Cow shit and cannabis.
If you’re able to close your eyes and imagine that tantalising olfactory cocktail, then you are one step closer to know what it’s like to be at the Glastonbury Festival, because that’s just about the most overriding smell. There are, of course, dozens (if not hundreds) of food outlets, selling staples such as noodles, pizza and fish ‘n’ chips to things like venison steaks, Nepalese food, ostrich burgers and other exotic delicacies. You get the lovely aromas of the massive selection of eateries as you walk down one of Glastonbury’s market “streets” and they really do smell enticing… as long as you can get used to the constant smell of manure, both bovine and human.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without the rain, but we have been lucky this year and it only rained on the Thursday, meaning that it was very muddy there in places, but manageable. It’s a good thing too, as, although with my green wellies on, I was ready for the mud, I was unprepared for the sheer scale of the place. I’d made plenty of plans about which acts I’d like to see yesterday, but hadn’t realised just how much of a trek it is from one stage to another, especially when you’re fighting your way through around a hundred thousand people. I also hadn’t realised that the Pyramid Stage, the main attraction of the festival for most, was going to be so difficult to enjoy. More about that later.
One of the best things about Glastonbury so far is the friendliness of the people. I’ve been to a few festivals before, but the only one that comes close to the genuinely nice atmosphere at Glastonbury is the Bestival on the Isle Of Wight. It’s a place where it doesn’t feel like a bad thing to be there on your own, because you are able to share moments with people around you throughout the day and you find yourself constantly chatting and joking with fellow music lovers. Although Brighton, my home city, is one of the more friendly places in the South East, I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to live in London where attempts to speak to a stranger often lead to them just staring blankly at you in horror for having the audacity to attempt to talk to them. The shuttle bus from Shepton Mallet, the nearby town I’m staying in, to Glastonbury was a pleasant affair and a few of us chatted away for the fifteen minute journey. One very kind lady, who was on her way to spend three days in a camper van with her daughters, despite only living twenty minutes away from the site, gave me one of her spare toilet rolls, because I mentioned that I thought I’d forgotten mine (I hadn’t, it was just buried in the bottom of my bag!).
When I got to the festival, I spent about half an hour getting processed, having my ticket and ID thoroughly examined before being issued with my blue wristband, which gave me access to the site and the inter-stage area, so I could get my press credentials (and enjoy better toilet facilities, which is very important). Before doing that, as I walked through the festival, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells (I refer you to my opening paragraph), which was primarily full of people arriving, setting up their tents and determinedly lugging massive crates of lager and cider places, there was a distinctive vocal sneer emanating from the Other Stage. Liam Gallagher. I’d seen whispers of Beady Eye doing a secret set at Glastonbury, but didn’t expect it to be the minute I arrived there. I’d missed twenty minutes of it, but joined in immediately and eagerly with the crowd in being genuinely thrilled at hearing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “What’s The Story Morning Glory”. It was a perfect start to the festival for me. The Beady Eye material just can’t compare with his former band, unfortunately, but Liam was on top form, singing, “Tonight… I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star… at 11:30 in the fucking morning!”, walking his usual fine line between arrogance and confidence. I enjoyed it and the tall guy in front of me with the Liam Gallagher t-shirt, hat and haircut certainly did.
After the unexpected bonus of Beady Eye, I headed into the much quieter inter-stage area to get my press laminate. I have to admit, although it felt great to be given the press pass, as I stood next to waiting representatives from the NME and Q Magazine, I didn’t feel like I’d made it on a par with these people, I felt a bit of a fraud for being there, with the professionals. That feeling didn’t last for long, however, as I left the press caravan and went back to the Other Stage to wait for Swedish indie rockers The Hives. Although they have been around for a long time, this was their first Glastonbury appearance and, when they came on stage to a spluttering, brass, comedic version of Copeland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man” dressed in dapper matching outfits, I knew I was in for a treat. Starting off with the infectious, easy singalong, “Come On”, singer “Howlin’” Pelle Almqvist whipped the crowd into shape, commanding them to clap, demanding that they declare their love for him and repeatedly telling everyone that it was a special Glastonbury this year as they reverse the schedules and have the best acts come on first. It was a fantastic set, with the old favourites “Main Offender”, “Die, Alright!” and “Hate To Say I Told You So” especially going down a storm, but all of the material was well received – Pelle wouldn’t let us receive it any other way.
