Four of DiS's finest writers went to Glastonbury 2014, and had very different experiences. Here are their stories.
One mile out of Pilton and the rain starts, large, angry drops, and there’s a man at the side of the road stood at the stern of a fairly large boat, his head thrown back in what looked like laughter. Not the best of signs, it’s true - and indeed, as my sodden ticket genuinely fell apart whilst being checked at the gate and one security guard told me that I now wouldn’t be able to get in, it did all start to seem a little doomed, this Glastonbury.
And sure, for a while on Friday, with the power cut off across the site and the water sheeting down the sides of the John Peel tent it did seem like all that effort, all that spectacular effort from the thousands upon thousands of people that make this festival so much more of an event than every other festival - from the people that design Shangri-La to the guy that paints the bins - might go a little wasted. There are no bad Glastonburys, true, but no-one would argue that the years when you have to wade to get around offer anything like the optimal conditions for properly enjoying it.
We did have to wade a bit - at one point through liquid mud nearly knee-high, although as that was in the pampered, exclusive Interstage area any sympathy is likely to be justifiably limited. And we’d be lying if we said that the weather didn’t make the first few days pretty knackering, every step weighed down, every incline perilous. But overall, all things considered, it’s difficult to stay cross at any atmospheric condition that reduced our exposure to Lily Allen.
Indeed, it was difficult to be cross at anything much over the weekend. Lana Del Rey, possibly - surely the only artist ever to draw a crowd that large and yet seem so staggering indifferent, so incredibly detached. ‘We’re so happy to be here,’ she drawled at one point, her tone devoid of anything like emotion and her eyes fixed like a shark, like a kind of cultural Terminator so intent on maintaining a role - the brooding sultress in a sepia melodrama - that she daren’t risk having any fun. Elsewhere Warpaint struggled through their ‘secret’ acoustic set on the Greenpeace boat, but then they were being upstaged by a massive mechanical polar bear, and whilst they delivered a loose but engaging set over on the Other stage a few hours earlier there remains a question as to how far their songs can survive in sunlight.
But it’s Glastonbury: unless you’re the tabloid journalist that I sat near in the Press Tent, desperately striving to find negative images to fit the preferred narrative ('need less smiling') complaints seem churlish. From those opening days with their feel of a great beast awakening, muscles flexing amid smoke rising and lights flickering to life, through to the bruised and battered Monday morning, glazed faces at the bus station like characters in a Wilfred Owen poem, this remains a festival experience unsurpassed anywhere. It's an ordeal of near-military planning and phenomenal physical effort rewarded by a camaraderie and goodwill that only Burning Man matches and a diversity of entertainment that nothing else comes close to.
That diversity started early, with the Japanese ‘punk orchestra’ Turtle Island on the Pyramid stage with their riot of percussion and angry chanting an inspired opening choice, whilst The War On Drugs seem made for this setting, their songs drifting hazily on the wind and even, for one brief arms-in-the-air moment, summoning the sun. Royal Blood and Drenge and Fat White Family bring some welcome volume, the latter a fearsome mash of vocal drawl and sleazed guitar with a singer that moves with the menacing poise of Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man. Wild Beasts’ set is marred slightly by a crowd less interested in their bruised and fragile indie than in sharing war stories of the (admittedly extremely impressive) storm that preceded them, whilst Arcade Fire - well, they were stunning. It’s bizarre, afterwards, scrolling through the perceptions from all those who experienced this through a screen and found the band wanting, because this was a near-perfect (some of those Reflektor tracks remain difficult to love) two hours of highs primed to keep the largest audience in the world on board. There’s fireworks and confetti, dancers and a man clad in mirrors, video and puppet heads and what seems like thousands of people playing thousands of instruments, but really, honestly, none of that matters when you’ve so many songs that bore so deep, way past hooks and dancing and chorus singalongs to some way more resonant emotive core. 'Neighbourhood #1', 'Power Out', 'No Cars Go' etc - between the Woahs and Ahs and Heys these songs do something that doesn’t show up on TV, something hard to articulate but easy to see in the faces of everyone around, some of them tear-stained but all of them stunned.
