I know Somerset very well. Having lived in Taunton (twenty five miles west of Glastonbury) for the best part of fifteen years, thoughts of rolling hills, enormous cows, strong cider and clever, clever sheep all play a part in a library of memories that I know will never fade.
I remember first hearing of Glastonbury Festival when I was thirteen. Turning on BBC 2 one sunny afternoon in 1994 I saw Supergrass, Dodgy, PJ Harvey and a bunch of geezers from Manchester called Oasis, rocket through a selection of what would/had become the bulk of their debut long players. It looked amazing. After watching all the coverage over the weekend, that was it – next year, I was there.
Ten years later: 2004. This year was my first Glastonbury (what time did you stay up ’till to get a ticket? I managed to nail my pair at the relatively early time of 2:30am). Due to a number of the usual boring factors that plague a teenagers desire to go to an event of this size, I didn’t make it in ‘95, ‘97, went for twelve hours in’98, didn’t make it at all in ‘99, ‘2000…etc…etc. It took a move to London of all places before I finally stumbled through the gates of Worthy Farm. Having had friends who’d been through one of the muddy years to see Radiohead, jumped the fence in 98, burrowed under the fence in 99, and just ran over the fence in 2000, their experiences had always been passionately relayed, so The Glade, The Pyramid Stage and The Stone Circle were not totally alien monikers and I felt I knew what to expect.
Preconceptions can be very useful. You can enter a new situation feeling prepared, safe and satisfied. However, having wielded our rucksacks through the extensive ticket and security checks, picked up our wristbands, festival programmes and the obligatory ten ounces of mud, my preconceptions of Glastonbury were, to put it mildly, slammed to the ground, robbed and told to fuck off and stop being so ruddy stupid.
Meeting up with our other friends – our group of four now stretching to fifteen – we headed to the home field where the tents were put up and the firewood collected. We’re ready.
Walking around the site, watching the influx of thousands join the troops who’d already set up home around the nine hundred plus acres of farmland that hold the festival together, you begin to think, fuck this thing is big. The clean smiling faces that walk past will soon be dirt ridden smiling faces. Shit, I wonder what that guy in the pink dress carrying his tent will be like on Monday morning? Who cares, it’s Thursday and he’s tripping his nuts off trying to buy some glitter from a pretty girl who’s got her hands in her wellies. Things are getting busy.
After the initial awe inspiring wander through some of the Green Fields and main arenas, it’s back to the tent to meet new people, and collect 60,000 or so friends for the football. After the first of hundreds of random meetings (Peter and Gareth DiS turn up in front of us just prior to kick off) we score. I never thought my first Glastonbury moment would be down to Michael Owen, but we thank him anyway. Everyone goes mental. The next two hours are a blur and although the walk back to campsite is subdued, the inconvenience of the lost match is forgotten by the time the fire is lit and we have lots of fun ‘till passing out time.
Blazing sunshine. We make our way to the stone circle for an early morning laze in the sun. Tranquil and very, very special – the smell of burning fires and the consummating marijuana fug in this place is intoxicating in the most pleasurably way imaginable.
HAL’s anthem of the sun ‘Worry About The Wind’ is the first sign of live music. They are an unexpected addition to the early morning bill, and a welcome opening for the festival’s sister stage. With the sun on our backs, it’s off to the new bands tent. We arrive sun soaked, catching South and The Walkman, before taking in the end of The Rapture and awaiting the arrival of Badly Drawn Boy on the other stage. The plan was to catch a bit of this gig (none of our group has ever been much of a fan) then float around the corner for Groove Armada. To say BDB’s set captured a moment is an understatement of biblical proportions. The sun was blazing - we stood at the side. He played on - we moved in and sat down. By the end we we’re dancing, watching the smiles of the people around us grow as wide as ours. The songs we’re just beautiful. ‘Have You Fed The Fish’ and ‘The Year Of The Rat’ and ‘One Plus One Is One’ stood out in a set of gorgeous melodic changes. Charismatic and endearing, Damon you pulled one out of the fucking hat mate.
