If there’s a year where Glastonbury Festival musically hit a height then a good argument can be made for the line-up in 1994.
I’d previously skimmed over 1994 mainly because much of it was a blur to me, but over the seven years since writing that post more has returned to me, partly through conversations with people who were there with me and through watching the TV coverage that sneaks onto YouTube.
1994 was a year that fell into the badlands between the burst of Britpop just later that year and the mix of American bands like Rage Against the Machine, and British bands still riding the last wave of the ‘Second Summer of Love’ from 89/90. Contrary to modern versions of history of the time, the early 90’s were a glorious time for British bands who were diverse in genres, as well as their members. Britpop came along and crushed that with its bland white homogeny that it eventually became after the initial exciting period.
That year was a blur because of various chemical substances, but also because it was impossible not to spend that year dashing between stage and stage to see acts. It was exhausting! It also was the first year television filmed vast chunks of it with Channel 4 and MTV being everywhere, so you had to get used to boom cameras being waved in the collective faces of the audience.
I seem to vaguely remember turning up on the Thursday, pitching in front of the Pyramid (which had burned down a fortnight before the festival to be quickly replaced by a standard big stage) before going on a big adventure. See, in those days you didn’t turn up on the Wednesday unless you were one of the hardcore, were working or you could afford that extra day. Also nothing was on, well, nothing organised but once you made your way to the Green Fields you’d find things, and on the way back home you’d try to avoid the dark, dodgy corners of the festival. Back then there was an issue with gangs fighting for their territory and that spilled over a few times that year, most notably during Elvis Costello’s set on the Saturday.
Being much younger and fitter then meant it didn’t take too long to get between stages, and as I’d basically decided to do my own thing rather than hang out with friends who were happy setting up for large chunks of the day in front of the Pyramid or NME stage. I wanted to explore the site, meet people, drink and be merry which judging by my muddled head 26 years later, I seemed to have done exceptionally well. So the Thursday night I went up to the Green Fields, sat around drinking, chatting, and all manner of things til daylight. I didn’t want to waste time sleeping but managed to grab a few hours before being woken up by the early morning soundchecks.
Friday was all about Rage Against the Machine who at this point were the band everyone wanted to see at the festival, and they turned in one of the finest performances Glastonbury ever saw. Outwith of them, everything else is a blur. I remember bits of The Pretenders, some Beastie Boys and being underwhelmed at World Party.
At some point on Saturday morning, I got some sleep somewhere in the Green Fields before waking up to be offered a cup of tea by a lovely young hippy girl. Apparently I’d ended up in one of the tea tents in the wee hours gibbering like a loon talking about comics with a Tank Girl clone. At some point I’d closed down, and they chucked a blanket over me so when I woke up a few hours later to the offer of a tea I was actually not in much of a mess as I should have been. I must have wandered off at some point because my next clear memory is brushing my teeth back at the tent.
From what I remember, I spent most of the Saturday at the NME Stage mainly because Orbital were headlining and they could not be missed. Also I was a tad fragile plus I wanted to spend the night up at the Stone Circle, so Saturday I took it easy.
Again things are blurry but having enjoyed a brilliant festival so far, the Sunday looked to be a great final day but by now I don’t remember being myself as it were. I was lacking sleep (in thinking about it, I’d probably just about hit double figures. I did however want to see the sun come up and I’d arranged to meet the folk from the other night before heading to the Stone Circle. Thankfully this is 1994 and the Lord created speed so I managed to get my sunrise before getting some rest before the greatness of Johnny Cash.
From there it was a few more bands with Blur being one highlight before the now traditional final night wander around the site and the last night session which leads into an early return home, which in 1994 meant a long, sad drive back to Leicester and a vow that I’d try never to miss a Glastonbury Festival in my life, which was easy to say when you’re young and healthy.
These festivals will never return. Glastonbury has moved on to be something else which I still love, but it’s more curated, more organised and has long shed it’s major counter-cultural aspects though parts still linger on especially in the Green Fields. The more those times are documented before they get lost the more we’ll be able to appreciate what’s now gone forever.