Glastonbury made a triumphant 50th year return, after a three year hiatus and whilst (unsurprisingly) I’ve come back with Covid, it was all worth it. Last time I was there I came back with a tick buried in my back and had to go to A & E to get it out because none of my children would go near it and was on antibiotics for three weeks, so there’s always something. Anyway, because I’m doing the responsible thing and staying at home (instead of watching the Rolling Stones perform at Hyde Park today) whilst still testing positive, I have time to write my Glastonbury 22 review.
We were all a little apprehensive before setting off for our big adventure, what with the rail strikes, the dodgy weather reports, whether the tickets we’d all bought would get us in (that’s another story), whether we could stomach the longdrop loos or still had enough energy to take the 26K + steps required per day to get to all the bands we wanted to see and how we would cope with all those crowds. But once you’re in (unbelievably no traffic at all on Thursday evening), you’ve found all your friends, set up camp and started drinking profusely, all in the world is good.
There’s something magical about being in a hedonistic adult playpen for four days (or maybe it really is something to do with the ley lines) that fills the soul with joy, even when you’re well above the average age. Your daily ritual is reduced to worrying about where you are going to do your ablutions, how much wine to decant into your plastic bottles and should you bring gin too, how heavy your day bag is going to be and whether it’s too early to down a tequila shot before you’ve had breakfast (yes, as it happens, so you have a long discussion about whether a Bloody Mary would be a more appropriate choice and yes, as it happens because that way you’ve had most of your five a day before 11am). The issue of getting lost, of not finding your friends, or losing your phone becomes key and I found myself clinging on to my girlfriend or shouting for her regularly, like a small lost child, even though she was almost always standing right next to me, much to the amusement of everyone else. For those action packed, exhausting, exhilarating, mind-blowing days, the real world seems only a distant memory….until of course Greta appeared to remind us that we’re all going to die and brought us back down to (our very hot) earth.
The essence of Glastonbury this year was everyone coming back together, young and old after the pandemic. As it happened, the weather was glorious and the predicted rain came mainly on the plain in the early mornings, so by midday we were sitting in bright sunshine and sharing our suncream. It was unquestionably busier than usual, even if we all had a warped sense of crowds, post lockdown. The sheer volume of people felt a little overwhelming after our lack of contact, but it wasn’t long before we were sharing glittery hugs with all and sundry. It was always going to be a bit of a Covid infested soup, but I guess there would have been a higher than average number of anti-vaxxers in that crowd to make the virus all the more excitable. I reckon there was possibly even more than 250,000 humans, but who can blame the owners for wanting to recoup some of their long lost business. There were so many more babies who had clearly not been factored into the equation when the tickets were secured in the ballot pre lockdown. But hats off to the organisers – the effort required to pull off something of that magnitude was extraordinary. The set changes for around 3,000 different artists, the licences required, the food, the loos, the medical facilities, the litter control, the security, the alcohol, all the accommodation, the transport for all the artists, all the staff required. OMG it’s huge.
Two of my children were there, as was my partner’s daughter and we managed to meet up to watch a few bands, despite it being a massive effort to find anyone, unless they were the proud owner of a massive flag and if you didn’t have EE as your provider then the messages took a long while to come in, by which time everyone had moved on. Once you accept that you can’t see all the bands and won’t find all your friends and relax into it, just going with the flow, then it works. I happily pottered along with my friends to see bands I hadn’t heard of, but thoroughly enjoyed, only stressing when I had to get somewhere to meet my kids and needed someone to come with me because I’d get lost otherwise.
So what did we see and how did we make our decisions?
Based on this year’s line up, it was frankly quite easy – anyone who was likely to die of old age before anyone else performing at the same time got first choice.
We began the festivities by seeing Dom Joly in the Cabaret Tent which was a great way to kick off the laughter that bubbles up inside you and increases exponentially as the days go on. He gave us a shorter version of “Holiday Snaps…travel and comedy in the danger zone,” the show he’s currently touring with and it’s clearly well worth seeing if you get a chance. He’s written a great piece about his experience as a Glastonbury virgin on his new blog site that’s also worth reading:- Glastonbury Diary. I bought his very cool bag at the end of his show, but am now wondering whether there is anywhere else in the world I can use it. Certainly not really appropriate for the streets of East Sheen:-
I wanted to see Crowded House, but we were on the other side of the farm, so we decided to head up to The Park to see Wet Leg who I hadn’t heard of. We spent so long discussing why anyone would name their band “Wet Leg” that we failed to notice the vast swathes of people who had arrived at the stage before us. No way we were going to get anywhere near, they’d set up a road block, so down the hill we traipsed again to find something else to watch. The same thing happened when we tried to get to George Ezra – an insane amount of people for the John Peel tent – he’s played on the Other Stage before, so it was never going to work. We sat miles away and tried to guess which songs he was singing.
