Do we really have to wait until 2013 for our next instalment of Glastonbury? Fear not, Carolyn Mitchell takes us through this year’s epic and whets the appetite for the next biggest festival on earth.
AS I stepped out of the car onto the muddy ground, the rain came pouring down in an aptly-timed welcome. I took a deep breath to prepare myself for the greatest and messiest festival of all time. I had heard reports of rivers of mud and tents being washed away in previous years contrasted by unbearably hot temperatures last year. Whatever the weather, I was anticipating extremes.
The arduous hour-long entrance walk through pools of mud was overshadowed by the obvious buzz of people around me and the undeniable comedy of the occasional festival-goer face-planting while I secretly hoped I didn’t meet the same fate. We arrived early on Thursday morning (having been forewarned by Glastonbury veterans to beat the masses) to set up camp. With none of the major acts on until Friday, Thursday was a day to explore. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. Thousands upon thousands of tiny heads and tents in the horizon created the illusion of a miniature city, which was not far from the reality. Glastonbury is a world unto itself with everything from supermarkets to cinemas, restaurants, cocktail bars and a circus.
As the festival has grown and the genres of music being shown have expanded, Glastonbury has come under criticism in recent years for having lost its traditional motivation – to educate towards change for the environment and for the impoverished people of the world. At the main stages, the strained voice of a political activist or Greenpeace lobbyist seemed somewhat lost against the occasional jeer of the crowd, who appeared to be largely disinterested by attempts to rally environmental support. However, the Green Fields, referred to by some as the ‘soul of Glastonbury,’ was testament to the undying hippie spirit and energy of the place. As I entered the magical arena, the atmosphere was serene and contagious and not unlike a scene from an Enid Blyton tale. Dread-headed hippies sat swinging from flower-lined love-seats, while others pedaled away furiously on bikes to provide the energy to run band equipment. Here, you could escape from the rest of the festival with a cream tea from individually crafted teapots and a falafel cone or simply soak in the creativity – rainbow-coloured streamers and fairy-lights hanging from trees and art in the form of large abstract structures made from recyclable goods.
After a day of preparation and exploration, Friday came about with a bang. With a lack of music timetable, I found myself in a serious predicament – there were far too many clashes. I dedicated a solid hour to select my bands of choice whilst stoking the fire of my disposable BBQ. After a hearty brunch of bacon and sausages, I set on my way to be wooed by the cheerful indie-pop tunes of Two Door Cinema Club – their rhythm guitar, synths and upbeat vocals were not to disappoint. Shortly after, I found myself chanting “Wu-Tang” and mimicking the actions of those around me by forming the letter ‘W’ with my thumbs and forefingers. Wu-Tang Clan had the crowd in an excited frenzy with their infectious and highly influential hip-hop favourites, proving the place of the recent genre addition at the traditionally folk music festival.
Biffy Clyro perfected the look of rugged tattoo-covered Scottish rock-lord as he fired up the crowd with well-known sing-alongs such as Mountains. The close-up screen shots of his steel-blue eyes and boyishly good looks had me somewhat distracted and giggling like a schoolgirl with a crush, but I managed to pull myself together to appreciate his art.
Although I was initially tempted by the thought of dancing my little heart away to the electronic beats of Chase and Status, I settled on seeing Mumford and Sons, followed by U2. It was a decision I would not regret. Mumford and Sons were the highlight of the entire festival for me. It was a sight to behold as the unassuming four-piece band took to the stage and belted out perfectly harmonised and incredibly emotive songs. The vision of a sea of people singing along and joyfully bopping to the sounds of Little Lion Man is indellibly etched into my memory.
Having not previously been a big fan of U2, I was mildly unenthused about seeing them live, but convinced myself it had to be done. Although still wearing those ridiculous sunglasses, I have to hand it to Bono – he provided an energetic and thoroughly exciting performance. I may have been woozy with alcohol, but I found myself dancing to every song along with everyone else, loving every minute, despite the rain pouring down on my face.
I finished the night by running through the rain and mud for over an hour to the infamous Arcadia. Friday night was to climax with yet another otherworldly experience. I was faced with a towering metal spider structure which dramatically spurted lasers and flames, acting as a DJ stage, a lizard-shaped aeroplane and breaks being blasted from every oversized amplifier. It was a cross between Jurassic Park and an eighties sci-fi flick – a perfect way to see in the new day.
Saturday had far less bands of interest for me and I felt many of Friday’s acts should have been shifted, but Tinie Tempah and Elbow both put on noteworthy performances. “One day like this a year would see me right” were the words of the ‘Glastonbury Anthem’ which perfectly captured the sentiments of the 170,000-strong crowd at the Pyramid Stage, as Guy Garvey captured the audience’s hearts. His down-to-earth demeanour and obvious ecstasy at sharing his music at the world-famous festival were evident from the moment he stepped on stage. He had both young and old laughing and crying interchangeably. Undoubtedly another highlight of the weekend.
I left Coldplay early after a few droning songs. Chris Martin has a beautiful, but oddly depressing voice in my opinion, so I left to see the end of Chemical Brothers, which picked me right back up. The mud had become so thick by this time that I had to keep my wellies firmly dug into the ground and dance with the upper part of my body. It formed quite a sight with an entire uncoordinated crowd falling over themselves to eagerly jump to the electronic genius of the group.
Besides the grand finale of Beyonce who headlined the evening set on the pyramid stage, Sunday had a predominantly chilled-out vibe. The rain and mud had subsided and everyone was ready for some relaxed tunes whilst sipping on their ciders in the scorching sun. The legend that is Don McLean carried out some old hits well, with perhaps a little too much of a repeat on the chorus of American Pie, but all in all, an enjoyable performance.
The haunting, yet moving voice of Laura Marling was as to be expected. Her visible nervousness at performing in front of such a grand audience did not affect her vocals and was quite endearing, but her song selection was not the best. I also saw parts of Kaiser Chiefs and the Eels, but the ultimate performance of the day goes without saying – Beyonce.
Beyonce brought that superstar element to the festival. Her performance was flawless, with each dance meticulously timed to hit after hit. Not only did she have males and females alike animatedly jigging to each and every song, she somehow managed to endorse feminism throughout. From her all-female band to her female-empowering lyrics, her confidence and all round self-assured femininity, Beyonce cemented her place that night as one of the biggest female icons of our generation and probably of many generations to come. The fact that she is the first ever female to headline Glastonbury speaks mountains in itself.
A final point worth mentioning is the all-encompassing tranquility which dictated my experience while sitting at the hilltop overlooking the entire farmland. With my back rested against the large coloured fabric letters of “GLASTONBURY”, I breathed in the fresh farm air and realised that it was undoubtedly one of the best weekends of my life. Glastonbury is the festival of all festivals. I have never seen so many people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs interacting so harmoniously in the one place (yes, despite its reputation, this mud-fest is even family-friendly).
As I posted on my Facebook wall, “Filthy, exhausted, but incredibly happy”, sums up my Glastonbury experience. I look forward to rocking out at this sensational festival for many years to come. I recommend you do the same.
Also see: MUSIC FESTIVALS GUIDE HOMEPAGE