As for Metallica - well, of course they were impressive. They were never not going to be - a band this polished, this practiced - and any notion that they were wrong for Glastonbury is demolished pretty quickly after seeing just how many people here know every word to every song. 'Metallica is honoured to be here representing the heavier side of music,' says James Hetfield in an amusing third-person remove, and suddenly it does seem absurd that this genre, encompassing so, so many exciting, vital bands, doesn’t get a look in here. And yeah, we could snort and say that Metallica aren’t really metal or whatever, but with this booking the Eavis’ have opened a new front for the festival. Tool for 2015? Rammstein? That would be a show.
But as always with Worthy Farm it seems so wrong to reduce discussion to just the music - something that those countless thousands that watch from home never really get. Rambling through the hedonism of Shangri-La or the dystopia of Arcadia and Block 9, watching a tent of people ‘dance for world peace’ or just staring from one of the hills at 4am over the sheer boggling scale of it all - well, these are the moments that ruin every other festival, because none of them, not one, can match them. As Texas Jericho (not his real name), the only guy known to have jumped the superfence put it in an interview with The Telegraph, ‘If you’ve grown up with Glastonbury you go to other festivals and you think, “This ain't a festival, it’s just a few tents and some music.”’
It never rains, it pours. As anyone at last week's Glastonbury festival can vigorously testify. After 2013's scorching sun, this year's rain-filled event resembled a mud caked quagmire by Friday afternoon. Not that such adverse weather can spoil the fun at what is still Europe's - if not the world's - premier event of its kind. Because while the wellies, raincoat and umbrella were permanently to hand, there's an all-encompassing, all-inclusive vibe about Glastonbury that can make watching the umpteen live acts which make up the bill something of an aside.
Arriving on Wednesday afternoon with little plans to watch anyone for at least 48 hours, most of the first two days were spent watching the sun set (and rise), navigating our way around the site, making new acquaintances and dancing to copious amounts of techno in the festival's nether regions also known as Shangri-La and Block 9. Indeed the site itself is barely recognisable from the one largely inhabited by crusties and travellers two decades earlier. While not exactly sanitised, there's all kinds of boutiques springing up ranging from cocktail bars and hair salons (really!) to nail bars and pop-up a la carte restaurants. In the healing field a topless woman greets us and asks to join hands and make a circle for salvation. Yes, the hippies can still be found if you search long and hard enough but they're a dying breed.
Sadly, death also dominated the headlines on Thursday morning as we're informed two revellers had tragically passed away. That one of these was linked to ketamine opens a debate among our group as to why anyone in their right mind would take a drug used to anaesthetize horses for pleasure (see also laughing gas, which causes one of our party when offered a canister to remark, 'What? Why? Do you think I'm a dentist or something?').
Elsewhere, we figure Liverpool must be deserted this weekend as every other person we encounter is from Merseyside. Celebrity spotting is also fairly minimal aside from the two Hollyoaks cast members stood before us in the wristband queue on arrival, the only other vaguely famous people we glance are Bradford magician-cum-illusionist Dynamo and some girl from Downton Abbey. A far cry from previous years where we've been graced by the presence of Wayne Rooney, Katherine Jenkins, Kate Moss and Billie Piper among others.
And then of course were the bands. Plenty of them in fact. Controversial headline choices aside (who incidentally pulled it off resoundingly), there really was little for even the most discerningly po-faced music fan to complain about here. Don't like Kasabian? Go and watch Massive Attack then. Find Jake Bugg contrived and annoying? Give Metallica a go. Not convinced by Arcade Fire? There's always Kaiser Chiefs. And so on and so forth.
Nevertheless, I along with several thousand others was convinced by Arcade Fire. Despite the lukewarm reception to their headline set at Primavera a month earlier, they rose to the challenge like a phoenix to the flames and conquered the Pyramid stage accordingly. Playing songs from each of their four albums, they confirmed their status as one of the biggest bands in the world. And oh how each and every member of the audience lapped it up. Neither David Bowie or Jarvis Cocker appeared as rumoured, although the latter did play a DJ set at their unofficial aftershow party in the Stonebridge Bar later. Triumphant from beginning to end, their time is now and if Win Butler's beaming smile at said shindig was anything to go by, we suspect they'll enjoy the spotlight too.
