There and Back Again: The story of Glastonbury 2017

Having taken time away from Glastonbury for technical problems, I made a return back to that field in Somerset for the festival but this wasn’t just the first festival since my stroke and cancer diagnosis, but the first one since I started going in 1992 where I come from Glasgow as opposed to the East Midlands or Bristol. So this was a wee bit of a challenge, and the best place to start is Monday the 19th June.

I’ve decided to fly to Bristol, spend a couple of days catching up with people before a friend, Alan, picks me up on the way to the festival. That Monday was a humid day in Glasgow, though friends in Bristol and already on the festival site had warned me it was hotter than Egypt there. Leaving my house I head to Buchanan Street bus station for the shuttle bus to Glasgow Airport.

Being the afternoon the shuttle bus was empty barring a German couple and a confused looking businessman.

Feeling just a twinge of excitement in the glutes, the bus sped across the Clyde to the airport…

And quicker than I thought I arrived at the airport to a sea of pasty Glaswegians and placing my faith in Easyjet, I arrived later that evening in Bristol which was indeed, like walking around in Egypt barring the sand.It was like walking into an oven, and indeed, sleeping in one so I didn’t manage much sleep in the runup to Glastonbury which meant I was bright and sharpish as I met Alan at 6am on the  Wednesday of the festival.

As this was the first year I was a fully registered disabled person this meant we went for the disabled queue to get our passes, and for the shuttle bus to take us to Spring Ground, the disabled campsite within the festival. Only catch was it was around 28 C in the morning and there was a bit of a queue.

Shade was a premium and for a few hours everyone felt like slow-roasting pork as we crawled towards that white tent in the distance where we’d get passes, etc, and hopefully on the bus. Luckily while in the queue we met up with part of the group who’d come from Glasgow by car. Eventually we got sorted, got on the bus, got to Spring Ground and very, very, very slowly started pitching up. Have you tried pitching tents in 34 C heat after having stood in it for five hours and those of us on medication were starting to seriously struggle? It isn’t nice but it is preferable to the rain…

Eventually the last part of the group turned up from the dark recesses of the North West of England, but by this time it was getting into the evening and I’d arranged to meet a mate from Bristol at the bandstand at 8 so I grabbed some beers (my drinking ban was lifted for the duration of the festival) and headed into the wilds of Wednesday night at Glastonbury.

By now there was some merciful cloud cover which helped the skin which by now resembled cracking off a Sunday joint, but Wednesday night I’ve always enjoyed at Glastonbury because nothing much is happening and stages like the Pyramid Stage, are still coming together. What this means is that it’s the only night that feels like ”old” Glastonbury in that you have no idea what you’ll encounter and because one has to make their own fun everything is joyfully random which means sitting around at midnight talking to a family from Hull about how the festival has helped reshape their lives.

And Glastonbury turns into a glorious place at night, especially when it’s warm and dry because you’re not struggling with the mud or hurrying back to your tent to avoid the rain. Not so this night where you could sit in what we used to call the Jazz Stage field, and young ‘uns call West Holts watching fireworks while drinking beer.

A wonderful Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning, and a quiet one. The site this night was quiet which was surprising until you remembered your sunburn and the fact most people would be knackered but my crippled arse stayed up past 3am and crawled into bed having had a splendid night.

Thursday starts with my daily drugs, which look nothing like the drugs I used to consume at the festival in years past.

Thursday is the day where the festival kicks into gear. All the stages bar the three biggest ones start and the festival kicks into gear. Our intention was to see The Orb at the Glade, but getting near the stage was doable but hearing it when the organisers have stuck several smaller stages near was impossible which leads me to a whinge. Over the last decade they’ve added so many stages that there’s so much to see and do that you’re spoiled for choice, but the big chunks of space the festival used to have which allowed the festival to breath are gone. So one stage bleeds into another less than ten metres away and that frankly, is shite. I’d like some of the stages to go or for a bit more thought in how it all works for disabled folk who find it a struggle when there’s bottlenecks.

