Some people never leave their homes, after my trip to fucking Glastonbury I now understand why.
When one becomes obsessed with the concept of tarmac and concrete, boring, daily things one takes wholly for granted, the ability to take a shit at will without it turning into a full-on military campaign, basic homely components, shelter, warmth, food, bathrooms, carpets, clean towels, chairs, Radio 4, a bed, privacy… you know you’re fucked.
On the Thursday morning, oh it seems a world away, I met my bro and his missus at some godforsaken hour in the morning at Sainsbury as we had a few more items to pick up in order to facilitate our stay in a environment that would upset the residents of Darfur. Off we all rolled, our hearts full of joy and anticipation, for the 2.5 hour journey to a large, huge, plot of land near Shepton Mallet in Somerset.
As soon as we were a couple of miles from London it began to rain. Hard. Windscreen wipers, service stations (one with a brand new broken fence thanks to my inability to see a fucking thing when pulling off a parking manoeuvre) brakes, gears, more rain, a sandwich, pee, cigarettes and directions all leading to our arrival in a big bloody swamp in a valley.
Despite the paranoia of my converted Transit not being ‘camper van’ enough to warrant a spot in the camper van field we got in relatively easily and our moods lightened. It was 3pm when we pitched the tent by the van, mercifully the rain had eased off and it has to be said that when we did eventually see the big yellow burning thing in the sky it was bloody lovely. By 5-ish we were ready to wander onto site, it was a good 20 minute walk downhill just to get to the perimeter of the festival proper, security was ludicrously tight but as we’d bought tickets we were quite happy to know those that wished to ‘enjoy’ the festival ‘delights’ for free wouldn’t be able to do so.
For those that haven’t been (it was only my second visit, it’d been 21 years since my last for very good reason, I discovered) Glastonbury is enormous, it covers about 1.5 square miles, consists of over 20 stages, the Pyramid stage and the creatively named Other Stage being the main focus of the site for most people, including me, 18 or so bars and numerous fields and designated areas for all manner of entertainment, including theatre, circus, comedy, cinema and of course music. In addition there are the more traditional ‘hippie’ areas, healing/green fields, craft areas, contemporary ‘dance’ zones all punctuated by crappy sculptures, stalls selling everything from stupid fucking hats to well, stupid fucking hats, and people, thousands and thousands of people.
On the Thursday the festival was just starting to find it’s feet, the main stages are closed but the stalls and bars are functioning sufficiently. Despite the heavy rain that has been pervading the region for, well, forever, the going wasn’t too bad, my Doctor Marten boots saw me good and because there were only 2/3rds of the 175,000 expected, getting around wasn’t too much of a trial. I’d arranged to meet a mate, Robert, in an area called Lost Vagueness (Christ, doesn’t the name alone annoy you?) an area right on the outskirts of the site. The thing about Glastonbury that I do enjoy is the way each area has it’s own particular atmosphere, one can literally turn a corner and there are people of an entirely different age group and reason for being there. LV was full of bohemian types, Robert was dressed in a tux and his mates, some of which I knew, complimented his attire with a similar dress code.
By now the tiredness was getting to me but I was determined to make day 1 eventful, my brother and his missus succumbed to sleep and left for the camper van but I remained with Robert and co in a tent predominantly chatting to (make that ‘at’) his charming missus. At about 10pm the crowds parted and a mime appeared with a full-sized mechanical horse, the bloody thing was quite fantastic; it breathed fire, whinnied and moved about on wheels with some dexterity (it was being remotely controlled by it’s inventor out of sight of the audience) and despite the act going on for way too long, it was awesome enough to partially hold our collective attentions as we sipped vodka tonics and continued to natter away.
The walk back the fucking camper van took nearly an hour, the ground was already beginning to show signs of serious deterioration due to a resurgence of rain and the feet from the movement of people from one place to t’other. Despite some bloody odd dreams in which Mywt was being pursued by a murderous detective, I slept like a top, for a bit.