Après a little groove to the armada, the other stage called once more and Franz Ferdinand stepped out into the sun. Unlike BDB’s earlier majesty, Franz seemed misplaced and uninspiring. We move backwards rather than forwards, catching ‘Take Me Out’ and ‘Matinee’ as we descend to the floor for a sit down. The band just don’t cut it and despite their smiles the songs lack dynamic, and after six months already seem tired. In a city in January maybe, the last weekend in June in a field – nope.
Onwards and upwards – PJ Harvey’s obviously done her job with a rapturous response. Kings of Leon looked miffed and aren’t bad, but shouldn’t be playing their southern rock-schmock as the sun begins to set over Pilton. Friends arrive and we make our way into the throng for Oasis. I love this band. Kill me in the face if this annoys you, but I do. Taking up position in front of the mixing tower (away from the Stella soldiers, but close enough to hear their out of tune slurs) Liam saunters on in a white lab coat, the rest bearing the Oasis standard – leather jacket, feather cut, Gibson semi-acoustic. Right then.
I’ve always found jumping around to ‘Rock n’ Roll Star’ a lot of fun and at Glastonbury it’s even more so. ‘Bring it on Down’ rocks, ‘Live Forever’ soars, the new songs (‘The Meaning Of Soul’ and ‘A Bell Will Ring’) on first listen are very, very weak. No flare and certainly nothing compared to a glorious ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’ that feel right on the money. Despite nothing but a sneered “Glastonberry!” from Liam all night, Noel’s on form, particularly when introducing ‘Little By Little’ – “This next one’s my four year old daughter’s favourite Oasis song, and if you consider the lyrical content of this tune, you’ll realise I’ve got my fucking work cut out!” The sound’s all over the place and their closing cover of ‘My Generation’ is worthless. It’s a fine and enjoyable gig, but predictions of a great Glastonbury performance are quashed very early on. It simply doesn’t rock the way it should. A seemingly indifferent stance amongst certain members of the band during the gig transports itself onto the shoulders of the gathered masses. It is very disappointing, even though Zak Starkey kicks ass on the drums. A long and now very cold walk back to the tent is warmed by an enormous crush leaving the pyramid stage arena, continued frivolity and wonderful weridness from our neighbours.
Rain. In a tent, it feels like a thousand mega-sized snowballs are battering your bedroom. Outside it’s just English drizzle. By 9am the fields are saturated. Ah, so this is a muddy Glastonbury. It doesn’t seem too bad at the campsite, but by the time we reach the toilets it’s a thick liquid sludge and down at the new bands tent, the ground is completely fucked. The Duke Spirit wake us up with velveteen drones and a lead singer who oozes enough sex to make the morning revellers feel as good as you can when standing shit, coming down from last night's endless chemical ingestion. Never mind ‘cos look! It’s Dogs Die In Hot Cars. They are as grooving as always and apart from a few guitar difficulties the band play a blistering, crowd pleasing set in which keys maestro Ruth Quigly is as brilliantly nutty as usual, and Craig Macintosh’s vocals soar and stride through a set of single after single - an afternoon highlight, to say the very least.
Next we go into the dance tent for an afternoon car wash with the soulful and still ‘having it’ Rose Royce. After one hour’s personal silence and an unlit set from comedian Stewart Lee in the Caberet tent (remember Fist of Fun?) we regroup and I return to the living with gusto. We then witness a man who sprinkles rice onto a broom and then violently rubs said broom into his chin. That’s all I’m going to say. It’s fantastic, and creates enough wired joviality to lift us off the floor and out into the muddy craze of the Jazz World Stage to catch a minute or two of an extremely sexy Joss Stone. Note: Must remember to make her my girlfriend when she stops singing. As she finishes her cover of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, we topple through the mud laughing like twats. Heaven. Did I say it was raining? Good.
