Returning to Glastonbury Festival for the first time in eight years, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation. Anyone who attends a festival more than once notices the changes over the years, some gradual and some abrupt, and the default position of most festival-goers eventually becomes “it’s not as good as it used to be”. Glastonbury 2003 was my first ever festival, a genuinely life-changing event that my 18-year-old self wasn’t really prepared for, but by the end of my fourth stay on Worthy Farm in 2007 I felt like I’d started to become a bit weary of the mud, and I felt like the character of the festival had changed as ticket prices had gone up and the site had grown.
Nevertheless, 2015 seemed like a good time to come back; over the last twelve months myself and most of my friends have turned 30, and it can’t be long before everyone starts doing ridiculous things like settling down and having kids. So we set our alarms for that nail-biting morning in October, and somehow pretty much all of us who wanted a ticket got one, in spite of the fact that they sold out in a ludicrous 25 minutes. And as it happened, all my fears were unfounded and I had a brilliant festival. Rather than try and construct a coherent narrative from a blurry few days, I thought I’d just share a few of my Glastonbury 2015 highlights…
If you leave Glastonbury wearing trainers, as I did this year, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve had a decent weekend. I’ve lost a fair few pairs of shoes there over the years, staggering out of a boggy site on Monday morning in a pair of mud-splattered, blister-inducing, trenchfoot-incubating wellies. Although there was some mud again this year, with rain on Friday afternoon and a smattering on Sunday morning, the majority of the time it was blazing hot. All festivals on our rainy little isle depend to a certain extent on the weather, but Glastonbury seems especially bound up with the prevailing atmospheric conditions of this particular weekend in late June. Because the site is so vast, and you spend so much time on your feet walking from one stage to another, it really does make a difference if the ground is thick with mud and it’s too wet to sit down anywhere.
Wandering the Green Fields
This year I probably saw less music than usual, as I spent a lot more time wandering round the site exploring all the other stuff there is to see, especially in the Green Fields. The Green Fields are said to be the area that most closely embodies the spirit of the original festivals back in the ‘70s, and you do feel like you’re at a completely different event compared to the huge crowds and here-today-gone-tomorrow guitar bands of the main stages.
Indeed one thing that always bugs me about the BBC coverage of Glastonbury is what a skewed representation it gives of the festival, which I think contributes to those snide dismissals of the festival as ‘too commercial’, or the twatty petitions about the headliners, in both cases usually from people who’ve never even been to Glastonbury. If you were to base your opinion of the festival on the BBC ‘highlights’ then you would assume that it’s basically just blonde girls in flower crowns and billowy dresses, sitting on men’s shoulders and doing that sort of wavy arm dance to a succession of bland indie bands on the Pyramid Stage. You don’t really get a sense of the scale of the festival, or the sheer variety on offer: this is still a festival where you can go and see a circus show in the morning, a talk on worker’s rights in the afternoon, a multi-platinum-selling hip hop artist in the evening, then go and dance to psy trance and techno until the sun comes up.
The stage now known as West Holts has been through several incarnations. The first year I came it was called the One World Stage, and I can remember getting lost one afternoon, stumbling into the field and being mesmerised by the bass thundering out of the speakers, the first time I’d really experienced that ‘chest rattling’ sensation. The band playing at the time was, somewhat improbably, Moloko (remember them?). I don’t know if the stage was particularly well programmed this year, or whether it’s just a reflection of the fact that I’m now in my 30s, too old for all that nonsense the youngsters listen to, but this year the line-up at West Holts was, in my opinion, the best out of any of the big outdoor stages.
We spent the whole of Friday evening there, where we saw Run The Jewels (who, to be honest, I didn’t think quite worked on a big stage), followed by Caribou, which was lovely and atmospheric as the sun went down, and finally Hot Chip, who I have gotten into about 10 years later than everyone else and who pumped out a brilliant set. I would have spent a lot more time at West Holts if it wasn’t for a series of clashes – we missed out on Flying Lotus, FKA Twigs and Dorian Concept, amongst others.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the toilets, but they have changed a bit over the years. Gone are the Portaloos, which were often piled nightmarishly high with poo; nowadays most of the toilets are ‘long drops’, metal constructions without proper seats which are open to the elements (and to the sound effects of fellow toilet users), and which are in my opinion as bad as, if not worse than, the old Portaloos.
On Thursday night I was struck by a calamitous need for a crap while out in the midst of the Shangri-La field, and the thought of using a long drop at that time of night in that part of the site was so distressing that I considered walking all the way back to our campsite. It was then that my weekend changed irrevocably for the better, when I stumbled across the compost toilets for the first time. These were remarkably clean, fully enclosed, and didn’t really smell, thanks to an ingenious system whereby you take in a cup of sawdust and use it to cover up your business when you’re done. It does make you feel a little like a cat burying its shit in a litter tray, but as well as eliminating odour it allows your effluent to be composted and turned into organic ‘humanure’, which can then be used as fertiliser.
