mon 16/12/2019

Glastonbury Festival 2019: hot as hell and a thousand times as fun | reviews, news & interviews

Glastonbury Festival 2019: hot as hell and a thousand times as fun

Glastonbury Festival 2019: hot as hell and a thousand times as fun

Kylie, Miley, Stormzy, sunny, and very naughty, the epic Somerset blow-out wins yet again

The Pyramid ablaze as Stormzy explodes into actionPyramid header @ Finetime; site night view @ Andrew Allocock; Cure @ Anna Barclay; stormzy @ Iwanona Pinkowicz; Kylie @ Charlie Raven; Lauryn Hill @ Adrian Boot; all other photos by Finetime.

As ever theartsdesk’s Glastonbury report arrives after all other media coverage. Despite management pressure Caspar Gomez refuses earlier deadlines. He told Editorial, “The press tent is like an office, a place of work, full of laptops and coffee. Who needs that?” His annual saga doesn’t attempt to compete with Tweeted micro-reviews or ever-available BBC iPlayer festival highlights. It takes a winding road, explores the scenery, the musical-chemical highs and body-worn lows, capturing in fuller form than anywhere else a most singular plunge into Glastonbury 2019.

THURSDAY 27th JUNE

Michael Eavis mural at Glastonbury 2019

It’s been 731 days since the last Glastonbury Festival. A lifetime. I’m a five year old and it’s Christmas Eve. It’s possible to be too excited. I should know. Back when I really was a child on Christmas Eve I used to throw up into a Dettol-splashed bucket placed beside my bed for the purpose, then wake up every hour to check whether it was the next day yet. The early part of this week was like that. The not sleeping, I mean. At 51, I’m now usually able to manage the throwing up side of things.

But we’re nearly there. In a car. We’re pootling down the final leafy lanes near Pilton, the verdancy gleams, tangy manure smells reach our nostrils. Don Carlton, one of my regular Glastonbury muckers, is having trouble shaking off the real world. He’s now a key manager in Penborough’s social services hierarchy and there are issues with a team member. He’s on the phone talking about “due diligence” and “qualitative projections”. As the mighty tent city hoves into view, such phrases emanate the structured obscenity of daily work-life.

gretaBut he hurls the phone from himself just in time, as if it were toxic (it is). We’re there. In the back of our unglamorous aquamarine Vauxhall, Finetime, my other Glasto partner in crime, is chugging down a cold Amstel beer and puffing on a rollie. He’s been coming here since the late Eighties when the travellers and the hippies used to run a separate festival just outside the main one. Back in those days he’d wander back and forth between the two selling apple crumble and magic mushroom tea.

We pull into the Hospitality Car Park. This year, after decades of buying crappy trolleys for £25 a pop that fall to bits as soon as they’re pulled over a dirt track, I’ve invested in a £100 industrial one. The idea is this will alleviate the strain shifting our kit to the campsite. Finetime and Don start piling everything we’ve brought with us on there, a gigantic heap of tents, sleeping bags, chairs, awnings, wineboxes, and so on.

“I don’t think I’ll wear my rucksack,” says Finetime, “It’s quite heavy.”

This goes on the trolley.

“Yes, I think we can fit this on,” says Don, squeezing on a gigantic supermarket bag-4-life which appears to contain the entire contents of his kitchen. And so on. The trolley, heavily bungeed and precarious, finally looks like one of those carts that accompany refugees fleeing disaster zones with all their belongings. Finetime and Don, carrying the weight equivalent each of four walnuts and a can of soup, set off at a pace while, grumbling loudly, I heft what amounts to a family caravan along the hillocked trail, stopping every twenty yards to die a little amid my own sweat.

Hospitality Camping is fuller than usual. Everyone’s arrived early because the weather’s so gorgeous. We set up chairs, open cider, G&Ts, still-cold beers, eat salted peanuts and Morrisons Cheese Savouries. After a certain amount of swearing on my part about the trolley situation, I suddenly remember I’m here, aided by Nick Mulvey’s delicious acoustic songs playing in the nearby John Peel marquee. Our tents eventually up and a quick early “test” of the naughty packets and we head out.

flagYet we manage to fluff things. In their preparations to move from place to place Don and Finetime are… unhurried… leisurely... Glastonbury, meanwhile, is 800 acres massive. And time is finite. There’s so much to see and do and we’re only here such a short time (like life!). Thus we arrive at the packed William’s Green marquee for Elvana’s set too late to push inside. Their dodgy-fake-Elvis-fronts-Nirvana routine can only win here. Crowds back up into the entire surrounding area, all roaring “In Bloom” (“He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs…” etc), waving waxed cups of beer in the air in the evening sun. It’s fun but we’re too far away.

Don disappears in search of a ladyfriend who’s dropped him a text. Finetime and I make our way up to the Bimble Inn in the Park for the Undercover Hippy, a Glastonbury regular whose funny, socially conscious, reggae-tinted music I’ve never caught live. Once again we arrive too late and it’s too full. The bottom line is that Finetime and I achieve a Glasto Thursday night FAIL. It happens. We have a high old time and jiggle to the odd DJ but keep turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time, notably to see a Taiwanese band called Twonky Order at the Pussy Parlure venue who look like they might be Roxy Music but then tune up for half an hour and eventually play tune-free prog-funk. We even miss shouty technoheads Paranoid London by forgetting they were on as we sit up by the empty Park Stage watching roadies and the stars.

Finetime is preoccupied with blathering about real world biz and I’m into wandering endlessly, aimlessly in search of a buzz that might only exist in my fevered mind, stopping hither and yon. But, let’s draw a veil over such temporarily enfeebled non-adventures. The Glasto FAIL can be part of the journey, part of the acclimatization process. It can take many forms, might involve doing too much or two little of something, including food and sleep, but can also just be circumstantial. Some might say ours wasn’t even a real FAIL at all as it resulted in us being asleep by 2.30 AM and arriving fresh to the next day when the festival proper starts. It’s only Thursday night, after all…

FRIDAY 28th JUNEStormzy at Glastonbury 2019

After an unlikely eight hour sleep I awake at 10.30 AM to a gathering swelter of heat, skin steamed, tee-shirt damp. Don crawls out of his tent. He looks rough. He did not FAIL Thursday, although maybe he did as his first words are, “I think I’ve fucked up my timings.” He was out until the wee hours dancing with his top off amongst all the bears, trannies and leather of NYC Download, Glastonbury’s gay mecca of sleaze and wickedness in the South East Corner. True, he queued an hour to get in but the pay-off was worth it, a night of disco and decadence, dancing all night with the ladyfriend who texted him. She then took him back to her caravan.

