Is Glasto ‘as good as it used to be?!’ Ten years at Glastobury Festival

Is Glasto ‘as good as it used to be?!’ Ten years at Glastobury Festival


 

Glastonbury

As far back as I can remember people have been complaining that ‘Glastonbury isn’t as good as it used to be.’  It’s become such a cliché that there was even a sticker in the press area urging people to “queue here to complain” about it.

But then I remember old farts back in the 80s (some of them as old as 30) complaining that it had gone downhill because a bunch of stoned hippies listening to Hawkwind pretending they were changing the world had been replaced by a bunch of stoned CND supporters listening to The Smiths pretending they were changing the world. That generation went on to complain in the 90s that the Britpoppers didn’t even bother to pretend they were changing the world, and so it goes.

There’s a widespread belief that line-ups were more radical in the past and yet when you look back at them it becomes clear that they’ve never really plucked bands out of complete obscurity, most of the bands certainly on the main stages have always been popular at the time and therefore on the Radio 1 playlist / Top 40 or later on the 6 Music playlist.

When Pulp stood in for The Stone Roses at the last minute they were relatively unknown but even they’d recently had a #2 hit with “Common People”, and whilst it’s hard to believe it now, they were regular fixtures on daytime Radio 1.

A lot of us oldies think they should make a stand for “proper” music rather than just book acts that are popular – in the same way that those Hawkwind fans back in the 80s told me I should stop listening to The Smiths and listen to some proper music. But then even if they put together an “oldie friendly” line-up how many would actually still be prepared to spend the weekend camping?

Radio Stations, Blogs and the general media have 365 days a year to shape our music tastes but a festival only has 3 or 4 days – and if they made a habit of booking bands they think people should be listening to rather than the ones they are actually listening to then it wouldn’t last for long.

Sadly most of the “Glastonbury isn’t as good as it used to be” (or indeed Reading/Leeds…) stuff can be translated as “I’m getting old, I no longer ‘get’ the music kids listen to and I now put my home comforts over hard-core partying”.

Fortunately Glastonbury has enough stages that even this year with the worst line-up ever for me personally, I could only physically see 1/3 of the bands I wanted to, so no complaints from me.

Back in the 60s when The Beatles became popular my mum who was by then in her mid-30s couldn’t stand them. But rather than accept they weren’t for her and she was perhaps a bit old to understand their appeal, she drew the conclusion that nobody could possibly like them and the people who said they did were either pretending because they didn’t want to be the odd one out, or were idiots caught up in mass-hysteria, or were on drugs.

Looking at some of my Glastonbury highlights this year looks like the Radio 2 playlist. So now that I’m officially old I feel I too should have a theory about why young people think Mumford and Sons, Jake Bugg and Ed Sheeran are the coolest thing on the planet.

I reckon a lot of it comes down to the fact that in my day music and football were important to young people because it was the only entertainment we had. We didn’t have the internet or mobile phones or catch-up TV, or DVDs or computer games that look like movies. In my house we had 1 TV in the living room which my parents watched constantly. On the few occasions when I persuaded them to let me watch Top of the Pops I had to listen to a running commentary about how the yoof of today were taking the country to hell in a hand cart, because for example they didn’t like someone’s haircut.

People like me who hated football were left only with music so it was even more important.

If you were in your room alone on a Saturday night you’d listen to Morrissey because he understood – he was an even bigger outsider than you were! If you’d been dumped then David Gedge of The Wedding Present had a song or two about that. If you had a hangover, Liz Frazer from The Cocteau Twins would soothe it better. If you wanted to stick your fingers up at the world, The Macc Lads were good for offending practically everyone including yourself.

If it was now then whatever your problem you’d probably go on Facebook and get virtual sympathy from people you may have never met, or watch your favourite comedy or movie on catch-up to cheer yourself up, or go and shoot people on your X-Box to release that anger.

So I reckon that the rise of insipid music is simply because for a lot of young people it’s just background listening, something to sing-along to not something that “speaks” to you. Why else would so many young folk stand at the front of gigs texting people? (To be fair one of the reasons we never did that may be because we didn’t have phones!)

