“You going to Glastonbury?” I’ve been faced with this question pretty much every year for the last thirty years and my answer has always been always the same. “God no…I’d rather eat my own excrement.”
I’m just not the camping type. I’m not into big crowds and have never been overly keen on communal crapping. Glastonbury, for me has always been something I watch and enjoy from afar, from the comfort of my sofa with all the delights of home at my fingertips including the “off” button.
I have actually been to Worthy Farm before. Back before Trigger Happy TV I interviewed Michael Eavis three weeks before the 1998 festival. I was masquerading as a ludicrous muso journo. As he leant over a farm gate, I asked him if he was excited about the upcoming Festival? I then launched into a ludicrous list of non-existent bands that were supposedly playing- “Loaded Manchobo, Jazz Puppies, The Blue Mango Bass Band…all da’ greats.” Eavis, who is a lovely fellow, nodded and agreed that he was very excited to see these bands…
So, when I was asked to open the Cabaret Tent at this year’s Glasto, I was unsure as to what to do? I was interested in seeing what it was all about and if I was ever going to go, what better way was there than as a performer?
As a charitable organisation, Glastonbury pay way below the usual performing rates but they softened the blow for me by offering weekend tickets complete with backstage passes. As a further incentive, Haggis, the glorious leader of the Circus and Cabaret area, offered me the use of his house in the town of Glastonbury itself if I really didn’t fancy camping.
We held a family meeting and the decision was made. We were apparently going, whether I liked it or not.
We drove down from Cheltenham on the Thursday afternoon, expecting terrible traffic but, as there was a train strike on that day, most people had gone in on the Wednesday and the roads were clear. Upon arrival at Haggis’ house we were met by a lovely French lady who inundated us with info.
We got our tickets, our car passes and instructions about which gate to drive through. A large map of the site was laid out on the table and she talked us through where everything was. It was all quite disorientating. We were about to enter a temporary city of 300,000 inhabitants and it was going to take us a while to find our bearings.
The French lady then left us with the final advice that we MUST take loo paper in with us. According to those in the know- it was more valuable than a bag of ecstasy tablets.
We woke early the following morning and set off towards Worthy Farm. It was a little confusing as we had car passes for both Red and Blue gates. We opted for Red Gate and entered only to find that there was no parking in Red Gate. We were directed to Orange Gate where a marshal told us that we should be at Red Gate. Then another marshal recognised me and said we should be parked in the Artists parking area in Avalon. This made me happy. I liked being an “artist.” We headed there only to be told by yet another marshal that we did not have the right pass for Avalon. We should try Red Gate, she said.
The clock was ticking as my performance was coming up and to say that it was a stressful beginning to my Glastonbury experience would not be an understatement. Then, somebody else recognised me and overruled the first marshal and told us to park in Avalon although, he said that we would actually be better in Blue parking as that was nearer my gig which was an hours walk away…
Just as all seemed lost, a 4×4 drove up. It had been sent by the Cabaret tent in search of their performer. Somehow, the driver had found us. We parked in Avalon, offloaded our gear and jumped into his vehicle for the twenty minute drive across the site to Blue Gate and the Cabaret and Circus area.
As we drove I tried to take in the sheer size of this festival It was extraordinary. Just the fence that surrounded the entire site was a monumental feat of engineering. Everywhere we looked, festival-goers sporting every form of weekend-freak fashion drifted towards the delights of the day from their distant campsites.
Upon arrival we were shown around the backstage area that was to be our base for the next three days.
“This is our safe space that we can retreat to” said Charlotte, my lovely production manager.
The idea that the circus folk needed a “safe space” within which to retreat from the weirdness of the festival proper, spoke volumes about what we were about to encounter.
The performance went well. The tent, with a capacity of 2,000 was packed and I had the bucket-list-ticking opportunity to finally strut onto stage and shout “Hello Glastonbury” which was quite the thrill.
With my bit over, I was now free to enjoy the festival proper, without the nagging pre-performance anxiety that had plagued me all morning.
We filled up our water, confirmed that we had loo paper and set off into the unknown. My only definite plan was that Porridge Radio were playing on some tiny stage over the weekend and I had to watch them play, as I adored them.
The first place we hit was the West Holts Stage where Sleaford Mods were under way and bringing a gloriously angry vibe to a determinedly mellow crowd.
Moving on we faced biblical crowds. There was talk that, what with the Festival having been cancelled for two years running, the numbers were way higher than usual. It was very difficult to move in some areas and, as often in life itself, we found ourselves being swept in a direction not entirely of our choosing.
We passed by the Other Stage and ended up on the hill above the Pyramid Stage where we sat down to watch Wolf Alice. The band had been stuck in America and had thought they wouldn’t make it and were understandably, rather emotional about the whole affair.
