Wide Open Spaces-The tale of Glastonbury 2002

Last time round I’d hit the year 2000 in my series of Glastonbury blogs, and I’d left the festival looking forward with some trepidation to my new life in Bristol with my girlfriend Tash. The festival itself was taking a year off in 2001 to regroup and plan ahead after the vast overcrowding of 2000 which meant the future of the festival itself was under threat as the council refused to give it a license unless it did something, and the police advised they wouldn’t be able to deal with another year like 2000 where an estimated 300,000 (possibly more) people were onsite. I’d actually say there were near half a million people onsite, so they’re wasn’t a chance in hell Glastonbury could continue now the festival was mainstream and seen as an alternative to an overseas holiday for a demographic who a decade earlier wouldn’t have been seen dead at a festival full of hippies.

As for myself the first 8 or 9 months in Bristol were great. Relationship was fine. Working at BT and in an office for the first time was more fun than I thought. I loved where we lived, and Bristol is a great city. Then it was announced in early 2001 we were all being made redundant as the operation was being moved to Doncaster to save BT money, and to get rid of the pesky, annoying staff in Bristol who performed but were a pain in the arse for BT as we’d demand workers rights and crazy stuff like that.

This meant getting a job sharpish, but at that point getting back into comics full time wasn’t possible, and I had no urge to get back into the pub trade, so stupidly I took the first job that came along which was working for Direct Line. Now, so did around 40 or us from BT as at that time there wasn’t much around Bristol for people with thin CV’s like we did, which isn’t to say we were all wasters and bums but we were a motley crew so we took the Direct Line jobs.

Within six weeks the 40 or so who’d joined turned into a dozen. During training our trainer said the line ‘we work hard and play hard’ which made me and several others piss ourselves laughing at the self-importance of it all, but at that point I didn’t realise that people were walking out and that I was marked as a ‘communist’ by one of the senior managers because I’d pointed out the sheer nonsense of the environment. I reacted to this by not making a complaint (as I probably should have just to fuck the blighter up) but buying a T-shirt with a hammer & sickle on it and wearing it on dress down days. Oh the looks of horror…..

Anyhow, things were falling slowly apart as the entire situation had driven me into a depression (although I didn’t realise it at the time) which affected my relationship with Tash to a point where were drifted slowly apart.

Things fell apart early in 2002 when she left and I was numbed by it all for a while, and again, I’m sure I was probably nuttier than a New Year’s Day cake by this point, plus the job wasn’t helping as it was making me physically ill by this point. A few friends came round to cheer me up, and I tried hard but I was falling apart slowly, but I still had Glastonbury to look forward to but I didn’t want to camp with anyone. I wanted to do my own thing, so I turned down the offer to camp with Denise and her crowd for the third festival in a row in Big Ground but instead opted to camp by myself in Pennards Hill which seemed like a good idea as it was always a hub of interesting people but far away from the fuss of the Pyramid Stage so I could run away and hide if I wanted to.

As for the festival it’d had a ‘superfence‘ built round the site to keep people out. Now this was a familiar thing for regulars to hear that Eavis had a ‘tough’ fence to get over, but 99% of people laughed and got over it anyhow. Guess what? It worked.


But I’m getting ahead of myself…

In the year Glastonbury had off some big changes to the festival happened. One of the biggest was the growth of online communities dedicated to festivals and of course, Glastonbury. The main one then was E Festivals. There were others but E Festivals had a link with Glastonbury which is merrily exploited until Michael Eavis pulled the carpet from under them a few years later, but in 2001 it was a closely guarded connection. This meant anyone joining the message boards and questioned simple things of the E Festivals organisers would end up getting stroppy and start throwing around legal threats and kicking people off the site. It was a tyranny, but fuck it. A few of us from that early community went off to form forums of our own or join other forums elsewhere.

There was also a virtual Glastonbury in 2001. It was pretty naff but the idea had be solidified in the culture that Glastonbury was now becoming more and more establishment, but it wasn’t yet the huge cultural event it is today. That was still a few years away, but 2001 was an odd year as of course it was when 9/11 happened and that’s an event which should have mobilised Glastonbury into pushing against the establishment, promoting an anti-war agenda on the main stages televised by the BBC and finding it’s anti-establishment heart again but it didn’t. That side of the festival was being pushed into the Green Fields and away from the main stages that the BBC would show live on BBC 2.

Again though, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The 2002 festival had arrived and I’d decided to go down on Thursday, and the weather forecast was for a long spell of settled, warm weather so I got a load of beer (as much as I could carry), wandered to the bus station and headed to the festival early on the Thursday afternoon.

Like previous years Bristol bus station was rammed, full of touts and the usual type of people you see at festivals but there was more police than usual, plus lots more security. Also you couldn’t jump on the bus without a ticket. That was new but one of dozens of measures to stop people without tickets getting onsite, or indeed anywhere near the festival site, the village of Pilton or Glastonbury itself. Anyhow, I had a ticket and didn’t mind as the crowds of 2000 would be nice not  to to be repeated.

As the bus pulled itself to the site, the Superfence was shining in the distance and it did indeed form a ring of steel around the festival…


It wasn’t thought til I got off the bus, and saw it up close that I realised it wasn’t the old type of fence where it was tough but you really could get over it. No, this was tougher, nearly impossible to scale without some serious equipment which isn’t to say people didn’t do it. After the festival I found out a few did, but there was also a security operation which bordered upon the paramilitary, checkpoints and all manner of security to keep people very much out. You didn’t have the Scallys by the gates offering to get you in, you didn’t have the people hanging around waiting for the right moment to get in. You just had a wall of security and steel and if you didn’t have a ticket you were getting nowhere fast.