I will take this chance to thank the young lad and his girlfriend who helped me up a hill near the Glade when there were so many people in one place it was ridiculous, and in fact, I’d say 99% of people at the festival when they noticed I was disabled did all they could. The ones that didn’t can fuck off.

I also experienced the dubious joys of the backstage bar as it’s on the disabled route backstage between stages, and I have to say what a soulless, empty echo of the festival it is. Braying London media whores and their hangers on pretending to have their exclusive Glastonbury isn’t Glastonbury as the joy of the festival is we’re all in it together. Sneaking off to your nice Winnebago isn’t playing fair. I get why Eavis has allowed the backstage area and this demographic to grow as after all, he started this festival to make extra cash but it’s bollocks and for me, risks the heart of the festival.

Anyhow, Thursday ended up being back at the tents in Spring Ground and an early night (sort of) in anticipation of everything kicking off proper on the Friday.

Friday was cloudy and cooler. The media were saying it was what we’d all hate, but give me cool and cloudy around 20 C as that’s perfect festival weather after days of being roasted alive from dawn til dusk.

The site takes on a new energy from the Friday. We know the A Team (not Mr T sadly) are kicking it on the main stages.

Friday however wasn’t a great day. A few decent acts on West Holts and the comedy tent aside, nothing caught my eye til Radiohead who I’d seen when they played the NME Stage (now Other Stage) in 1994, THAT show at the Pyramid in 97 and in 2003 when they last headlined.

Radiohead are a great live band, and they don’t disappoint here, yeah, some of the stuff from Kid A goes down like a lead enema but on the whole the band pick the crowd up and play with them like putty.

At this point I need to say a word about the stewards organising the disabled platform and thank them for doing all they can to make the night, and the experience, as good as it would have been for everyone. They did a great job and considering they’re all volunteers and don’t get a penny for it makes it all the more extraordinary.

As Radiohead draws a close to Friday we head back to the tents, sit around and talk wonderful bollocks until the first spatters of rain hit us causing us all to call an earlyish night and hopefully let the rain be no more than a passing shower. Unbelievably it was, and better than that, the rain dampened down the dust so the site was no longer a dustbowl as it was say, in 2010, 1995 and 1993. This set up Saturday nicely as this is the day where the festival finds an extra gear and goes mental yet the biggest crowd of the day wasn’t for a modern beat combo, it was for a politician.

That’s Jeremy Corbyn in the distance. Now I’ve branched out my opinion on Corbyn’s appearance here, but I will say I have concern for anyone chanting any politicians name as it means you’ve left your critical abilities floating in the long drops. A ”jobs first Brexit” is as much a load of utter pish as when Nigel Farage talks about it and my concern is that Corbyn’s selling a lie to people because there’s no version of Brexit that doesn’t put jobs at risk but he won’t tell you his version (which is exactly the same as other Brexiters like Farage and Gove were punting last year) will, and neither does he want to engage the fact Labour have now put immigration ahead of jobs.

So lots of chants, lots of positivity and a lot of hubris. I’ve seen this shite before and I wish what is going to happen doesn’t but I fear I’m going to be right and an almighty disappointment is heading people’s way.

Moving on from politics the band after Corbyn, Run the Jewels, were a splendid piece of bombastic hip hop and I really should search their stuff out, but no time to hang around as I go for a wander round the site after that.

Ah cider…

This is a giant tortoise shaped mobile soundsystem in the circus fields that I watched for ages as the thing, and the people around it, were great fun.

That’s a marching band. They were utterly brilliant but my path was now making me head towards West Holts as no Foo Fighters for me (and anyhow, I saw their first gig at Reading in 1995 and have seen them around a dozen times) as The Jacksons were heading up that stage.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of disco as I always found it to be the cousin of Punk in terms of ripping the old music down and giving us something new and exciting. As for The Jacksons? Well, where else are you going to see them without paying 80 quid a ticket just for them? And they did the most ridiculously, pompously brilliant video ever which also happened to be the only song they could open their set with.