The Glade has always been one of my favourite areas of the festival, and like many people I’m still sad about the demise of the spin-off Glade Festival which ran from 2004 – 2012 (as much as I love Glastonbury, Glade in 2006 is still the best festival I’ve ever been to). So I was pleased to find that it’s still at Glasto, concealed amongst the trees between Pennard Hill and the Other Stage field.
On Sunday afternoon it played host to one of my highlights of the festival, Cassetteboy and DJ Rubbish. For those unfamiliar with their oeuvre, Cassetteboy made their name chopping up and reassembling other people’s songs, dialogue from films and TV, politicians’ speeches, and just about anything else you can think of. Due to the nature of their work, using samples to which they don’t have any of the rights, Cassetteboy remain anonymous in order to avoid legal action, but their work has become increasingly well known since they started branching out into video.
Not only are their videos incredibly impressive from a technical point of view, a result of what must be hours of painstaking cut-and-paste; they’re also invariably laugh-out-loud funny, and their Glastonbury set was the perfect Sunday afternoon tonic.
New finds and old favourites
Festivals inevitably involve missing most of the acts you planned to see, and seeing plenty of things you hadn’t planned on, whether it’s people your friends want to watch or those bands you stumble across playing in some tiny tent to an even tinier crowd. For me this is an integral part of any festival, and one of the many reasons why I find it baffling when people say things like “I’m glad I’m not going to Glastonbury, the headliners are all shit”. I have no idea who the first band I saw were, all I know is they played in a tent called Ancient Futures in the teepee field on Wednesday night and their set included a random person from the crowd getting up on stage and playing a song he’d written about pigeons, which turned out to be unexpectedly hilarious.
On Friday we ended up sat outside the John Peel tent for a little while early in the afternoon, having abandoned James Bay at the Pyramid Stage (one of those aforementioned friend’s recommendations) on account of the fact that he was fucking terrible. Instead we enjoyed a set by a guy I’d never heard of called Leon Bridges, who has a sort of Otis Redding vibe and is worth checking out.
Songhoy Blues on Sunday morning at the Pyramid Stage was another highlight. They’re a Malian band with a bunch of catchy, bluesy songs, like a more energetic Tinariwen, and the lead singer’s dancing was particularly impressive; my own efforts to replicate his moves, less so.
Sunday was a pretty great day all round for music, and DJ Yoda was another high point. Although he’s someone I’m very familiar with, having seen him live a few times before, his current Breakfast of Champions project, involving a full live band, is new, and their set on the Glade Stage was much better than I was expecting it to be, a real mix of stuff from drum n bass to hip hop to reggae.
As soon as Lionel Richie was announced as one of the acts at this year’s festival, it seemed certain that this would be the moment of the weekend, and so it was. Prior to the festival I’d made a plan to build a life size replica of Lionel’s head out of clay, as in the video for ‘Hello’, but I never quite got round to it; luckily, someone else had the same idea and followed through, holding his head aloft on a wooden pole just in front of us at the Pyramid Stage. It was one of dozens, if not hundreds, of Lionel tributes on display over the weekend, from campsite flags to T-shirts to one guy I saw wearing a pair of lycra trousers with Lionel’s face printed all over them.
On Sunday afternoon the man himself finally appeared, and he seemed genuinely moved by the reaction from the crowd, over 100,000 people all singing along at great volume and just generally going mental for a man whose music it hasn’t been cool to like for at least 30 years, if ever. ‘Dancing On The Ceiling’, ‘All Night Long’ and ‘Say You Say Me’ were predictably well-received, but the singalong for ‘Hello’ was something else. I’ve been lucky enough over the years to see some pretty big names in the Glasto ‘legends’ slot – James Brown, Shirley Bassey, Brian Wilson – but I think the atmosphere for Lionel topped the lot.
Chemical Brothers closing the weekend
Lionel Richie may have been the festival’s peak, but the Chemical Brothers’ headline set on the Other Stage on Sunday night was a suitable coda, and a great way to bring the weekend to a close. Despite what some sniffy newspaper critics might have you believe about their music no longer being ‘relevant’, I thought their set was a reminder of the extent to which these guys are true masters of their art, with an understanding of how to manipulate the peaks and troughs of dance music that practically no other electronic live act can match. There is still no one else out there that sounds quite like them, and I thought it was the perfect performance to cap a brilliant weekend on Worthy Farm.
Were you at Glastonbury this year? Let me know your highlights in the comments below…