By 2005 if you didn’t know what Glastonbury Festival was then you’d have to be living on Mars, or simply pay attention to no media of any description in the UK. 2005 promised to be the biggest festival yet, and the buzz for it was simply extraordinary.
I’d decided after the previous few festivals to camp with a group of friends from the Glastonbury Forum I’d mentioned in previous blogs, and they were planning to camp in Pennard Hill, so hoping the site didn’t fill up too much I set out again from Bristol on the bus to the site on a bright, clear but windy Wednesday morning. By now more people were coming on the Wednesday than ever before to make a proper weekend of it so it was heaving as my bus from Bristol finally arrived onsite. As I got off I joined a huge queue just to get into the gates and seeing as I’d packed my beer deep in my rucksack and finished my water on the bus, by the time I got my wristband and got in the festival itself I was knackered but I’d still had a serious walk halfway across the site to meet Janet and her crowd. As I turned up I dumped all my stuff down, but so I could pin some space I unzipped my tent to discover I’d still got some beer left that I’d stuffed in from Reading Festival the previous August. Result!
We’d got ourselves a nice spot near the cashpoints, and the security van so it was pretty secure, plus it was by a fence so we could seal off our corner pretty well which gave us a nice little area for the week ahead. Things were a wee bit windy but otherwise it was sunny, warm and pretty much perfect festival weather but what was clear was just how amazingly busy the site was, even compared to the previous year.The festival really had become something where people are going to come from the Wednesday to the Sunday which meant the days of the Thursday being the main day when people arrived were pretty much over.
After setting up and ensuring Barry and Gregg (another couple of the crowd) were safely set up, I went for a little wander around the site to see just how rammed things were. Ok, it wasn’t completely full but space in the more popular camping areas were quickly becoming a premium, especially in Big Ground and most notably, on Pennards Hill. The lineup for 2005 wasn’t bad, but it was hardly something which was a classic year, still though there was enough to keep the most hardened cynic like myself happy.
2005 was also the year when the site expanded and areas were moved around so this meant finding where things now were located. The Dance Tent was now the Dance Village, the New Band Tent (which featured old bands) was re-branded the John Peel Tent in order to commemorate Peel after his sad death the previous year. It was exciting as since the Superfence went up the festival had become, well, a bit predictable in areas so this shook things up well.
Wednesday involved splitting myself between drinking heavily with a number of people from various parts of the internet which meant lots of pear ciders from the Brothers Bar in the Jazz Stage field. This was the year when for 10 whole British pounds you could get a litre of cider in a glowing green bottle. By mid-afternoon on the Thursday the field was green with bottles everywhere, which was something which in days to come would be something of a pain in the arse. More of this later.
Wednesday and Thursday were to be utterly blunt, totally bloody blissful. The site was busy but not ridiculously busy. The new areas looked good. There seemed initially to be a nice mix of people, if somewhat more middle class and studenty compared to the pre-fence days. Of course the sun helped but there was a lovely buzz around the site, even though Wednesday didn’t see any major music happening and the programme for the Thursday was minimal.
Late on Thursday the lads in the security truck next to us mentioned there was some rain coming the next day but when you’re being bathed in glorious sunshine (not too mentally hot either) you don’t really care. The main three days of the festival were being looked forward to by everyone on the site in enormous fashion. Expectation was massive.
What came on Friday morning wasn’t expected. I woke up just before dawn with the sound of rain tapping against the fabric of my tent. I thought nothing of it as my tent then was a sturdy thing that’s survived around a dozen festivals including several wet Reading Festival’s, including the muddy, wet and nasty one which was 2004. I was confident that I’d remain dry so I remembered people saying that there’d only be a bit of rain on Friday morning and then it’d be dry for the rest of the weekend so I rolled over in my sleeping bag an went back to sleep.
I then woke up what must have been about an hour later. It was daylight but it was dark. The rain wasn’t lightly tapping on the fabric of my tent anymore but hammering down hard. Really, really, really hard. I noticed a small puddle in a corner of my tent so I woke up properly, got dressed and pulled everything valuable into bags where they’d be safe, and with that done I decided to get out my tent to see how bad the rain was outside.
What I saw was rain coming down in big globby balls hammering on the site and it was relentless. Huge black clouds were overhead. The air was electric. Quite literally as we were in the middle of one of the biggest electrical storms I’d seen in some time, but in a field with not an awful lot of protection against the elements. By now a few others from our crowd were awake and wondering when it’d stop, but it was clear the rain just wasn’t going to stop in the short term. In fact looking up at the sky made you wonder if it’s ever stop as the sky was full of unbroken cloud threatening even more heavy torrential rain.
Janet had managed to get up and have a chat with the security lads who were telling her about the reports of very serious flooding across the site. When she’d returned to tell us all this I remember looking over at the back of the Pyramid Stage to see a lightning bolt strike the top of it. It felt as if the site was being wiped clean by the wrath of god. The other thing Janet relayed to us was that an evacuation of the festival was being considered with talk of getting people out to Bath and West Showground in the hope of getting something sorted from there because frankly, the shining golden festival site of Wednesday and Thursday resembled some post-apocalyptic wasteland with the only thing missing being Mel Gibson driving a V8 Interceptor across the Jazz Field while thunderbolts dance across the sky.