I was woken by the thunderous sound of rain on the roof, sides, and from all I know, the underside of the van. Despite their tent bearing up well, my bro and his missus joined me in the relative security of the vehicle to cook breakfast and make tea. We’d bought some tinned ‘all-day breakfast’ jobs, they tasted like them too, ‘jobs’ I mean, as in plops. Fucking horrid but wholly necessary to provide some sort of energy for the walk ahead, as well as lining the stomach for the inevitable ales. The rain came down so hard we had to delay our trip into the site by an hour; partially due to the cruel realisation that I’d at last have to wear my fucking wellies and my objection to the fundamental fact that if I didn’t, I’d be soaked to the bone.
We ventured out to the site during a dip in the weather. By now the ground was getting difficult to navigate through and it seemed that the numbers for the previous evening had quadrupled, there were people absolutely bloody everywhere. By 1 pm we’d found a spot overlooking the Pyramid stage, my bro and his missus had arranged to meet some friends there. The first band we saw were The Earlies, I wished I’d been late, unfortunately I was late for the first 10 minutes of Modest Mouse as I’d wholly underestimated the time it would take me to walk 200 fucking metres through an Amazonian Swamp and nearly one 5th of a million people. Once there I caught one of four of the best acts of the weekend. I bumped into Robert by the bar and had a few pints. I stuck around for The Automatic who were accompanied by heavy rainfall, I and the audience held fast, it was worth it despite the little shrieking git who bounces over the stage like Daffy Duck having a fit.
I made it back to the Pyramid for Amy Wino. She’s not bad, certainly has a pair of pipes on her but worth all the hype? I don’t know. Naughty Amy was off her box so I decided to join her and I rolled a big fat joint and got so stoned I got the fear. Food saw it off, a big cardboard plate of peas, beans, carrots, gravy and a single steaming pie, it was rather delicious and I celebrated with a pint of the local, a Somerset ale called Wirrey or something. It was a fucking sensation, so much so that by the following day they ran out of it and I’d forgotten what’s its called. Whirrey? Whir.. who cares.
The day was starting to get complicated, as the crowds began to pour into the Pyramid stage for Bloc Party my brother and his missus were keener to get stuck in the front, being a card carrying claustrophobic I remained in a position behind the giant screen and auxiliary speakers, providing me with a certain degree of comfort whilst not compromising on sound or vision. It was an okay set, a little bit too arrogant for want of a better negative but I know what I mean at least. After it was the turn of the fucking Fratellis. Foolishly I accepted the invitation by text from my bro to place near the front that was apparently ‘spacious and arsehole free’. Why on earth I wanted to even acknowledge their existence let alone get nearer to the cunts is beyond me but the area I found myself in was neither spacious and most certainly not arsehole free. By now the mud had turned parts of the ground to deep puddles of shitty, muddy soup which resulted, predictably I suppose, into swimmingly pools for wankers intent on covering themselves and as many people in fucking mud. What with that and all the ‘do wop tee do’ from the band I was outta there like I was on fire after 15 minutes.
I had a plan though, fraught with risks as it was. The Cabaret stage was a long way from where I’d been with my bro, his missus and pals. I was also unsure quite how to get there and to make matters even worse, a hard session of rain had made parts of the festival site utterly non-negotiable, and those areas vaguely passable were gridlocked with human beings fighting to move one foot in front of the other, and that is no exaggeration, I can assure you.
Glastonbury mud is clay based, its deceptively soft but sticky, its cloying, clogging mud from hell. It can rip your wellies off in a second, it slipperier than a British Gas salesman in anal lube and it seems to have a limitless depth. In short it’s like trying to walk through quick drying cement. Throw in hundreds of thousands of people moving in every conceivable direction you may understand why my legs of have gone from those of a 90-year-old invalid to Thierry Henry in the space of a few days.
