The Who have played their final encore. Security have ejected the final camper, eager to cling to the hallowed fields of Glastonbury. And as another year draws to a close, the epic task of cleaning up thousands of abandoned tents and laughing-gas cylinders begins in earnest.
And what a festival it was! Glastonbury 2015 had some epic moments with artists giving the performances of their lives. Being my 12th year at the festival I have a solid back catalogue of experiences to draw from so here, I, with the help of others, will try to piece together the highlights.
I arrived early on Friday. Now some, like my Lost Dawn partner in crime Adam Symbiosis, arrived on Wednesday morning with the other early birds, and enjoyed two very hot and sunny days of generally loafing about and exploring the many areas on offer. Once more the Glasto faithful provided fantastic original and engaging stage décor, colourful flags fluttering in the breeze, amazing food from Indian street samosas with a choice of sauces, to frozen slushy margaritas and basic fish and chips. There is an abundance of stalls and sculptures to draw the eye as you walk around the site - a sensory overload of 'stuff' which creates this other worldy environment in which you can exist, have fun, lose oneself.
The whole site is massive with its encircling 11 miles perimeter fence and a 1000 acres of farmland. The health app on my iPhone said I’d averaged 60,000 paces each day. Security and ticket checking ensured the blaggers were excluded and the police presence this year was surprisingly low key compared to previous – the Telegraph reported “Avon and Somerset Police said it recorded one of the lowest crime figures it has seen in recent years, with 216 crimes reported compared to 246 last year. A spokesman said 75 arrests had been made, mainly for thefts from tents and drugs offences”. At one point I stopped a policeman who was holding what I thought was a flashing glow in the dark traffic directing wand. When I asked where he got it, he said it came from some “spiritual advisors” in the Green Fields. Then he gave it to me as a gift and it came in very handy one night for shepherding my group on a 3 mile trek from the John Peel Stage to the Shangri La club arenas. Nice chaps those police fellows.
On arrival, I made my way to camp in the offsite ‘glamping’ experience of Tangerine Fields. I also brought the rain with me so was asked politely to “f**k off back to London” by the Tangerine Marines staff, who had endured 2 days of intense heat during their set-up phase. However, not to rain on their parade, my tent and airbed were already installed and the first beer of the weekend was cracked open as I walked between the car park to the tent.
The majority of the Glasto faithful camp within the fortified fencing. However the rise in all things glam like tipis, cosy cubes, yurts and child friendly camping options really illustrates the social demographic range of people who go to Glastonbury. From students on a tight budget catching buses and eating pot noodles, to yummy mummies arriving in airstreams with kids in tow being pushed around in tank like carts and buggy’s. The Kidz Field is a safe haven for children with lots of circus shows and interactive events, and is totally secure. You still get your fair share of hippy style travellers, but the cross section of music on offer and the open-minded crowd create a wonderful melting pot of friendly people, all in one place, brought together by the shared experience that is Glastonbury. In fact it really is the wonderful human-crowd experience that surpasses any of the acts I saw. I do have to wonder about those who insist on camping on the corners of the stages, or close to the She-Pee's and Urinals... you feel they really are living on the edge.
It was quite late on Friday afternoon once I had got in via the main gate at the top of Pyramid Stage. As I was packing 3 bags of ice, a crate of beers, and plenty of rum and coke, I had several willing friends to help me lug my stash around for the evening, in return for a civilised drink. I caught Motorhead at Pyramid who growled out their classics - mostly in Lemmy's incoherent manner. As Foo Fighters had pulled out of Glasto and Florence + the Machine had been bumped up to headline, rumours were rife of who the replacement warm-up show would be. I’d heard it was The Charlatans but it actually turned out to be The Libertines and a slightly healthier and chubbier Pete Doherty who I must say was on top-form and got the crowd going with some catchy indie anthems.
Those that stayed for Florence said she was the consummate performer with great vocals and a stage presence to confirm her promotion to main stage headliner. However I had my eyes on another prize and made the arduous journey over to catch the last of Mark Ronson’s set which was unbelievable. His whole entourage oozed musicianship and craft and his rendition of ‘Valerie’ had haunting relevance as he once had been the most influential producer in Amy Winehouse’s’ bright but short life. It was the perfect way to kick off the night with Hackney’s very own Rudimental with their anthem pop based drum and bass sound which had the crowds bouncing and singing. Kate Hutchison from the Guardian summed it up best, in her words…”For this sound system, however, it’s carnival 365 days a year. Their set is a constant shape shifting coterie of guest singers, jumping hype men, pogoing brass players and anthems that pump harder than a Fitness First at peak time. In fact, watching them bound across the stage is enough to convince you to sign up to one on Monday”
After the headliners close on the main stages, people scurry in a host of different directions. Some try to rush over the Shangri La stages for some proper clubbing, others go to bed, or at least to their tents for re-supplies. Some walk uphill to The Park to view the whole melee from above. We however had our eyes firmly fixed on the mechanical spewing flame throwing spider that is Arcadia. This stage is now a mainstay of the Glastonbury set-up for Maceo Plex who was playing from 11:30pm. His deep techno sound reverberated the hill, very close to The Other Stage, and the heat from thousands of dancers lifted from the crowd and into the night sky.
