighties sitcom. On and on he goes about how he just might puke again, and every time the spotlight threatens to move onto someone else he haw-haws in a voice that’s pure Eton that he’s sooooo high and, and then he starts talking about rugby and his rugby-playing pals beating people up, and the rugby club and more rugby. Mention of rugby should not be heard at any festival, let alone Glastonbury. I once saw two guys throwing a rugby ball back and forth at Bestival. As far as I was concerned they should have been thrown off-site at once. These are the sorts we go to festivals to avoid. Nonetheless, I fall into dreams of flying crabs and Tom Sharpe colleges.

Friday 24 June

I am awoken by the Master Musicians of Joujouka, giants of hypnotic Moroccan percussion, clattering away on the Pyramid stage at 11am. I cannot say that I have a Brian Jones moment of revelation. I have a fuzzy head and notice that my tent’s outer canopy is flapping about loose. This strikes me as strange as it was all pegged down. I crawl out and see that the tent appears to have moved. It’s squeezed in between other tents where it doesn’t fit, the guy ropes flapping loosely and many pegs missing. As I look at the unexpected space in front of my tent and see my new Enfield chums and their pals sitting round in deck chairs, it dawns on my muzzy brain slowly that they moved my tent the previous evening when I was out. That was why all my possessions had moved about. I am not wanted here and have been dealt with in a professionally non-confrontational way. I pack my rucksack and begin to take down my tent.

“What are you doing?” asks one of the Enfield crew who had helped me set up yesterday, and now sits with the rest of his pals.

“I’m taking down my tent,” I reply testily. “Someone moved my tent when I was out yesterday and made a very bad job of it. When it rains later, it would have been flooded. And I’ve lost a load of pegs.”

He is young and nervous and stares hard into his cup of tea, freshly brewed on a brand-new gas stove. Their little gathering starts to look shifty. They fall silent. Discomfort is in the air. I am causing it and glad to be doing so. When I have finished packing I turn to the assembled and say, “Whoever moved my tent brought a little piece of Middle England to Glastonbury, of people arguing over parking spaces and where their lawns end. This is not your land, you have been here a few hours more than me, this is Michael Eavis’s land, it’s Glastonbury. I hope you enjoy your new Lebensraum.”

I am indignant with cold rage and mild hangover. I wander down into the markets bustling with people grabbing breakfast. I am loaded down with all my gear and the day is hot. I realise I have not thought this through. There will be even less space to find a camp site today. I call Wilf who gallantly comes to the rescue, putting my rucksack and tent in his blue Land Rover. I walk to where his Portakabin is, backstage in the markets, and find a space to camp there. Now I am surrounded by the crew who safety check all the gas supplies on site. They are a much nicer bunch, a bit weathered and very Glastonbury. They offer me tea and sympathy.

glast_-_lettersAfter freshening up and changing, I head out. I don’t like queues at all. Thus I buy food from stalls that don’t have them but do look tasty nonetheless. My Glastonbury breakfasts are thus often not very breakfast-ish - hot oriental soup or spicy noodles. They certainly wake me up and, like as not, make me very thirsty. A pint of lemonade from a stall that makes a very effective iced drink of real lemon juice and glucose helps with that.

Suitably reinvigorated I catch my first band of the weekend which is Sparrow, a Brighton four-piece at the BBC Introducing stage. Singer Marina Perryman is clad in a black vest top and her vocal sparring partner, Ali Pavan, is black-suited wearing a fedora - in fact, the whole band is in black. They play a carefully crafted intelligent pop that has a touch of Radiohead about it, but filtered with something all their own. The crowd like it. Two of them wave a large “Sparrow” banner. Not a bad turnout for 1.30 in the afternoon.

That’s just not the way it works, is it? You see something, then pootle about, grab something to eat, run into a pal

Don appears and we start chatting when it begins to drizzle. It will not cease to do so for 12 hours. I have invested in a rather unattractive but thoroughly pragmatic giant army poncho in camouflage colours. I wander with Don to the Pyramid Stage to meet friends of his and to fill my bottle with more Burrow Hill cider. As I sit writing this I check the programme and see what bands I could have been watching. Why did I not rush to see the fab Emmy the Great or the crazy psychedelic world combo Shpongle? That’s just not the way it works, is it? You see something, then pootle about, grab something to eat, run into a pal.

