Last time round I went through the fun and frolics of Glastonbury in 1999.
In a move which should surprise nobody used to the Gregorian Calender , this takes us kicking and screaming into the new millennium with my tale of Glastonbury 2000, which still sounds like the sort of 70’s SF film featuring Sean Connery in a shexy red thong.
Anyhow, 2000 was the festival’s 30th anniversary, the first of the new millennium, the first with the new Pyramid Stage, the first without Jean Eavis’s influence hanging over it (although Jean died before the 1999 festival, it still felt like she was a part of that year’s festival), and the first year where it started to feel like the festival had moved out of alternative culture and started becoming very much part of the mainstream thanks to the involvement of the BBC, the Guardian and it’s other sponsorship deals.
As for me, I was no longer in Leicester, but now on my way back to Bristol after seven years to live again thanks to my then girlfriend Tash, having sneakily got herself a job in Bristol just after that year’s Comics Festival. I’d even managed by sheer luck to get myself a job at BT in their Customer Options department after undergoing the first real, proper interview for a full time job I’d had in my 33 years. Prior to that I got jobs through contacts or being at the right place at the right time, plus I’d never worked in an office before so this was something new and exciting for me! It also meant an end to the two years of being settled and secure.
That excitement and security didn’t last long but moving on…
Thing is the move from Leicester to Bristol could only happen for a variety of reasons (mainly due to Tash having a very fixed start date) the week before Glastonbury, and I didn’t start at BT til the week after, so we worked out between us that Tash would pack in Leicester, and I would unpack in Bristol as I was sitting around doing nowt for a week. This was fine and suited me perfectly, but firstly I had to get some cash together, so I managed to raise about a grand in a week through some very dodgy deals that didn’t involve drugs but let’s say they didn’t involve drugs or selling parts of my body…
Which brings us to the big move. The Saturday before Glastonbury. On what ended up being the hottest day of the year. We did it though, and it wasn’t too traumatic but what was glorious was piling down the M5 with Leicester turning into a distant memory in the background and driving into a convoy of trucks going to Glastonbury. I have to admit to being a bit teary as the emotion of this huge move kicked in tempered by this magnificent site of dozens of vans, cars and trucks driving to a field in Somerset…
I’d arranged to camp with Denise and her friends again after the success of 1999, and again they were in Big Ground but this year we all had mobiles! I had this piece of technology..
I felt I was in the space age and wondered where my bloody jetpack was.
Anyhow, the fact we had mobiles didn’t negate the fact they actually didn’t really work in a big field with little coverage with 200,000 other people trying to get a signal, so we arranged to meet at the same place on the Thursday night. Tash couldn’t come down til Friday due to work, but I was happy going down with the tent, beer, etc to set things up.
On the Thursday I woke up. Went to Clifton Down shopping centre (did I mention we got a flat in Clifton which felt like the pair of us had gatecrashed a party but it was still Clifton when it was cool and not full of wankers and students), bought a load of beer, and headed to Temple Meads station to get the train down as I’d never taken the train, and let me tell you something else, I never will again.
Temple Meads is a hellish place at the best of times, but when tens of thousands of extra passengers are passing through it’s fucking shite. I did however eventually barge through the crowds to get the train to Castle Carey (the nearest station to the festival), and actually had a nice journey down with two Irish lads who allowed me to share their whiskey, while I let them partake of the Remy Martin I had. It was a hellish, but tolerable journey until we arrived at the station to find we then had to get on a bus to the site. As I waited for the bus, I contacted Doug (a friend from the world of comics fandom) who was also at the festival where he was as I’d invited his crowd to camp with us but they wanted to pitch near the Other Stage to get a prime spot for Nine Inch Nails who were headlining the Friday night. He was onsite already and warning me by text there was rain on the way.
Eventually the bus chugged into the site and spewed it’s passengers out to find their way. At this point I noticed that there was an awful, awful, awful lot of people, but I wrote it off as being peak time for when people turn up and struggled my way through the site up to Big Ground in an attempt to find Denise. Problem was the site really was crammed full of people as as it was now getting dark due to the forthcoming rain Doug had warned me about, I could see the lights of cars waiting to get in and it went for miles and miles and miles and miles….
I struggled to the top of Big Ground to see that they’d changed things round from the previous year and the kids field had taken up all the space behind the hedge where we were the previous year, so I stood there in a field, in the rain, with hundreds of people around me looking hopelessly for Denise and her crowd with little or no hope of finding them as I couldn’t get a signal on my mobile.
Then I decided to shout her name loudly (I am very loud) and to my instant surprise, this voice from less than a few feet away shouted my name back! I’d somehow managed to literally trip over her tent, in the twilight while it was raining. I have no idea how, but I dived in her tent while it was raining, and cracked open the first of many beers.
