It’s the aftermath of this year’s Glastonbury Festival and although I’m aching, my head hurts and my bank account is thinner, I’m not sure much of it actually happened as it seemed like one minute I was being roasted to a crisp queuing to get a wristband and then queuing for a bus back to Bristol. The best place to tell this story then is at the beginning..
This year’s lineup was pretty uninspiring, which is fine as Glastonbury could still crack on if it was an endless lineup of Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, a hipster with a keyboard and Generic Indie Band #251. Thankfully though there was controversy thanks to the booking of Metallica who headlined the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night. Now having a metal band headline the Pyramid didn’t cause the end of the world, or indeed, did it cause people’s heads to explode, but it did mean you could spot the arseholes tripping over themselves to show themselves to be amazing snobs by generally dismissing metal as ‘unlike Glastonbury’. This was something though the band used at the festival in their t-shirts on sale on site which printed negative reaction on the back of those shirts, which was a nice ‘fuck you’ to the likes of The Guardian, Arctic Monkeys, etc.
Metallica wasn’t the only thing causing ripples. Dolly Parton was another which caused massive buzz and not only for the obvious kitsch value of someone who your granny loved playing something like Glastonbury, but both Parton and Metallica’s appearances meant the festival is now well and truly established as part of British life, which means it also attracts the best and worst of British life as well. One little observation about Glastonbury, and other festivals, relying upon elder acts to prop up their bills is that eventually in the next 20 years or so most will be dead, or too old to play and there simply isn’t the level of headline act Glastonbury now needs to sustain what it is now coming through. Before anyone says ‘ah look, Arcade Fire and Kasabian show you to be talking shite’, lets see if Kasabian are around in a decade, and as for Arcade Fire, they’re just the Flaming Lips for people who read Vice. There needs to be more good acts coming through which aren’t just middle class white lads and girls standing around making guitar based Indie music. There needs to be a little bit more edge and we’re not getting it from the faux rebelliousness of Kasabian or the contrived tweeness of Arcade Fire.
The festival for me started on Wednesday, when myself, and Bridget and her daughter Rhia (friends from Glasgow for those who’ve not followed these blogs) jaunted onto the bus from Bristol to the festival and got there pretty quickly only to be greeted by massive queues and unrelentless sunshine. Fortunately other friends, Barry and Jade, were bringing the tent, and more importantly, the beer, in their car, so we were traveling light which was nice after the hell of 2011 and 2013. Also this year we were camping in Spring Ground which is the disabled area due to our friend Janet finally having to use their facilities, and it would also help Jade so off we went through the gates, got our tickets exchanged for wristbands (apart from Rhia who being 12 enjoyed her last free year) and headed for Spring Ground. It was a fairly short walk, but seeing as it was roasting, with the sun beating down on us, things were hot and sticky so after much fannying around our burnt little bodies found their way to where we were going.
Bridget and Rhia had only ever camped on the other side of the train tracks and not near the Pyramid where Spring Ground is. This is the thing about Glastonbury; it’s a different festival depending where onsite you camp. It’s one of the things that’s never changed in the years I’ve been going since 1992 but it can be a bit disorientating the first time you notice it. Part of the problem of being near the Pyramid is the arsehole quota rises quite substantially but more of this later.
Upon arriving at Spring Ground, we quickly found the others who’d set up a camp near the entrance (Spring Ground is a restricted campsite and you need to apply in advance to gain entry, and after setting up our tent, we realised the site was on a steep slope which was nice for keeping it dryish for when it rained, but proved to be a nightmare for sleeping and my increasingly decrepit hips can testify to. Wednesday was a load of setting up, drinking beer, and wandering around going ‘OOooooOOOOOOooooooo‘ around the site. I think around about here a wormhole opens up in the fabric of space and time and generally messes things up so the next five days seem like an elongated afternoon.
Thursday did however arrive as it normally does with another sunny day, though worse weather was predicted, it wouldn’t stop us as we went for a walk around the site, until near the Pyramid it did, so going back to get proper clothing, we continued our walk after an encounter with Oxfam which has seen Jade and Rhia included as part of one of their campaigns. After some more beer and wanderings in the rain, drizzle and sun, Thursday drew to a close with the main stages opening for business on the Friday, though ask me exactly what happened on Thursday and I’ll give you a blank stare but I know I enjoyed it and oh, here’s Friday coming up lumbering behind you.
Friday was dampish to start, but it dried off quickly, and for the opening act we all wanted to see which was Blondie. This was the third time I’d seen Blondie, with the first being in 1980, and the last being 1999, so I’m booking a time to see Debbie Harry’s disembodied vocal chords perform in 2030 when I’m a head in a jar.