Not to say of course that there aren’t young people who are as fanatical about music as my generation was, just it seems to be a lot less common.

Looking back, since I started going to Glastonbury in 2005, contrary to common belief, little has actually changed.

The Park area has been added, Jazz World is now West Holts, drainage is slightly better, text messages no longer take 3 hours to arrive, but very little else.

Someone once told me that they stopped going when they added a mobile phone charging tent because they don’t want to see corporate logos at Glastonbury. But by that token then surely the attendees shouldn’t wear branded clothes? The food stalls shouldn’t sell branded cola?

Festivals don’t operate in a vacuum. In the early 70s a load of accountants wearing suit and tie didn’t turn up at Glastonbury and leave as hippies – they were already living that lifestyle. It has to cater for a group of people that exist rather than a group we may wish still existed.

The popular slur these days of course is “Middle-Classtonbury” which I don’t really get. Surely Thatcher got rid of the Working Class when she got rid of things like heavy industry, mining and factories – and “middle” is the entry level class now? In any case, now that the majority have learned not to judge people by their skin colour, spiritual beliefs, sexuality and so on, isn’t it about time we stopped putting arbitrary divisive tags on people because of their perceived wealth and status, or indeed their chosen festival?

Truth is that people from all walks of life go to Glastonbury, yes I’ve come across people who’ve left a £200 tent behind because they couldn’t be bothered taking it apart and carrying it home, a girl on the shuttle bus had missed her flight and had to spend Euro400 on a flight back to Ireland which

didn’t seem to phase her, but then I also know people who save all year, and take their own booze and food to save money.

I’ve met people who camp out all weekend at The Pyramid because the most popular bands play there, I’ve known people who never leave the dance village, I know others who only go around the small stages, I even know people who hardly ever go and see a band – something I couldn’t have understood until I went. I like to see a bit of everything including getting out of my comfort zone. But we’re all enjoying ourselves on our own terms.

People say it’s become too corporate, and watching the BBC coverage it’s an easy mistake to make. But in reality the profits go to Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid. Most of the bars are run by the Workers Beer Company to raise funds for the trade unions and are staffed by Shelter volunteers who work 12 hours to get a free ticket and the charity get their wages. Litter pickers work on a similar basis for Oxfam and so on. Not to say there isn’t any corporate involvement, but it probably does more for good causes than any other mainstream festival.

As someone who grew up under Thatcher – a whirlwind of change and destruction that drew many of us into left wing politics, it’s refreshing to find the Left Field tent (somewhere the BBC is never likely to show) curated by Billy Bragg where there are debates and talks from people like Ken Livingstone and music from left leaning artists all weekend.

Of course most young people aren’t interested – many go on the forums to complain that it’s biased because there isn’t a tent (to be fair they did book Bryan Ferry this year). Whilst waiting for De La Soul on the main stage a campaigner from CND came out to talk about how Trident is 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and detailed how many hospitals and schools etc could be run for what we spend on it – the girl in front of me said “yeah yeah whatever, just get the band on”.

If the festival was run purely on a corporate money making basis then the Left Field tent would probably be the first to go, but fair play to Michael Eavis for putting his beliefs before profits.

Indeed, if the famous Oxfam / Greenpeace / Water Aid banners on the main stages were replaced by Coca Cola / Nestle / Nike – not only do I believe that tickets would still sell out in record time, but they’d get paid instead of giving money away.

On the main stages between bands they have short films about people dying in the 3rd world, the potential problems with Fracking, Arctic destruction. One I particularly remember was a counter showing the number of African babies dying of preventable water-borne diseases and the conclusion that the EU’s defence budget could give everyone in the world clean safe drinking water.

If they were to replace these thought provoking but often disturbing films with uplifting adverts for McDonalds and KFC I suspect a lot of young people would probably welcome the move, and could be quite a nice little earner, particularly if they took the corporate dollar to replace the independent food stalls with these brands too. I have actually been to a festival with a small Tesco!

