2011 should have been a fallow year for Glastonbury Festival, but 2012 was the year of the London Olympics and they wanted to use some of the festival’s infrastructure so the fallow year’s were swapped round. Considering how wet 2012 was this was a lucky escape.
The festival in 2011 had a lot to live up to after the 40th anniversary blowout in 2010. It was a hard year to top, but it didn’t really try to and it’s a fact some year’s simply are better than other years. The lineup was ok, with bloated tax avoiders U2, dreary indie bores Coldplay, and tedious pop princess Beyonce headlining the Pyramid Stage in an otherwise solid lineup.
By now the festival wasn’t even really pretending to be an alternative from the establishment any more and although aspects of the festival were truly alternative, the idea of an alternative culture wasn’t what was attracting most of the people coming to the festival. They wanted to raise their hands in the air when the stage lights turned yellow and sing along with Coldplay. By now the UK was in a weird place. Labour were gone, and the first peacetime coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems were in place with terrible things lying in wait for the weaker in society. You’d think this would mobilise people in vast numbers, especially after three years of recession but no, the majority were out to have fun.
The idea of alternative youth culture was effectively dead for most people. When mainstream culture and what was left of alternative culture met, it was only at the likes of Glastonbury which would cause a shock to some to see something which wasn’t this homogenised TOWIE version of what ‘The Young’ should be like. Glastonbury for all the U2’s and Beyonce’s of the world still offered something different for those willing to look.
By the time 2011’s festival rolled round, I’d moved to a new flat and things were stable, if somewhat dreary and annoying with work. Change was needed and it couldn’t come a moment too soon. Before then was this year’s festival. This was going to be a huge one as not only had our motley crew expanded somewhat but with the addition of my friend Bridget (who I’ve mentioned in passing before when discussing comic conventions in Glasgow in the 1990’s) and her 9 year old daughter Rhia who were coming down from Glasgow. It should have been a fairly sensible Glastonbury but it ended up with everyone in a mess looking at a fire and wanting baths, beds and a lack of mud…
I get ahead of myself though.
The plan was for Barry to pick Bridget, Rhia and myself up from Bristol and take us to Glastonbury and we’d wait in the car parks overnight so we’d get out usual place in Park Home Ground, but for a variety of reasons this fell through so thankfully another friend of mine, Tess, offered to give us a lift as close as possible to the site because she didn’t have a ticket but we thought if we’d got to an entrance we could carry our stuff.
Before that though we popped into Glastonbury itself so we could give Bridget and Rhia the guided tour of the town not to mention some chips! Once recharged, we headed to the festival to try to see how far we’d get with both Tess and myself reckoning we’d get to the first gate and we’d cart our stuff from there. We joined the queue, and got to the first gate which we passed with no problem, then the next gate and found ourselves just before the entrance to the field we’d arranged to meet people at the final gate. We’d got amazingly far, in fact much, much further than we’d bargained for and scored our first lucky break of the festival. A wee bit of haggling didn’t get us any further so Tess left us while the three of us struggled in the dark with a load of stuff we couldn’t really seriously manage between the three of us.
Two adults and a 9 year old child cannot carry several tents, several rucksacks, sleeping bags, several slabs of beer and other stuff in the dark, at a festival. The fact we got several hundred yards was amazing but we couldn’t get any further. with nothing to lose I thought I’d call our friends Wig and Katie as they’d texted to say they were onsite, so it was worth a shout to see if they could help and we could wait for a few hours while they found us. We found a flag in the carpark with a number obviously on it and I made a call with a vague hope of help arriving in a few hours.
In fact Wig was about 100 metres away and both he and Katie were with us lending a hand within 20 minutes. Lucky break #2!
We all wandered up to join the smallish queue for the festival and to bed in for the rest of the night for the six or seven hours we had to wait to get into the festival. Thankfully the weather was warm and dry as we joined the queue right next to where some other friends of mine were! Lucky break #3!
