The gates are open and it’s a hot sunny day. There are long queues outside the site. People carrying impossibly large burdens – tents, rucksacks, crates of beer. The Valley, the centre of the Glastonbury site, is sparsely populated but will soon fill up. Many of the tents, the little shops, are open but there is little music. It is impossibly hot.
Another hot, stifling day. The Valley is absolutely crowded and it is difficult to move from one side of the site to the other. People appear to be crammed in. Of course the tendency for everyone to go to the same areas of the site while there are no bands playing on the main stages might have something to do with this crush. However, there appear to be many more people this year compared to last. I estimate there to be a further 30,000.
The Greenfields area, the area of the healing fields, the craft fields and Green Futures field are particularly crowded compared to their usual sparsely populated state. Tomorrow, when the main stages start, the crowds will clear from this area and it would be possible to walk around comfortably.
The general age of the Glastonbury festival-goers is higher than in previous years. There are many elderly people, couples, singles, probably old hippies coming for a last look. There are also a lot of middle-aged men in tie-dye T-shirts and cargo shorts, the three-quarter length variety. It’s not a good look. I even see some of them dancing. Most are drunk. Middle-aged man dancing topless with jiggling gynaecomastia-not a pretty sight!
The other notable grouping are youngish men in their 20s or early 30s, in threes or fours, wearing shorts and trainers, walking round bare-chested and sunburned, also drunk.
The Green Fields empty, or rather, become sparsely populated. Apart from the first two days of the festival, before the main stages start and people gravitate towards the Pyramid field, the Green Fields are always peaceful and much like a mediaeval fayre with crafts, gift stalls and tented cafes, all fringed with fairy lights. I want to include the Avalon Field as part of this corner of Glastonbury, it being relatively easy to move around on after the first couple of days.
In the afternoon we are hit by heavy rain and we get soaked. On the way back to camp I called into William’s Green stage to see the excellent Liverpool band, Stealing Sheep. Decided then to go and get dry.
I did hear the roar when Florence took off her top.
Saturday was dry and a bit overcast. Many people bought flowers and colourful clothing from the many stalls present at Glastonbury (it really is like a small market town), and the atmosphere is developing towards the more spiritual for which Glastonbury is, often erroneously, known. At least the drunks are less obvious.
Flowers in their hair, laughing and smiling. This is more like it.
For me the choice of main stage acts is poor. My auditory day had to be saved by Tom Robinson at the acoustic tent. Tom Robinson was superb – still brimming with anger but now directed at the cuts, the bankers, the capitalists. He is touring later this year I think I’ll try and catch him though he is billed to play at the Green Man festival in August. I’ll catch him there.
Texas don’t show up, apparently due to illness. After Tom Robinson’s set, I make my way towards the valley centre to get something to eat. I return to the acoustic tent to see Nick Lowe, Andy Fairweather-Low and Paul Carrick. When I get back the acoustic stage tent is empty so I sit down to relax. A crowd gathered and 10 minutes before the Lowe-Carrick-Low set is to start it became quite uncomfortable in the tent. For some reason, and I can’t work out why, Nick Lowe, Paul Carrick and Andy Fairweather-Low playing together attracted a number of alcohol affected young 20-year-olds. I made my apologies and left to spend the evening and early night in the Green Fields relaxing, visiting the small tents with small stages.
Sunday and it’s absolutely pouring with rain. There had been rumours that the Dalai Lama is visiting but nobody knows when or where he will appear, or even if he will talk and meet the people. It becomes a moot point, as to leave the tent is to instantly become drenched and I feel that, though I might consider myself to be a Buddhist, I’m certainly not a masochist.
The skies clear around about midday, in that the rain stops and occasional patches of sun show through, I make my way down to see Patti Smith on the Pyramid stage. Patti was her wonderful stirring and rousing self, the music powerful and the call for freedom loud. But halfway through the set she stopped and asked us all on the Pyramid to say happy birthday to a man who would be 80 years old on 6th July – the Dalai Lama. I’m sure most thought we were just going to sing a song but, framed in the large screen at the sides of the stage, a gentle, kindly old man dressed in maroon robes came into view accompanied by a small entourage. They made their way centre-stage.
The applause was loud and enthusiastic. People previously sitting stood for the Dalai Lama as he waved to the crowd and holding his palms together saluted us all.
He was presented with a knife and a birthday cake was brought out. The Dalai Lama cut the cake. Another round of applause. The crowd sang happy birthday to you, not the greatest or most interesting piece of music but it seemed appropriate at the time. The Dalai lama took the microphone, praised Patti Smith for her dancing, and gave a short teaching on the basis of the Nour Noble Truths – that all living things, without exception, wish to be happy and wish not to suffer.
I felt blessed. The Dalai Lama!
Before leaving the stage the Dalai Lama gave Patti a scarf and, I’m sure, gave the majority of the crowd a feeling that life is more than the drudgery of 9-to-5 existence.
Out of curiosity had intended to go and see the Zombies who were playing on the Avalon stage and, considering their legendary status, I thought it was worth a shot. There were disappointing. It was very much like all those Mersey Beat programs on the radio which go on about how great it was in the 60s and what we did in the 60s. I left.
I made my way up through the Green Fields to the flag field and sat there for a long, long time looking down into the festival, watching the crowds moving, crowding crushing. The Pyramid stage.
Lionel Richie was playing on the Pyramid stage and from the top of the flag field I could see that it was an uncomfortable place to be, in that crowd, in that mass. It also left the excellent Twin Atlantic with a very small crowd. They did not deserve this. Besides, I think they’re better than Lionel Richie anyway.
The Who were due to play the last set on the Pyramid stage, closing the festival. I saw The Who in 2007. I stood ankle deep in mud and totally drenched on the Pyramid field but The Who were wonderful. I hardly noticed the water running down my face onto my shoulders and inside my shirt.
But this time?
I had seen the crowds. I was aware that the crowds were bigger than they had been before. I did not feel that being crushed, pushed, and having some tall bloke move through the crowd to stand right in front of me was worth it.
I went to the Avalon stage, bought a pint of Tuborg and sat on a bench in the inn from where I had an excellent view of Idlewild.
The last thing to do then was to go by a vegan sausage roll and relax and enjoy the peace of the Green Fields at night, the murmuring quiet, the gentle lights.
Overall, I feel I’ve grown more cynical about Glastonbury and what it stands for in recent years. It is true it used to be a festival associated with peace, love, green issues, Greenpeace, alternative living and the counter-culture. It is also true at these ideals have been tainted over the years by subsequent events. Certainly since the financial crash it appears that more families have been attending, perhaps seeing it as a an inexpensive holiday (children under 14 have free entry if accompanied by an adult). At times the Glastonbury Festival is more like a holiday resort and is certainly not alternative or counter-culture.
On the Monday morning after the party, again on the Greenfields, I met a young girl in their early 20s. She told me and my companions of the time she’d had. She had had many problems and it felt she had been hit from all directions, that her life had been difficult. It was clear that she had been suffering. But she smiled at us and said that this changes everything. She said that she had found meaning. I told her that it was a great place to find that meaning. She left us, smiling.
This Glastonbury feeling, this real feeling of meaning, of hope, I very much wish she keeps it with her.