Metallica might not have been many people's choices for the coveted Saturday night headline slot but those present can bear witness to one of the most gracious, resilient and downright humble performances in Glastonbury's history. Their introductory video - a fox hunting parody accompanied by Seventies glam rockers Sweet's 'Fox On the Run' was a stroke of genius. As was James Hetfield and co's decision to open with 'Creeping Death' and 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' from second album Ride The Lightning, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. Out front, the crowd may have been sparse compared to previous years but their set was a thoroughly enjoyable mix of material from the band's extensive back catalogue, opening the doors for metal to be welcomed with open arms at Glastonbury in the future.
In between times, Interpol and the Manic Street Preachers played buoyant sets, emphasising why both continue to be held in such high esteem. With the former choosing to play a set heavy on Antics and Turn On The Bright Lights material with a couple of new songs off forthcoming record El Pintor thrown in, the latter chose Glastonbury to dust the cobwebs off Holy Bible closer 'PCP' for its first live airing in years. Elsewhere, Jagwar Ma highlighted what a perfect festival band they are, The Brian Jonestown Massacre proved there's so much more to their repertoire than the troubles and tantrums exaggerated in 'Dig!' while relative newcomers Wolf Alice, The Wytches and Kagoule all played blinding sets which suggest the future is bright as far as UK guitar bands are concerned.
Choosing the sensible option of Massive Attack on the Other stage to wrap things up, we find ourselves treated to one of the most incredible performances of the weekend. 3D, Daddy G and their numerous accomplices might offer little in the way of between-song banter, but when you've a canon of big hitters to choose from culminating in a triple whammy of 'Safe From Harm', 'Inertia Creeps' and 'Unfinished Sympathy' for the finale they're a fitting and fulfilling way to round off a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, despite the weather.
My band is playing Glastonbury today. Do you know how long I’ve wanted to say that? My band. Is playing. Glastonbury. Today. The actual festival. I got in for free, I have a total of five different wrist bands, I get meal tokens, two free beers per performance and I get to sleep in 'crew camping', although in reality that just means the toilets have already been in use for a week before the festival opens and you’re miles from any of the main bits. Still, you can live with that - you can live with just about anything, because… my band is playing Glastonbury today. Twice.
It’s bittersweet for us (for context, 'us' is The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, the UK’s biggest steampunk band, or so we’re told, and we reckon the third heaviest act at the festival) because our singer Andy is currently going through the hell of radiotherapy and unable to perform (we will later call him a 'selfish prick' from the stage for this) and to be honest we weren’t sure if we should do the show at all. Andy was insistent though, the soppy bugger, and while his cancer-heavy throat was incapable of croaking out the notes, and his immuno-suppressed body would be at high risk in the least sterile environment in the known world, we hoped we could pull something off as a power-trio: We are here to represent; to lay the groundwork for our best mate’s triumphant comeback next year, so we dragged in a guest-vocalist for a couple of songs, learned all the words to the rest and gritted our teeth... until we realised this made singing really difficult and un-gritted them again.
The cancer situation makes the whole experience a very strange and emotionally quite intense one, particularly for a band whose main stock in trade is gleeful punk-rock-Victoriana-meets-Cockney-heavy-metal knees-up; we’re not known for our emo outbursts. You have to make the best of it though, and while the shine has been taken off considerably… my band is playing Glastonbury today. Twice. You can strike us down one by one, but you can’t take that away from me now.
Our first show is 7pm on the Shangri-La Hell Stage, a monstrous outdoor platform tucked into the very south-east corner of the festival. Shangri-La is one of the last vestiges of ‘old’ Glastonbury, the home of the freaks and weirdos, the crusties and anarchists, the people that were probably jumping the fence 15 years ago, it has a mentalist art-movement sensibility and we feel VERY at home. We’re opening the whole thing and plenty of people should be milling around; the soundcheck sounds amazing, there’s a massive backdrop of our logo… it’s hard not to be all pumped and aldrenalised, even sat in the backstage caravan eating toast with a cup of tea. I first came to Glastonbury in 2003, I’ve been watching it on telly since the early Nineties, somewhere I’ve still got a VHS of Channel 4’s 1995 coverage: Polly Harvey in pink lurex, Dexter Holland with corn rows, Mark Radcliffe, Mark Lamar and her from Salad. I obsessed over this festival and my band is playing Glastonbury... today. We’re in the best bit of the whole festival and we’re bloody well opening it.