Again I’m on the disabled platform on a stage chatting to a lovely Welsh family on a bucket list as one of their number is suffering from a terminal condition and again thanks to the stewards who did all they could to make things comfortable. As for The Jacksons they were wonderful but poor sound mixing made parts of the gig a struggle, however these guys are wonderful showpeople and fuck me, they put on a show even if they did play some of the problematic solo material.

After The Jacksons I thought I’d head for a cold cider but it turned out the Foo Fighters were still going letting off the world’s supply of fireworks.

It was an impressive sight some distance away.

After some time waiting for the crowds to leave by forcing myself to sit by the cider bus drinking and chatting, it was eventually clear enough to wander back to the tents across a pretty trashed Pyramid Stage arena.

And off to bed for the last day..

The Sunday was warm and sunny. As is often the case one takes stock of how good a festival has been on the Sunday by how quickly you want to leave, and I didn’t want to go. Yeah, the lineup overall had been poor but you don’t think I’ve been going to Glastonbury for 25 years for the lineup do you? I go to meet friends old and new, and see and experience things I’d never do anywhere else. I go because I might meet extraordinary people who don’t realise their uniqueness, or to chat to drunk people, or meet young people who remind me of me 25 years ago.

Remember what I said about disco? Imagine seeing Nile Rogers and Chic on the Pyramid on a lovely summer afternoon with around 70k other people up for it?

Yeah, it was that good. Which would have made a perfect end to the festival if Biffy Clyro hadn’t come and laid their ponderous landfill rock all over the place like some dirty protest at people having fun. Here’s a picture of my weak leg to show you how interested I was during their set.

And yes, that sunburn still hurts.

At this point we started chatting to a family from Manchester who’d been involved with the Ariana Grande concert bombing and apart from being decent folk, started plying us all with very nice gin as we stared at an amazing sky.

Ed Sheeran is a strange thing. Bland, thin on talent and ability but yet massive. It also should be easy to hate what he does (and his show was at best wallpaper as he sung to a backing track) but he sums up part of where Mainstream music is in 2017. Nothing too adventurous. Nothing radical. Give them a few anthems and send them home. It’s pop music for people who live on microwave food.

But the crowd loved it and as it closed the festival I thought that for many of these people this is what Glastonbury meant for them and who am I to deny them that?

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The next day was the sad, melancholy packing up as everything returns to normal.

The festival wasn’t quite over as Glastonbury doesn’t stop, it just fades out slowly into the Monday as people leave to return home and I retraced our entry. Only this time there were less queues.

Although Alan’s satnav set us on a long and winding road from Pilton to Bristol, I finally saw Brunel’s bridge appear as we sped into Hotwells.

After being dropped off at a friends in Bristol, I said cheerio to Alan but Glastonbury wasn’t quite over as I wasn’t actually home yet so I was still in Glastonbury mode the next day when I made my way to Bristol airport to return to Glasgow where the shuttle bus awaited me.

This dropped me by Central Station where a taxi whisked me back to my humble home and some much needed sleep.

So was this a classic year? Yes, I’d say it was. It was a piss poor lineup but having experienced the festival as someone probably more disabled than I’d like to admit I have to say that virtually everything about this year was amazing from the people I was with, the the weather, to the fellow random festival goers to the stewards and indeed, everything. Yes, I’m physically paying for it afterwards but fuck it; if people go there who are literally counting down the number of weeks they have left to live then being a bit sore and sniffy isn’t a problem.

That said, I’m glad 2018 is a fallow year. It means I have time now to rebuild things and get fitter because frankly, up until the end of May I was in still two minds whether I’d go.It took me three weeks at the gym to get fit enough again to carry the weight I did not just in coming in and out, but over the weekend, so another two years will see hopefully a vast improvement. 2020 is the festival’s 50th anniversary and having attended the 25th and 40th anniversary celebrations I’m not missing that.

Glastonbury 2017 was wonderful. I could go back there in a second. Of course I’d wear more sunscreen but I think people on the whole decided to have fun and decided in light of recent events to be decent human beings, on the whole. Bring on 2019!

 

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4 thoughts on “There and Back Again: The story of Glastonbury 2017

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