Over the next few hours we all chatted away, tried to have a doze, necked a few beers, and hoped it wouldn’t rain, but one of our crowd, Paddy, gave the prediction that it would ‘rain at 10am’. With that deadly prediction we realised the priority was once the gates opened to leg it across the site to where everyone would be camping but word came down the line that security would open up the gates early as a massive storm was indeed coming but before Paddy’s prediction of 10am. As the queue started to move, the rains came down and we struggle through the churning mud like ravers dropped in the middle of the Somme as we pulled, and pushed and dragged ourselves and our stuff though the mud and fields. Sadly we lost Paddy and the others, but Katie, Wig, Bridget Rhia and myself eventually found Janet, Jan and the others in our usual space and all the time we were racing against the oncoming storm clouds.
The rain came again as I was putting my tent up. Big whopping globs of warm summer rain slapping against me and in my tent as I raced to put it up, though by the time it was up with Bridget’s help, I was drenched and my tent was a swimming pool. Still, the rain had stopped, I’d mopped out my tent as much as possible, and decided to give Bridget and Rhia a guided tour of the festival when it was still not raining. However showing a bouncy 9-year old round the site when your days of being lithe and fit is not a good idea so we eventually ended up on the hill overlooking the festival to give the idea of the scale of the thing, which is exceptionally impressive when it’s clear and sunny like it was that afternoon.
Wednesday ended up with people sitting around the campsite being drunk and is often the case, Wednesday gave way to Thursday and a bright, dry day. Thursday’s at Glastonbury are amazingly busy days now as it’s when everything starts up apart from the main stages but to me this year started to feel like the hangover of 2010’s massive blowout. This isn’t to say the acts that were down to play were tedious dross, (though some were) but it felt somewhat anti-climatic. Fortunately what shook me out of my ennui was the Kidz Field. Now, I’ve been going to Glastonbury since 1992 as laid out in these blogs, but not once have I set foot in the Kidz Field. I’ve been backstage across the site at various times over the years, been in the farmhouse, Michael Eavis’s bedroom and seen the cows close up but never in the Kidz Field. This is mainly because I’ve never had the chance to and also an adult male hanging around the field by himself is just a bit too Savile really so thanks to Bridget and Rhia I managed to experience the last bit of the festival I’d never been to.
The Kidz Field is an utter joy. It can get astonishing tiring watching kids run around being kids but it’s a lovely place to escape the lunacy, not to mention the sometimes annoying antics of the main festival. It’s a great wee island where the ethics of the festival as it was when I first went still exist, not to mention they’re being instilled into kids who will be driving on the festival when I’m old or long gone.
But a festival isn’t made by the Kidz Field alone so Thursday was another day of wandering, not to mention seeing some acts, including at the new Spirit of 71 stage which was to celebrate the 1971 festival which was filmed as Glastonbury Fayre (something I’m going to talk about in another blog sometime) but the problem with the stage was it was crammed in between two stages, plus sound from the Jazz/World Stage (now renamed West Holts and now a nominal third stage) would bleed in when over the weekend when the wind would change. There were, and are, simply too many stages crammed too close to each other. Less is sometimes better, and also, it’d do some of these acts good to have them on larger stages. The trying to cater for everyone by organising things onto stages is one thing I dislike about the modern festival as it tries to make up for the glorious chaos of the pre-fence years.Of course the problem is that most people now coming never had any experience of the pre-fence days so to most, it probably didn’t matter than in places it was well, a bit touristy. I’ve spoken about gentrification before and Glastonbury has been pretty solidly gentrified with little islands like the Green Fields and the Kidz Fields proving the festival still is what it was meant to be. This isn’t to say I’ve fallen out of love with the festival but that there perhaps needs to be a re-evaluation of what it’s doing before it really is just a shadow.
But I digress. As Thursday continued we headed back to the campsite for a recharge, and spotted some poor girl struggling to put her tent up by herself. We quickly found out she was Japanese and had come all the way over from Japan for the festival all by herself with only a very basic understanding of English. That’s bloody impressive. So we found her name out eventually, helped put her tent up and welcomed her to our group though how she managed with the mix of accents from all over the UK in varying degrees of drunkenness is a mystery.
