“And the rain came in from the wild blue yonder, through all the stages I wandered”.
Joe Strummer was pretty much spot on when he sang about Glastonbury in his final single, ‘Coma Girl’, back in 2003. The mud, the rain, the loos – it’s all part of what is perhaps the most British of festivals. As I returned on the Tuesday morning for a second year working behind the scenes with the press I’ve got to admit that I was slightly disappointed by the glorious sunshine. However, the heavens well and truly opened on the Thursday afternoon, turning a little piece of West Somerset into almighty bog.
But what exactly is Glasto all about? By now, you will have heard of Metallica’s triumphant “here’s two fingers up to all the haters” headline set, the security guards dancing along to Dolly Parton, and perhaps even Banksy’s ‘Sirens of the Lambs’ being toured around the site. BBC’s ‘Glastovision’ would like us to think that the festival centres around the 90 minutes of each Pyramid stage headline act. Much like the World Cup, these acts are judged as triumphant or failing according to the final number. This just isn’t representative of reality.
Take the size, for example. For one weekend, this tiny piece of British countryside becomes the biggest town in the South West, the tenth biggest town in the country, and the most densely populated place in Europe. 165,000 people crowd onto the site – that’s 10,000 more than in the whole of Oxford – and each person comes back with an entirely different tale to tell.
The ‘secret set’, for example, is a feature entirely unique to Glasto. I saw four in total, including a beautifully intimate sunny afternoon with Lianne La Havas and a mental evening with Chase and Status down on the ‘Blues’ stage. These sets could not have been more different in terms of atmosphere yet they had one thing in common: the unique experience of being able to say ‘I was there’.
I’m still caught in the Glasto haze, as you can probably tell. Life is good and the world can be saved. I was even persuaded to sign up to Greenpeace (for a direct debit of £5 per month) by a very persuasive man with some equally persuasive dreadlocks.
The more people I spoke to the more I got the impression that there is ‘something for everyone’ at Glastonbury. One man pointed out the lack of advertising on-site, claiming that my Superdry t-shirt was a bit over the top. Another almost broke down into tears when I asked what he felt about Michael Eavis. I spotted the great man driving along by the ‘Park’ stage, where Yoko Ono was about to perform, in his Land Rover. Hoards of people ran after him just to shake his hand and say thanks.
Sitting on the sofa at home flicking between Wimbledon, the World Cup, and Dolly Parton might be fun, but bearing the mud, blood and grime to crawl to a tiny corner of the site to see a band that nobody has ever heard of is far more satisfying. That’s what Glastonbury is about.