As soon as the rain stopped Denise and her boyfriend kindly helped me put up my tent and then we all settled into the night with the view of the new Pyramid Stage in the near distance being actually quite bloody impressive..
Thursday night was a drunken but fun affair and early in Friday morning I decided to crash out as there was a lot I wanted to do as I realised I’d be at Glastonbury by myself for the first time, well, ever, so I wanted to go off and do my own thing for a morning until Tash turned up in the afternoon.
Which i did, but I noticed a few things. One everyone was hyped as David Bowie was headlining on the Sunday. The other it was very warm and humid. The third was there was so many people everywhere. Everyone was crammed on top of everyone else.
On one of the bridges on the farm there was a crush. A very dangerous crush that made me and several others around me mouth ‘this is like Hillsborough‘ at each other, but thankfully I managed to pull myself out of the crowd (I was still lithe and fit in those days!) and jump over several people while trying to pull people out of the crush. Thankfully a couple of policemen managed to sort things out and introduce some crowd control but it was scary. It’s also a story I heard when I returned to our camp from some of the others who were also stuck in crushes around the site. Basically the site was full and overflowing and there was still more and more and more people coming in whether they had a ticket or not.
As I sat there chatting away I forgot about Tash turning up and as I quickly pulled out my impressive piece of mobile technology, saw a text from her that she was at the bus station onsite and where the fuck was I? Well normally from where we were camping to the station it would have taken 20 minutes but as I tried to run across the site I realised it took me 20 minutes just to get to the other field, and the station was ages away yet so I went to pull out my phone when I realised it was gone. Some bugger had pocketed it in the crush. I checked my wallet and it was still there, but the phone was gone and now I was hitting a panic as I hoped Tash wouldn’t wander too far from the station. As i ran up the station eventually I realised she wasn’t there as the crowds still pouring in on Friday afternoon were ridiculous. Then I remembered I texted her that Doug was camped by the Other Stage, and that wasn’t too far from the station as long as I could get through the tens of thousands of people and remember vaguely where Doug said he might, possibly, could be at the Other Stage.
So I ran down the hill for about 200 yards before hitting a wall of people and shuffled slowly to the Other Stage and it was now getting into late evening, and any chance I had of finding Tash, or Doug in the dark was a million to one they said….
Then somehow in the darkening field I stumbled across not just Tash, but Doug. He’d bumped into her as she looked for me & him and the pair of them were looking for me as they’d tried calling me and couldn’t get through.
I was a lucky, lucky, lucky bastard. To this day I have no idea how I met them in the crowds.
Anyhow, after taking my deserved bollocking from Tash, we headed back to Doug’s camp as Tash had stuck her bag there, plus Nine Inch Nails were coming on, plus Doug’s camp had loads and loads of beer so we headed to it and it was indeed in a great location to view the stage. It was a great show and I say this as someone who isn’t a fan, but as we hung around I realised there really was too many people everywhere. Tash noticed this on the walk from Doug’s camp to Big Ground that the crowds were much, much larger compared to 1999 and she was right.
We got back to our camp well after 2am but people were still up, including Denise who when told of my massive fuck up also dished out a deserved bollocking but was astonishingly impressed at my finding Tash in the crowds as she and her boyfriend had also been stuck in crowds.
Without driving home the point, Glastonbury 2000 was overcrowded like nothing I’d ever seen, and I’ve been to Scotland-England games at the old Wembley and Hampden, illegal raves in Warwickshire and round the M25 and free festivals in Nottingham and London. I was used to crowds but this was dangerous in places, but hey, it must be ok as nobody official said anything.
The next morning I had to go up to the police station to report my phone’s theft which was up by the farm house which wasn’t too far from where we were camping. The other thing about where we were camping was as it was quite high up Big Ground it was pretty well spaced out, but then again that could have something to do with the toilet tent the girls had to sort out as getting to the loo for girls was a nightmare and evolution hadn’t given the the joys of a penis.
I went up to the police, waited about an hour with a hangover kicking in just as the sun started beating down on me and spoke to a nice officer who took my details, gave me my crime number for the insurance and I mentioned the crowds to which she said ‘yes, we know. The Site’s got too many people on it but we can’t stop people jumping fences as we’re overstretched’. With that snippet of information I went back to camp where the girls were tidying up from the night before, but it hardly came as a surprise for anyone.