The annoying side of festivals and, indeed, most general admission gigs, reared its ugly head very early on during The Hives. Two youngish men, absolutely smashed out of their heads (don’t forget it was before 1pm), “dancing” (and by that I mean staggering around to the vaguest of rhythms in an aggressive manner), crashing into people, barely managing to keep on their feet and making sure that everyone around them were more concerned about protecting themselves than just being able to enjoy the music. I moved away after a couple of songs to a quieter spot, but only after some poor bloke nearly had his nose broken and one had started to attempt to sit on the other’s shoulders. Yes, it’s Glastonbury, yes, people want to enjoy themselves, but that should never be at the expense of making some other poor sod miserable. Besides, being that pissed at midday? At a festival, that’s what they call a schoolboy error.
My next act was Jake Bugg on the Pyramid Stage. My first taste of the main stage at Glastonbury was almost overwhelming, completely mental. The amount of people in the main area was absolutely staggering and, not being a huge fan of big crowds, it made me slightly uncomfortable. Still, I managed to position myself behind a group of people who had the sheer balls (or naivety, not sure which) to put chairs and a blanket out in one of the busiest parts of the festival, meaning that people didn’t keep on shoving me (and they do shove, there’s not much genteel English politeness going on) out of the way. I was looking forward to seeing Jake, as I liked his album a lot. Having said that, I didn’t think that, after one album, he had paid his dues enough to be playing the main stage at Glastonbury, but he was a lot better that I thought he would be and a group of young men stood close to me were talking amongst themselves about his lyrics and his talent, despite his young age. I didn’t join in with the conversation, but I thoroughly agreed with them. The music is very derivative, but it manages to also be quite fresh. I very much enjoyed the set and, although many people point to his Dylanesque quality, the picked chords and melody of “Country Song” seemed to me to echo Simon & Garfunkel, which made for a really lovely Glastonbury moment. Even his newer material, which was far heavier and more straight forward rock, was very good and he can certainly play that guitar. I came away proved wrong; he definitely deserved to be up there.
After that, at 15:00, I took a wander to the Leftfield tent (“Mixing pop with politics”), for The Radical Round Up With Billy Bragg. The dark tent had a chilled vibe and I lasted about half an hour sitting on the grass, listening to some political songs before my body protested and I had to move. I particularly enjoyed Bragg’s “Never Trust A Tory” and “Scousers Never Buy The Sun”. I would have lasted longer in there if I could have stood, but with aching joints stiffening up, I decided to have a bit of a wander. As I walked past the Other Stage, Enter Shikari were performing and I became pulled into watching for the last four songs of their set. Despite not knowing any of their material and thinking that they probably weren’t going to be my sort of thing, they were actually excellent live, full of energy, big beats and perfect to get a festival crowd going. The small problem of their bass amp blowing didn’t prevent them from carrying on undeterred. Plus, their last song was all about trains and platforms, so how could I fail to like that?
