As the sun retreated behind the top of a distant hill and the all too familiar feeling of festivillian ecstasy took hold, cheers from around the entire site could be heard. The first sunset of Glastonbury is the first real reason to celebrate once you have arrived. This is because the first time the light fades into the dark people are able to truly start to act like they are at the greatest party on the planet. We were shepherded off the hill to make room for an imminent firework display and decided to trudge our way back to our campsite in time to relax in camping chairs and witness the show, at least that was the plan. What really happened when we got back was 5 to 6 hours of talking our mouths off, both with ourselves and campmates in our vicinity, two of which happened to come from our home town and high school respectively, despite being 20 years our senior, and having travelled over 2 and a half hours Glastonbury proved time and time again that the world truly is a small place. After looking back on short video clips from the night it now seems clear that we were the conduits of a beautifully welcome sense of love and acceptance that, though annoying to any sober passers-by I’m sure, set the weekend up for what it turned out to be, inevitably perfect.
The next day began slowly. Because music starts on Thursday the morning is a time of planning and preparation, perhaps intermittently broken up by the realization that a Harry Potter actor is camped next to you, or a legendary indie record producer out of Brixton is camped behind your friend with one of his stable of artist, or that next to them is two members of one of the most iconic bands of the 00’s and so on and so on. The people watching alone at a place like Glastonbury is beautiful because not once did I see someone approach a famous person to talk to them about anything except whether they were queuing for the toilets or if they knew where the nearest tap was. This demonstration of everyone being on the same level couldn’t sum up the festival any better if I tried, there are no social media paparazzi inside the gates, anyone and everyone is free to get into whatever state they choose and any judgement that the behaviour would be met with in the outside world is met with celebration. By the Saturday night I remember making a point of saying it would be great to see someone I had grown up watching with eyes like headlights, and low and behold, just a couple hours later outside the San Remo dance tent in a full pink leotard, my wish was granted.
Thursday truly began at around 7 when, after exploring the festival more than we had done the previous day, we went to see our first act. On the recommendation of my campmate, we made our way to see Nia Archives. What my campmate didn’t realize was that this turned out to be a cross-over DJ set with Izco (I don’t know him either), something I’m sure we would have both been disappointed about if not for the tranquillity that beset us making almost any repetitive sound in existence enjoyable. An hour melted through our hands as we swayed and talked and swayed some more. It’s a beautiful sight to truly witness the community of like-minded party goers that congregate at a place like this. Though Glastonbury may have a reputation of being a media-friendly kid-friendly festival, which parts of it certainly are, you can’t have the biggest party in the world without a complete blanket acceptance of any and all-party behaviours, which are all relatively easy to experience if your heart so desires. All it takes is a little common sense and confidence. The night blurred into a Van Gough painting as the swaying subsided for walking and our intakes increased. I can’t recall much more than a constant state of glee and some time spent in a make shift bar listening to a perfectly constructed set of Beatles dub remix’s that, despite what that description may sound like, made perfect sense. Glastonbury will do that.
Despite the first two days being enough of a good time for most people, Friday is where the fun truly begins. The Libertines kicked the festival off on the Other Stage at 11:30 and despite the understandable morning grogginess from anyone that had been at the festival more than 18 hours, their set was a perfect way for the real weekend to begin. Highlights included a brilliant rendition of an Up The Bracket deep cut The Good Old Days, punchy punk track Horror Show and of course Don’t Look Back Into the Sun , which gave the entire crowd a chance to shake off the cobwebs of the night before. After the set, we made our way to the Park Stage to catch one of the most talked about acts at the festival that year, Wet Leg. I was on the fence as to whether I would enjoy what I was about to see but as soon as the band came out to the The Shire by Howard Shore I was hooked. The crowd was easily the busiest I saw on the Park Stage for the entire weekend and though they may not have been as lively as other audiences, Wet Legs performance was nothing short of miraculous. Highlights of their set were the lobsters in the crowd going into Wet Dream, a perfect rendition of the band’s best song Too Late Now, and a psychedelic adjacent mini-rant about whether we were really at Glastonbury or if we had just been abducted by aliens which was followed by a punchy unreleased track, I can only assume is called I Wanna Be Abducted.