He walked back to his tent at 8.00 AM. He’s now knackered. But his (and her) activities also raise the conundrum of Glastonbury’s sex life. It’s hot yet it’s not. A friend once screwed a guy from New Zealand within an hour of getting through the gates (which is impressive). That was a wild impulsive fuck, clearly, which Glastonbury’s madness can induce. Everyone’s out on top form, dressed wildly, existing outside the usual order of things, in the moment, giving out pheromones, eye contact and signals as they peak on their liquids, powders and pills. In that light it’s surprising there’s not sex happening beside every trackway and in every bush (there used to be, back in the Seventies!).

flag wThen again, there’s another side to it, the dirt, dust and bodily odours that build up, day after day, the grime and caked excesses. Glasto sex is earthy, pungent and not for everyone, wielding a maverick, mire-greased charm for connoisseurs of medievalist lustiness. On top of that, there are so many pleasures here other than those ancient ones of the flesh. Glastonbury, then, is a place where sex doesn’t matter so much, where there’s nudity, naturalism, and unforced sensual possibility, even love, but where society’s day-to-day obsession with porno chic titillation is on hold.

Pondering such, I bite into my dripping egg’n’bacon butty, sucking a fresh orange juice, both liquids mingling, drooling down my goatee as Don’s hairy, topless bod flops about the mouth of his tent. Sexy Glastonbury! The sun is really gunning it and he’s suffering, eyes creased, sweating out the Moon Powder he gulped last night. There’s no way of tent-sleeping in this heat so, after watching his enfeebled form attempt in vain to raise a canvas awning to cast some shade, Finetime, an expert in such matters, gets involved and even drags me in, despite my protest that such physical activity will ruin my breakfast repast.

Finetime and I then set out into the craziness. In the Pyramid field a supremely happy crowd has already gathered for Bjorn Again’s preposterousness. A regular feature of Glastonbury over the years, the Australian ABBA tribute band cannot fail in this weather and don’t. You can hear the crowd roaring “Take a Chance on Me” and the rest for miles around. But I’m at the Burrow Hill Cider Bus topping up my ever-full two litre bottle of scrumpy; two pints medium to one dry, and I’ll shot a cider brandy while I’m here. Sober is not the new cool any more than gardening is the new rock’n’roll. Sober is something more and more of my peers want/need for their own reasons. Fair enough, but it’s not a religion. It’s just more home-time, boxsets and tea.

mcdThis year no plastic bottles are sold on site so I brought my own (reused all weekend, eco-warriors). Water is available at 37 Wateraid refill kiosks, which unsurprisingly have consistent queues, as well as taps on the campsites and traders making a buck on Coke-style cans retailing at two quid. Glastonbury consequently uses a million less plastic bottles than last year, which is something to emulate. Sustainability has clambered to near the top of the issues the festival draws awareness to, the stage-side big screens constantly flashing films featuring messages such as “No Fish: No Future”. They are much preferable to commercials for Heineken or whatever sponsored bollocks most big festivals do.

We, however, are trekking towards West Holts, once the Jazz-World Stage and still flavoured that way. We stop to watch an English band called Solomento play Cuban fusion music while dressed in summer suits in a place called Pommarola Pizza Gardens. It looks like a posh, red wall-papered living room, replete with armchairs. A man nearby rolls a giant inflatable melon towards his son. The grass outside Ghandi’s Flip-Flip, a marquee selling “non-violent curries for the civilly disobedient”, is already filled with the cross-legged spooning it down with wooden sporks. A small lorry bearing a sound system entitled Reason Roadblock trails past followed by revellers including a topless guy with a flag announcing he’s part of Bristol’s PiloXercise Carnival Troupe.

I’m at West Holts for Acid Mothers Temple, the Japanese psych-rock group, who are legendary freaks, have wonderful long white hair and beards, but whose stop-start whacko racket is utterly unsuited to a delicious sunny afternoon. It’s unfair on them as their demented, abrasively hardcore set might have worked on the John Peel Stage or somewhere less blissful.

On the panel walling running away from the West Holts stage is a giant sign saying “LIVES BEFORE BORDERS” and pages and pages glued next to it which, upon closer inspection, turn out to be a list by name of the “34,361 documented deaths of refugees and migrants due to the restrictive policies of ‘Fortress Europe’”. Sad news for Daily Mail readers who must wish that death toll was a good deal higher. Maybe if we had “special treatment” camps to “process” the ones that made it through…

Glastonbury is mainly represented in the media as a series of concerts but hours should be spent away from that, exploring the mind-boggling miles of other sights. Perversely, each person can only see a speck of what goes on at Glastonbury, perhaps less than 5% in terms of overall time and geography. We will all actually miss most of it, but we do our best and stomp across the increasingly straw-like dry grass into the Greenpeace field which is dominated by the new Rave Tree, a 22 metre high structure that, in daylight, looks like a vast weeping willow with white leafage and the words “JUNGLE IS NOT MASSIVE” writ large on the side.

avalonA crowd has gathered to watch the nearby dropslide which is as it sounds: the slider plummets off a high ledge then the curvature levels out, leaving them safe at the bottom. It has to be at least 10 metres high and a young girl is sitting at the top facing her demons. The crowd encourage her to “Jump! Jump!” but this does not have the desired effect as she starts crying. “Weeping children as festival entertainment,” says someone and we all move on avoiding each other’s eyes, wandering past busy skate ramps, a climbing wall, a 15 metre high Apollo-style rocket, and into the Green Kids area. Here I have to flash my press pass as my diabetic urine scrumpy bottle and pig-like eyes don’t increase my respectability.