Afterwards, I took a long (and I’m not exaggerating when I say long) walk to the Acoustic Tent. I was there, primarily to see Martha Wainwright, but there was a set by Martin Stephenson and the Daintees beforehand, so I decided to give that a go, despite not knowing much about his/their music. If I’m honest, the music was a little dated and, although Martin was a jovial chap, he seemed to find his jokes a lot more funny that I did. It was a pleasant set, but I spent the second half of it sitting down, with my back against the barrier, having a well-needed rest. Martha Wainwright, who did a solo set, just her and a guitar, was phenomenal. Her songs are interesting, intricate, funny, her voice superb and, to be blunt, she seems to be as mad as a box of frogs. One of the many highlights of her enjoyable set was when she was talking about her annoyance of brother Rufus having written “Bitter Tears” (as in “is there nothing he can’t do?”) and set about writing her own piece of commercial dance music, but ended up writing about the end of the world and having a piece of music just as interesting and uncommercial as the rest of her material. Which, personally, I think is a good thing. That said, I did leave the Acoustic Tent with a splitting headache, but I don’t think that was Martha’s fault, probably more the sun and the cider.
After taking a couple of paracetamol, washed down with a pint of Brothers Festival Pear Cider (7% alcohol by volume), I was feeling a lot better and stationed myself at the front of the barriers at the West Holts Stage for Tom Tom Club, a side-project of Talking Heads by husband-and-wife Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums). Firstly, I couldn’t believe just how fantastic Tina Weymouth looked for her age and she was galloping around the stage with her bass like a woman half her age. I had to do further fact-checking when my iPhone told me she was 62, because I didn’t believe it for a second. Secondly, for their talent and pedigree, the crowd wasn’t very big at all. However, more people joined the audience throughout the performance and their set was utterly brilliant. I didn’t know much of the material, but thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and they made me forget my aching legs and feet for an hour. So many highlights – “Wordy Rappinghood”, “Genius Of Love” and a little treat for the Talking Heads fans, “Psycho Killer”, which led to a rather predictable and joyous sing-along. Wonderful stuff… apart from the DJ on the decks “scratching”. Maybe that sort of thing has had its day!
I stayed at the front of the barrier and waited for the next act, Seasick Steve, as the field very quickly filled up for one of Glastonbury’s stars. Not only were we treated to a brilliant performance of hard, roots blues, taken from all of Steve’s albums, he was also joined on stage by his superb regular drummer, Dan Magnusson, but, more astonishingly, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. The two looked like an unlikely match, with Steve in his checked shirt and baseball cap and John in his smart casual dark shirt and trousers but, musically, they were a perfect pair. During a break in-between songs, some wag shouted “Stairway To Heaven”, but that was predictably ignored as the three men proceeded to tear through some fierce, raw blues numbers with Steve playing two of his home-made instruments, the latest of which being a guitar made from two hubcaps and a garden hoe. Oh, and a tin can. It was horribly out of tune when he plugged it in, giving that song a false start, but that was soon rectified. One real shame is that his whole set was marred by sound problems and feedback. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the music and the crowd didn’t seem to mind too much either, but you could see that Steve was a little annoyed at having his flow interrupted and that our enjoyment was being impaired. John Paul Jones kept on gesturing to the sound engineers to give him more volume on whatever instrument he was playing, so I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall at the post-performance “conference” between the artists and the sound guys. Still, these things happen at festivals and it was still an excellent set.
I’m going to be completely honest with you. After Seasick Steve, I was completely and utterly bushed. I gamely went along to the Pyramid Stage, lasted for around three songs of the Arctic Monkeys, was completely and utterly intimidated by the sheer number of people crammed into the area (reportedly 90,000) and decided that, simply, I didn’t love the Arctic Monkeys enough to go through another couple of hours of standing there, aching, so, after listening to “Brianstorm”, I made my way to the bus station (which took over half an hour) to find that they’d let the 23:00 bus back to Shepton Mallet go early. Which really, really pissed me off. Really. So, instead of standing in the arena watching Arctic Monkeys for an extra hour, I stood in a bus station. Marvellous. Not exactly the best way to finish the evening and the half an hour walk back to my hotel from the bus stop really wasn’t pleasant either. Tomorrow, after the Stones, I may treat myself to a taxi. Come what may, no matter how crowded it is or how tired I am, I’m not going to miss probably my one and only chance to see The Rolling Stones. Still, there’s one good thing about doing it this way; the nice, comfortable double bed waiting for me at the end of it.