It’s the festival of all festivals, and arguably the very best in the world. I am, of course, talking about Somerset’s own Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, more affectionately known by its tens of thousands of attendees as ‘Glasto’.
This year, the festival hit the headlines for the soul crushing traffic queues to enter the site, and the acres of mud caused by a full weekend of dismal weather. But make no mistake, I could have simply summed up this piece with one sentence: ‘I went to Glastonbury’. And that would, in itself, be a five star review.
I also didn’t go as press: I bought a ticket, and stayed in my £40 Millets' tent. So here is Headliner’s firsthand experience of Glastonbury 2016.
Getting there was a harrowing experience. The passengers in the car in front of us were getting out for a cigarette after every 30 seconds of movement. I did catch myself wondering if it might not be nicer to turn round and watch it all on the Beeb with a nice cup of peppermint tea. But Michael Eavis be praised – after nine hours in my mate’s little Honda, we made it to the festival site.
On Friday, the news of the UK’s Brexit had penetrated the Glasto bubble, and the mood that morning was noticeably downbeat; several people poignantly removed EU flags from their tents. However, as Damon Albarn walked on to the Pyramid Stage at 11am to get things started, his message was inspirational:
“I have a heavy heart today, because democracy has failed us; failed because we were ill-informed. But I want you all to know you have the power to change that decision.”
The Blur and Gorillaz frontman had done a wonderful job of assisting The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians to get to the UK, rehearse and play this wonderful opening slot on the main stage. The music of their besieged nation, together with cameos from the likes of Kano and Albarn himself, was the perfect way to get things going.
I then saw Skepta announce the golden age of grime by setting foot on arguably the world’s most coveted stage – making it from the Wow! Stage last year to the Pyramid is one hell of a step up for this man, and the genre he represents with so much passion. That’s Not Me, Shutdown, and Man whipped the crowd up into a frenzy. Also, a shout out to the guy in the crowd who attached a five pound note to a rod and fiendishly dipped said rod just out of everyone’s reach, to kill time before Skepta came on.
Having listened to middle eastern classical music and UK rap, I felt the next logical step would be Bring Me the Horizon, the UK’s biggest metal band of the moment. It was a great showing from Oliver Sykes and his shouty Sheffield pals, as songs like Throne and Can You Feel My Heart convinced people to open up circle pits, despite the very real danger of landing face first in the mud.
The time had then come for Muse to do what has now become a fairly routine thing for them, that being headline the Pyramid Stage. The light show was incredible, and the huge white balloons making their way through the audience reminded me of Rover from the 1968 series The Prisoner. Matt Bellamy and co’s gargantuan stadium rock was made for this moment, his lack of crowd interaction being my only gripe. I fancied one last bit of grime for the weekend, so it was over to the Silver Hayes region of the site to see Kano, plus excellent cameos from D Double E and Giggs, with so many reloads on underground hit 3 Wheel Ups that I lost count.
On Saturday, I popped down to the West Holts stage to see Washington DC rapper Oddisee play with his live band, The Good Company. The live band makes for a brilliantly immersive Hip Hop experience, and Oddisee’s parody of trap music, together with his keyboard player’s phenomenal dancing, was a thing to behold. The afternoon was seen off by slacker rock genius Kurt Vile, before managing to squeeze in a few songs from The Last Shadow Puppets en route to the Acoustic Stage for musical icon, Art Garfunkel.
My true ‘Glasto moment’ was Tilda Swinton walking past me during a magical set, including The Sound of Silence and, of course, Bridge Over Troubled Water. There was a touching moment where Garfunkel told us to “forget everything you’ve read about me and Paul Simon – it’s all just journalism.”
Now at this point in time, I wasn’t a fan of Adele at all. But due to a lack of better options, and peer pressure from some pissed up friends, I decided to see if she could win me over. And I can tell you she did just that. Despite her endearing, self deprecating banter in between songs, and that lovely moment where she brought a very lucky young girl on stage, it was an imperious set from one of the most powerful voices in the biz right now.
Sunday afternoon was jazz o’clock – back at West Holts for saxophone extraordinaire Kamasi Washington and his brilliant band, with the sweet inclusion of his father on soprano saxophone and flute. Here was an entrancing, trippy set of experimental jazz, with a huge array of effects pedals to keep the audiences minds warped. Less trippy, but brilliant still was Michael Kiwanuka, the North London born soul maestro who indulged us in some chilled Sunday vibes, including a moment where he crooned: “I’m a black man in a white world”, to a very white crowd. My gang and I headed to Shangri-La for the annual tomato fight. I don’t mean to insult any veterans, but desperately seeking cover from a barrage of tomatoes in muddy trench-like conditions felt the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what being in World War One was like. It was absolute chaos in there, and my poncho took an absolute battering.
With Glastonbury drawing to a close, I chose to see the weekend out with the Pyramid’s penultimate performer, Beck, and then up the sludgy hill for Park Stage headliner, Canadian quirk-pop sensation, Grimes. I am very sound in my decision to watch her instead of Coldplay – the choreography was excellent, her electronic cover of Schubert’s Ave Maria was achingly beautiful, and her own songs had the crowd busting moves of their own. Grimes did, however, make the classic mistake of pointing out mistakes which no one would have ever noticed if she’d kept quiet about them, but nonetheless this was a blistering performance that will surely earn her a bigger stage appearance in the future.
And that was that. The walk from the campsite to the carpark, with bags, tent and sleeping bag took a horrific two hours, after getting lost in both the main site and the many fields of car park. But despite getting stuck in the mud roughly 248 times, this was another perfectly put together Glastonbury Festival, and I hope to always go until I’m too tragically old.
Round-up by Adam Protz