Tash and myself left the others shortly afterwards as we’d arranged to meet Doug and hang out with him for the day, and we had a totally fun day as well wandering round the site, chatting, drinking and eventually, bizarrely as we all hated them, enjoying Travis who headlined the Pyramid on the Saturday night. After that we chilled and people watched which used to be a great source of fun at the festival, but eventually we said cheerio to Doug and headed back to camp to sit up til late talking bollocks with everyone else. Tash sadly had to go back on Sunday afternoon as work was calling, so it was an early rise, followed by a few hours chilling and then a slow wander through the crowds to see Tash safely on the bus (having now learned my lesson) and then I realised it was now all about Bowie!
Problem was there was nothing worth watching on the Pyramid stage beforehand, the crowds were too bloody heavy to get through and there was a load of beer back at my tent so back to the camp I went to chill in preparation for Bowie. Thing was the others had enough of fighting through crowds, so I went down early with the last of my beer and my last tenner (these were the days when cash machines onsite were impossible things so you brought what cash you needed in your pocket) in readiness for Bowie.
Now I’d loved Bowie since a child. The first single I bought with my own pocket money was Life on Mars, and Bowie was the first musical act I loved. I had seen Bowie in Manchester during the Glass Spider tour and it was crushingly disappointing. I also saw him in Tin Machine and it was crushingly disappointing. This had to be good or else!
So with beers in hand and with anticipation at the maximum, I waited in the rapidly darkening evening for Bowie to come on…and when he did it was immense…
In retrospect it probably was a weird set list. Some of the arrangements were a bit off, and Bowie’s voice was strained due to him recovering from being ill shortly before the festival but it did not bloody matter there and then. The entire thing was magnificent and my memory of the gig is looking round at this enormous biker next to me who was blubbing like a child during Life on Mars, and that started me off and then a few more blokes near us did the same and the field seemed to be full of 30-60 something men weeping at the simply brilliant gig Bowie was putting on.
Glastonbury moments only exist if you live in that moment and we all lived in that perfect few hours as Bowie played his heart out. Utter bliss.
Walking back from that set was a blur. I remember spending the last of my money on some cider as it was cheap and sat down to take it all in. The last few weeks had been a blur and it all dawned on me suddenly my life was turned upside down and things were uncertain and foggy and I’d just seen one of the greatest, most meaningful things in my life. I was also quite drunk and high on half an E which may have also contributed to this. Whatever reason it hit me, it hit me so I went for a very long walk round the festival just chatting to people to clear my system out . Eventually I went back to camp to only find Denise still up and we chatted for a bit before crashing as the next day was Monday and reality was returning.
In the morning I got up, packed up my tent, said my farewells and headed back for the bus to Castle Carey so I could get the train back to Bristol. I was still an emotional mess, mainly because of Bowie’s set, but because everything dawned on me. I also had some part of me that realised that the Glastonbury I knew had to change because demand had outstripped supply, plus all the wonderful and weird people were being swamped by a new type of festival goer who were effectively tourists and didn’t care much for music, politics, or anything the festival really stood for. For them it was another notch on things to do as Glastonbury was now a part of the establishment.
See, the thing is while the festival supported CND and stood against the Tory government it was outside the establishment. When it was televised on Channel 4 it was still edgy and alternative because that was the image and demographic of the channel. On the BBC it was acceptable, and when it vaguely supported the new Labour government as well as supporting worthy charities like Greenpeace, it didn’t mean it took an anti-establishment stance. In fact 2000 probably saw the start of the festival as an establishment fixture, but nobody quite knew it yet as the ramifications of the 2000 festival were still to be felt.
The festival was overcrowded. Figures range from 200,000 onsite to half a million. I’m inclined to go to the higher end of the scale, if not more. The site’s infrastructure nearly collapsed and the constant sea of people were astonishing, so some drastic measures had to be done but those measures wouldn’t be known for a while but for the festival to continue something had to be done.
Luckily 2001 was a fallow year, so the festival was to take a year off to regroup and plan for the 2002 festival, but in the meantime the festival found communities dedicated to Glastonbury spring up online which again helped spread the myth of the festival to people. Both good and bad came from Glastonbury’s online communities, some sites were better than others and some tried their best to milk the festival for all it was worth while alienating parts of the growing community.
Glastonbury was now a business. It was now part of the establishment. But it wasn’t quite formed into what it is now. That would take a few more years yet, and the announcement of the Superfence which was to circle the 2002 festival made people think this was just another scare tactic as the festival constantly used to boast about impenetrable fences and this was just something to frighten people off.
Oh how wrong people would be…..
That’s a story for another time though. I left Glastonbury in 2000 in a tired and emotional state, and as it turned out the next two years would be hardly what i hoped leaving Worthy Farm that June morning. Things really were coming to a close in more ways than one.
Next time, the 2002 festival and the messy run up to it….