I probably should have gone to check out some circus or theatre – I saw none this year – but there’s so much drama and colour to absorb in the mêlée, whether the live Beckettian theatre of the dead-eyed souls awaiting their mobile phones, looking like junkies, in the "Chill’n’Charge" tents or a group of ageless samurai tortoises carving their way across the site.

I wouldn’t mind checking out the Wu Tang Clan but splodge instead over to West Holts to catch Gonjasufi, one of my favourite new-ish artists, a kind of cross between Devendra Banhart and the Aphex Twin. I arrive, buy a German sausage and mustard in a bap, set up a small tripod stool I’ve been carrying on my shoulder and arrange my army cape around me like a tent with my cowboy hat on top acting as an umbrella against the elements.

The field is practically empty. West Holts used to be the Jazz Stage but they changed the name because, I suppose, the jazz thing was not really covering it when you’re hosting everything from Janelle Monáe's pop-hop to Duane Eddy’s twang-rock. Then a rasta-tastic compere appears and tells us Gonjasufi cannot appear but, instead, here’s Ghostpoet. I sit a while listening to Ghostpoet’s passable electronic/hip-hop mash-up but it’s not what I was after. Time for a stroll, up into the Green Futures Fields where they’re busy putting fencing around a large structure that looks like the underside of a boat, presumably to stop people scrabbling round on it now things are so wet. Bedraggled festival-goers are sheltering en masse, drinking, chatting and smoking inside a silver-ribbed slow-worm the size of a submarine and kids remain undaunted, fighting their battles in the downpour aboard a life-size pirate galleon. It’s all heartening stuff but it’s time to catch a bit of BB King.

I can now say I’ve seen BB King live – but I haven’t really, not in the raw. There's not much left

A trawl back to the main stage later and I cannot find Don but watch BB King arrive. It’s a bit of a waste of time. He’s a blues master but he’s 85. I’ve seen a number of heavyweights in their later years and they often adopt the tactics that BB King uses. Fair do’s, they’ve earned the right, perhaps, but it doesn’t make for an invigorating gig experience. First his band jam for five minutes, then BB King slowly comes on stage, looking mighty and old in a black, speckled kaftan shirt. Then there’s another jam, then he spends another five minutes introducing every member of his large band, then he finally cracks on with a song, but it’s hardly prime stuff.

All I really get from it is that I can now say I’ve seen BB King live – but I haven’t really, not in the raw. Chuck Berry was the same when I saw him a couple of years back. There’s not much left. I’m always hoping that it might be like when I saw James Brown towards the end of his days. He spent most of the set coasting and letting the band carry everything too, but for two numbers he came alive, really alive, and shone like the star he once was. It becomes clear quite soon that this is very unlikely to happen with BB King so I stroll on.

Over in the Dance Field Katy B is strutting her stuff. She’s in her first rush of fame and everyone wants a piece. The tent has a crowd spread out miles around. Juxtaposed with this in the marquee opposite the Jim Jones Revue are blasting out their sneering rock’n’roll. They look great, stick-insect thin, not a fleck of mud, all waistcoats, sideburns and leather kecks, a visual amalgam of The Clash, Andrew Weatherall and 21st-century Gary Numan, and sonically exciting with it. They have the half-empty tent shimmying, but over the way, if this were a sound-system battle, Katy would be winning on every level. By the time she reaches "Katy on a Mission", with its enormously catchy chorus, the crowd sing-along can probably be heard all the way to Worthy Farm. The crowd is going crackers for her and she’s exploding with pleasure, having a Glastonbury moment.