It really was a massive cock-up sticking Blondie on the Other Stage, rather than putting them on at the Pyramid as the crowd was one of the biggest I’ve seen at the Other Stage. It was massive!
After Blondie we went for a wander to the comedy tent in an attempt to see Josie Long and Kevin Eldon, but this was utterly pointless as the tent was rammed. In fact, everything seemed to be rammed, so we decided now it was amazing hot and sunny again to have a seat and a cold beer in the beer tent in the cabaret field. Well, when I said ‘a cold beer’ I meant several, so after a while we headed back to Spring Ground to dump stuff, pick up more beers, etc, just as the cloud from Close Encounters of the Third Kind decided to park itself above Pilton and Worthy Farm.
Sadly there were no UFO’s, but there was quite an astonishing thunderstorm with massive bolts of lightning flashing across the site. Luckily we’d just got back to the tents and were under shelter for the duration, but we didn’t know then the site had a massive power cut, and that the festival was effectively suspended under this storm passed.
Once it did pass it left clearer air, and luckily, not too much mud as the ground had been baked for the run up to the festival. While we waited for things to calm down we sat and listened to Lily Allen, someone who for me is the WKD of music. Badly thrown together, not very good, dreadful but every now and then you guiltily have a sip just in case you were wrong. Friday evening for me though was all about letching to Sophie Ellis Bextor and enjoying The Selecter.
Standing with a bunch of middle aged men playing trouser billiards may not be the idea of enjoying a Friday night, but Bextor is fun, plus she’s got nice line in self-depreciation. She’s knows what the audience wants and throws it at them, plus she’s more fun than watching elbow grind out the same old songs.
In between Bextor and the Selecter, I had a burger from Grillstock which cost me a tenner. Yes, ten pounds sterling. It was worth every single penny and set me up perfectly for The Selecter, who to my shame, I’d never seen live before. They didn’t disappoint with Pauline Black proving what an amazing front-woman she is. The only pity is they were shunted onto the Avalon Stage, but for once in the weekend, there wasn’t massive crowds, though the noise bleed from Shangri La proved annoying more than once. Walking back early in the morning I passed the Pyramid which had the field layered in rubbish. It cut a depressing sight as I drunkenly staggered back to our campsite.
Saturday was Metallica Day for many, but it was a group of mainly septuagenarians who were and are, part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, best known for the theme from Doctor Who. They were playing The Glade, which made a welcome return this year. The idea of a group of mainly pensioners playing the sort of electronic music that inspired Aphex Twin and the Boards of Canada among dozens of other acts couldn’t be knocked back. They were fun, though this was the only time Tom Baker (though only in a clip) got to appear on a stage at Glastonbury.
The rest of the evening was mainly all about The Pixies for me, a band I love but only saw once at the old Town and Country club in London in the late 80’s so I’ve waited a long time to watch them, though sadly they’re down to a 3-piece. but they are still an amazing force live.
After this it was a sprint of sorts to the Pyramid Stage to see Metallica. this involved wading through the mud and people, but we never made it, choosing instead to avoid fighting through the crowds to listen to them from the campsite. Just as I hit the entrance for Spring Ground I slipped in the mud and covered myself in sticky brown goo which meant I was filthy while listening to Metallica. Somehow apt I reckon.
And before I knew it, Sunday had arrived and the festival was nearly over. I know I did other stuff. I know I chilled at the tents. I know I did but I’m damned if I remember it! Sunday was hot and sunny. It was also the Day of Dolly. Everyone on site seemed to want to see Parton from kids, to hipsters, to cynical auld bastards like me. To get to see her though involved struggling through a biblical crowd with Janet in her motorised chair to the rear disabled viewing platform, and then getting past an officious steward to get a decent position on the platform itself. Once settled, we prepared for the force of nature that is Dolly Parton and, oh my god, what is wrong with her FACE!? I remember seeing Sylvester Stallone about a decade or so ago and thinking the same, while wondering if you become so amazingly rich, then why on earth would you be daft enough to fuck your face up so badly.
After this initial fright, it became clear that Parton is an amazing entertainer. Yes, the religious stuff fell flat on it’s arse, but she’s canny enough to realise that it didn’t work and not dwell on it, choosing instead to draw some good gags at her own expense, and ok, she was obviously miming at times, and the schmaltz was a bit too thickly laid on but Parton is critic proof. She was fun and frankly, you need that on a Sunday afternoon.