The next hour and a half was again spent wandering the festival as we made our way to the Pyramid Stage for the first time of the weekend to see Wolf Alice, who had been in constant transit from LA for the last 48 hours leading up to their set. Stories of their troubles traveling didn’t stop a big crowd to gather in anticipation to see if the band did in fact turn up, which of course they did. Ellie Rowsell came out and immediately looked overcome with emotion, saying “You have no idea” through a laugh that sounded close to tears. Their schedule both before and after Glastonbury is one of the busiest I have ever seen, with a tour supporting Harry Styles immediately following their hectic Glastonbury set. And yet, despite this, the emotion of playing such a big slot on such an iconic stage was pouring out of the band. This is in fact an extremely common theme throughout the weekend and one I had never witnessed before. Countless artists seemed so moved to be given the opportunity to play there that they were nearly brought to tears. Only Glastonbury can squeeze out this emotion. IDLES followed Wolf Alice, this time on the Other Stage and despite my recent feeling towards the band, they played the best set I have ever seen from them, the highlight of which was a messy cover of All you need is Love, a song that synthesized down the message of their hour-long set.
We then made our way back to the Pyramid Stage, this time sitting at the top of the hill, to catch the sun set-set of Sam Fender. As our heartrates came back down to normal, we couldn’t help but look over at the sea of Strongbow dark fruits warriors singing along to every word the lovable Geordie had to say and feel warm. Seeing the sun set on the Pyramid Stage was beautiful and is something everyone needs to do before they die, regardless of whether or not you are a fan of the act of show at the time. Once again, the huge moment of playing a co-headline slot on the Pyramid Stage wasn’t lost on Fender who dragged out the ending of Seventeen Going Under like a man who never wanted the moment to end and introduced final track Hyper Sonic Missiles as the song that got him into this mess, repeating throughout the set that none of the situation made any sense to him or his band. After the life affirming sun set at the Pyramid Stage we made our way to the first headline set of the weekend. Part of me had a certain amount of FOMO for choosing to see Foals over Billie Eilish but ultimately if I had chosen Eilish it would’ve been for all the wrong reasons. I cannot stress this enough, NEVER CHOOSE TO SEE AN ACT FOR ANY REASON OTHER THAN YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE THEM. Choosing to see someone just so you can say you saw them will dampen your weekend and narrow your festival. Foals played the greatest set I have ever seen from them, with an upbeat pop first half which descended into an aggressive punky second. To be able to close a set with Spanish Sahara, Providence, Inhaler, Black Bull, What Went Down and Two Steps, Twice all in a row is a fucking joke and vindicated our decision to skip the youngest ever Pyramid headliner that evening.
Saturday morning felt glorious, the weather had been holding out despite what the forecast had predicted and by this point it just felt like the stars were aligned and nothing could dampen the weekend, both physically and metaphorically. In a world like this, 4 hours sleep a night on a hard floor has no effect. Thanks to the constant state of childish adventure, you are invincible, safe from fatigue. Once we had soaked in the afternoon glow of the Pyramid and I had slightly alienated my company with the brilliantly alien sounds of black midi, we made our way to BBC Introducing stage to catch the band behind the best EP of the year so far, English Teacher, a group who, I would later find out, had played three slots prior to this. R&B, Good Grief and Yorkshire Tapas stand out as highlights in the mind, but really the whole 25 minute set was brilliant and made me, and the people I was with, hungry for their upcoming projects. I would later go out into the night with members of the band, a night (like many others at Glastonbury) that was an unforgettably uneventful blur. Porridge Radio followed English Teacher on our itinerary, a band I was on tenterhooks to see. Their debut album made me fall for them and their sophomore, easily a top 3 album of the year and a perfect collection of songs, turned that fall into a skydive. Dana Margolin is comfortably one of the most enthralling lead singers of the last half decade, and when you mix that with a set made up of some of the best songs of the last half decade, you’re never really gonna go wrong. Few bands can boast better bookends to a set like Porridge Radio, 7 Seconds opened and Back to the Radio closed, untouchable. For the next few hours socializing and efforts to forgo sobriety took the wheel from relentlessly seeing great band after great band, a welcome break, especially when everyone could sense Moby Dick on the horizon.
Jesus Christ, Live!
As the light faded, eyes widened and jaws tensed we made our way to the Pyramid Stage to watch a man who needs no introduction. So many things are unexplainable about the weekend but seeing songs like Helter Skelter, I Saw Her Standing There, Band on the Run, and the back half of Abbey Road on a concoction that didn’t exist when those songs were written is completely fucking unexplainable. Of course, a special mention has to go out to the two special guest appearances, Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen, welcome additions that, next to anyone else, would be awe-inspiring. It’s funny though that stood next to the greatest melody writer ever they came across like any other member of the backing band. There was so much hype around Billie Eilish’s set going into the festival and for good reason – being the youngest to headline the Pyramid is nothing to ignore. Because of all this noise though it went under the radar that the very next day was to be the oldest to ever headline the Pyramid with a 3 hour mammoth set. I don’t know what they put in those Linda McCartney sausages but they should be added to the weekly shop of anyone that is looking to live a long and active life. If everyone in attendance was being honest, the set was nothing short of a religious experience. After the set the night descended into yet another beautiful mix of fire pits, conversations with strangers and friends and small sets of varying enjoyability. All of this inevitably ends in the same place, lying in your tent staring up at the sun shining through the thin material above your head, reflecting and smiling.