Barry, Janet and a few of the others joined me under a neighbours gazebo to at least try to find joy from the situation through the introduction of beer, but it was clear the rain had done it’s damage. Also from the gazebo we could see what the security lads were doing and they looked like they were packing up, so we looked around at each other wondering what the bloody hell was going to happen?
Then the torrential rain stopped. Yes, it was still raining but it wasn’t horrendous. Then the rain stopped. The taste of electricity was gone from the air too. It was time to take stock of the situation. My tent had flooded, but not too badly though I had to sacrifice a t-shirt to mop up the excess water in my tent. I thought this was bad though I’d not seen anywhere else yet. As the morning progressed we were told via our friendly security chaps that all programming on most of the stages was suspended til further notice or indeed, most stages were proclaimed to be safe and an assessment taken.
We passed the time hanging up clothes to dry out on the fence, while looking around to see people emerge from their tents blinking not quite believing what’d happened that morning. By now word of mouth was getting to us about how bad the floods were, especially in Pennards Hill in the field next to us which was supposed to be underwater. I took this opportunity after the rain stopping and the sky clearing to get my boots on and take a wander round the site to see what things were like. A diversion was in place on the train track as they’d managed to get a fire engine onsite to aid with pumping out what was in Pennards and this was the state of it.
Around half the field was underwater, and not just rainwater, but raw sewage as well. This didn’t stop people swimming in it to rescue whatever they could from their tents.
Take a note of the green Brothers Cider bottles. They were everywhere that year but the raw sewage was coming from the toilets which has been overturned in the floods which meant I’d walked through something very nasty that day.
That picture isn’t too far from where we were camping that year. The tent you see in the background is Pennards medical and we were round the back of that tent with the security lads bus/shed clearly seen in the centre of the picture.
The floods of 2005 have been widely reported, and although I’d been at the the muddy year of 1997 and the wet and horrible year of 1998, this was worse in many respects if you weren’t in the middle of the flooding. For people like us who’d escaped the worst it was simply wet and muddy and with no more rain forecast it seemed wen’d be ok but again, the scale of the disaster (this is what it was) never became clear to us onsite, but the media were painting the picture for the general public to see.
I’d managed to find out from talking to a steward at a bar that stages were going to start and the festival wasn’t going to be cancelled, but he too said it’d come close. When I got back I let everyone else know, got changed into more appropriate festival clothing and went out into the site to enjoy the festival. After a few hours of getting horribly wet and muddy, this meant heading to the comedy tent to sit down, chill out and have a fantastic time watching Brendan Burns who promised everyone in the audience some mushrooms if they came to his set on Sunday. This of course, was something I couldn’t miss as the mushrooms I’d grown for that year were pretty feeble, and I’d sold a load to help pay my way that year.
Friday whizzed by and it bled into Saturday. It was then that the scale of the storm was clear. Two months worth of rain in around four hours. A once in a century event. The festival declared a disaster zone by the media and therefore, much of the country, and indeed, the world as this made international news.
Saturday was mild, but much of the site was a runny flow of mud as the sheer weight of water had nowhere to go because what drainage there was had been overwhelmed, so the mud wasn’t drying out as quickly as it would have in say, 1997. Thankfully it wasn’t raining so no new rain was adding to it. This meant walking round the site was fine but you had to take care of not slipping up on the Brothers Cider bottles which were everywhere. They were like mantraps that took out the weak and feeble, or the drunk.
I’d bumped into some friends on the Saturday afternoon, so spent some time with them before deciding to go and watch New Order which is where we bumped into a load of Welsh trade unionists who were great fun as they chucked around drugs and booze for all to share. This made the fact we’d got so stoned we were stuck there coming up watching Coldplay more palatable but dear me, they really are a terrible band even when off your face a little bit.
After Coldplay we wandered around various parts of the site, before ending up at the Stone Circle at dawn. By now I was coming down and knackered so I was happy to find my tent for a few hours kip early on the Sunday morning.
Sunday was a nice, bright sunny day. Those of us who’d survived the weekend had been sunblasted, rained on, battered by winds and thunderstorms to come out on the last day looking shocked we’d survived. We had however made it, which for me meant going back to Brendan Burns to get my free mushrooms which I partook of and they did utterly nothing for me. Until about an hour later watching Garbage when they kicked in and fuck, they kicked in hard, so I spent the next couple of hours sitting in the field (the ground was dryish in places now) working out the world’s problems by myself. Eventually I’d regained enough of my brain to go back to my tent, get some food and chill out before seeing out one of the most eventful festivals ever.
Going home to Bristol on the Monday did feel like an escape. Getting back in my own bed was a joy.
Now, there’s an awful lot of stuff from 2005 I’ve skimmed over to protect the innocent, but mainly because I don’t remember much from it after the Friday. It was a case where it was about surviving while trying to enjoy yourself so there’s lots of little things missing like waiting for clothes to dry, or the fight to get a bit of grass to sit on, or the fight to avoid TV crews taking pictures of girls trying to look like supermodels. It was an eventful year, but it was also the last Glastonbury til 2007 as 2006 was to be a fallow year, though it wasn’t going to be free of something about the festival, nor was it a year where I didn’t make an appearance on the farm.
More about this next time….