It was utterly surreal being in this massive crowd, underneath the fluttering flags- a scene so familiar from the telly.
The flags people wave on long poles are an integral part of Glastonbury and I would occasionally spot someone wandering past me struggling to keep this surprisingly heavy piece of kit aloft. Fun as they undoubtedly are, it seemed quite the commitment to decide to take one with you all day.
The flags ranged from photos of Boris kissing the King Of Saudi Arabia, to more basic ones saying “TITS” to a brilliant yellow one proclaiming that “This is a work event.” Another favourite was one that had a drawing of a piece of cheese along with the word “Gouda.” The winner, however, was the Come Dine With Me homage- “Dear Lord, what a sad little flag, Jane…”
It also tickled me to see a Lebanese flag flying very near the front for a lot of the day whereas I was perplexed by just how many Isle of Man flags were present…
If you are an organised band, like Easy Life then you make sure that flags of your band are handed out to the crowd beforehand so that there were about ten of them fluttering in front of them during their performance. Otherwise it is just a lucky dip of creativity.
Halfway through Sam Fender the sheer volume of pints consumed hit me hard and I was forced to face the public facilities. I joined a massive line of people waiting to enter an empty green metal stall and stare into the pit of hell. This was the closest I think I’ll ever get to understanding daily life in a refugee camp. People jostled and fought for the doors, some going into these excretion stables, two, sometimes three at a time.
After twenty frustrating minutes I punched a slow, stoned hippy out of the way and forced myself into one that had the words “Amber Heard shat in my tent” scrawled on the back wall. I grimly did my business while desperately thinking of my happy place, which was home. I came out and lined up again for the sink to wash my hands clean of the horror. A rather posh looking twenty-something, clearly mashed out of her head, was trying to fill her water container but seemed entirely unable to grasp the concept of the screw top. After two desperate minutes she looked up at me and whispered “HELP” in such a sweet manner that I couldn’t be angry with her. I unscrewed it and then watched her pour water down the side, completely missing the hole for about a minute before she wandered off, unsteadily, into the heaving wall of humanity.
Back on the hill, Sam Fender was drawing to a close and three student types in front of me were celebrating by scooping vast spoonfuls of cocaine out of a small leather pouch and ingesting it like it was going out of fashion. They were sitting right next to a young couple with two tiny children, both of whom were sporting ear defenders. The couple looked longingly at the carefree student-types and most probably longed for some chemical assistance themselves. There were a lot of people with small children/babies and the theory was that most of them had bought tickets three years ago before it was cancelled. In the intervening years they had procreated and their Glastonbury 2022 experience was a very different one from what they had originally anticipated.
Then, it was the main event- Billie Eillish, the pint-sized Manga Goth Girl. There were rumours flying about that Harry Styles was going to join her on stage. This was a big part of Glastonbury…or Glastonberry as every American called it. Rumours constantly abounded regarding secret gigs or appearances by Harry Styles, Eminem, Ringo… most of which were always bollocks.
Billy Eillish was impressive, but, truth be told, it was more of a son et lumière than an epic festival performance. The problem with both Fender and Eillish’s sets were that they were so tied into the backing visuals and lights that it was difficult for them to riff and be truly spontaneous. Harry Styles was a no-show…
Nevertheless we went to bed happy that night…mainly because we were in a bed and not a tent but also happy that we were now Glasto pros having survived the first disorientating day.
Day Two started well. This time we cruised into Blue Gate and parked up right next to the Cabaret Tent. We were in. The sun was shining and life was good. We stopped off at the West Holts Stage to watch Brass Against – a brass band version of Rage Against the Machine that, unlike jazz, was actually a lot better than that sounds.
The kids really wanted to see AJ Tracey so we made our way slowly towards the Pyramid Stage stopping at various stalls to sample some of the smorgasbord of global cuisine on offer. We had Foot Long Hot Dogs, Singapore Noodles, Poutine and pudding from the Crumble Shack…I now genuinely can’t remember whether these were bands we saw or food we ate but they were definitely excellent…
We met up with friends, one of whom was carrying a bag containing an industrial amount of magic mushrooms.
“Are you selling these?” I asked.
“No, they’re for personal consumption.” He replied with a big, goofy grin and eyes so glazed that that it was clear why it had taken him a good twenty seconds to reply.
Pretty much everybody was “on it” from what I could see. Whatever “it” was, was unclear but it must have something to do with the unbelievable mellowness of the crowds. I have never been anywhere in the UK where crowds of this size have not had a high percentage of aggressive wankers, lairy arseholes and total twats. Glastonbury was just a genuinely lovely vibe…maaaaaaannnn.
A J Tracey came on. He is a rapper from West London…Ladbroke Grove, to be precise. I know this because he literally could not stop telling us. He must have informed of us his home location about thirty times, it was almost obsessive. He finished up with video footage of the mean streets of Notting Hill flashing up behind him, just in case we hadn’t understood.