Wolf Alice were great. Ellie Rowsell was understandably emotional, having nearly not made it from the US owing to a cancelled flight.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – my girlfriend and I loved them, he’s very cool with his long curly grey hair up in a topknot and wonderfully evocative voice and she was divine, with a sublime voice, although they didn’t play “Killing The Blues” which is my favourite. Their voices make the perfect union and I find it extraordinary to think of him formally in Led Zep.
We then trekked up to find my children to watch Nick Mulvey in the Avalon tent, but only found one of them, my daughter was buried deep in the thick of it and ready for the Sugar Babes with no phone signal. As a result, we missed Sam Fender (but in truth we weren’t trying that hard because my friend thought it was Sam Ryder and really didn’t fancy it).
Wanted to see Annie Mac and Fat Boy Slim but food, drinks and a loo break beckoned before Billie Eilish – you have to factor in at least an extra hour for housekeeping , so missed them too.
We watched Billie Eilish with friends and our kids, surrounded by a number of people with pupils the size of Jupiter. Billie is a pint sized ball of energy despite the obvious reminder (via the black tape strapping on her calves) that she has shin splints and dodgy knees and shouldn’t really be doing all that jumping around, even at her young age. She powered through her set with extreme confidence for one so young. Even all her “hold hands with the person you love next to you and tell them how much you love them…be in the moment” moments were almost bearable, although my daughter and I shouted “fuck off you c**t” to each other as our own personal endearments, much to everyone else’s horror, which seemed funny at the time, but not now…obviously…what were we even thinking. She then made us all squat down low, I can’t remember why, I was too busy trying not to fall backwards – it was a terrible idea for those of us in the audience who were over 50 and we struggled to stay down, so hopefully she will rethink that idea moving forward. I loved that she stood up for the appalling Supreme Court decision about abortion and the removal of a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body – “a dark day for the women of America” she stated emotionally. We all enjoyed the show and whilst it was the finale for us, she was just the warm up act for my kids. As we set off back to camp, proudly agreeing that we shouldn’t peak too early, I hugged my kids goodbye and watched them weave off into the sea of humanity for lots more fun.
I forgot, as I texted my children at 9am to ask them what their plans are for the day, that they’d probably only just gone to bed and didn’t hear from them for hours. We were up and about at a reasonable hour, when it’s a peaceful time to wander around the farm, watching a few revellers still weaving their way home. Consequently, we enjoyed an up close and personal experience at Les Amazones d’Afrique on the Pyramid Stage at midday. They were incredible. A contemporary world music supergroup made up of four glorious women and formed in Mali – they were powerful forces of nature and could dance amazingly all whilst focusing on the rights of women and girls.
We spent the next three hours trying to find friends and food, so missed basically everything in that time, but got back to see Metronomy on the Other Stage who were very cool and who have now been added to my playlist.
I would have loved to stay and watch Haim, they looked amazing as they burst on to the stage in their matching black bikini tops and black trousers, all guns blazing. How refreshing to see these talented young women using their natural bodies so powerfully and beautifully. Let’s hope that they become much better role models than the Kardashian’s were. Because they were younger than Tony Christie, we had no choice but to venture up to the Acoustic tent, to get all emotional whilst singing “Is This The Way To Amarillo.” I used to sing it back in day with my dad in his car when cartridges were still a thing.
My kids then came and found us to watch Scouting For Girls – a band dear to our hearts during the early divorce years and they have the same memory of long drives listening to their album in CD format. We basically know all the words, but I’m a little gutted I didn’t introduce them to something a little cooler – T Rex or The Doors maybe.
I love that guy in the background of our photo grinning away – no idea who he is:-
Next was a rush back to the Pyramid Stage to see Noel Gallagher’s amazing Oasis focused set which was fantastic and we found a spot that worked for us to all reconvene, high up the hill for Macca. Whilst I have to admit to not loving Paul McCartney’s music, even though I think he’s a lovely, genuine man (I used to work with him back in the day), it was a given that none of us were going to miss such an iconic event and anyway, Megan Thee Stallion was playing on the other stage and all I knew about her was that she sang rude songs, so they made it pretty easy to stay.
His set built up slowly and the energy was quite muted in the first half, so we shivered in the cold night air and a few people decided to drift off. It felt as if it could go horribly wrong. I was literally stuck in the middle of managing a friend that was loving it to my left and friends that were hating it to my right. But I’m thankful that we stayed, because the second half was spectacular. He ramped up the game, bringing out all of his big hits and when Dave Grohl arrived onstage to join him for “When I Saw You Standing There” and “Band On the Run” the crowd went wild. Paul genuinely seemed grateful that he’d got on a plane just to get on stage with little-old-me and Dave responded with “I swear I would never miss being here with you right now.” If that wasn’t enough of a moment, he then had another little surprise for us. This time “a friend from the East Coast of America, from New Jersey” and my heart skipped a beat…no….surely not, but then YES, he introduced The Boss, Bruce Springsteen and the crowd go even more berserk. “Why are they booing him?” My friend asked. Even I could answer that question. Bruce is one of my all time favourite artists and we got to enjoy “Glory Days” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” Bruce said as he left the stage,
“Are you kidding? Paul responded, “thanks for coming.”