Thursday ended in a sunny haze, and as Friday emerged from the cocoon of the previous day it promised a lot, including some threatened rain in what had been a mainly dry festival since the deluge on Wednesday morning. This maybe because serial tax avoiders U2 were headlining the Pyramid Stage and the fates wanted to electrocute minuscule wanker Bono, but for whatever the reason the gnats of fate did sting and lo, did it solidly piss down for most of Friday to the point where the festival became a muddy mess. Watching WU Tang Clan in the pissing rain is fun, but by the time Big Audio Dynamite played The Park things were cold, wet and muddy. I’d lost everyone who I was with so headed back to our campsite mainly to find them but as they weren’t there I decided to shelter in my tent to listen to Primal Scream play the whole of Screamadelica as the rain pissed down as I thought about the first time I saw Primal Scream at Glastonbury nearly 20 years earlier in the warm sunshine.
Saturday was a chance to assess the damage of the rain. We’d built a shelter for us to sit outside and socialise all with some tarpaulin and ingenuity and this had managed to mainly survive the night. Saturday was also the chance for me to see Swedish Indie group Those Dancing Days, who are one of those bands who should have been on a main stage rather than stuck away at The Park on a Saturday afternoon. Sadly their act was hampered with serious technical issues as referenced in this audio clip.
The Park by now was a gooey mush of mud, and seeing as the rumour that Pulp were playing a secret set there had been confirmed, it was becoming a packed gooey mush of mud. Although the day was generally warm and sunny, The Park hadn’t dried out, neither had many of the paths to the stage. So when I went away and came back The Park was crammed full, so I yet again went to the hill overlooking the field and listened to Pulp play with a load of other people as you can see in this video around the 0.13 mark.
They played a good set but if you look through some of the videos of the gig on YouTube you’ll hear people talking constantly through some of the less well known songs. This is something that annoys me about not only gigs at festivals but generally. Why come to a fucking surprise gig if all you’re going to do is talk bollocks for the entirety of the set? What are these people going to tell their mates, ”oh, went to see Pulp and me and Lucinda had a chat about Eastenders”?
Anyhow, the plan for me was to head back to the campsite, get some more beers and make it to Glasvegas who were playing the John Peel stage, but the problem was the Chemical Brothers were playing The Other Stage which was packed like I’d never seen it before. This could be because the boredom made flesh that is Coldplay were playing the Pyramid Stage for something like the 2,000th time. The frequency of Coldplay headlining is frankly a joke and shows a paucity of imagination for the organisers. Yes, I understand it’s hard to arrange a headliner but the festival shouldn’t be that concerned about pandering to a TV audience or indeed, Coldplay fans because they’re boring. The Chemical Brothers however put on an amazing show that was anything but boring. Organisers take note….
Sunday gave us a beautiful warm summer’s day which dried out much of the farm which meant the boots came off and were replaced by sandals! There wasn’t much I really wanted to see apart from the splendid Queens of the Stone Age, and possibly Paul Simon. Oh, and The Wombles.
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a load of grown men and women struggling to play their instruments while wearing Womble suits in 25 degree heat, which means they were much, much hotter. It really gets bizarre when they’re doing that and performing a Christmas song in the middle of summer.
Back at the campsite we all worked out what we were going to do. Most of us were knackered from wading through runny, then gloopy mud and then being roasted in the sun so while a few of us went to see Beyonce for her one good song, most of us stayed at the Other Stage for Queens of the Stone Age for what was sadly a pretty thin audience as most people seemed to be at the Pyramid to see Beyonce perform her one good song and then prance around for 90 minutes. In fact it was so quiet for QOTSA, I managed to get right down to the front.
After the bands finished we all ended up back the the campsite for one last night but we were knackered. It’d been a weekend and a half with none of us getting any younger as well. Next morning we all said out farewells knowing that there was no festival in 2012 because it it being a fallow year, and the Olympics were happening. 2012 was a chance to recharge.
Monday morning we all packed up, went our separate ways as Bridget, Rhia and myself trudged to the bus station to get the loooonnnngggg bus journey back to Bristol and to a jumpy cat, a warm shower. and eating off proper plates. The guys stayed a few days longer before heading back to Glasgow, while I rested for a few days before taking on the St. Paul’s Carnival.
2011 was a good year. Our wee group gained more people like an unstoppable zombie army, and the festival had settled into the modern age with good and bad to show for it. 2012 was a rest year but the festival would be back in 2013 but by then I’d have left my job, left another one and ended up bouncing around working for utter wankers. 2013 could have been a horrible year, but instead it’s one of the best festivals I’ve ever done.
I’ll tell the story of that year next time…