A festival isn’t going to turn the current generation into political activists – but at least they carry on trying, and forsake increased profits to do so.

I couldn’t really understand the appeal of Glastonbury until I went, and even after 10 years of going I still can’t quite explain the appeal other than the fact that aside from a few stoney-faced miserable buggers determined to have a shit time, the vast majority of people you meet are determined to have a great time – and you don’t find that very often in Britain, particularly not under an austerity Tory government.

It’s an environment where for example if someone tells you they’ve just seen the best live performance of their life, and you discover they’ve just seen Mumford and Sons, your instinct isn’t to punch them but to offer them a drink because you’re also buzzing about a band you enjoy, so you enjoy a moment of shared humanity with someone you’ve nothing in common with – or some hippy shit like that.
I’ve been to several other festivals, some of them with a line-up more in line with my tastes, and yet none of them come close in terms of the overall atmosphere and experience.

Biblical Floods, Soaring heat waves, mud baths, Mumford and Sons – no matter what we get thrown at us we carry on and are in the queue for tickets next year, which probably says something.

If you’ve never been, should you go? I think if you need to ask the question then my honest answer is no. I have a friend who rings me every year whilst watching the BBC coverage and saying he definitely has to go next year. But when ticket time comes around he starts humming and hawing that it’s a lot of money and we don’t even know the line-up – so I don’t put pressure on him. I’d love him to come and enjoy it, but I’ve gone long enough to know it can be hard work with lots of highs and lows, personally I think the BBC coverage looks rubbish, so perhaps the reality if the festival wouldn’t appeal to him – and the last thing I want is to listen to him moaning all weekend.

The first time I went we’d had baking sun for about 4 weeks before – I couldn’t wait to sit around in the sun drinking, listening to music and generally having a bit of a laugh. We turned up on the Thursday night with the sweat pouring out of us as we put up our tents.

Awoken in the wee small hours with thunder and lightning and flooding that washed away the tents scarily close to ours, the whole site a quagmire and the first acts of the Friday morning were all cancelled. Stupidly I hadn’t taken a mental note of where my tent was, I couldn’t get through to my mate and text messages were taking 3 hours to get through, I just wanted to go home and if If I could have got off site easily I would have done. Although it brightened up and we saw a few bands It’s fair to say I was miserable most of that Friday.

But on the Saturday morning I got up, got some orange juice and a bacon roll, queued for wellies whilst reading the festival paper I started feeling better about the world – I was impressed that despite a captive audience the Welly sellers weren’t ripping people off, and was impressed by how people around me were taking the mud in their stride, determined to enjoy themselves in a country where I often feel that we strive to be miserable, where newspapers sell on their ability to feed our outrage and take away our hope of a better future.

By the Sunday night I was feeling miserable again – but this time because there was no Glastonbury the following year and there was no guarantee I’d get tickets the year after. I’ve been going ever since and faced a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve been lucky enough that so far the ups have more than make up for the downs, but like anything else worthwhile in life it’s often a challenge.

Anyway, I had meant to write a review of the bands I saw but since it looks a bit Radio 2 I thought I’d just list them for your amusement.

Friday: All We Are, Blondie, De La Soul, Elli Ingram, Chloe Howl, Billy Bragg, Mia, The Selecter, The Sterlings

Saturday: Nitin Sawhney, The Wytches, Kelis (couple of songs), Wolf Alice, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot, Clean Bandit (left after 1 song), Robert Plant (last 3 songs), Jack White (left after 2nd song), couple of tracks each of Toy, Dan Le Sac and The Pixies, Bryan Ferry.

Sunday: The Smyths, White Lies, Public Service Broadcasting, Yoko Ono Plastic band (left after 2 songs), The Wailers (left after couple of songs), Alison Moyet, Suzanne Vega

Highlights? Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot, Nitin Sawhney, Alison Moyet (career spanning electronic set), Elli Ingram, Chloe Howl, The Wytches, Billy Bragg, The Smyths, Wolf Alice.

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