Glastonbury – 2003

Bummer in the summer?

Glastonbury’s short but culturally rich history is swamped with tales of the entrepreneurial, curious, eccentric, beaded strangeness and…well, mud. Desperate to pay off his mortgage and inspired by the Bath Blues Festival, where ironically he gained access by sneaking under a hedge, Michael Eavis gave birth to the 1970 Pilton festival. Marauding Hells Angels and The Kinks’ non-appearance failed to dampen the affair. So in 71, with the cosmic aid of Andrew Kerr, Eavis and about 12,000 free souls celebrated the festival’s first birthday.

Setting a now familiar tone, the response from the national press was as diverse as the festival-goers weekend wardrobes. Incredulous accounts of the ley line obsessed Kerr and stage burning Arthur Brown were lost in a tabloid orgy of naked hippies, earth-smeared shenanigans and bad acid – I guess beetroot-dyed, junior aspirin is the worst kind of hallucinogen anyone can take. At times culturally impotent, Fleet Street has continued to fuel the Glastonbury myth over the last 22 years. As denizens of the decent, they have built a legend that strikes fear into the hearts of the suburban classes, whilst the rest of us have been excited, repulsed and titillated by the splintered and frazzled memories of those who have attended.

But it would be unfair to place all of the blame for recent Glastonbury gloom at the spotless feet of mercenary hacks. A light-footed and pre-potty-trained minority have caused soaring crime rates, swollen crowds and fearsome pollution over the last six years. To ensure his baby survived another stay of execution, Eavis responded with fences quite unlike anything you’d find at B&Q and an army of Van Dammesque bathroom attendants. After a quieter 2002 festival and with no mud to throw, certain members of the press could be heard muttering about a corporate sell-out. It all sounds improbable to me, as I meander through the Vale of Avalon.

Whether entering the sprawling site for the first or twentieth time, it must be hard to beat the rush of excitement as you take in the kaleidoscopic wealth of stalls, entertainment and people. Glastonbury’s melting pot of textures, sounds and aromas stings the senses into a festival-focus far removed from worthy, yet one-dimensional events such as Leeds, Reading and V.

Having devoured the festival guide I excitedly conclude that this years fourteen stages will host the strongest line-up of performers and entertainers ever seen. From the wobbly-headed, granny-friendly David Gray to pulsating, deviant sound merchants such as Squarepusher, pots of gold can be found at both ends of the musical spectrum. Then there’s the comedy, theatre, cabaret, circus acts and of course, colourful crowds to keep you in whatever frame-of-mind you choose.

Glastonbury is one of the few places where going hopelessly astray is an emotionally embracing experience. There’s a myriad of possibilities to discover in this idiosyncratic wonderland. You may not know where you are but the vibrant nowness of everything gloriously distorts finely honed, 9-5 perspectives. However, with such an array of talent on offer this year, I reluctantly map a vague route to navigate this lost weekend.

A grey backdrop frames the metal pastiche of The Darkness as I lope towards the pyramid stage. They are quickly followed by the cool as fuck mooings of the pot-bellied Inspiral Carpets. Their whirling, farsifa-laden anthems render the, by now sheeting rain meaningless. The simplicity of their kitchen-sink dramas makes for great sing-a-long entertainment. Echo And The Bunnymen’s spitting melodies give way to blue skies and the lithe-looking De La Soul – the party is really warming up. Treating us to a bounty of Three Feet High And Rising gems, Posdnous & co reach a euphoric peak with Saturday…and it’s still only Friday.

In the intimate shadow of the imaginatively named other stage, a curious audience rapidly expands as the deftly seismic Yo La Tengo skit from ethereal undercurrents to banshee proportioned torrents of white noise. Their all-to-brief appearance heralds an atomic entrance from The Cooper Temple Clause. Having set their controls for the heart of the sun, Reading’s finest launch a blistering assault on the senses. The earth’s still shaking as I search for some mental refreshment. Forlornly forsaking the legendary Skatalites for Lemonjelly, I slide into a beautifully ambient atmosphere under a Del Marian sunset. Perfect.

Saturday promises to be an outdoor, musical feast. For starters I spread out on the teeming green blanket that holds the pyramid stage and take in the fabled Jimmy Cliff. Mixing soul, Ska and a healthy portion of goodwill he delights the greedy masses. Following in his giant footsteps are the appetising Polyphonic Spree and Turin Brakes. And as the sun begins to dip over the other stage, Arthur Lee and Love reduce bearded men to tears with a spellbinding rendition of the seminal Forever Changes. Already fat on such a tuneful diet, I approach creosote proportions watching the life-affirming Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals.

Sundays at Glastonbury are often frayed, hazy and laconic affairs. Acts generally reflect this state, gently ruffling your hair in a sympathetic, farewell gesture. Meeting a surprisingly sprightly friend, who’s crammed five hours sleep into five days, I try and focus on the pomp of Yes. We then miss the beardy tunes of Granddaddy in favour of a blistering Aziz, who’s not even on the bill. Hooked on a crystal clear, beautiful soundtrack, my comedown is tiring but relatively painless. It’s a fantastic thing that Glastonbury has rid itself of the infamous sideshows. The fact that this leaves some poor, misguided fools with little to talk about means they’ve missed the point completely. You set the scene, not anyone else. Attend. Enjoy. Try to remember.


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