Or at least we should be. With an hour to go we’re told our triumphant debut has been slightly curtailed- word has come down from on-high that no outdoor stage can begin its programme before eight o’clock, for a reason we’re still not 100 per cent about, and though the Shangri-La staff could not have been more mortified, apologetic and accommodating (and gratifyingly angry on our behalf) this is a decision made way over their heads. For a while the three of us sit like little boys that have lost their Christmas present. We’re rescheduled for tomorrow, which we’re incredibly grateful for and involves a herculean effort of reorganisation on behalf of the organisers, still we know it won’t quite be the same, and besides I’ll have to miss Haim. It occurs to me what an ungrateful sod this thought makes me and I keep schtum.
Besides, we have a second gig tonight and that is very much still on. At 9.30, as the sun goes down, we load into the Rocket Lounge, a little retro-obsessed tent that’s something of a Glastonbury institution, and it’s RAMMED. There’s a smattering of people in our t-shirts too, who know all the bits to sing and all the places to shout, which makes us look that bit more impressive. Most people don’t know us though, and happily hardly any of them leave, in fact by the end the audience is bulging out of the sides of the tent and it’s not even raining. We play a proper, sweaty punk rock show on a tiny stage, where it belongs, and it feels fucking amazing.
Friday’s show isn’t quite as much fun. Craig Charles’ funk and soul DJ set is immediately before ours, meaning the audience aren’t really primed for punk songs about Isambard Kingdom Brunel, though actually a lot of them stay. We managed to put the word out to some fans, so there’s a decent enough crowd considering the festival is in full Friday-swing and it gets bigger as we go along. It’s an odd show for me though - this stage feels a mile wide and i’m acutely aware of the Andy-sized gap in the middle.
Andrew, our guitarist, and I work as hard as we can to fill the space, and the gig does go well, but I never feel quite as connected as I usually do - the fact there’s a mic set up in the centre for our guest singer (our mate Leeson O’Keefe from Irish punk band Neck is performing our singles ‘The Gin Song’ and ‘Charlie’ with us) makes our absent frontman all the more obvious to me. As we take the stage, right at that very moment, he’s being zapped with radiation back home (he texts just before to let us know) but to me he’s incredibly present and absent all at once, and it feels wrong to do this without him. The set ends as well as any band would hope for - in fact we get an unexpected encore - but the applause feels misplaced. In numbers we’re missing one fourth, but to me that makes us half the band we should be. It starts to rain as we leave the stage, thunder cracks the skies and the next act is actually cancelled as the power is shut down. It seems kind of right. Lots of people tell us we were great, and that’s lovely, but I feel a bit of a heel all the same. Glastonbury doesn’t mind though, I wrap my dirt-fringed frock-coat around me, the festival takes me in its muddy arms and I disappear into the rain. Whatever else, my band played Glastonbury today.
Let's start with Saturday afternoon: at least half the enormous crowd for Royal Blood has to make do attempting to hear it outside the tent. DiS is one of them, but sticks around to see weird, obnoxious dirge rockers Fat White Family afterwards, and really wishes it hadn't. Seemingly endless, aimless grunge experiments pass by, snarled by lead singer Lias Saudi (resembling a sort of stoned, topless Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol). They sound for all the world like way too many drugs get consumed (DiS guesses ketamine) in both writing and performing their music. It calls to DiS's mind the quote from journalist Toby Young that DiS's favourite comedian Stewart Lee puts on his flyers to stop Micky Flanagan fans from thinking about seeing him live: 'I’ve always thought of Stewart Lee’s comedy as doing the opposite of what really good comedy should do.' DiS would subtly rephrase this and apply it in this instance as 'I’ve always thought of Fat White Family’s music as doing the opposite of what really good music should do.' And lads, if you're reading, you can have that for your tour posters if you like.