It took me nearly 2 hours to get to my destination. But it was worth every muscle tearing second. As soon as I arrived Barry Cryer, as well as being a seasoned pro he’s Radio 4 comfort food, appeared onstage with Ronnie Golden to perform songs that, despite not being a fan of comedy tunes, actually made me laugh. To make things better, the tent wasn’t at all packed and I could actually sit down, something I’d almost forgotten how to do, and the bar and loo were only a few stumbling meters away.
I was back in time to see Jeff Green. This was a, if not the, Glastonbury highlight for me. His act was so funny I spent a full hour honking like a goose, tears down my cheeks, breathing issues, the fucking lot. He’d managed to achieve that rarest of things that only a stand up at the top of his game can do, perpetual laughter from the room that occasionally peaked to hysteria. He was filthy, observant and delivered his jokes with the charm of a gentleman. Outstanding.
The next act was so dreadful he got booed off, it was toe curling to watch and fucked Phil Kay’s audience, an old favourite of mine, who had to hard work really bloody hard to win the crowd back. Phil just pulled it off, in places he more than made up for the awfulness that proceeded him, but he simply didn’t have the audience numbers to get into his stride, despite plonking himself in the actual audience, even allowing hecklers to take over the mic.
The drunk journey back to the van wasn’t as bad anticipated as the locale of the Cabaret stage was closer than I’d realised, also being pissed, I found it oddly easy to navigate the treacherous shit underfoot. My brother and his missus were 5 minutes behind and we had a quick chat and went to our respective beds.
Saturday was the best day of the lot. After breakfast in the van I met up with Robert by the Other stage bar and bumped into another old mate quite out of the blue. Soon we were joined by Simon until there was a few of us huddled round a joint and beers watching firstly a splendid set by Biffy Clyro and then CSS a likeable Brazilian punk/electro outfit that forced good weather on the crowd. When the sun did appear the whole of Glastonbury let off a single roar of appreciation that really did feel quite, well, special. So much so it reminded one why one was at the fucking place in the first place. These were salad days, Glastonbury at it’s best, drinking in the sunshine with friends that had arrived by design or spontaneously, to share in the music and the whole atmosphere of the place. Despite my overall negativity of the experience, that’s one thing that I did engage with, largely, the people there are very decent and at times one does genuinely feel part of a celebratory collective, even when alone.
I joined my bro and his missus for a superb set by Maximo Park, another of the best acts I saw that weekend, followed by a pretentious though enjoyable set by The Editors. My bro and I had arranged to meet Robert at The Glade for one of my favourite bands of all time, The Ozric Tentacles. Without wishing to go into a history lesson, I’ve seen this band dozens and dozens of times over the years, mainly when they were unsigned and you could by their tapes for £2 and a hash cake for the same amount. This was the best music act of the weekend. The venue was a funky covered stage set up in a copse, the green light radiated off the trees by the flashing lighting rigs and lasers looked magnificent.
I started chatting to a chap called Mark and we shared our joint and cider with him, he returned the favour and we four were now a unit. The band came on, lifted off the tops of our heads and poured some gorgeousness in, I danced, we danced, everyone fucking danced. Even when the set stopped dead so some crew could help out some poor tripper who’d freaked himself out, we danced. For a nearly an hour it was unsurpassed joy and energy, I was whacked out of my noggin and I didn’t care. At last I’d really found what I had come for.
The walk to meet up with Robert, his missus and friends was a little more traumatic, I really was caned and was having co-ordination problems, but there were smiling faces passing by and I began to feel at ease again. I was so far gone I cared not a jot about the fact my fucking waterproof jacket was no longer waterproof and the muddy soup had gone over the tops of my ridiculous wellies and I was now walking in my own cursed estate. I had some strawberry wine and said goodbye to Mark, shortly after that I was ready to go, realising I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast I forced down a ‘pork roll’ on my way back to base camp, it was nearly a foot long and had half a pig in it. Fucking lovely it was.
