One of the most instructive things at Glastonbury are the snatches of conversation you catch as you move around the site. It’s like an early beta of Twitter, only less banal. The average festival-goer would do well to have this mind when incoherently explaining that Glastonbury is bigger than the music or how wonderful its vibe is. Like Twitter, these brief bites of semi-formed thought represent a zeitgeist of sorts. I can’t think of a more concise description of the festival than the one offered by a gentleman who cheerfully exclaimed, ‘I’m inside a festival!’ when on the phone to someone outside the festival, presumably.
The guy was intoxicated, like everyone else wandering along the old railway track at two in the morning, but there’s wisdom in it. The Reading equivalent would have soberly noted ‘I’m at a festival,’ merely noting that you’re staying there for a while, visiting it, which is an expected response for a festival where a 24-hour Tescos is within walking distance through a dilapidated industrial estate. At Reading, you’re in Reading. Glastonbury has no obvious connection to society. Glastonbury is huge. Arriving at night is like intruding upon the staging grounds for an invasion, the clandestine excitability of the Wednesday night is palpable; arrive during the day and you’ve stumbled across a fully functioning city unassumingly nestled in the Somerset countryside. A mystical glade where people dance outside wine bars and say things like, ‘I’m inside a festival!’ when on the phone.
Writing a review in parts, with scores and meticulous, somehow remembered, details of each act is a fine way to colour by numbers and give a representation of the festival of sorts, but it doesn’t truly capture the place. Whenever I cast my mind back I’ve few memories related to the music that was put on. Encounter the average Glastonbury refugee and they’ll fumble with their impression of the place, blurt out the well-worn, Guardian-fueled cliché that ‘it’s just so much more than the music,’ before unhelpfully concluding ‘you just had to be there’ or that ‘they can’t really explain it’.
Having been there, I like to think they’re picturing moments similar to my Wednesday night encounter with a girl who, perched over a piano in the middle of a field, responded to my drunken inquiry of ‘do you know any Beethoven?’ – a request delivered in an unintentionally facetious tone and a self-satisfied smirk- by busting out Moonlight Sonata at a moment’s notice, a perfect choice from the man’s extensive back-catalogue that captured the spirit of the moment better than most of the weekend’s acts. A touching moment I’m sure you’ll agree and important to note that his Beethoven aficionado wasn’t one of the many entertainers or cabaret acts out in force all over the festival site, but simply a fellow reveler. Over the following days I spy someone grappling with Chopin and another happy to knock out Chopsticks at the same piano. Events like this detail the serendipity and ‘wonder’ of Glastonbury that is so hard to convey, but also, more simply, the altruism the place inspires. It’s a home to the 175,000 guests and despite its busyness there’s never the feeling that you’re being hearded for profit. The site is littered with unnecessary but welcome touches such as hammocks, see-saws and other amenities and there’s a feeling, perhaps born from year after year of muddy squalls that we’re all in it together – and not in a faux ConLib sort of way, but an honest empathy for everyone else at the festival. People exchange chilled, smiley glances and chat with strangers across class, age and, more significantly, music taste barriers. There’s a strong, tangible feeling of goodwill at the place. England-shirted lads chat with Am Appy-hoodied metrosexuals. Crusty veterans share their knowledge with straw hatted, wide-eyed first timers. To my mind, Glastonbury is the only festival that doesn’t have a specific ‘type’. Beyond its hippy roots, there seems to be a reason why darlings of the left such a Tony Benn and Billy Bragg are permanent members of the furniture here: after a century of failed struggle, Glastonbury feels like the noblest remember that a better world is possible. I think the Reading equivalent of moonlight girl would have told me to fuck off or played something barbarous like Muse.
There were of course plenty of barbarous things like Muse at the festival. For example, Muse headlined Saturday night, but there’s always plenty of other music on offer. I manage to catch Rolf Harris, Phoenix, Snoop Dogg and half of Radiohead in one day – as shining an endorsement of the festivals diversity and absence of snobbery as you’re likely to get. You might decide to not even listen to music; the cinema tent or the cabaret field might be for you. For example, the balding men dotted in the Gorillaz audience bearing paunches and negative moods, complaining that Damon Albarn’s cartoon band weren’t U2 could have quite easily have found a band that offered a decent impression of 80s arena-rock juggernauts chasing former glories – just like U2 do today. Even if you are having a less than fantastic time it seems almost churlish to show it. Hare Krishnas, the bane of the Oxford Street shopper, are tolerated, and welcomed here despite the withering heat.
Glastonbury is a festival that’s bigger than any of the acts it books, true, but that’s not to say that the acts don’t matter, it’s just my enjoyment of them is nearly always informed but what else I happened to be doing before, during and after. Watching Vampire Weekend in glorious, relentless sunshine with a pear cider in each hand to beat the queues at the bar having just seen a father lift his infant daughter on his shoulders for her to add to a tower of beer cups to adoring cheers. The growing whispers that it would be Radiohead showing up at the Park Stage on Friday evening, that lead into a conversation with a group of people about Twitter apps and discovering that I wasn’t the only one enterprising (read: stupid) enough to bring an iPhone and a ‘normal’ phone. The pure bliss of the hazy evening that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood would perform in and the ecstatic happiness of everyone in that packed corner of the festival site as they wandered out of The Park. Serendipitously bumping into a friend of a friend at the front of Beach House identified by the Glastonbury map he was holding made by another friend of friend. Watching Gorillaz with a fellow lost-soul, discovering they live five minutes down the road from me and that we probably share a disgusting amount of mutual friends. A shared grinning glance with someone in the LCD Soundsystem crowd that communicated brilliantly ‘isn’t this fucking brilliant!’ And later peaking too soon during LCD and having no recollection of Stevie Wonder’s set apart from being there and dancing, then walking past an ice cream van and waking up at 6am Monday Morning in my tent. All very personal and individual memories drawn from the same source, it’s easy to see why it’s hard to communicate.
After a thousand words or so what I’m saying is, if you want to really understand Glastonbury you just have to be there. I can’t really explain it. You just have to get inside of it and map it out for yourself.https://misspeakmusic.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/10-happy-birthday.mp3%20 https://misspeakmusic.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/06-karma-police.mp3%20