He also played his own wicked remix of a classic, which I’d heard on his Boiler Room set (best Boiler room ever), The Smiths – How Soon is Now?
Pan-Pot followed with more techno and Adam Beyer was due to play from 1:30pm, but after another multi-mile tumble around the Glasto Farm and getting lost, in more ways than one, my poor body called it a day. I trekked back to my tent to put myself on a phone-style recharge, ready for what promised to be a fab Saturday...
I sleep light at Glastonbury and as the sun came up on Saturday morning, my tent reached boiling point so I was up and queueing for a refreshing shower. I joined the line of early-birds and remembered a time no so long ago when a shower at Glastonbury seemed unfathomable – to be honest I couldn’t do without one now. Charged my phone, had a coffee and bacon and egg roll and spirits were lifted, ready for a great day. I was on site by lunch and headed to Williams Green to see Everything Everything. They played the previous day on the Other Stage but I missed them, however the Williams Green Tent was too small to house this accomplished group and I languished 7 or 8 rows back outside the tent to hear their funky and cheery indie infused synth funk. I shall be making a beeline for their album as I thoroughly enjoyed their set which was made better by the fact I was so close to the bar and some local Ale.
With the sun beating down, my factor 50 sun cream was doing the trick – by this point in the day though I saw quite a few lobsters around – there is little shade unless you are in the main tents at Glasto so it’s always good to heed the advice of their plentiful information points around. Look after your skin, your feet and your cleanliness and keep hydrated. These tips are highly practical and good for ones’ morale, the days here are long and you’ll be kicking yourself if you peak too early.
Not usually my cup of tea but my posse wanted to catch a bit of George Ezra and I was very impressed. First up, apart from Dolly Parton last year – I’d never seen Pyramid Stage so packed for an afternoon show. His voice and guitar was crystal clear and cut through the crowd. His harmonies are perfection; I mean this guy can sing. Far removed from Kanye West who apparently couldn’t hold a note and declared he was the “biggest rock star on the planet”. The BBC received 44 complaints despite warning viewers of bad language well ahead of the 9pm watershed. Maybe they wouldn't have been quite so upset if they just read the subtitles. The BBC's subtitles department had a grand old time attempting to make his language a little more PG – e.g. ‘ligger’ and ‘motherducker’, though eventually, it seems, they just gave up and wrote "HE RAPS". Fortunately I gained this information from other festival goers as I had no intention of seeing Kanye – it would have done my senses and the fans of HarderFaster a disservice.
After George Ezra I struck out on my own to leave this group and catch up with some photographer friends of mine. I’m a social butterfly and feel comfortable enough in Glastonbury to know I won’t be alone for long; I’ll always find friends to hang out with, or simply make some new ones. I went over to the Other Stage to see Clean Bandit who really know how to do party tunes. One of the lead singers started on stage wearing a full fur coat and ended up in a white vest bikini, the backing vocalists all performed well and their infectious deep house inspired grooves and catchy hooks had the youthful crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. Although it was old skool classic Robin S “Show Me Love” which they faithfully covered that had me bare foot jumping up and down on my rug and reaching for more frozen margaritas and a ‘fake’ camera filled with Sloe Gin which my ‘real’ photographer pal dished out that kept me broadly smiling.
As their set drew to a close it was a hop, skip and a jump over to the leafy Glade Arena. This is one of my favourite stages at Glasto which is nestled in the forest and a lush compressed sound system – it is magical. I was there to see Way Out West. Before them, I watched the one-girl-show Emika Live who single-handed played one of my favourite sets this year. Playing keyboards and drum machines, her set was full of sick bass grooves. Her voice and look reminded me of punk queen Blondie and I’m already making moves to have her perform in Brixton for me next year - check it http://emikarecords.com/. She closed her set on a deep and haunting rendition of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.
By the time Way Out West (aka Jody Wisternoff and Nick Warren) arrived, I had gathered a few more pals, who were drawn to this famous Bristolian act. They whizzed through their classic numbers and their new tunes. Their set was a dreamy concoction of progressive breaks and trance beats. They climaxed to a full Glade crowd on their mighty anthem ‘The Gift’. After catching some recent shows, their energy seems refocused and later that night I bumped into a jubilant Jody Wisternoff who was shaking his thing to George Clinton and The Mothership whilst sipping toffee Cider. I’m sure we shall be seeing him again in London very soon.