I walk determinedly on. I don’t like Bright Eyes. But as I plough through the mud-slick the songs compel me to stop. I stay awhile

Next I get lost. I’ve been to Glastonbury 13 times but it’s easy to let one's attention drift. I’m aiming for The Park because there’s a special guest up there and the rumours are flying as to who it might be. Prince? That’d be something. But I don’t go where I mean to go, I’m distracted by cider, spectacle and other specialised energising agents used to propel me on my journey. I end up in the Other Field where Bright Eyes are playing.

glast_-_radioheadI walk determinedly on. I don’t like Bright Eyes; Conor Oberst, another overrated Americana sort, right? But as I plough through the mud-slick the songs compel me to stop, a delicious combination of guitar pop, plaintive vocals and smart lyrics. Surely all his stuff isn’t this good? I stay awhile. These are the sorts of occasions that push through personal musical U-turns. Mind you, I saw Bruce Springsteen, whose music I’m not keen on, headlining the Pyramid Stage in 2009 and loved it, came back and checked out a few of his albums… and I still didn’t like Bruce Springsteen, so who knows? Maybe it’s just this place, all that leyline stuff. Maybe it’s just the slight psychedelic haze that accompanies everything here.

People wandering by look like refugees but their features are elated rather than drawn, and they pace with purpose. Their voices are already Glasto-hoarse, croaking at each other like 60-a-day smokers. Sometimes someone staggers past screaming gibberish and cackling, behaving just like the people who hang about outside tube stations sucking down white cider, yet there is nothing threatening about them, just a sense that they’re letting their hair down, way down. Everyone needs to go crazy to stay sane sometimes. There’s a dude in Julien Temple’s Glastonbury film who says that his day job is – I can’t recall, an insurance clerk or something – but that’s not the real him; at Glastonbury the real him comes out. Maybe that’s deluded but I like all these "real" hims and hers struggling through the mud with eager expressions.

I pass The Leftfield tent where Billy Bragg often holds court, rather unsurprisingly. In fact, I caught Billy Bragg’s eye as he passed earlier. He gave me a nice smile. In the Leftfield Tent the excellent Sound of Rum are delivering rough-edged jazz-funk urban poetry, most of it from their underheard recent album Balance which sneaked out on Sunday Best Records. I like Sound of Rum but saw them only a couple of weeks ago. I stay for two songs as Kate Tempest, the most unlikely looking front woman – she looks like a tomboy-ish 12-year-old, a Minnie the Minx – tugs at her shirt and raps out harsh, poetic protest songs.

The mood is summed up by two girls dancing away from The Park singing, "It’s not Pulp, it’s not Prince, it’s only Radiohead"

glast-radioheadThe Park, when I eventually arrive, is so rammed I wish I hadn’t. My cider’s also almost run out. These details are not trivial. I plonk down on my tripod stool miles from the stage. The band come on. It’s bloody Radiohead (pictured right and above left). I dislike Radiohead - whining bloody prog-rockers propped up by music hacks - so I leave. Apparently they played a set almost entirely consisting of their last album, The King of Limbs, so those after the feel-good familiarity factor were deprived. It was too full up there anyway. The mood is summed up by two girls dancing down the path away from The Park singing at the top of their voices, "It’s not Pulp, it’s not Prince, it’s only Radiohead."

At some point during this I was sidetracked back to Wilf’s pristine Portakabin for a quick, energising social call. He tells me more stories about behind the scenes but they’re definitely libellous. In any case I have no desire to bring the wrath of any authorities down on Glastonbury. The fact it remains a tad elastic about certain tedious risk-averse health and safety regulations only makes the place more attractive.

Time for U2, heralded by the opening few minutes of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. I don’t like U2 either but it seems silly to miss an opportunity to see the most consistently successful rock band ever in the flesh. It’s not as if I’m ever going to go out of my way to see them again.

The skies, by now, are chucking it down but I’ve grown used to it and so has everyone else. Bono and co play loads of songs everyone knows – “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Vertigo”, to name but three – and really give it welly, but something doesn’t quite take it through the roof in the way, say, Springsteen did a couple of years back.

glast_-_bonoPerhaps it’s simply the rain but it's telling that the fans surrounding me, midway up the field, bellow along with the songs then, every time Bono starts saying oddball things or singing a verse of “Jerusalem”, they start taking the piss out of him, not so much affectionately as, “Just shut up, man!” Towards the beginning of the set a group protesting to U2’s tax status – Art Uncut – inflated a giant oil-tanker-shaped balloon that said on it in yellow letters, “U PAY TAX 2”. It was impressively large, taller than a house, and half-covered one of the video screens briefly before security quickly hacked it down.