By contrast Sunday was the worst day. Due to the bastard pissing rain we didn’t actually get into the festival til 4pm, I managed to cover the end of The Young Knives set which was magnificent, if I’d been in a better spot and seen the whole gig it would’ve been way up there. My bro and his missus opted for Shirley Bassey for reasons better known to themselves so I arranged to meet them there for The Manic Street Preachers after. The struggle back to the Pyramid stage was almost impossible, by now parts of the site were totally inaccessible, and those that were heralded nasty surprises, I watch a girl fall up to her waist in a chasm of mud, to the left and right of me people were falling arse over tit and the general sense of humour that had pervaded the festival spirit were flagging, this wasn’t fun. The Manic’s superb set (one of the top 4) cheered me up somewhat and I began to feel a bit better. By now it was raining hard, indeed, it didn’t stop until we were approaching London the following day. The Kaiser Chiefs were on next, boring set by their standards, all that audience participation shit pisses me off. I pay them to perform; it’s fuck all to do with me so I point blank refused to join in. The twats.
After we went and ate, kebabs, bloody good they we too and I went off to see Ian Cognito in the cabaret tent, I didn’t fancy The Who because the Pyramid stage area was virtually impossible to navigate and The Chemical Brothers on the Other stage don’t push my buttons. I made the right decision by my standards, Ian’s act was blistering, cynical, offensive and hilarious. It seemed a very fitting way to close the festival, though he was a lot funnier than most of the past 3 days. As I slid back to the van I passed a stage were Bill Bailey was performing. I bumped into a couple of likely lads from Derby, nice chaps, we shared a spliff together and I headed off into the fucking rain for the last time. When I got back my bro and his missus were attempting to get out of their wet clothes. I sat in the front, they in the back and we chatted and ate all the snacks we’d bought from Sainsbury, well most of them, I chucked a bag of Cheese Balls all over myself as I attempted to converse with wine.
Monday morning began early; we thought getting out of Glastonbury would take an age. As it turned out getting out at all was impossible because I’d drained my battery operating the small fridge in the back. We hung around for a few hours waiting for a jump, just as well as I wasn’t in any condition to drive. Mercifully our neighbour helped us out, we packed up our stuff and attempted to leave. We followed our friendly neighbour who got stuck up to his axles in mud, my bro and his missus offered support while I remained in the van holding the engine revs high to get some more juice back into the battery. I gingerly drove about until making one final push for the exit, despite some sliding and plenty of wheel spinning we got out relatively easy. There we no major queues leaving the site, due, I should imagine, to the vast number of vehicles unable to move an inch.
At last we were headed back for London. I was shattered and the last thing I wanted to do was drive, but drive I must. I’d figured we had less than 3 hours to get back before I hit the 5pm rush hour, not only had I to get home, I also had to drop my bro and his missus off in another part of town. Time was of the essence. We hit a fucking huge queue near Andover that took well over and hour to conquer which put my schedule back somewhat. After dropping off my companions I suffered a creeping trip through South London, which was made considerably worse by the sudden and violent need to take a behemoth shit.
Finally I arrived home. My priorities were thus, poo, bath, pub to meet Frank. I was barely to keep my eyes open in the pub but injected enough beer energy to make a start on the mountain of washing.
So was it worth it? Spending 4 days in a raincloud and having to risk your life taking a piss in pissy mud, with other people watching you piss as their piss goes over your welly tops, having to pinch back unholy turds because you can’t face the stinking plastic chod bins again, having to spend so much energy getting a pint it was hardly worth the effort, well maybe that’s going a bit too far. Yes, the music and the company were good when I had it, the people were nice and when the sun was out and you were settled it was as good a place as any in the world to be. But it was all let down by the other factors.
One other thing, Glastonbury makes a big song and dance (literally as it happens) about the environment, all the carbon footprint ‘I count’ stuff is surely turned over and fucked in it’s freckle by the sheer fuel burning mechanical logistics of getting the site prepared, the bands that have to be flown in from around the world, the audience to congregate in one spot from all over the country and beyond. I reckon my carbon footprint is greater just by my having to do over 5 washes just to get the mud off my fucking clothes.
Still, I would consider going next year. Maybe. Maybe? Actually, fuck it. I’m watching it on TV. If at all.