DiS wonders why Angel Haze isn't quite delivering on the early promise of her startling first two mixtapes. Maybe because there was that whole business with her label, or maybe she's shaken off early fans with an overly poppy debut album aimed squarely at mainstream success (except for the track Sia contributed. DiS won't hear a word said against Sia.). It all comes together better on the Pyramid stage, mind, where her unquestionable talent for quickfire rapping comes to the fore, her rhymes delivered with ferocity and intense, raw emotion. At least that's when she's not spending the time between tracks bibbling on about following your dreams no matter who stands in your way blah blah blah. Fair to say the (smaller than Royal Blood) audience is pretty into it, especially down the front when she spends the last two tracks dancing alongside most of them.
DiS formally congratulates Glastonbury on its Metallica booking. It's a better headliner than, say, Mumford and Sons isn't it? And this is because it is an interesting and provocative choice. The set seems littered with clever touches: DiS loves the human stage design – 200-ish punters form the backdrop. DiS thoroughly enjoyed the few songs it saw, but soon realised that metal is perhaps a little samey when you're basically hanging around for 105 minutes listening to 13 songs you don't know, followed by 'Enter Sandman', so it went off to find its mates at the (incredible) Mogwai instead.
This year, myself and DiS's devilishly handsome senior writer Dom Gourlay were asked to help judge Glastonbury's Emerging Talent Competition, so on Sunday morning DiS got up early to see the set from the eventual winners M+A, who were the pick of the eight brilliant acts that played the live final back in April (where DiS got to meet Emily and Michael Eavis and instantly, uncontrollably fancied Emily. Honestly, she's the nicest person ever). DiS totally digs the band's percussion heavy, Friendly Fires-esque disco workouts, and does hope they hit the big time soon.
All in all, DiS loved Glastonbury this year (elsewhere reserving special affection for sets from Arcade Fire, St. Vincent, Elbow, De La Soul, Manic Street Preachers, Angel Haze, Dolly Parton and Friction DJing at Arcadia) and particularly thought the vibe on site was stronger than ever (DiS realises it just broke a lifelong promise to itself to never use the word 'vibe' in a festival review, and apologises profusely). It was with some relief that the internal joy of Glastonbury was not even ruined by visiting Burning Man last August, a festival that succeeds in fostering so many things in its attendees - unbreakable sense of community, Leave No Trace obligation, individual responsibility – that Glastonbury falls varyingly short of inspiring in its patrons.
Now, has anybody else noticed how flat-out incredible Ed Sheeran's new single 'Sing' is? DiS feels comfortable with declaring it now approves of Ed, when previously it would have placed itself firmly in the 'wouldn't actually kill him, but would kind of prefer him dead' camp. It's still difficult to understand how he has become quite such a gigantic phenomenon though. Brits just love a 'boy-next-door done good' story don't they. At least the live show stacks up: quite ridiculously it's still just Ed on stage alone for the whole duration, but with all his fancy loop pedals etc on stage it's more than enough - a fact never more evident than during the preposterous, brilliant, 11-minute-long opener 'You Need Me, I Don't Need You'.
DiS is faintly aware that other voices in its community are vocal detractors of Kasabian, although to these ears the doubts over whether they'd be able to pull off their headline slot seem not a little bizarre. Don't get it twisted, DiS naturally acknowledges – of course it does - the unlikelihood of there being a worse single lyrically than 'Eez-eh' this decade, but DiS got a few good laughs dancing round its corner of the field when it loudly sang reworded One Direction lyrics over the top of said track: “and we danced all night to the worst song ever”, so its peace is made with that issue. Kasabian are a party act, and a great singles band. Of course this set was always going to be brilliant. DiS also wants to shout out to everybody who set off flares during 'Club Foot'. Between us we counted 13 people, and wasn't sure if this was just because Kasabian playing 'Club Foot' is a very sensible time to set off a flare at a music festival, or if it was a coordinated effort by some enterprising festival goer to tell all their mates to set them off at exactly the same time, but DiS likes to think it is the latter, and DiS approves of that festival goer. It made for quite the spectacle.
Mark Muldoon tweets regular details of how much he loves Sia here.