Saturday night for me was always going to be about Leftfield. Their music from the seminal Leftism album in 1995 has always been a diverse sound of techno, dub and breakbeat. Their recent offering Alternative Light Source released in June this year once again sees them on top form. I sauntered via the back of the Other Stage whilst Deadmau5 thumped out some rather dull beats, hidden in a geodesic sphere on stage to baying crowds of clubbers I had a quick 1990's flashback liaison with Suede and their anthem Animal Nitrate on the John Peel Stage - I dashed over to the Sonic Stage to see Leftfield live again, not since my first experience of them back in 2000 when they closed the Other Stage at Glastonbury. A pivotal moment for me and my love of Glastonbury. Keen to move on from their 1990’s base they played most of the new album and only put in a few old tracks. Some bands couldn’t survive that but their epic sound and energetic phrasing now feels firmly rooted in 2015 and I hope on this evidence a new audience can discover just how good they are. I rest my case.
Truth be told, the rest of my Saturday evening is a blur. It involved some large scale hill walking, lots more booze and crowded club spaces in Block 9 and Shangri Hell – blanks in the memory probably not worth recapturing and so my Saturday at Glastonbury drew to a close.
Early Sunday morning, the rain returned to dampen moods so as the Glastonbury Free Press had been reporting with print-pressed posters declaring "He Is Coming", it was time for some much needed spiritual healing. Choosing to make his appearance in the Kidz Fields for a once in a lifetime rare opportunity the Dalai Lama transcended onto Worthy Farm.
He spoke on a wide range of subjects but particularly he told the hundreds-strong crowd that violence in the Middle East is "unthinkable". “They're killing other human beings," he said. "Unthinkable. The worst thing is the killing of others in the name of faith. Unthinkable". The Dalai Lama went on to praise Glastonbury as "a festival of people, not governments or politicians" and he even wore a festival t-shirt over his head as a makeshift umbrella.
Dance wise The Glade offered the multi-skilled deck technician DJ Yoda and his Breakfast of Champions session in the early afternoon whilst over on the WOW StageCraig Richards and Friends and Four Tet kept the clubbing masses cool with some deep house and techno sounds. But primarily Sunday was about winding down after a hard slog of a weekend - seeing the areas not already seen - like saying a fond farewell to the stones circles...and then positioning oneself to either The Who on Pyramid stage - or Chemical Brothers on the Other Stage.
Perennial rockers The Who delivered a statesman like performance in a flag-waving crowd who wielded “WE HATE KANYE” banners. The Who, claims Pete Townshend – even more gruffly than Paul Weller, who warmed up for them in true mod style closing his set with Town Called Malice, – have an easy job: “We’ ave to send you ’ome ’appy.” They do this by rolling out the hits in quick succession: Who Are You, The Seeker, Pictures of Lily, Behind Blue Eyes. My Generation now comes with an odd, slow little coda in place of the old explosive, Keith Moon-fuelled ending that’s presumably there to circumvent the inevitable question of what a 71-year-old man is doing singing the line about hoping he dies before he gets old: “My generation, we’re still here today.” From a projection at the back of the stage, the young Moon stares down, doe-eyed. Daltrey can still swing a microphone around with considerable panache, but his voice is rougher than it was. “It could have been better,” he says, before a version of Won’t Get Fooled Again that sounds great. The band didn’t get to sound check, he complains, although frankly no one would have known if he hadn’t mentioned it. And then he raises an amused eyebrow at Kanye West’s line about being the greatest rock star on the planet.
In superstar DJ terms, the Chemical Brothers are old-school. Their show still involves pressing-boxes-in-the-dark school, letting their monstrous beats provide the fireworks. At one point a gigantic clockwork robot is lowered from the heavens as if to mock the EDM wedge-pocketers and their ridiculous onstage toys. The Chemical Brothers: ‘We’ve been together longer than a lot of marriages’ Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands also refuse to acknowledge that their cultural kudos isn’t what it was. Once they were the indie-dance gatekeepers, a guest spot on one of their tracks considered a real mark of respect.
I consider every Glastonbury passed as a badge of honour. It’s the greatest show on that draws the most controversial and diverse line-up on the planet. But if you are only going there for the 'name' acts you are missing the point. It’s a large friendly community, yes there are issues with rubbish and crime, but that is inevitable given the large crowd that makes the annual descent to Shepton Mallet. But if there comes a time when the great British public can't congregate in such crowds for the sole purposes of hedonism, enjoyment and cultural experience than I think we have lost something in this country. We are true masters of the festival arts and if we could all leave at the gate our prejudices, work stress and hang-ups - even if it is just for 5 days a year - then that is some special and I'm glad to continually be part of it.
Images courtesy of Adam Symbiosis, Craig Gunn and the Glastonbury web site. Not to be reproduced without permission.