Past the imposing Cadmus playship there’s a shaded area where three boys are writhing in a heap in the refereed arena of the Sock Wrestling Federation. They are trying to take each other’s socks off with an amplified grown-up commentary rendering the whole very silly. Back amongst the supposed adults we investigate BEAM, an impressive new permanent installation, a kind of US cavalry fortress-cum-labyrinth of larch timber stakes from within which can be heard a loud drone that floats around the whole area. Artist Wolfgang Buttress created this as a companion piece to his HIVE in Kew Gardens. It’s attuned directly to Worthy Farm’s own five beehives using complex technology (accelerometers are mentioned!) to translate the bees’ movements into sound and, via a multitude of LEDs set in the walls, visuals. It’s a bee rave, man! We determine to return at night.

Nearby on a stage a woman called Sarah Weiler in a gold lamé top plays a ukulele and sings a song about freelancing to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. “Drinking coffee through the days and watching Netflix through the night, this is freelance, freelance,” she sings. No-one is watching apart from me and couple talking about the health benefits of porridge. Weiler doesn’t seem bothered, merely enthused to be there. I later find she is leading her own “Quitting Revolution” so I guess that works. Finetime is drinking lager in the Museum of Extinction surrounded by images of animals who will soon no longer exist because palm oil is easy. Money, eh; it was never interesting.

Filling with booze now and perspiring in the increasing heat, I grab a cone of chips’n’mayo from the Hippy Chippy. We walk past Unicorn Crystals and a stall selling Indian Fire Bowls (me, neither) into the Avalon Field. It has a hearty vibe with its café and Avalon Inn, replete with a high wooden beer balcony like an Austrian ski resort (pictured above left). I grab more beer to create snakebite in my bulging stomach. The intense heat helps fermentation. An improvised folk group featuring two squeezeboxes and a violin are jamming away on two benches. In the main tent Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs have drawn a large crowd for their good-humoured lively skiffle-rock hoedown. When they play The Levellers’ song “One Way” it all goes off.

tankusBut we are here for Tankus the Henge, the rampaging burlesque festival troubadour showmen, and what a set they turn in, my first musical highlight. Frontman Jaz Delorean (pictured right) wears a giant aquamarine homburg and a silver jacket that soon comes off to reveal a toned torso as he leaps on top of his skull-painted black piano. Beside him the trombone, sax and trumpet players do a synchronized dance, Motown style. This band are an outrageously tuneful blast, with Delorean releasing clouds of dry ice from the top of his piano by regularly lifting the lid.

They cherrypick from their two albums, letting rip with Dixieland piano for “Last Night in New Orleans” then peaking with a crowd sing-along to “You Can Do Anything” from last year’s I Crave Affection, Baby, But Not When I Drive album, before hitting one of my favourite tunes, “Recurring Dream” and ending, as they often do, with the Prozac euphoria of “Smiling Makes the Day Go Quicker”. They turn me into that bloke in the pub who goes on, “Why aren’t they the biggest band in the world?” about whoever, especially after three pints of scrumpy, three Indian Pale Ales and a brandy by 3.10 in the afternoon.

I’m in a very good mood, then, as we hit Green Crafts, a rustic hobbit idyll of stalls featuring a branding workshop (not human – pine), a large space where you can basket-weave a dragon, a flurry of women making fragrant flower crowns, a blacksmith, and much more. The endless detail is captivating. No other festival does it on this scale. I am drawn into a felting stall where a man who looks like Walter Brennan as Knobby the Gnome in Disney’s 1967 flop The Gnome-Mobile does something with a felting mat, surrounded by multitudes of natural, hand-dyed felt objects, from roses to purses. We talk awhile and I soon wish I was an eccentric old felting dude and buy a 16” high elfin hat in blue, yellow and lime green with a flower on the front.

After a pause by a Celtic pattern cut into the turf and filled with sand, we stop at the Hortisculptors’ Pond, a glistening reed-lined fairyland pool ripe for contemplation. We come across an over-refreshed Northern man of about 25 who has just taken a dip and is repeating the phase “I’m yer mam” and roaring with laughter. He eyes are blank windows. He loops endlessly until a friend drags him away.

At the Solar-Powered Vegetarian Kitchen I grab a falafel pitta and small cup of apple juice with cinnamon. Yes, it’s that hot I’m forced to briefly drink something non-alcoholic. I lie on a rug with a wooden Buddha watching me as Finetime eats a veggie lasagne. Before I know it I’m lightly drowsing, but enough of that – ONWARD!

Finetime is not feeling “ONWARD!” This kind of heat doesn’t suit him. He puts up a red parasol against the sun but it’s not enough. Indeed, many are falling. Every small shadow-cast space is packed with corpses of the dropped, mouths agape, fanning themselves, long lines of them squeezed against every plasticized fence and marquee-side.

We pass a poster featuring a cross-legged Sting, his eyes sinisterly blacked out. It says, “Explore your pelvic floor with Sting! Tantric sex workshop. Full contact session led by the climax guru himself, 8.00 am Sunday morning, Stone Circle, 1st come, 1st served.” Finetime is slowing and slowing. The breezeless tropical afternoon is doing him in. If he walks any slower it might cause a quantum event where we go back in time. At least we’d get Thursday night back. I begin berating him then regret it. Eventually we arrive back at the campsite where Don Carlton is looking like a worn mole. His pay-off for the 8.00 AM stop continues.

Ruthlessly, I leave these two beings wilting. I stomp back to the cider bus, drink more brandy, and head to the Pyramid for Lauryn Hill. Wearing a gaucho hat with a loose pearl stampede-string (pictured below left) she’s a picture of East Coast cool. In fact, too cool for me. For some, her set is a favourite moment, and she certainly showcases a grand vocal blow-out on “Superstar” and great speed-rapping on “Final Hour” but I don’t find her persona engaging or the music more than pleasant and left before the requisite climactic chant-along to “Killing Me Softly With His Song”.

lauryn I head for William’s Green, down one of the main market drags, passing the American DJ Seth Troxler eating a tuna melt ciabatta. Teenage Norfolk alt-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma are supposed to be playing but a technical issue means the entire stage is gathered around a laptop for 20 minutes. Finally they begin and they’re great. Rosa Walton, in a black pant suit, and Jenny Hollingworth, in a frilled black mini-dress, are stage right and left respectively at keyboards, with a female drummer behind.