U2 are a mass of contradictions that never quite work for me, perhaps a brand as much as a band, a rock’n’roll group who simply aren’t that rock’n’roll, but they put on a fine energetic show in difficult circumstances. It’s just not a classic. (Bono pictured left)

Now I’m really soaked. My fingers are like prunes, but it isn’t especially cold. There are two ways forward, onwards and upwards or tent. I choose the former, utilising techniques taught me by ancient masters, allowing me to speed into the glowing Glastonbury night. I catch up with Don again, and we make our way to the far-flung fields. Tonight there’s no trouble getting in. It’s so wet that half the crowd have retired.

Sometime after 4am I recall that a band I want to see – Dead Silence Syndicate – is playing not too far away so I leave to find them

glast_-_arcadiaThe Arcadia field is dominated by a gigantic android spider from which flames spurt into the night sky and light up the faces of the crowd, warming the night air too. Here they put on a fire show that has to be seen to be believed (pictured right). It melds into a set by DJs the Stanton Warriors that’s jammed with twisting breakbeat and bass-ballistic dubstep attack. It’s obvious but hugely energising and just what I need. Soon I am amid the mud, leaping and sliding about, attempting to rave.

After a while I’m spotted by another acquaintance, Raf Rundell of the DJ team The 2 Bears. They have a 3am set in a venue called The Bullring. It turns out to be a mud-splattered amphitheatre which, for a moment, looks to be finished when the power cuts out and everybody starts to leave. When they get it back on, The 2 Bears kickstart proceedings with Fleetwood Mac’s BBC Racing theme and hammer into a set of classic house, disco and bouncy techno. The place fills to capacity and I bound about a platform gleefully.

Sometime after 4 o'clock I recall that a band I want to see – Dead Silence Syndicate – is playing not too far away so I leave to find them. But I reach a crossroads, literally and metaphorically, two signs, one that points their way and one that points tentwards. Looking at the time and knowing Dead Silence’s capacity to lead me astray, I realise I may sacrifice tomorrow’s joys if I join them tonight. I make a pragmatic call as I know they’re also playing tomorrow. I head back to my tent and collapse, happy as proverbial old Larry.

Saturday 25 June

Wake up feeling fine. I love it when that happens. I head out at once, clad in a new day’s finery. I grab a large portion of some kind of beef chilli thing, scoffed with a wooden spoon. The clouds are clearing and the day is warm. I sit down on my tripod stool in front of the West Holts stage. I have purposely left my military cape behind because I have decided there will be no more rain, and you know what? There isn’t.

There’s a pair of acts who I’m really looking forward to seeing this lunchtime/afternoon – Nicolas Jaar and the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. The former is a young American, a student at Rhode Island’s Brown University who has combined deep house flavours with psychedelic dub to wonderful effect on his recent debut album, and the latter are a German group who use traditional instrumentation and ideas taken from modern classical to create music that emulates traits of classic Detroit techno.

In this crowd I run into lots of people I know, brief encounters that are jolly but passing, good chat and goodbye. It enhances the day and along with the cider and beef chilli I’m geared up for a good one. Stories are exchanged. Some friends of friends popped back to their car at 6 this morning and were each nicked with two Ecstasy tablets. They now have criminal records. It’s as well to remember that Glastonbury may have the atmosphere of a free state but as soon as you walk over its borders, especially in the hours when there’s no one about, the forces of law and order are always looking for easy ways to up their arrest quota.