Our party split as some went off to check out Metronomy and Glass Animals. I was assigned to keep a place on the Pyramid Hill and this was how I came to be there when a special speaker was introduced by Emily Eavis, the vegan-looking daughter of Glastonbury founder, dairy farmer and devout Methodist- Michael Eavis.
“Ladies and gentlemen please welcome to the stage…Greta Thunberg.”
There was a peculiar reaction from the crowd. It was as though a cool band that you knew you should like but secretly found a bit annoying had been introduced.
The Swedish Joan of Arc of the Environment movement marched onstage, pumped full of serious-head-girl-attitude. She proceeded to give us all a doom-laden, talking-to that must surely have been the inspiration for Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”
Several of the surrounding drug-takers descended into their own paranoid K-holes as we were told, over and over again that we were all going to die in a fiery, famished, flooded armageddon of our own making.
Quite what Haim, the band of sisters following her onto the stage must have made of her murdering the mood was unclear. They were definitely prepared for global warming however, as they all appeared in matching black bikinis.
There was a very weird moment halfway through their set when, as part of some “strong women sticking it to men” bit, the singer pretended to take a phone call from some surfer called Brad who she then told to fuck off because she was onstage at Glastonbury.
The phone ring they used for this bit was the Nokia tune made famous by my very own Trigger Happy TV Big Mobile character. It was totally surreal. People all round started to shout “HELLO…WHAT? NO, I’M AT GLASTONBURY!” And then spotted me and had their minds blown. I started to wonder whether I had partaken in a mushroom or ten and had forgotten that I had agreed to do a “bit” with Haim. It was all very confusing.
I slipped away for a while to watch Lily Allen join Olivia Rodrigo on the Other Stage and shout “Fuck You” a lot at the Supreme Court before returning to the Pyramid and catching the last half of Noel Gallagher’s set in which he teased the crowd with a sonic wall of sound for three-quarters of an hour before launching into Wonderwall, Half the World Away, Don’t Look Back in Anger and AKA…What A Life (which in my humble opinion is a total festival banger).
I love Noel Gallagher, I’ve met him on a couple of occasions and he is smart as fuck and would definitely make it to my dream dinner party guest list. Famously, he once said that the decision to book Jay-Z as headliner in 2008 was wrong. He felt that festivals should be primarily guitar band driven. Personally, I think it is the sheer diversity of musical genres that make Glastonbury what it is, but each to their own. Noel’s set certainly provided what the crowd wanted, although he only mentioned that he was from Manchester once…
I now faced a dilemma. I bloody love The Waterboys and they were headlining the Acoustic Stage at the same time as Paul McCartney was taking to the Pyramid. In the end, despite the utter brilliance of Mike Scott and his gang, I opted for Macca as it was definitely one of those, once-in-a-lifetime moments plus there was another rumour circulating that he was going to appear alongside a hologram of John Lennon in the style of the new Abba show.
The crowd was vast…insanely so. You couldn’t move and there were people as far as the eye could see. And then he was onstage, the world’s most impressive looking eighty year old, launching into “Can’t Buy me Love” and it was magical. The crowd went ape-shit. Obviously it couldn’t last.
Macca is a bit like Robin Williams in that, although an utter genius, he has a tendency, if not properly supervised, to descend into slightly naff, almost child-like material which, in his case, culminated in the monstrosity that is the Frog Chorus. Fortunately for us, he did not go that low but there was a long period in which he noodled away at songs that nobody was much interested in.
But it it all came together in the end. He introduced a special guest from “The East Coast of America” and everybody thought it was Ringo, but it was Dave Grohl. Dave Grohl told us all a rather long story about the series of delayed flights that he had to take to get here before launching into a couple of songs with Macca.
Then…another surprise guest… “It’s Harry Styles” screamed my daughter. It was not…it was only Bruce bloody Springsteen. The crowd went batshit crazy and started screaming “Bruuuuuce” which, to the untrained ear, as with “Joe Rooooot” at the cricket , sounded like we were booing him. Macca and Bruce were unphased and launched into “Glory Days” and everything was alright in the world.
Finally, with Grohl and Bruce off the stage and after a curiously amazed explanation from Macca about how both of them had flown over “in planes” from America to be here, we got to the main course.
Macca launched into Let It Be, Live and Let Die and then what felt like a thirty minute sing-along-with-Gramps version of Hey Jude which really should be the UK national anthem.
After a quick trip to the oxygen tent he came back on to do a couple more songs including I’ve Got A Feeling in which he virtual duetted with footage of John Lennon from the Savile Row rooftop concert. Not quite the promised hologram but certainly infinitely preferable to a surprise cameo from Ringo and us all being sent back to camp to the hallucinogenic madness of An Octopus’s Garden.