They deal in pop that has a touch of Kate Bush’s avant-eccentricity but is vibrantly youthful and 2019 electronically tweaked in construction. They are two young women really enjoying themselves and it’s contagious as they play “Hot Pink” and do choreographed dance routines as if they were in their bedroom practicing. Walton also plays guitar, Hollingworth saxophone. They are beguiling, with the attractive, clumsy, I-don’t-care-what-this-looks-like-but-I-slightly-do aura of a young Chloe Sevigny. It’s gawky and unforced and certainly more my sort of cool than Lauryn Hill.

Back at the campsite my two compadres have pulled themselves together and set up another awning to shade proceedings. Next door in Silver Hayes a Columbian takeover is noisily going on and we guzzle Nong Nongs and Quivver Fizz and swigs of rum and half pints of Tuaca. Evening gowns on, matched, in my case, with a peaked officers’ cap bearing the motif “Save the Rave”, we’re ready for Stormzy.

These sort of Pyramid gigs are epochal, giant. Grime comes to Glasto Central! The crowds, the flags… it makes my eyes water just thinking about it. Stormzy comes out wearing a black Union Jack bullet proof vest-type top and announces that it’s the “best night of my entire fucking life”. And then delivers and delivers and delivers, never sparing the production expenses as pyrotechnics shoot high into the air either side of the stage. In fact, the fireworks seldom quit for long throughout.

craneStormzy has it all; a ballet troupe (alongside statement visuals concerning the relationship between black people and ballet), a silhouetted gospel chorus on three platformed levels behind him (newie “Crown” is especially gospel), Chris Martin of Coldplay on piano, Dave & Fredo doing their chart-topping “Funky Friday” hit (which he follows with his own No. 1 “Vossi Bop”). He has the whole place two-stepping to a cover of Shanks & Bigfoot’s 1999 UK garage classic “Sweet Like Chocolate” and even has me singing along to his cover of Ed Sheeran’s godawful “Shape of You”.

It is a triumph for him and for grime and towards the end he acknowledges those who paved the way (Wiley, Kano, Skepta, etc) and those rising in the ranks. It’s all done with overkill, but hell, it works and this is the Pyramid where the right kind of overkill, if delivered by someone who understands the crowd, can send things doolally. Stormzy certainly has that touch.

Unfortunately for me, Stormzy’s crowd do not head into the pub for a cold one after a gig, unlike the Foo Fighters’ crowd and other crowds who’ve piled into my DJ sets at the Cornish Arms in previous years. Thus we’ll pass swiftly over my playing for two crunk-eyed hours to an empty dancefloor and move to the new Arcadia area, Pangea, where Belgian techno DJ Charlotte de Witte is blasting out iron sounds from atop a skyscraping industrial dock crane surrounded by flamethrowers that scorch the very air (pictured above right). Don has retreated to dreamland but this is where Finetime and I belong for a gurning, grit-toothed, spirit-soaked bit…

SATURDAY 29th JUNEChemical Brothers at Glastonbury 2019

Awake after another decent night’s sleep aided by a structured combination of hashish, Night Nurse, Neurofen and water. I drink lots at night. Water drinking is a private thing, not something the world needs to see. Thus begins the hottest day of the year and one of the hottest Glastonbury Festival days ever. At least 30 degrees centigrade and no wind to take the edge off.

We begin it by talking about what “butters” means in street talk. We’re lying about under our awnings. Don is back on form aided by Finetime’s endlessly brewed cups of tea. I’m still leaking saline solution like a busted hospital drip. It smells chemical. Don says it’s a good thing to be “butters” but I’m pretty sure it’s not. We ask a passing young person who says, “Battered, mate, it means off your face,” and disappears. No use.

We notice Reef are playing on Sunday night and mock Fineteam for his ongoing affection for the band. They come from round here. “Put your hands up,” we chorus (getting the words wrong, as it happens). He points out that they have many other tunes and, indeed, a good few other hits. We laugh. Don meanwhile has allowed that we can meet his new paramour later on at the Chemical Brothers. I always knew he was a gent not a slapper.

smileySilver Hayes is mostly a field full of dance tents but it also has the BBC Introducing Tent for up’n’coming acts. Don wants to see Marie White there so we head that way, stopping off in a Moroccan-styled tea tent where I eat a hearty “English breakfast wrap”, a bread-condomed sausage of meat and mushroom that almost sends me over the edge. Happily I’m sitting in a plush armchair and let my head fall back for five minutes blowings to recover.

Before Marie White a band called Roscoe Roscoe make an energized noise, heavy rock with added brass, but we don’t see them, only hear them. Marie White is a young woman from Hastings who won Glastonbury’s 2019 Emerging Talent Competition at Pilton Working Men’s Club back in April. Wearing cropped pinstripe trousers and a loud tracky jacket, she’s accompanied by a keyboard and a guitarist. She plays to a tent of the horizontal and resting, yet the applause and whistles are loud.

It’s singer-songwriter stuff that’s personal and passionately heartfelt. The style is not to my taste but there’s no denying the unedited urgency of her work. One song, which has a chorus that goes “Got to Be” (I think) has her mum, who she points out, up and dancing. She tells us her mum is a great dancer, and she is. Later we’re introduced to her “best friend in the world” for a love song called “Amy”. At the end she receives a standing ovation and you can see her struggling not to crack up. It’s endearing and very Glastonbury.

Don then goes in search of his new friend who we shall call GB in honour of the fact that (we later find out) she looks a little like a young Glynis Barber (if you remember Dempsey and Makepeace). Finetime and I head for the circus and theatre fields where we intend to stay still and bake in the sun, watching the walkabout acts. We walk past Johnny Marr and also the Hari Krishna tent, still going after all these years (like Marr), doling out free vegan gloop and chanting. We used to get lost in their universe on LSD back in the 1990s. Some never returned but are probably still in here, yellow tilakas painted on their foreheads.

brambleIn the Circus Fields we drink two beers, see freak nurses, pogo-ing black angels, parade-length Chinese dragons, snake oil salesmen, a flower fairy in a transparent bubble-garden manhandling insects watched by a fascinated toddler. The Cockatoo Cocktail Bar has a cage on top in which a tranny Emperor Ming is singing a falsetto version of Peggy Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?”. He’s weirdly brilliant but soon disappears and we settle in front of Bramble FM’s dirty caravan for their penultimate Glastonbury show ever (pictured right). An institution here since the millennium, the premise is that of a twisted, nonsensical, seedy local radio roadshow (“So local you can smell it”).