Nicolas Jaar is enjoyable. His quintet - computer, keyboards, drums, guitar, saxophonist – face each other in a circle on stage so that Jaar can indicate by expression where a jam is going. The music is more jazzy than I’d hoped for but has enough swathes of throbbing bass to hold the attention and he closes with the cracking title track of his album, “Space is Only Noise That You Can See”, which has a kind of martial techno drone-pop quality that sounds like nothing else. It was a decent afternoon set but I hope, if I see him again, there’s more psychedelic techno dub and less jazz. He drew a crowd and that crowd shimmied.

Brandt Brauer Frick require a lot more setting up – kettle drums, a harp, violin, a small classical ensemble. Their music is too subtle here. In a classical concert hall it sounds edgy and pulsing. At Glastonbury, it’s too stilted, stopping and starting and lacking enough oomph. It’s all instrumental and by the last couple of tracks they have engaged the audience a bit. It’s not a bad effort but they simply played the wrong card on this occasion. None of this, naturally, dampens my gradually rising good mood. The sun, which has made a few appearances greeted by crowd roars, is a particularly pleasurable development. Much as I scoff at the fluff merchants who mewl about Glastonbury mud, I love and far prefer blazing sun.

I headed into the far-flung zones, Shangri-La, the Unfairground, Zona Bassline. Some people never leave these areas and they look different, like cyber-pirates

glast-_farflungI spend much of the afternoon interviewing a band for another publication which needn’t concern us here, except to say that it took me up to the teepee field which lies above The Park and overlooks the whole site, a truly spectacular view. By the time I’m back amongst it, the evening is threatening to arrive so I speed back for a little wakener session with Wilf in his still pristine white Portakabin, a little oasis of flat-like normality amidst the fevered grubbiness. On the way there I spotted countercultural perennial Mick Farren holding forth with his band, the Last Men Standing, on the Spirit of ’71 Stage, an area devoted to the old guard who originated the festival’s vibe 40 years ago. Farren was a member of proto-punks The Deviants back then.

I was also captured by the Cubana Salsa tent where I grabbed a very tasty chicken, rice and plantain dish and listened to a band that the guy on the door of the tent (watching for illicit in-marquee cigarette smoking!) told me were called Cuban Connection, but I reckon from checking the programme they may have been Wara. Either way, they played a mean salsa, with blistering trombone solos and real sass. I stayed a while. These are the kinds of bands you never see again and can miss the most famous acts in the world while watching.

Full of food scrumpy and energising agents, I headed into the far-flung zones, Shangri-La, the Unfairground, Zona Bassline. Some people never leave these areas and they look different from people in the rest of the festival (pictured above left). They look like cyber-pirates, all dreadlocks, partly shaven heads, feathers, trinkets, piercings, dusty toppers, waistcoats, basques, fluorescent jackets and so on, and the surroundings are quite simply film-set crazy, an apocalyptic crumbling office block, edifices made of old cars, a stall covered in garish caricature Tony Blair heads.

I’ve come to catch Dead Silence Syndicate at Zona Bassline. They play lethal live drum and bass glast_-_edgeelectro-techno with two lyricists exchanging urgent shouted raps, and they attract attractive ladies of an alternative hue, lots of them, jigging and jostling. In fact, I just recalled that before they started their set they let a couple of these ladies, a kind of crusty Shampoo, give a single song performance of a track based on the themes to Only Fools and Horses and Grange Hill. Dead Silence’s set climaxes with their excellent song “Suicide Bomber”, a piece pinned down to a melancholic cello line and the one number in their set that stands out, both melodically and thematically, as song-based music rather a ballistic dance groove.

Once they’ve finished Run Tingz Cru kick into a DJ set of drum and bass and dubstep. I pull out the Maker's Mark whisky I’ve been saving, stashed in my flak jacket. I spend some time with the band who have all had problems getting in, due to ticket allocation screw-ups. They haven’t slept since their set at 5am. I’m glad I chose not to meet them then – I’d have been fading now.

Instead I feel cracking, and locate my brother. We take a circuit of the site but find ourselves stuck near the Pyramid Stage due to a cider stop. Coldplay are about to come on. I’ve heard a few people call them Baldplay this weekend. The name is puerile, clearly, but somehow hits the button as a general assessment of their appeal. My brother and I race across the site determined to leave the field before Chris Martin et al can play a note. We succeed, then get lost, but end up where we mean to, at the Chemical Brothers on the Other Stage.

