Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The Glasto Digest

What went down on Worthy Farm.

Wed, Jul 2, 2014, 10:33


Another year, another great Glasto to digest. Even with grumblings about the so-so headliners, and thunderstorms pummelling the site, nothing can take away from the fact that Glastonbury, as the mothership of music festivals, sprints so far ahead of other shindigs that it laps them year after year.

Glastonbury basically does everything right. After 44 years, you’d naturally want to be getting things like sanitation, site layout, security, crowd control and so on down, but the festival does all of these so well – with around 180,000 people on site – that it really puts smaller festivals with much smaller capacity issues in the shade. Things that are irritating about other festivals don’t come into the Glastonbury experience. Let’s get the organisational pros out of the way first.

There is no annoying and invasive branding (unlike the beer brands that scream cheaply from Irish festival bars), there are rarely queues at the bar, although pouring rights are of course a thing (mostly Tuborg for beer and Thatchers for cider at the bigger bars) you don’t just have to drink whatever brand coughed up dosh to be there. There are cocktail bars and ale bars and local cider bars and a full array of whatever you want. So if you fancy a gin and tonic at a gig, you can have it. Or if you’d like a bloody mary while watching an orchestra play in the morning, it’s yours. Many of the bars this year also took cards, lessening the queues at cash machines.

Volunteers and staff
My biggest gripe at festivals is dealing with ignorant or clueless staff and security. There’s none of that at Glastonbury. Everyone is polite, everyone treats punters with respect, everyone is upbeat, everyone knows what they’re doing, everyone thanks you for your cooperation, and no matter what steward you ask anywhere in the festival about anything – directions to a stage, train times, shortcuts – they help you out and have the information to hand. It’s a masterclass across the board.

For the first couple of songs at Dolly Parton at the Pyramid Stage, there were problems with the speaker rigs half way through the crowd. This was obviously an issue with around 80,000 people watching the gig, but it was soon fixed. I’m pointing this out because it’s pretty much the first time I’ve heard sound issues at the festival. The layout of the stages, far away from each other and positioned well, means the sound is brilliant; loud and clear. There are no tents squished near each other so there’s no sound bleeding across stages. The sound was especially exceptional for Massive Attack on the Other Stage and James Blake in the Park. Even if you’re standing 10,000 people back, you can hear everything perfectly.

Getting in and out
You’d expect a festival of this scale to have issues with getting people on and off site. There are rarely any. Coming into the site on Wednesday afternoon, the shuttle busses are staggered to prevent crowding at the entrance, and you simply stroll in, receive your wristband and off you go. Same goes for the way out: buy a ticket for a bus back to Bristol, sit for a little while for it to arrive, hop on, and you’re back in the city within two hours despite the entire site emptying on Monday morning. Zero hassle.

The detail
Glasto does detail BIG. The site’s scale and contents makes for a constant experience of exploration. It’s basically a dozen or so festivals on 1,000 acre site. Whether you want to chill for a bit and watch skateboarders on a massive ramp in the Greenpeace area, or grab some chai by a campfire on your way to the Stone Circle, or play a game of crazy golf aimed at highlighting the issues of fossil fuels in the Green Futures field, or listen to an immersive a capella choir sing in a circle to blindfolded people in the Theatre Field, there’s just an endless amount to discover, stumble across and enjoy. Wandering around is the best thing to do at Glastonbury, and the surprises every few feet mean that there’s very little sense of familiarity or repetition year after year. Glasto is always evolving, always changing things up, always bringing something new, always creating a sense of spontaneity.

Diversity of music
Given the size of the festival, you’re grateful that there’s everything here. Hip hop, dub step, drum and bass, folk, trad, rock and roll, metal, disco, indie, r n b, techno, house, country, pop, whatever you’re into, it’s here.

Diversity of the crowd
While Glasto is overwhelmingly a very white festival, it’s the age range that’s really heartening. From new born babies to 80-year-olds, Glasto draws everyone together and everyone is respectful of each other. From the middle-aged couples chilling in the acoustic area, to the teenagers dancing away to Lana Del Rey, it’s a beautiful coming together of all ages.