Fronted by “Les” and “Maureen”, it’s addictive. Finetime and I become lost, parting ways with two hours of creased giggling at their inspired, improvisational, lunatic ramblings. As we roast slowly in battering heat, chilled only by pint after pint of fine ale, Bramble have three small children wash their caravan for a prize of cat food sachets (“Very nutritional”); they throw digestive biscuits at us during a rousing dance to Europe’s “The Final Countdown”; they have “Fred Dibnah” dig a hole beside them the whole time they perform; they induce a “sock rave”; they talk extensively about Bill Oddy’s Fat Balls; they have a look-but-no-touch policy regarding a hammer they bring round during MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” but a man in a pink bandana breaks the rule and is made to kneel before Les scrubbing the phallically held hammer shaft clean of his sun cream (which has “got in the grain of the wood”). I’m not sure what it reads like on paper – like I said, ramblings - but I’m weeping with laughter.

Passing the Aqua-Rhythm water fountain display, we head to the top of the Theatre Field to one of the site’s most north-easterly points where there’s a new unexplored area called Rimski’s Corner. An acoustic turn called The All Night Chemist is playing to a very small audience slumped in the shade. It’s a strange, otherly space with a gin bar, ramshackle yet exquisitely conceived steam punk ornamentation, like an antique shop from the future, overseen by edgy yet friendly traveller-looking characters manning the levers.

caravanFinetime is, once again, flagging in the heat, so after we’ve eaten a fish finger sandwich I leave him and head for the Park to see Sons of Kemet. I pass West Holts on the way where topless Northampton grime MC slowthai is telling a crowd that all he does is “wheel-ups” (we used to call them “rewinds” in my day). It’s a sapping journey to The Park in this blaze and once there it’s hard to get around as the entire hill before the stage is jam-packed with humanity lying about, frying.

On stage two drummers whip up a percussive storm. Sons of Kemet are in full flow, a tribal attack over which band leader Shabaka Hutchings pits his saxophone against Theon Cross’s tuba. It’s a good noise, a sonic jousting match, and I watch a few numbers but was, perhaps, hoping for more nuance and some of the actual structured songs that appear on their excellent Your Queen is Reptile album of last year. Maybe those came later. Maybe I’m missing the point. Anyway, there’s too much lethargy and too many unmoving sun-corpses here so I quit and run.

On the Other Stage Johnny Marr is playing “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. Isn’t that a Morrissey song? No, it’s a Smiths song. He follows it with one of his own that stands up with pluck, tune and energy (“Armatopia”) and then I’m over at the cider bus reloading, brandies too, hooking back up with Finetime and diving into Janet Jackson. She has the hits but brings no verve to them, racing about the stage in a kind of black sci-fi body-shroud with choreography snap-tight to her dancers. Where tunes such as “Nasty” and “What Have you Done For Me Lately” could have been converted into 21st century monsters, they flop out with a very yesteryear digital tinniness, truncated to fit more songs in to little avail. Most of all she gives nothing of Janet Jackson to us, just a superstar celeb appearance. No thanks.

bogsOver at West Holts the mood is completely different. Texan pop-hop MC-singer Lizzo is coming towards the end of her set and she’s ruling the early evening world. She has drawn a huge crowd. The young! Always follow the young (like a succubus) not the dried, wizened names of yesteryear! The young are here and Lizzo, wearing an outrageous glittery mauve long-armed leotard, is bouncing around, playing her flute, wiggling her arse, and laying on the sass thick as goop in a cream bun, climaxing with her hit “Juice”.

It’s half an hour until Neneh Cherry so we chill, watch the masses wander away, wishing we’d seen more of Lizzo. Little did we know! Instead we drink more, eat flavourless vegetarian slop from the only stall that has no queue. Time is more important than culinary enjoyment at this point. Looking around, Glastonbury 2019’s no plastic bottle sales rule has really made a noticeable difference to the litter situation. There’s still a few plastic items but it’s mostly waxed cups and the occasional can, much more manageable and recyclable. What there are a lot of this year is boobs. The sun has brought them forth, bountiful in bikinis, sarongs, cropped tops and sometimes swinging completely free, painted in glitter. Such fleshy freedom adds joy and subtly enhances the whole environment, whatever one’s sexuality, gender and wotnot (writes the scrumpy-swigging, middle-aged, white male).

With the sun finally cooling and mild cloud cover blowing in on an equally welcome breeze, Neneh Cherry hits the stage. She looks great, a decade younger than her 55 years, her hair in two gold-plaited braids, wearing a white kimono dress and box-fresh white pumps. Her 1989 Top Ten hit “Manchild” works well as an opener, leading into a set we watch half of. Backed by a substantial band, including a harpist, it all has a mellow trip hop heart. She is graceful and easy going without being boring, which is a feat. Nonetheless, we have to move on.

The other night Finetime watched As It Was, a documentary about Liam Gallagher. Previously not a fan, he was won over. I was surprised to hear this – maybe he’d had a few drinks - but am happy to investigate what Liam can pull out of the hat on the Pyramid, playing a support slot to headliners The Killers (no interest there). As we arrive Liam’s doing his usual jutted jaw, sullen thing, swerving between his own tracks - “Bold” and “For What It’s Worth” stand out – and Oasis numbers.

eav2I have seen Liam Gallagher’s uncompromising attitude and stationary menace somehow build the atmosphere in a venue. However, tonight it’s not suiting the hillside before the Pyramid, glowing and milling as evening settles. There’s a sludge to the rhythm that turns everything Mogadon where it could be terrace chant communal. Even “Cigarettes and Alcohol” sounds lumpen, spikeless, where it should fling out sneer and bravado. I leave as the “Wonderwall” sing-along begins. Finetime, it should be noted, left a good deal earlier, his Liam flirtation clearly on the wane.