The crowd is hyped and full of wriggling ravers. Showers of glow sticks and glow tubes keep flying about. I have exchanged my cowboy hat by this point for a peaked officer’s cap with a smiley badge on the front and I entwine a glow tube about it. The Chemicals start off quiet and, for a moment, I fear it’s going to be one of those occasions where, however hard the band tries, they’re defeated by pathetic volume. I needn’t have worried. By the time they reach "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" with its famous “Superstar DJs, here we go” refrain, everything is pumped to appropriately techno levels and the visuals are spectacular, with giant malevolent clowns, dancing cops and gunmen and other wonders. The duo really are the final torch-bearers for Nineties dance acts, geeks who came on stage with computers and created a wonderful inventive pounding so ravers could dance. Their set is relentless and by the devastating climactic trio of “Leave Home”, “Galvanise” and “Block Rockin’ Beats”, they’ve laid down the gauntlet as one of the gigs of the weekend.

Time to hit a nightclub. The Beat Hotel is not like the deranged mutoid alt-culture of the far-flung fields, it’s more like a top-end hip nightclub and when we arrive, swigging whisky and feeling very jolly indeed, The 2 Bears are back in effect, the duo of Joe Goddard from Hot Chip and the DJ Raf Daddy, whom I’d seen the night before. This time they take it even further, and we dance until time disappears on the one.

Afterwards the far-flung fields beckon again but the queue is massive, with complaints that it’s taking two hours or more, a one in/one out policy. This isn’t very Glastonbury and needs attending to.

My brother left the site at this point but I headed back into the fray. I made new friends. I sat on benches with them. We did things. We talked. My whisky was finished. Somehow I ended up in my sleeping bag, the sun firmly in the sky.

Sunday 26 June

Today I really did expect to feel terrible. It’s something of a Glastonbury tradition, waking up on Sunday feeling appalling and finding ways to bring yourself round slowly. But I didn’t. I felt fine again. I looked into my shaving mirror - no Fleet Foxes/Bon Iver bearding for me, thank you – and stared at my face. It was blotchy, puffy round the temples, but didn’t look nearly as shell-shocked as I’d expected.

However, today was the day when I stopped taking notes and the day I most needed to have taken notes, for my memory begins to creak and fizzle. A very lively concoction of curried something on rice is breakfast, once again taken with scrumpy in front of the West Holts stage where Jamie Woon is soothing the assembled with his 21st-century R’n’B. He begins with the spooked gospel classic “Wayfaring Stranger” which he builds up and up by layering his vocals with a sampler. It’s beautiful and impressive and the gorgeous sunny day provides extra balm for his audience.

I do not stay. I want more food and I want The Wombles.

I pick up a portion of spicy potato wedges and salsa on the way and arrive at the Avalon stage to find Kitty, Daisy & Lewis finishing a particularly visceral set of rock’n’roll with Kitty firing off a mantra of harmonica against her brother Lewis’s repeated distorted rock’n’roll guitar riff, while second sister Daisy is a blur on the drums. They’re a great live band although they often fail to capture their charms on record. Today they really go for it, taking this repetition thing on longer and longer, into almost Krautrock-ish zones. Then they’re gone.

The Wombles' set recalled what a bizarre decade the Seventies were. I found great fat tears rolling down my face. Better that than bloody Coldplay, eh?

womblesAs their crowd leaves I squeeze to the front, alongside a crowd mostly in their late forties, quite a few clutching soft toys of Uncle Bulgaria and Orinoco. Someone told me that Michael Eavis was a bit aghast at The Wombles playing, a mistake that had occurred because he can’t keep a direct eye on all the stages. Well, there are equally preposterous acts playing all over the place - Ke$ha, the trashy, cheesy manufactured US dance artist was playing one of the dance stages, for starters. Still, I won’t have a pop at Eavis. He is one of the great living Englishmen and he understands how to balance things to create this enormous smorgasbord of music and madness.