A few things about the festival generally needs to be said at this point. Experiencing it as someone helping a disabled person this year opened my eyes in regards people’s attitudes towards the disabled. Most people were great, but for an example of what it’s like to see a negative attitude was encountered on the way up the path to the viewing platform for Dolly Parton, Janet was told by a girl in front of her that ‘everyone is moving slowly’. Yes, I’m sure they are but show a wee bit more consideration for someone in a wheelchair who has no choice but to move slowly. Seeing people try to shunt past people in a wheelchair on a busy path is frankly, cuntish. As was the person spotted by Bridget who was trying to negotiate his way onto the viewing platform even though he was fully able bodied, but felt it was ‘unfair’ that he shouldn’t be allowed onto a platform meant for people with conditions and injuries.
Of course there is an easy way for this person to qualify for disabled access, and I’d be glad to help him on his way, but it’s this sort or entitled arseholeness that was a little bit too rife this year. There’s a loss of the sharing, egalitarian nature of the festival is being drowned out by those who dump their tents, or demand access to places they shouldn’t, or pay up to a grand for a campsite. See, one of the great things about a year like 1997 when everyone was covered in mud and struggling, is that everyone helped out. there was no ‘Them and us’. Now there is. That is sad because there’s no way for that to return on the scale it was before.
Now I appreciate that Michael and Emily Eavis try, but I think they’ve perhaps bent too much towards people with money and this has excluded a lot of the working class kids who have been dropping off since the fence went up. This is probably why I enjoyed being in Spring Ground. People helped each other, and it felt like the old festival with not a lot of rubbish strewn around compared with most of the camping areas in the main drags which were yet again, a fucking disgrace. I have no idea what Eavis needs to do to get those going to clean up after themselves. I really don’t. People can rage impotently on social media about banning people who leave a mess (or in this case, a dog in their tent) but how do you police that? How do you ban people?
There’s also the problem that virtually everything is overcrowded. The improvements in infrastructure are great but even so, there were long drops nearly full by the Pyramid, not to mention bins in a almost constant state of being unemptied. I remember the huge festivals of the 90’s with over 200k onsite but I never remember it being like this, or indeed during the early 2000’s. It really didn’t start going this way til 2004 or 2005. I offer no solutions that many people attending now would like, but I am saying that Eavis needs to address this head on which means perhaps dropping a little bit of the nice guy and cracking down on the tossers.
If anyone has a solution, please feel free to speak.
Anyhow, back to Sunday and post-Dolly. I went for a wander as is my want on the final day of Glastonbury and it’s here it dawned upon me that it was not only the last day, but a load of stuff I wanted do never happened. A big lump of the weekend seemed to have passed me by which was weird, but some of the others felt the same as we headed off to see Kasabian on the Pyramid on the final night.
Kasabian are for me the musical equivalent of drawing a cock on a wall. It’s funny the first time you see it but after a while it looks tired, and anyhow, you’ve seen it done better. This isn’t that Kasabian are a terrible band, they’re not. It’s just that there’s something forced about their whole shtick from the dodgy Manc accents (they’re from Leicester) and the enforced zaniness.
A cock drawn on a wall, blown up on a huge stage with a thumping soundtrack & Keith Allen and Kate Moss dancing by the side of the stage as Jo Whiley dribbles onto a BBC camera.That’s next year’s headliner sorted….
With that, Glastonbury 2014 ended. It was by no means a classic year, though the people I was with ensured it was a massively enjoyable one, apart from the missing time of course. It’s just a few days since it ended but I feel it was pretty much a holding year (1999 and 2008 felt the same for me) for myself, though I’m grateful of having my eyes opened in regards how the disabled are treated but I don’t think this was a stonewall classic. I’m also glad metal can now safely headline the Pyramid, which means there’s a few tantalising prospects of some serious acts playing in the future. However Eavis talks about giving it another six years and calling it quits on the 50th anniversary. There would be a kind of perfection to that though I feel Glastonbury needs to re-evaluate what it is and draw a line in the sand against those who are arseholes, or who feel that their money means they deserve everything laid on them on a plate. It’s time perhaps for a declaration of intent if Eavis is not only to continue til 2020, but beyond to ensure that the work done over the last 44 years doesn’t end with the festival turning into just a giant example of hedonism over all other positive things the festival brings into the world, which isn’t to say hedonism isn’t fun, but anyone can get amazingly fucked up on a weekend. Why do it at Glastonbury when you end up missing so much?
I’ll be back next year. In fact I can’t wait to return, but I hope the organisers assess this year and learn from it to make it better, not to mention they plug that pesky hole in the space/time continuum……