Back at the campsite things are growing messy. A couple appear from their tent, he with eyes black, all pupil, jaw going like the coupling rods on the Flying Scotsman. “You want anything at all?” he asks. “I’m all good,” I reply, waving my bottle or orange slush about as if it proved this. “No, you want a beer?” he presses, “You must want a beer? You want chocolate?” Then the girl pipes up, “You wanna get laid?” she asks, waving purple flowers in my face. “Everyone wants to get laid!” I laugh. Their faces are set. “You want a lei?” she repeats, holding the plastic Hawaiian-style flower necklace my way. “Oh, yes, I see,” I respond, I smile, grab it – “Seeya!” - and run off. I wear it for the rest of the weekend.

At our tent enclave everyone’s fuelling, Don has been to see heavyweight alt-rockers Foals play a surprise set at The Park and is buzzing. It’s the pre-Saturday night pitstop, a frenzy of powders and potions, Nong Nongs and Quivver Fizz, cackles and whoops, the Maker’s Mark bourbon comes out, the felt elf hat goes on, an unlikely compliment to my merchant navy jacket. A girl appears from a nearby tent and we ask her if “butters” is a good or bad thing. “No, that’s not good,” she says, “It’s like ‘but, er,’ and it means you’re not attractive.”

But you knew that, right? And if you didn’t, you’ll now pretend you did. Humans. We make our way to the front of the Other Stage for the Chemical Brothers. It’s going to be a guaranteed rave and we know it. Don’s paramour GB’s crew are able to find us via my giant elf hat and we make ourselves acquainted. They’re all ripe on Moon Dust while I gargle bourbon and Menthol mahanas, my throat-back an anaesthetized pleasure portal. As in the best party crowds, everyone’s passing everything about and we’re greeting our neighbours in excitement. Then - BOOM! – The Chemical Brothers are on. The dancing begins.

viewTime blurs into pumping limbs, constant movement, warm night, beads on the brow. They don’t let up and nor do the retina-frazzling visuals on the giant screens stageside. The veteran dance duo open with “Go”, there’s a chunk from their excellent new No Geography album, including the bass-funked electro banger “Eve of Destruction”, its visuals displaying Norwegian singer Aurora dressed up like a geisha witch before a tinpot superhero in a motorcycle helmet arrives to defeat all comers.

New Order’s “Temptation” is blended into “Star Guitar” and for “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” fluoro-green scissor-cut card glasses and square lips mouth the famous “Superstar DJs, here we go” sample. The visuals brilliantly combine analogue with high tech (my favourite being a diva-like dancer in red covered in short lengths of plumbing), with slamming elastic beats, to cumulative effect. Everything peaks at “Galvanize” (“The time has come to push the button!”) as two towering cubic robots appear onstage, their eyes firing lazers out across us. This is the bonkers we were after, for sure.

However, while Don and GB’s girl gang stay to the very end, Finetime and I are determined to have a good nose around the South East Corner which, when the main acts finish, can become tricky to get into. We miss the final “Block Rockin’ Beats” and race across the site, celebrating with a Fizz explosion as we reach Block 9's imposing armageddon fortress and Anthony Parasole’s New York techno sounds pulse into our ears. Night madness is now everywhere. A troupe of strange bods force a game of Pictionary on us. My card’s an easy one – “Elephant” – which Finetime swiftly guesses and we move onto Shangri La with its warped underworld of inverted anti-advertising. We’re sucked into a caged corridor called The Disruption Bureau which is bedlam. One room is full of freaks wriggling, kohl eyes, and the smell of excess, all jacking to house - who are the keepers and who are the caged here? In another a jaded-looking lady of about 60 with a gigantic carrot spliff hanging from her mouth is painting phrases in white on a blackboard. “Unfuck that shit,” she carefully daubs, her eyes hazed. It’s an art happening!

postersOver at the Truth Stage it’s all going off with the London Remixed UK Garage Orchestra drawing a crowd to their interpretations of “re-re-wind as the crowd says Bo Selecta” beneath a nearby poster that shouts, “FREEDOM FOR THE WOLF MEANS DEATH TO THE SHEEP.” A couple of hours pass as we swirl through these zones, eventually reaching the Blind Tiger in the Unfairground, another apocalyptic funhouse weirdscape, where old school rave sounds are building up. For reasons I forget, however, we decide to then exit the South East Corner, driven by a desire to explore.

We trek and trek. You can get fit here while getting deeply unfit. The Greenpeace Rave Tree is now lit up in all its luminescent glory. Beneath it swarm ranks of 4/4 kick drum acolytes worked by perennial house mistress Smokin’ Jo. Further on BEAM has now turned into a glowing nightworld hub, its flickering internal cell finally a bee-rave in full effect.

We see woman with a white fur coat that suddenly explodes into rainbows of blobby lights, we walk, we walk, we walk, and clamber the steep hill to the southernmost end of the site, right up above the tipis. In 18 previous Glastonburys I’ve never been here before, hidden away it’s Strummerville, with its permanent bonfire dedicated to the late Clash singer. Gathered around it the conversation hums while further along in a clearing a DJ spins disco to stumbling cross-dressers and an android in an afro wig. We’ll leave it there for tonight.

SUNDAY 30th JUNEKylie at Glastonbury 2019

“Why is there a sign that says, ‘JACK DANIELS ONIONS’?” I ask, my brain flustered, recalling a food stall nearby. Don doesn’t know. He’s sitting outside his tent with GB, who looks less like Glynis Barber in Dempsey and Makepeace now, and more like Glynis Barber after a tumble-dryer of Ecstasy, her blond bob straw-like, her eyes panda-ish. They make a cute pair. GB is rifling through Don’s extensive bag-4-life of provisions. She puts her hand in dark brown gone-off banana gunk and makes the relevant yukking noises.

Finetime is brewing tea. As always. I am shaving my head. We all smell like Brown Windsor soup that’s been left in the larder too long, but the day is cooler and we’re going to see Kylie later so what’s to worry about? “I bet you see Reef later,” says Don. “Reef,” I scoff, “The Cure are on later.” Finetime, as ever, goes into a short assessment of Reef’s good points.

heatToday is easy, all afternoon in the Pyramid stage arena with our chairs, boxes of red wine, Tuaca, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Liqueur (which Don has produced). It’s Sunday picnic time. When GB’s girls arrive one of them even produces a fine Italian cheese that’s been cured in wine and savoury biscuits to go with it. Until then, after a queue-free breakfast of chicken burrito (more bread-condomed meat), we survive on Don’s endless giant bag of trail mix.