The Highlights
Dolly Parton
Dolly’s performance must have been an eyeopener for everyone on site. She was the real headliner. I didn’t have much interest in Metallica or Kasabian on Saturday and Sunday night, but Dolly was the act everyone was talking about. And she delivered a brilliant, fun, energetic and upbeat set that was simply perfect.

Arcade Fire
I hadn’t seen Arcade Fire play on their Reflektor tour, so was really interested to see what new energy they brought. It was an excellent set, loaded with a new enthusiasm that makes them feel almost like a new band. Aside from the weird giant-puppet-head interlude, it was a gig to savour.

Angel Haze
The last time I saw Angel Haze perform was at SXSW 2012 on an outdoor stage with a small crowd and just a DJ to back her up. She rocked it then, and she rocked it on the Pyramid Stage, bounding into the crowd, and backed by a live band bringing a new dimension to her tunes. Great stuff.

Probably one of the best gigs of the weekend was this one early on Friday in the John Peel tent. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new band that is so polished, so tight, and so ready. A steady groove throughout was the backdrop to immaculate tunes. The big time is beckoning for these guys.

I know, what a surprise! While sheltering from the rain in the Avalon area, I walked into the main tent where these guys were playing. They rocked it completely, making your realise how their Eurovision non-adventure really did this great band a disservice. A large and hugely appreciative crowd lapped it up. Trad is strong at Glasto with Clannad filling the Acoustic Stage on Sunday.

Kate Tempest
Tempest played the gig of her life in the Rum Shack on Thursday night. It was a brilliant display of verbal dexterity, intelligence, and enthusiasm. She’s stepped up to another level and is truly one of the great British artists of her generation.

What can you say about the surreal steampunk futuristic paradise with its new area near the Park venue? Arcadia is just nuts, and on Sunday night, the area closed with a brilliant set of drum and bass tunes from the giant fire-breathing spider, a huge robotic hand that lifted up and crushed cars (which punters could control), a small child casually straddling a fire-breathing horse, a fire-breathing dragon which you could control with buttons strapped to a railing, two maniacs in suits creating massive fire tornados that blasted into the sky, and an all round display of jaw-dropping surreal antics. Next level stuff.

James Blake
A beautiful Sunday night set closed The Park Stage, with Blake on top form. Much credit goes to his sound engineer and the sound on the stage for this crisp and detailed set.

Massive Attack
An absolutely phenomenal gig on the Other Stage on Sunday night with some of the best live vocals I’ve ever heard. The lighting and visuals were so impactful that there were times during this gig when I practically entered a trance. Spectacular sound made tunes such as ‘Teardrop’, ‘Unfinished Symphony’ and ‘Safe From Harm’ soar like I’ve never heard them before. I’ve seen Massive Attack a few times live, and often felt as though their sound can be prone to lulling live. Nothing could be further from that experience here. One of the gigs of the weekend.

So that’s it for another year. There were issues of course, most of them beyond anyone’s control. The thunderstorms and torrential rain at one point did indeed turn parts of the site into a quagmire, especially the Sangri-La area on Saturday night, and crossing the Pyramid Stage at one point felt like an odyssey. And in my opinion, the headliners were weak. But it’s not just about the big guns at Glastonbury. Wandering around the site on Wednesday night, as fairy lights and lanterns lit the nooks and crannies of the Permaculture area was just delightful. A lot of people say Glasto is about the vibe, but for me it’s about everything. There is something beautiful about gathering in this crazy pop-up city for five days and escaping into a world where everyone just wants to have a good time, and everyone gets looked after. The volunteers and staff and Glastonbury do phenomenal work, and they should continue to be applauded heartily. The usual problem now, is that post-Glasto every other festival that draws from its aesthetic simply can’t even approach matching this colossus. Roll on 2015.

(Photo from Glasto’s Instagram)