Having past a man dressed in a full tuxedo and wellies progress is made towards the outer rim of the Pyramid Stage, trying to take in bits of The Killers and Hope of The States on the way, but ultimately failing due to the massive crowd spilling out of the new bands tent and my insatiable desire for some water. The Black Eyed Peas sound as though they have the crowd pumping, but alas our interest levels are low as we don’t rate them at all and have spotted our new favourite bar, where I meet my best friends and a medicine lady to prepare for The Beatle.
The next few hours are very hard to describe. To start with they were the best of my entire life. They are without comparison and unrepeatable. You may have read of Paul McCartney’s triumph, but unless you were there you will never understand. I hate it when people write things like that, because it’s exclusionary but in this case it is the total and undeniable truth. The songs you know about – From ‘Band on the Run’ to ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’, from ‘Live and let Die’ to ‘Let it Be' – each one a moment I/we will never, ever forget. Each song played with a sincerity and belief beyond…belief and causing an effect and ripple across the crowd I can still barely comprehend. The guy in front of me is holding his girlfriend with his head in his hands, just moaning in ecstasy. During 'Yesterday', the assembled thousands are silent. During 'Hey Jude' we sing louder than the any crowd in the world. McCartney and his guitar – wow. 'Live and Let Die' destroys the sky with a timed firework display the Olympic Games can only dream of, and 'The Long and Winding Road' causes so many tears the rainfall of this morning seems relatively tame. His band are brilliant, feisty and energised and the man himself doesn’t lose a beat and sings with delight, passion and power. Macca proves to us all that he’s defined the higher echelons of popular music with some of the greatest melodies ever produced. Tonight, at the age of sixty-two he sweetens the hearts of everyone who’s watching - the perfect Glastonbury moment. The end of 'Abbey Road' finishes us of and we are left wasted, speechless, muddy and so, so happy. Remember you lot?
With the gig of a lifetime over, Saturday night begins in full. With choruses of men, women and children still singing the refrain from 'Hey Jude', the Pyramid Stage empties and we wander through the Green Fields to Lost Vagueness to continue our good time. After hours chatting, dancing and bumping into people outside the chapel, its 4am and we burn through the mud caked campers, turning a corner and flying up to the stone circle to await sunrise. Bin liners once again provide the flooring and we sit thinking about nothing but great things. Something strange is afoot in this place. Images of sacred spaces and ancestral dances may seem somewhat silly to the hardened observer, but at the stone circle tonight the feeling and view is one of warming cinemascope. Everything is in wide screen and my friends and I listen intently to the cuddling flames and tribal rhythms that provide a soundtrack of perfect proportion and volume. As we leave after the light has risen – people get to their feet and walk home like contented half-baked zombies – satisfied in knowing that the best of night of their lives has turned to the most gloriously wet morning.
Not raining…yet. Three and a half hours kip seems to do the trick and we all have warming cups of tea at the nearest breakfast bar. The queue is longer than the northern line, so most of the early morning is spent talking to people about nothing and listening to Razorlight bring a little bit of the city into the vale. Lovely. Lunchtime - the rain is still holding off…just. So, it’s a good job The Zutons arrive on stage in luminous yellow boiler suits, ready to jangle us into the afternoon. They are again, perfectly placed on the bill, and by the end of the acapella harmonies of ‘Railroad’, the crowd are happy and ready for Sunday at Glastonbury. Regulars to the fields of Avalon, The Divine Comedy play the usual stuff (including a cover of QOTSA ‘No One Knows’) but lack fizz – we witness them sat on the now dry-ish ground somewhere near the bar, reading Glasto’s daily rag. Apparently a game of Dungeons & Dragons was started in the stone circle on Wednesday night. The paper informs us that it can’t be stopped – trouble lays in waiting (!)
A regrouping session near the pyramid stage occurs with surprising ease as by now no one’s got any phone battery with many actually forgotting what a mobile phone is used for anyway. We head off to sit in the middle of pyramid stage arena to drink hallucinogenic pear cider with some people Ive never met before. Nobody believes the psychedelic properties of this stuff, but after three pints we’re all making weird shapes in the lashing rain and dancing to the sounds of the jovial Irish jigger, Christy Moore who is incidentally brilliant. It is worth noting that the only mildly irritating thing about the mud is you can’t really sit down. After a few hours wading through the stuff, you hardly notice its there. This is good.