We pitch up downfield, in easy range of the toilets and cider bus, but also the left-hand speakers and a solid view of the stage. First on is Mavis Staples the almost-Octogenarian gospel firebrand whose heritage runs directly back to the Staple Singers, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. Her voice is now hewn from oak rather than light sapling, but remains richly moving. There’s something of late period Louis Armstrong in its charms, although she sounds nothing like him. She kicks off with “Take Us Back”, with its chorus “I get help from the people who love me,” then explains why she and all her band are wearing Glastonbury tee shirts: the airline lost their luggage.

That said, she cannot seem to recall where she is and keeps having to be reminded by her guitarist. She fairly bleeds positivity and a will for times to be better. “Things gotta change around here,” she says and breaks into her song “Change” with its key line “What good is freedom if we haven’t learned to be free?” Seldom has more sense been sung. And I can never resist Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, which she has us all sing along to.

binsShe refers in a tone of disgust to “whatever you call that in the White House” and finishes with “No Time For Crying”, emphasising that, indeed, there’s no time for tears because “we got work to do” and announces she might run for president. She’s a gem. Three Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles walk past us, their waists belted with inflatable yellow submarines. “Where’s Ringo?” shouts Don. The Sixties are never quite dead round here.

40 minutes of jawing in hazy sunshine pass, with Finetime attacking the wine box like it needs to be dead by sundown, his laughter growing ever more raucous. Years & Years then appear. Turns out their frontman, Ollie Alexander, is a lovable star, wearing his LGBTQ+ politics – “queer” as he prefers it – loudly. His super-fey, giggly persona, as he poses around in slashed blue tartan trousers, net vest and giant silver LOVE necklace, is endearing. He is an elfin diva and comes out with lines such as “I don’t know about you Glastonbury but I’m feeling very aroused.”

It’s not that the music all convinces – it’s trop-house pop, after all – but some does, “Sanctify” from their last album and “Desire” from their debut, to name but two, yet even the twee-est moments are injected with live-wired joyousness, boosted by a crew of male dancers who vogue, parade about, take their tops off, lift Alexander in the air like a minor deity, meanwhile two super-bendy female acrobats in purple mottled catsuits contort around him during “If You’re Over Me”. Alexander elevates proceedings, especially by giving a sweet, overlong, rambling but passionate speech midway, the loose recap of which would be that “Queer is beautiful” and that we all need to be kinder to each other if the world is going to be a better place. Very Glastonbury, very true.

Where Janet Jackson’s pop plasticity remained impenetrably slick, Years & Years gradually became humanised as the set went on. When they had a tranny-fest and rainbow ticker tape explosion for the final “King”, I was yelling the chorus at the top of my voice, tears only just staying inside my eye sockets. It’s possible one or two even escaped. Emotional. Whatever next? Bless ‘em.

Kylie fever now starts mounting so it’s dangerous to move too far. When Lionel Richie played in 2015 we lost each other in similar circumstances. Don has risked going to see Jeff Goldblum and his Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at West Holts but he makes it back – enthused by Goldblum’s “pure showbiz” - in time for a surprise appearance by David Attenborough. At a very sprightly 93 years of age he is truly a national treasure and when he takes to the stage is greeted much like a god.

planeHe brushes such hysteria aside in a deft, self-effacing matter-of-fact way, although the tumult initially keeps rising again to drown him out. He’s here to tell us we’re doing the right thing about plastic bottles, to encourage us in that direction, but as much to introduce clips of his massive new series Seven Continents: Seven Worlds. A cynic might say, “Well, that’s just an over-egged advertisement for a telly programme,” which would be true but for the fact David Attenborough’s telly programmes set and forward the cultural agenda regarding our attitudes and responses to global wildlife crises.

Anyway, he’s off quite quick and the field is now chocka to the back, 100,000 or so. A series of mirrored doors at the back of the stage flip open revealing dancers. The final one has a coiled Kylie behind it. She breaks into “Love At First Sight” and a small plane circles the area four times trailing a banner (pictured above right) that says, “Sarah Adams - Marry Me – Joe” (I just checked; she did say, “yes”).

Kylie’s set is hugely entertaining and very Glastonbury Sunday, undermined occasionally with the usual concern that my 16 year old self might turn up in a TARDIS and execute me. Oddly, “I Should Be So Lucky”, near the start, isn’t an issue. Sure, finding it at the top of the NME indie charts in 1987 used to make me incandescent with rage in my long black coat, black 501s, Doc Martins and Mary Chain tee-shirt, but decades do something to a song’s cultural meaning. It’s still ripe cheese, of course, but sung by tens of thousands of people in a sunny field, it becomes a folk chant of some sort. The reek of Stock, Aitken & Waterman's production line soullessness has faded.

The costume changes come thick and fast: chic white Mediterranean suit, red boiler suit, purple gown dress, gold mini-dress, probably more I missed! The moods change too. Nick Cave comes on for the ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow” which is a decent song and an elegant surprise. Chris Martin comes on for “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” which is a less elegant surprise. It takes titanium bonds to keep Chris Martin off the Pyramid Stage.

“Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, along with “Slow”, remind that Kylie has nailed bona fide pop excellence, the former creating the show’s peak moment, with the crowd roaring the “la-la-la” chorus all the way to tent-line. It sends tingles all over my battered frame. Even Kylie is overcome at one point, as the crowd chant her name, and she recalls how her chance to headline in 2005 was shot down by breast cancer. After “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” it all goes a bit too gorgonzola for me, theatrically themed around a wedding and its disco party with dancers playing the roles of the bride, groom and guests, and the music running from “Especially For You” to “The Locomotion”, the latter a real low point of whiffiness. Happily she ends on “Spinning Around”, the video for which, back in 2000, caused a national outbreak of pygophilia. The song retrieves her set at the last, then she disappears.

feltFinetime heads off on a food mission and returns with slices of pizza to line our swilling stomachs just as Miley Cyrus hits the stage, a potty-mouthed whirlwind and a revelation from the start, cracking straight into her “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” collaboration with Mark Ronson – who’s there on stage – interspersing it with Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”. Cyrus’s appearance in one of the most recent Black Mirror episodes hinted at a persona and talent hitherto unsuspected but her Glastonbury appearance seals the deal.