As I passed through the gates and into the festival itself I noticed how quiet things were in comparison to 2000, which isn’t saying it was deserted but it felt like there were things missing but I didn’t know what yet but my main task now was to walk to Pennards Hill and set up my own little camp there if I could find a space, which I did easily. In fact for a Thursday afternoon, you could camp pretty much wherever you liked so I walked to near the top of the hill, found a nice view, and promptly put my tent up and set up camp with loads and loads of room around me. I needed to get some water so I wandered down to buy a bottle and fill up the watersack I’d brought, and when I got back after about an hour of having a wander, I found I had neighbours setting up, so I said hello and offered some help but ended up not even getting a grunt in exchange however on the other side of my tent were a young student couple who were setting up and perfectly pleasant so I helped out putting up their tent and we had a wee chat as it was their first festival of any kind, and we thought the yuppie snobs next to me were worth ignoring.

That evening I’d arranged to meet Denise and her crew at the Cider Bus, which I did and we then went for a wander around the site after drinking cider and absinthe cocktails.As you can imagine, the rest of that evening is hazy but I do remember waking up in my tent just as the sun had come up wondering how I’d managed to find my tent in the state I was in and what was that agonising pain in my leg?

That pain was a huge gash where I’d obviously fell and split it open on one of the metal walkways. There was remarkably no blood everywhere apart from the pile of blood soaked  toilet paper in the corner of my tent. I’d somehow managed to stagger back, clean myself up, patch myself up with some tape and toilet paper. Taking a closer look I realised the wound probably needed stitches, but it was the Friday of Glastonbury, it was early and the medical tent was the other side of the field so I decided  to make a makeshift bandage and deal with it as and when which meant when the drink and drugs wore off, or Monday. Whatever was quickest.

It was Friday though, so I climbed out of my tent, said hello to the students who said I was in a shocking state the previous night and they had to guide me to bed, and I had also upset the yuppies which was nice.

I’d decided to wander around the site as there was room to breathe and the site had also expanded since 2000, so the site was now huge, but there were vastly less people than 2000 so this created a lot of space, and a vastly less frantic festival than 2000 so you could amble around the festival quite calmly. As I walked by the Pyramid Stage, they were just starting up so I decided to watch the first act who were the Shibusashirazu Orchestra.

They were an act from Japan who nobody had heard of but everyone who saw them that morning fell in love with their insanity, and as it turned out they were due to play another gig at the Jazz Stage later that day which ranks still as one of the best things I’ve ever seen at a festival.

In fact most of 2002 was spent seeing bands or in the comedy tent or just watching things, or chilling out at one of the beer tents, and then chilling with mates I bumped into. I saw a series of  great sets from Queens of the Stone Age, Ash, and Garbage on the first day plus all the wonderful stuff you normally see, except there wasn’t the full spread of people. The buskers, punks and crusty bands who would jump the fence and play were gone. A large amount of performers were gone. In fact most of the working class kids were gone. The crowd were a lot more wealthier, a lot more middle class and although still mainly ok, the social nature of the festival had been somewhat lost as people were less willing to mix, ok, I’m not saying it was vast numbers but it was enough to notice a defined split in attitudes from previous years and this was partly because you wouldn’t really notice these sort of people in previous years. With a large chunk of normal festival people gone you suddenly did.

As the Friday drew to a close I had somehow managed to relax and looked forward to the rest of the weekend. It wasn’t a great line-up but the freedom and the relaxation was great as I was starting to feel a bit more human.

Saturday was more wandering, watching acts, drinking and chilling. It was a poor line up but Orbital played on the Saturday night and they made up for a pretty dull selection on a whole but I didn’t really care. I was happy enough but Saturday was a blur which quickly led into Sunday and I’d arranged to hang around with Denise’s lot on the Sunday to see Roger Waters and the probably hilarity of Rod Stewart. Before that though was the sheer genius of Isaac Hayes.

After Hayes I was surprised at how good Waters was as I always thought he and Pink Floyd were insufferable bores, but the weekend was closed by Rod Stewart. Now I like Rod’s early stuff, and he had a great voice but the entire show was hilarious as he rasped through all his old hits and tried to convince the crowd he was still capable of playing live. I remember actually being on my knees after having been doubled over laughing at how awful he was. I was laughing so much I didn’t notice the patchwork job on my knee had split & I was bleeding again. Hey ho, this was worth it as it was funny to see Stewart witter on about ‘our boys in Iraq’ on a stage which used to have the CND logo on it and regularly feature anti war and anti imperialist messages. Glastonbury was now very much engrained within the establishment now when you have artists like Stewart on board, but it’s always funny watching an accident happen in slow motion and it provided a funny end to the festival.

I walked back slowly to my tent and took the last night’s atmosphere in, and eventually got to sleep in my tent in the wee small hours. The next morning I pulled myself together in the sunshine, packed up slowly, and took a stroll through the site to the onsite bus station to head back to Bristol. As i did I noticed how relaxed the people were and how there were still people raving in pockets across the site, so I slowly made my way to the station for a short wait for my bus back to Bristol.

As I got off in Bristol, it was still a lovely sunny day and I grabbed a taxi back to my flat in Clifton and my cat. Things felt good, and I was a bit more positive about things but the next few months would end up being very odd indeed…

As for Glastonbury a message had been sent out that a new order was in place. You weren’t getting in without a ticket. You needed some money to get in. The festival had compartmentalised it’s radical politics away from the BBC cameras and as it was those images selling the festival to a generation of people with the sort of disposable income which made Glastonbury easily affordable then things were going to change even more. the transition to what it is today still had a few more years before it was complete.

Next time in this series of Glastonbury blogs we arrive amazingly at 2003 and even more changes, but you probably expect that by now…..




5 thoughts on “Wide Open Spaces-The tale of Glastonbury 2002

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