The sun rose on the final day of the festival but there was no time for melancholia, not yet. We headed for our final day time explore, making our way to the craft corner of the festival, and spent over an hour talking to proprietors of one of the hundreds of stalls, having my first tea out of a mug in what felt like years. The pitstop was as welcome as it was beautifully calming. Someone could happily stay in that section of the festival the entire time, not go and see any acts, and have a life-enriching weekend. That being said as the late afternoon crept up behind us, we felt the need to climb back down into the belly of the festival and have one more go at it.
We caught the back half of Declan Mckenna, an ideal sun in the sky, tranquillity fogging the mind act. The next couple of hours were the kind of slow-motion whirlwind that you can only really understand if you’ve been in a crowd feeling the levels of tranquillity that could send a horse to sleep. The euphoria from experiencing cuts like Brazil and Isombard went bone deep, but the high point of his set had to be the closer, British Bombs, the lively finish was a welcome one that Mckenna’s on stage work greatly deserved. As was the nature of the state of my mind at the time, the set melted quickly into the following act on the same stage, Fontaines DC. Even though they’re only three albums deep, to anyone that has listened to all three you feel a sense of disappointment at not seeing so many great songs live. This was echoed by the fact that the friend I saw them with, who had never listened to them before, loved the whole set. I suppose I did too on reflection, I just got too stuck up on the couldas. Once their set had finished, we immediately raced up the hill overlooking the whole festival to the Crows Nest, a secret stage that was hosting Honeyglaze. Though we got there out of breath, sweaty and sober enough to operate heavy machinery, their set was a beautiful.
The penultimate set I caught was the very end of a magical Porridge Radio set in the Crow’s Nest after recharging at the base of the hill and meeting up with some friends. The tiny environment, sunset peeking through the edges of the tent, and realisation that this was truly the beginning of the end made it one of the most memorable sets of the weekend for me, even if we only caught 1 and a half songs. Once again, this band is fucking great, it was no surprise but it was everything, everywhere all at once in such intimate surroundings. Finally, it was time for the last headliners of the weekend. Despite Kendrick Lamar playing what was bound to be a memorable set on the Pyramid, I had learnt enough not to see someone for the sake of it. Courtney Barnett was playing the Park Stage and I had to end my weekend with her. It was a set that felt like it was cut short by about 2 hours, I could’ve stayed and swayed and sung deep into the night but alas. Another brilliant stage presence that had been going deep under my radar until last year, highlights from her set could really just be the whole set, but anything from her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, my introduction to her, felt special. She left and the crowd stayed, cheering for more for a good five minutes, cheering every time someone came on stage before realizing it was a roadie and booing. We set off late that night for home, the strong glow of the festival remaining behind us as we made the 30-minute walk through the festival in what felt like the final scene from season 8 of Scrubs seeing all the people and places that made your weekend what it was wave you goodbye.
I’m sure this is far too long to hold anyone’s interest, myself included. That being said I was lucky enough to be given free access to this festival in exchange for a couple thousand words about my experience. My point is, I personally owe Michael Evis these words, I’ve heard some horror stories about the execution of some Glastonbury Free Press journos and I don’t want to take any chances. Besides there are worse things in this world than reflecting on the best 5 days you’ve had in many years, and that’s what Glastonbury is, for anyone. I spent the best part of a week there and didn’t see a single argument, let alone a fight. Everyone’s anger gets squeezed out of them as they enter the gates like a decompression chamber on a submarine and it makes for a beautiful sense of calm that underpins everything else at the festival. I could go on and on in the same vein but I think a voice note I recorded as I pulled up back home and the post-festival blues started to creep in sums up everything best:
Even though now my lips are cracked, my feet are blistered, my mind is fried and my ears are ringing, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Thank you to everyone that worked on the festival, both to help set up and to run it. Thank you to all the acts, however big and small that played life affirming sets. Most importantly thank you to every old and new friend, acquittance and passer-by that made my festival what it was, unconditionally beautiful.