Our dancing area has now become a dancing millimetre as the crowd thickens for the imminent arrival of James Brown. We all know it’s James Brown for two main reasons. One: it says so in the small programme around my neck and one of our group managed to tell the correct time. Two: The Soul Brigadier – an old man in white – said “James Brown” fourteen times before the Godsucker of soul finally took the stage. Ultimately, it was fun, but didn’t really cook. By the time he finally got into ‘Sex Machine’ the set had run well over an hour. Didn’t really matter due to our quick move to the front for Supergrass. Over four hours had now passed since our arrival at the pyramid stage pit. It was Sunday and time had finally lost its meaning.
Supergrass play an expectedly storming set (‘Alright’ is even in there). Half way through the rain takes a break and a rainbow appears across the back of the festival site – thanks to Danny Goffey for pointing that one out to us. Screams for ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ are unfortunately fruitless, even as the sun bursts over the top of the pyramid. It’s another one of those moments. Perfect. ‘Pumpin’ On Your Stereo’ rocks, ‘Time’ grooves and an acoustic ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ is drowned out by the crowd’s singing. Pete and Carl who?
We pick up the pace and slide through the warm shit up to the new bands tent, catching the dying seconds of The Raveonettes whilst wondering whether Delays' Nearer Than Heaven will sound as good live as it does on record. It does. The tent is packed, and the band seems overwhelmed by the reaction. Their album is not the greatest thing I’ve ever heard, but tonight they are sublimely brilliant. As the sun begins to topple from its pedestal outside, the people in the tent are rocking to Greg Gilbert’s pitch perfect falsetto and the rest of the band’s summer delights. Unexpected and totally great, Delays join BDB as the surprise wonderments of the weekend. After an elongated ‘Long Time Coming’, night begins to fall and a question is asked: Muse or Orbital? Although I would have love to have seen Muse, Orbital’s last Glastonbury appearance ever was a once in a lifetime opportunity and one we felt was too special to miss. Walking past the crowd spilling out of Goldie Lookin’ Chain’s dance tent mayhem, the brothers Hartnell beckoned.
Orbital’s legendary light show is made for this field. It’s an intensely crazy mish- mash of colours and images that fit their beats with precision and class. Thousands screaming for the drop are left somewhat disappointed as Orbital’s tunes build and flow, rather than jump and fall. ‘Satan’s’ bellowing tones set everyone alight and as red flare smoke engulfs our little group, it becomes another moment to savour. ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’, ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ and ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’ make up the skewed entrance to ‘Halcyon’ and again the crowd rumbles. As the lasers fall and the lights fade, opinion is positive but many feel the set was slightly deflated. Never having seen Orbital before and knowing I’ll never see them again, it was well worth the time and the fireworks display from the stone circle that lit our return to the tent rounded off a very, very special day. After clambering up what had become the most lethal mudslide since that bit in eighties flick ‘Romancing The Stone’, the campsite was awash with talk of the last four days. At the morning light – that was it.
Monday morning always comes around too fast, even after a normal weekends frivolity, but never have I felt so deflated and unhappy to see the real world drawing in so quickly. A slow packing up session helped ease the realisation that Glastonbury 2004 was on its last legs. Having said goodbye to friends old and new, our original little group made its way across dissipating campsites and out beyond the massive fence to the pick up point. Six hours later I was back In Taunton (yes it’s still only twenty five miles away), clean and satisfyingly battered.
It was the most amazing weekend of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for the sights and sounds of Glastonbury Festival. Fun is a far too pathetic word to describe our time there, and ‘feeling happy’ falls short by a light year or two. ‘Till next year then...xx
For more from Glastonbury 2004 and lots of other sensational stuff from the likes of Dogs Die In Hot Cars, The Icarus Line, Ash and much much more, look out for the new issue of Drowned In Sound Magazine - Ready to fly off your local record store shelf very soon.