As you drag your feet through the endless mud heading for some distant point only one mile but probably two hours away, you know that there is only one place this can be: Glastonbury Festival, what else? If it’s late June, whatever the weather, and whatever your age, can there be anywhere as compelling and memorable to be? You are not alone of course. There are 175,000 other people doing the same thing, come rain or shine. So if you are agoraphobic or enchlophobic you won’t be here. And it helps to like noise, loud music of all kinds and not be averse to the ubiquitous crowds throughout Worthy Farm.
This instant city, with the same population as Swindon, or even the London Borough of Richmond, springs up in a matter of weeks, hosts its vast throng of dedicated acolytes and is disbanded and returned to its displaced bovine inhabitants, a few days later. It is a great logistic and bureaucratic enterprise, depending on the willing labour of thousands of tired and patient volunteers. It is liquid marmite.
This year was one of the wettest on record, but after two days of spontaneous river flow across the valleys of the site, the rain abated somewhat, and the late arrivals, like ourselves, only have a steady drizzle, huge crowds and six inches of mud to contend with. Traversing the site becomes a marathon effort, nevertheless, and with considerable distances to negotiate, it can take several hours to cross the site to visit offbeat places like Strummerville and the stone circle.
For those who have signed up for the full Glastonbury experience, camping on the premises is de rigeur. Not for them a cosy bed and breakfast or boutique hotel in the local town. It is the pop up tent pitched on a grass slope near a bank of eco-toilets with the sweet sickly smell of sewage ever-present. It is the all night din of surround sound partying that demands engagement if for no other reason that it is impossible to avoid it, or switch it off. Yet the experience is there for the young, middle aged and older alike, because it is such a re-juvenating experience.
With over 17 stages, ranging from the immense (Pyramid Stage – probably the best known Festival stage in the world) to the intimate (Summerhouse – enough room for a a group of friends), it is impossible to see more than a fraction of the musical talent on show. And with the going very heavy (it can take two hours to cross the site) it is best to choose the desired stage and head there early. My son’s band Mystery Jets play the John Peel Stage on Sunday afternoon. It is an experience I will never forget – a rammed tent holding perhaps four thousand vociferous fans, and a great sound system – makes for an utterly memorable occasion.
Later, in the early evening, several hundred of us gather at Strummerville, for many years the haunt of Joe Strummer of the Clash. Here musicians play around a huge bonfire in the style of ages past. The Mystery Jets find this more challenging than playing in front of several thousand people. But all goes well. Then it’s back through all the mud to the camp site.
As usual, Glastonbury captures a great selection of the best musical acts in the world. This year Muse, Adele and Coldplay headline the Pyramid Stage. But other unmissable acts include Tame Impala, John Grant, The 1975, Beck and the ageless Jeff Lynne’s ELO.
By Monday morning, exhausted but enervated, we slowly de-camp and recover our senses and sense of time, fortified by more lattes and bacon butties. Of course the weekend cannot be complete without a four or five hour wait to leave the Festival site. Plenty of time to reflect on memories that will never fade away. Was this the best ever? It certainly feels like it.