“I couldn’t miss it man,” said Bruce.
And I suddenly understood just what Paul embodies and how important he is to the music world. Eighty years old, with all his own hair and teeth and still managing a three hour set in which most of the world know the words to every single song. “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” was sung by around 200,000 of us and everyone knew all the words – what other artist could do that? We had a collective sing song like no other and it was certainly one of those Glastonbury moments people (I) will talk about forever more. We were undoubtedly in the presence of greatness. The fact that he can command, in the nicest possible way, anyone and everyone to fly half way across the world just to play one song with him, truly says it all.
They all came back on stage at the end to do that electric guitar thing electric guitarists like to do, but even I who normally hate those bits of self indulgence found it electrifying (excuse the pun). We were all freezing once he’d finished and had run out of alcohol, so we went back to the safety of our campsite, found some blankets and drank some more wine.
I met my daughter at the Other Stage to see the “Sea Girls” a boy band she loves, but couldn’t find anyone else to join her because they were all still asleep, so asked me to join her. Despite the mullet, the white vest and gold chain, she thought the lead singer was “teacher fit.” They were great and once again, it was easy to enjoy the show relatively close to the stage because not many people were up and about.
We watched Diana Ross but the sound was awful – apparently she’d refused to do a soundcheck – maybe it was where we were standing, but when she talked, we couldn’t hear her at all. When they finally did get the sound right, from our perspective, she was pretty out of tune and so despite the huge wealth of wonderful songs; ” I have so many songs about love….everything we do is about love,” we decamped to the bar anyway. Watching it subsequently on TV, it seemed pretty good and she really does look amazing for any age, let alone for an octogenarian.
Then we saw Elbow who were great, followed by Lorde who I love and she was brilliant, powerfully working the stage in her undergarments (well not quite, but it somehow worked). She has certainly grown in confidence since we saw her in 2017 with black hair – the blonde look suits her and her performance was poised and warm. She too had the good grace to shout “f**k the supreme court!” in response to its overturning of Roe vs Wade in the US. As did Olivia Rodrigo and Lily Allen – Go Girls!! But why did the BBC cut out Lily Allen’s surprise appearance? I understand it was because they sang Lily’s “F*ck You” song – but it’s not as if they don’t allow that word to be used in other things? Wrong decision.
My partner’s daughter is a huge fan of Lorde, so my daughter agreed to join her right at the front of the stage for the performance, which they mostly loved. However, at this point I’m going to add my two complaints:-
There should be some crowd control – it’s not acceptable for people to start barging in to get a front row seat for the next act when the previous act hasn’t finished. Halfway through Lorde’s set, the crowd who wanted to be at the front for Kendrick Lamar starting piling in, causing not only a scary squash, but a few people to faint apparently. This simply should not happen. It’s rude to the artist performing and to the people watching and it’s dangerous.
Can we have a size limit on the flags please? From where we watched Lorde, one of the flags was so big that it totally covered the right video screen.
The Pet Shop Boys (who I spent a lot of time with on tour back in the day when I worked for EMI) did not disappoint and we all had a lot of fun listening to their reliable back catalogue of hits and Neil in particularly genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself – especially when Olly Alexander joined for a song – entirely fitting.
Given it was our last night, we decided to do a speedy “photo tour” of the Naughty Corner, otherwise known as The South East Corner, where if you can make it through the crowds (hold hands, form a chain and never let go), you will find yourself disorientated and amazed. We walked through the “Unfairground” and past NYC Downtown, like the New York Meatpacking district – a warehouse displaying near naked dancing men in leather and budgie smugglers. By this time I was exhausted and my feet hurt massively, despite trying my hardest to style it out by persuading myself that if Paul McCartney can play for three hours at 80, I can just bloody keep walking forward. “You look like you’re in labour and 8cm dilated” commented one of the younger members of our team and she wasn’t wrong. I was swaggering and blowing out my cheeks. I had to walk that way, not only because of my feet, but because my sequinned top was chaffing underneath my arms as I walked, so my hands had to be on my hips in order to avoid the skin on my arms being grated away to nothing, to the point where they became severed from my body and I died from loss of blood. No one would have found me until the next morning. Anyway, thankfully we weren’t there for long and found somewhere to sit down before I collapsed.
So the only unanswered question from the parallel universe we lived in was WHERE THE FU*K WAS HARRY STYLES???
This last picture was some of us on the final evening about 4am (we’d lost a few). It’s always sad to pack up and say goodbye to the friends you’ve shared the experience with and even more of a downer to have a seven hour journey home (that should take three hours) owing to an articulated lorry breaking down just around Stone Henge and causing mayhem and your daughter is of no help because she’s comatose in the seat next to you and keeps waking up to ask if we’re nearly there yet. My son’s friend had a crash on the way home having fallen asleep at the wheel – they’re all OK though thank god – it’s a worrying time to drive home of course, after all that fun!
I’m hoping to get back again next year, but I really do need to find some comfortable walking shoes and perhaps up my fitness levels!