Neither twerkin’ celeb tabloid bait nor the more demure Nashville country girl, this is Miley the rock chick, toothy, clad in a white crop top and black spandex trousers, F-bombing and raunchy, her voice a deep, mature southern US instrument, Tennessee twang giving everything extra Americana. The song after next is Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and the place goes bananas. This? This is Miley Cyrus?

She tells us – swearily – that playing here has been a huge challenge to her – “Give me something that scares the fuck out of me!” - but she’s clearly embraced it, doing the splits, sexin’ it up, living her own version of the rock’n’roll dream, once again, successfully flippin the coin on her image. Her own songs are given cojones by the way they’re played with full band thump – and then she drops in Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. As we leave, she plays “We Can’t Stop”. It’s a song I like anyway but here, the way she’s delivering it, I’m pushing through the crowd eyeballing, declaiming it into people’s faces as a kind of frazzled manifesto: “And we can't stop, and we won't stop, can't you see it's we who own the night?”

But why are we leaving halfway through one of the sets of the weekend? Because there’s a new kid on the block, one who I have to see, the rising superstar Billie Eilish. Miley will acquit the rest of her set with equal aplomb, a dash of Nine Inch Nails, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, a visit from dad Billy Ray (looking more like Waylon Jennings), and a cover of catchy country’n’hip hop number “Old Town Road” featuring its original performer Lil Nas X. But we don’t see this until via iPlayer on a phone on the journey home when it makes us miss a vital turning on the route.

eilishAcross at the Other field a short while later, then, Billie Eilish (pictured right) runs onto the stage, black tape Lorraine crosses on her calves like tattoos, clad in an outsize Stella McCartney shorts’n’tee featuring the three-headed bulldog from The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine animated film. Her hair’s up, revealing sword crucifix earrings and she’s wearing a surgical mask but none of this stops here slamming into her biggest hit, “Bad Guy” with gusto. A five year old boy on his father’s shoulders next to me knows all the words. Its pulsing four-to-the-floor techno edge asks me, “What’s not to like?”

Accompanied by a drummer behind a Perspex sound-shield, and her brother Finneas (O’Connell) on guitar and keys, she’s a cool customer, her face deadpan, going redder with exertion as she leaps in the air every time whomping dubstep bass kicks in. “If you absolutely despise yourself, this song is for you,” she states prior to “Idontwannabeyouanymore”; part of her appeal is that she’s just 17, full of unapologetic vim rather than a seasoned entertained. That said, she still uses the classic – and effective – trick of having us all get down so we can jump up at a given point in a song.

Despite the tough dance music edges, her set is more post-trap Lana del Rey in spirit, measured, full of dry, late night torch song cynicism, disguised by its spray-icing of electro smarts. Guitars are not absent. “Wish You Were Gay” rides a simple riff from her brother. BBC radio mentioning Glastonbury every 40 seconds all weekend must put half the nation off it but, to repeat what they rightly say, she’ll be on the Pyramid next.

Final night prep at Campsite, dressed for excess, you know the drill, buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, last push to Moscow, biggest night, killing the idea of the real world before it arrives with all its gym-goers and coffee and people moaning on all the time about… stuff. If we go fierce enough into this good night, maybe we can hold it off forever. Strolling back towards the Pyramid, everything’s aglow, surrounded by haloed points of light. I pass a poster that says “Art won’t save the world – volunteer at a soup kitchen you pretentious cockwomble”. Is it talking to me?

cureGB’s crew are gagging for The Cure (pictured left) and when they come on the girl gang immediately start singing along but Finetime and I aren’t sure. I’ve seen The Cure before and they played three ace hours but when they start with four gothic slowies at Glastonbury’s end we itch to move, leaving Don, GB and the crew. We walk east, past Christine and the Queens who are funkin’ leisurely on the Other Stage, a gaggle of dancers surrounding Chris/Christine. It’s intriguing but, again, not the energizer we’re after. Finetime thinks he sees the leader of the Unsullied out of Game of Thrones marching through the darkness.

Onwards we yomp until we’re at lovely Avalon. I cannot believe this but, yes, it’s going to be the much-slandered Reef at the finishing line. REEF!? What can I say? Give them a chance? Here’s a theory: in the post-Britpop era they simply channelled then-unfashionable tropes of the early Seventies when everyone else was pretending badly that they’d time-travelled in from the Sixties. But let’s not make excuses. Finetime doesn’t. He just loves Reef, damn it.

carsThey’re on to a full house. Their Gandalf bassist looks like he has just stepped out of Nic Roeg’s 1971 Glastonbury Fayre festival film, his white hair and giant beard flying around a face fired with righteous ebullience. Frontman Gary Stringer, ever baseball capped, has also started looking sage-like in his beard, his voice a screech old Axl Rose must wish he still had. Now I don’t know Reef’s music – as you might guess - but I can tell you they funk-rocked with commitment, played a proper Glastonbury closer. Songs I sing along to, muffing the words, include “Getaway”, “Consideration” and, yes, the one about the hands on (not up!). Finetime looks as if he’s in his own heaven, glowing visage a delighted grin as he dances as hard as he’s danced all weekend.

For their last song (“Comfort”, I think), on comes Andy Taylor out of Duran Duran on guitar, almost unrecognisable with his man-bun and shades. It's a final sterling rock-out containing a plea to “stay with me”. I won’t be staying with them – I sadly won’t be staying in Somerset many more hours - but I confess I might see them again if the opportunity shows itself (he writes sheepishly).

nightAnd then it’s on into the nightfields, heading towards the dawn, a fuzz of Quivver carnage. What's happening? At one point Josh Wink is playing acid techno, at another at the Stonebridge Bar, much later, it’s female drum & bass queen Storm laying down a hurricane of beats. My notes look like they bled out of a dying a spider as it crawled around the page: “RAS. LOOSEN. They’re all on MDMA. I feel love. I feel like waffling. It’s 100% dancing. 2.17. Acid.  Stone Circle. Gone.”

Yes, gone.

MONDAY 1st JULY

Please, no, do we have to…

We can do it.

Glastonbury is 50 years old next year. If we can just make it away from this valley without withering to juddering stalks of burnt nerve jelly and paranoid psychosis… it's only 352 days...

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