The Wombles crowd are all chatting excitedly when in walk Wimbledon’s rotund litter-pickers. Is Mike Batt, their creator, inside Orinoco? I don’t know but Wellington was on guitar, Bungo on drums, Madam Cholet and Alderney alternating on bass, and Uncle Bulgaria on violin. They kicked straight into “Remember You’re a Womble” and there was uproar. Children who had been brought in by their parents to see these pre-teen TV stars became frightened at the racket, only adding to it, until eventually all one could hear was that chorus, “Remember-member-member-member-member you’re a Womble".

It was hard to top that in a set packed with tunes that only die-hards knew, but their set recalls what a bizarre decade the Seventies were, with tunes such as the oddball Caribbean and oriental exotica of “Banana Rock” and “Ping-Pong Ball” respectively, as well as hosts of Glitter band-style stompers - and what a curious song “Minuetto Allegretto” is.

There were appearances by the bagpipe-playing McWomble and muscular dancing Superwomble but it was the final two songs that really pushed things over the edge, the ridiculously unseasonal “A Wombling Merry Christmas” and “The Wombling Song” itself. A weird thing happened to me during the latter, the lack of sleep, general bad behaviour and certain unrelated domestic problems all hit me like a freight train as I bellowed along with the crowd, “Underground, overground, wombling free”, and I found great fat tears rolling down my face, all that ridiculous childhood innocence, all that joy. I was kind of laughing and crying at the same time. It was oddly cathartic. Better that than bloody Coldplay, eh?

Some special mid-20th-century snake charms to enhance my perception kicked in while Plan B was playing. You wanted level-headed reviews by straight people? Go read Q

glast_-_plan_bMost the rest of the day I spent at the Pyramid Stage. The sun was absolutely blazing, not a cloud in the sky. Those who hadn’t anticipated such an eventuality were toasting, skin already peeling. At some point I ended up talking to a female pal in the VIP area but she complimented my skin and I ended up talking about Palmer's Cocoa Butter at length, then I heard myself going on about my “beauty secrets” and had to leave fast.

Don wanted to see Paul Simon so I located him on the left-hand side of the stage and watched. Don quite liked it but I found it very underwhelming. Simon started with “Boy in the Bubble” and “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”, songs that I knew, and he had quite a funky world roots band, yet it was all a bit wet, not really going anywhere. In the end he played “You Can Call Me Al” which really buzzed everyone up but for a Glastonbury Sunday special it wasn’t a gem.

I had eaten some special mid-20th-century snake charms to enhance my perception and these kicked in while Plan B was playing. What’s that, you say? You wanted level-headed reviews by straight people? Go read Q. I saw Plan B relatively recently as you can check here and the set was very similar, if shorter, opening with the extraordinary beatboxing of Faith SFX, but in the sun and with the weight of his ever-expanding popularity rolling, the set seemed particularly explosive.

Suited and booted, as ever, in his Strickland Banks persona, he seemed initially slightly daunted, as well he might with the giant Pyramid crowd before him, but he settled into belting out monsters such as "Prayin'" with absolute conviction. It was an ecstatically pleasing and crowd-pleasing set.

Don disappeared to get changed so I hooked up with Wilf, who revived me further and wanted to see Pendulum. I don’t much care for Pendulum – too much forced metal, not enough drum and bass, but their early stuff was good. Nonetheless it was great to see Wilf actually watching a band for the first time all weekend so I pushed my officer's cap down over my eyes and got stuck in. Who knows what they played, it was all a blur to me, but it bounced along nicely.

Wilf disappeared and Don reappeared for Beyoncé. She crowned herself queen of pop with ease, appearing out of the stage and setting the sky so alight with fireworks it was like Apocalypse Now, and she opened with “Crazy in Love” followed by “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”.

The night sky was alive with rockets and the show was relentless, from Etta James covers to her own new single and an appearance by not husband Jay-Z but Bristolian alt-rap oddity Tricky. The crowd were going completely nuts, shrieking and shouting that they loved her, and Beyoncé seemed almost as overwhelmed. It really was spectacular and the weekend’s highlight. I felt giddy with it, proper Glastonbury stuff.


