If you caught any of the media coverage of Glastonbury 2011 you could easily be forgiven for thinking that there are only three or four stages at the festival that feature music, that Beyoncé was the only good act playing on Sunday, that amongst 177,000 people (in a time scale of 5 days) the death of a man of natural causes was a surprising event, and that direct action tax protests during U2’s set was highly visible to everyone watching Bono & co.
Yet the Breaking More Waves experience was very different. Glastonbury is not necessarily about one off high profile media led sensationalist stories or individual performances, but the greater sum of the parts that creates a festival that is vast in its spectacle, is at times brutally tiring and is both epic beyond all words and intimately beautiful at the same time – even in thick sticky mud.
Here’s our round up of some of the key points.
If you’re lucky enough to secure one – they normally sell out within hours – you needed to pay £195 + a small booking fee.
Glastonbury seems to only do extremes. Heavy rain on the days leading up to and at the start of the festival meant that the majority of the site was quickly turned into a huge thick, slimy mud bath (the picture above, shot on Saturday morning in the dance village says it all), making walking anywhere a physically testing and exhausting experience, particularly if you were intent on visiting every corner of the site. Yet on Sunday the sun made a welcome appearance, temperatures in the mid 20’s drying out the mud rapidly in most places leading to the bizarre sight of revellers dressed in shorts, t shirts, shades and sun hats yet still accompanied by wellies.
Glastonbury is huge – there’s 1,100 acres of the place and within that space there’s something for everyone. From the Pyramid Stage with its huge names to smaller stages such as our favourite The Crow’s Nest situated high up on the hill away from the masses in The Park area. However it really is true that you could spend all weekend at the festival and never see any music at all; theatre, circus, healing areas, permaculture, oddball art, green displays, the kids fields and the pre-apocalyptic freakiness of Shangri La. Even in the 5 days we were on site we didn’t have time to visit it all.
A mix of young fresh faced Glasto virgins to a number who have been going for years. Those who have been doing it for years will have noted some marked differences in those who now attend; no longer is your typical Glastonbury punter a security-fence-jumping dreadlocked alternative member of society, but a generally average (possibly middle class) punter who cares little for much of the more radical and political roots that the festival has embraced in its past and is there only for a weekend of escapism. Festival founder Michael Eavis recently lamented the appearance of The Wombles at the 2011 festival (who we caught in a packed and sweaty Avalon Tent – see below) and suggested that the event had become too much about having a good time and could become more political again in the future. Yet when Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was asked to address the crowd waiting for Wu Tang Clan on the Pyramid Stage a significant portion of the crowd booed and shouted abuse such as off “F*ck off you hippy, this is a music festival,” not realising the irony of their anger. Eavis may have some work to do to convince his credit card wielding me-me-me audience of his vision.
The famous Glastonbury ‘long-drop’ toilets may hardly be the most salubrious of places and you certainly won’t want to spend that much time in them, but to Glastonbury’s credit there were plenty of them, they seemed to be cleaned reasonably regularly and we’ve certainly seen a lot worse at some other major festivals. There were certainly no mountains of poo which there have been in the past.
With 177,000 people trying to get onto a farm it’s inevitable that there is going to be some waiting around. Our experience on Wednesday morning was about an hour of traffic queues, which for a festival of this size was very reasonable. However once at the car park it took us three hours to walk a mile to the ticket / wristband exchange due to a massive queue backlog – this was the demoralising low point of our Glastonbury, particularly as much of this time was spent in the pouring rain. It seems that in a bid to get the better camping spots on site a huge proportion of festival goers arrived early and the entry system wasn’t fully able to cope. However once inside the gates these issues were soon forgotten and very few queues were witnessed after that – just minor ones for food ( a few minutes) and at peak times at busier stages there were queues for the ladies toilets, which seemed to be moving relatively quickly.
A good range of all types of festival food and drink at standard festival prices (£ 4.50 - £7.50 a meal). Our favourite drinks were the hot spiced cider from the Cider Bus and the incredibly reviving peppermint and liquorice tea from the Crow’s Nest. Both in their own special ways were out of this world.
Amongst the madness and the mud there was some music. We still managed to see quite a lot of it, catching 26 full performances. Only 4 of the sets we witnessed were on the Pyramid Stage and we didn’t watch anything at all on the second main stage – the Other Stage - these spaces seeming so huge that to feel any real true sense of involvement with the performance you had to be near the front which wasn’t always easy to achieve, otherwise you ended up watching tiny ants on a stage – or even worse just watching the whole thing on big screens – there’s then a strong argument for just watching it on the telly at home with a can of chilled Brothers cider next to you.
“Well, you didn't think we'd let you down, did you?” announced Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker at the bands not so ‘secret’ show at The Park stage –and they didn’t. Playing a different set to that which they performed at Primavera and the Isle of Wight festival, this was as good, if not better than their defining last minute headline slot at Glastonbury 1995. Disco 2000, Mis-shapes (complete with Cocker handing out mis-shaped sweets to the audience), Sunrise (played as the sun set), Babies and Acrylic Afternoons were all gloriously celebratory and by the time they reached Common People with Cocker revisiting his ‘anybody can achieve what they want to achieve’ speech from the 1995 there was a real sense of emotion hanging happily in the air.
U2’s headline set on the Pyramid stage was always going to be divisive, and the bleak constant of rain did the band no favours, but by starting their set with a barrage of their most popular songs, front loading the likes of Even Better Than The Real Thing, The Fly, One and Where The Streets Have No Name before you’d even had a moment to take a breath, they could hardly be criticised of not trying to please the neutrals. Old school fans also got a treat as they revisited Live Aid, playing Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bad together followed by Pride the track that they were due to play as their final song at Wembley Stadium in 1985. The Edge’s guitar sounded intense and punishing, Bono’s vocals held out reasonably well (apart from a poorly sung and ill-advised a cappella take on Jerusalem) and the mass audience sing along on I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For washed the rain out the mind for a few moments. A curious encore that included Moment of Surrender and debut single Out of Control lost a lot of the crowd, but overall U2 can be satisfied that they didn’t let themselves down although they won't have convinced the naysayers.
At the other end of the spectrum on Saturday night, whilst Coldplay headlined the main stage Caitlin Rose and The Bees both charmed in equal measure with nostalgic takes on country music (Rose) and psychedelic soul / folk (The Bees) in the tiny Crow’s Nest to an assembled audience of about 40 or 50 people. Rose’s drawl was so natural and self-assured that we had to check there wasn’t a CD player hidden behind the stage, whilst The Bees stripped down versions of Chicken Payback and Wash In The Rain were so delightfully groovy that we’re sure we saw the very hills of Glastonbury having a little shake to them.
Other musical highs came from relatively new acts – Isobel Anderson’s cover version of Glory Box by Portishead was simply stunning and much of her other material oozed quality, capturing the original’s haunting spirit but placing it in a folk context, whilst the electronic pop of Hurts suddenly seemed designed to fill stadiums, sounding darker, more passionate and fuller than ever before with more guitars and strings taking Hurts away from just being a synth pop duo.
But ultimately, irrespective of what music you see at Glastonbury, the cliché holds true; the festival is bigger than any act. It really is about the whole experience.
Now for your listening pleasure, here’s some music from some of the performers we enjoyed the most.Caitlin Rose - Shanghai Cigarettes
Morveren's Lullaby by Isobel Anderson
The Bees - I Really Need Love