We staggered back towards the Circus and Cabaret area, almost speechless. All around us, night-time Glastonbury was waking up. It was like walking through some surreal movie-set lit by red neon. High above us, Go-go girls danced in flaming cages, carnival barkers urged to us to watch escapologists, tripping punters dancing in slo-mo wonder in front of of a screen that turned their movements into light forms.
A man to our right, carrying a Daunt’s Bookshop tote bag, stood staring at a tree in utter astonishment. It was as though Moses had just descended from the mountain and handed him the tablets of stone. Occasionally he would look around in apparent disbelief as to why nobody else could see the tree like he…there were many like him, lost in their own private Glastonbury. I wished we were staying on-site as I could have wandered the strange streets of Glastonbury all night.
Sunday morning was beautiful. The sun shone and we got breakfast in a coffee shop in Glastonbury before hopping onto a bus that took us to the Festival. As.we wandered past the Abbey towards the bus-stop a man dressed as a full-on wizard wished us a “wizardly good day.” We didn’t bat an eyelid. We were in the zone. We just thanked him and moved on. Nothing to see here…
When we got to the bus-stop the line snaked around the corner and we knew that there was only one bus an hour. We were lucky and got the last four places on board before the driver closed his door to the consternation of the poor people left behind. I felt bad…but soon got over it.
We headed to the Other Stage and watched Sea Girls, a band I loved although I couldn’t help wincing at the lead singer’s haircut. It was astonishing how the mullet had returned as some sort of non-ironic fashion statement.
There was a secret TBC confirmed gig on next at the John Peel tent and my daughter had been told that it was definitely Harry Styles. We made our way up there along with the rest of Glastonbury. It was totally packed and we gave up, but my kids forced their way in and got to within three rows from the front. It wasn’t Harry Styles, it was George Ezra and they announced afterwards that this was THE performance of the festival.
Meanwhile, we rejoined our mushroom friend who, being of purposefully eclectic tastes had decided to watch Herbie Hancock. Just before he came on somebody introduced another speaker- a rather hippyish looking woman from Newfoundland who was part of the local Methodist church.
Although devoutly anti-religious, one thing she said stuck with me. She said that the secret to Glastonbury was to capture the special feeling that existed at the festival and to take it out with us and spread it to the rest the world. It was true- there really was some thing special about this place and somebody needed to bottle it.
Herbie Hancock came on and I lasted about ten minutes before getting the strong feeling that I was trapped in some infernal jazz elevator. We went for a wander around to look at the sights. Somebody started shouting “DOM JOLY!!!” at me rather loudly and I wasn’t in the mood for drunken antics, so I put my head down and walked on before my friend realised it was Fatboy Slim and I performed a rapid reverse to say hello.
We ended up at the Other Stage again to watch Declan McKenna who was rather brilliant. The kids dived into the front of the crowd while I lay on the ground, soaking up the sun, staring at the flags and taking it all in. This was my most chilled Glastonbury moment and I was seriously in the zone when my wife shattered said moment by announcing that she had lost her bag with her phone, money, tickets and credit cards inside it. This was a nightmare and there was zero chance of finding it. We retraced our steps and spotted an information booth. We asked where we would go on the vague chance somebody might have handed the bag in?
“What kind of bag is it?” Ask the sweet woman at the booth.
“A small leather handbag.” Replied my wife.
“This one?” Asked the woman.
It was it. Everything was still in it. Somebody had just handed it in. You have to bloody love Glastonbury.
By now, it was early evening and Diana Ross was on, playing the Legends slot. We had a decision to make. Our son was off to Amsterdam early the following morning for a post-A level blow out that would undoubtedly make Glastonbury look like a scout camp. We had to get him to the airport and everybody had warned us about leaving after 6pm as the early leaver traffic was insane. I really wanted to watch Elbow and Lorde and the kids were desperate to see Kendrick Lamar…but sometimes, as somebody should have whispered to Diana Ross, you’ve got to know when to quit.
We all agreed on an early exit and an hour later we were in the car approaching Bristol having encountered no traffic problems. We stopped at a petrol station to fill up. It felt weird to be on the outside again, leaving the bubble. I went inside to pay. At the till were three muscly guys shouting at the weedy guy behind the till. As far as I could make out they were short of 5p for what they were paying for and the attendant hadn’t let them off. He was on the phone to the police while one of the men was shouting-
“We’re from Bradford mate- you don’t know who you’re messing with. We’ll follow you home and fuck you over…”
As I approached they all stopped dead and, very weirdly, let me through. The cashier took my payment while still speaking to the police. As I left the shop the shouting started again…
I remembered what the Methodist lady from Newfoundland had said…the world needs more of the Glastonbury spirit.
I never saw Porridge Radio.