From there things can only go mad, the last push to Moscow before the forward flow of time destroys the fun. Don and I do “stealth running” to get past the gradually building queues to the far-flung fields. Then we dance, we consume nitrous oxide, we yell, we lie in the Stone Circle, we yell, we dance, we talk to people who don’t make very much sense, we probably don’t ourselves. And suddenly I’m lying on my back looking at a clear blue morning sky. The tent, unfortunately, beckons.

Monday 27 June

This just might be the worst day of the year. I lose half my bodily fluid through my pores trekking across the site to the shuttle buses. I feel like I’m dying on the train home. I feel like an alien inhabiting my body when I arrive home. I am almost hallucinating when I pick up my eight-year-old daughter from school and way too terrified to talk to my fellow parents.

I talk happily to my daughter, though. She wants to hear all about The Wombles and I tell her, show her photos on my phone. It already seems like another unreal world but, with luck, Planet Glastonbury will be back in 2013 to prove, once again, that it’s the best festival on earth.

Some names and job descriptions have been changed to protect the guilty.


I am currently trying to support someone at work through the post GlastoFest blues: I can tell from his accounts of Cee Lo Green, Pulp etc etc (and a rewarding encounter with Michael Eavis) that no amount of discomfort can detract from the wonder of this event. Thanks for this piece!

Of all the hectares of newsprint I've read about Glastonbury this year (usually written by people who never go to the festival at all) this captures the experience best. A cracking good read.

Great review. Doesnt tempt me back there. 2 big 2 crowded 2 long for me, but I still get Glastonpang when I watch it on telly. The times I have been have been my lowest (endless mud and wretched hangover + crowdphobia) and highest (Roni Size, PSBs, Robbie Williams, hanging with mates, smashed!). Top piece.

Did the Chems do Galvanise? I was listening out for it as it's one of my favourites and I didn't hear it. Would have been a great closer to the set. They were outstanding in 2007 too.

Yes, a fine read. It almost – but I do mean almost – made me wish I’d been there. But I think I was most tempted by the notion of having what the hell I liked for breakfast, and carrying around a days worth of cider like some kind of alcohol camel. And great that he proudly avoided all the bands he might have been expected to cover (except of course the can-do-no-wrong wonderwoman Beyonce) and just followed where his stumbling feet led him.

Have just spent 30 minutes reading this, very slowly, as to make sure I don't miss a single word. Properly inspiring on festivals, but more. Thank you x

What a great review! So true to Glastonbury life and spirit. No matter how appalling, it always feels melancholy to leave. My own favourite this year was Janelle Monae. Just wonderful. A huge band, playing perfectly, all doing their choreographed thing like some 1930s swing thing. And what a singer. Ah, wonderful.

I am the person referred to in Katie P's comment. This is a fantastic review, a great piece of writing: ordinarily reading about other people's Glasto is a little dull because your own has been so unique and magical. But not here. I have read this review over a couple of bus journeys and it has helped me to hold onto that magical feeling that only exists on Worthy Farm. Despite the evil weather on Friday this was one of the best years ever, and I am so pleased to have found a review that pins it so well. It's much more than the bands: you could watch every minute of the TV coverage and not experience 1% of what it's really like to be there. Thanks for this review, and roll on 2013!

I really love this account of the festival. A witty and balanced personal narrative does it great justice. I admire your energy in managing to do so much, and it sounds like you were rewarded with great adventures. I also had difficulty camping, and it's somewhat worrying that you were forced to camp backstage. It's a shame about the group you met initially and I sometimes wonder if people like this are becoming more common at the festival. Still. your account has reminded me of some of the best times I've had there!

Thanks for the appreciation. Muchas gracias. I'm touched. Great to hear about everyone else's experiences too. Anyone who'd like to read further Glasto adventures of myself (and Don Carlton) in 2008 should check here: http://www.beatmag.net/archives/120

At last, an account of Glasto that doesn't bleat on about Portaloos. Very entertaining.

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