The Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts is back this weekend and countless pairs of wellies are marching their merry way to Worthy Farm in Pilton, a village just outside Glastonbury in Somerset.
The welly-owners will have tents, sleeping bags and bog roll (which is all you actually need). They might also have a change of pants, booze, an inflatable mattress, waterproofs, sun-cream and cigarettes. Some may even have recreational drugs secreted about their person.
The BBC is making the 2013 festival available in ways we could only have dreamed of back in 1993, the fence will be about three miles high, countless A, B, C and Z-list celebrities will schmooze around a backstage area rumoured to have cost £3.7 million, and a basic meal of some soggy noodles with a dubious brown sauce will probaby cost a tenner.
What’s more, this will have set the welly-wearing public back £205. Yes, you heard me right, that’s £205. Plus booking fee.
Until a couple of days ago I was indifferent to the whole thing, but the coverage has become unavoidable and I have become misty-eyed, yearning after the utterly unique experience that Glastonbury provides.
There are other festivals of course – lots of them. Some have better line-ups, cleaner toilets, a more underground vibe, nicer food stalls and most of them cost a lot less then £205. But none of them are Glastonbury. It’s bigger, wilder, funnier, scarier and more intense than the others and nothing can touch it. So why am I not already wellied-up and heading down the A37, clutching a 5 litre bottle of scrumpy?
On Facebook this week, my good friend Crow mourned the passing of the Glastonbury of old. The free-festival spirit has gone; the festival is commercial and televised and full of tory twats, music business wankers and millionaire rock stars. It isn’t what it used to be. And you know what? He’s right; the old festival is gone, replaced by the behemoth we have today.
The question is, does it matter? There are plenty of smaller, intimate festivals catering for any taste in music or lifestyle you care to name, so should it matter that Glastonbury is big and populist?
I personally don’t think so. Today’s kids want this Glastonbury – they want to see huge bands, in (relative) safety, with (relatively) clean toilets and will pay for it. Others want to see the festival on TV and vicariously experience the thrills without hardships. At least some of the Glastonbury profits go to good causes
I have been to Glastonbury 5 times – thanks to everyone who helped me work that out – in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999 and 2000 and I got the festival I was looking for at the time.
It was never about the bands for me. I wanted the wilder side of it – all-night raves, watching the sun come up from the stone circle, braving the long-drop toilets, getting lost in the chaos and occasionally watching a band if I was in the right place at the right time.
The festival that Crow remembers was already gone by the time I got there in 1993. There used to be a free side-festival run by the travelling community in a field set aside for them by the organisers. You could leave the main festival, experience the free-party vibe and then head back for the headline acts on the Pyramid stage.
The last time this happened was in 1990. It was killed by a combination of escalating policing costs, worries about drugs at the all-night sound-systems, and a heavy-handed response by security to a minor incident leading to a huge fight with the travellers that has become known as the Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge.
By 1993 and 1994, the travellers’ field had become a myth. There was hushed talk of sound-system raves run by the travellers in the car-park fields, but as there were raves inside the fence as well it seemed like too much effort to walk that far.
In 1999 and 2000 it was almost impossible to find a proper all-night rave at all. The festival I loved was there if you looked hard enough, but Glastonbury was changing. People wanted to see the bands, and they wanted to sleep afterwards so they could see the bands the next day. Worst of all no-one cared what time the Ozric Tentacles were playing on the Avalon Stage!
The main reason I have avoided Glastonbury since (aside from the weather, and not having £205) is that it’s not aimed at me any more. I would wander around the familiar site, yearning for the old-days and getting annoyed at how it’s all aimed at teenagers with silly haircuts now.
This doesn’t mean I think it shouldn’t exist. I love the fact that there is still a Glastonbury Festival. It’s there to give today’s teenagers a chance to drink too much cider in the sun, try recreational drugs, shag someone who hasn’t washed for 4 days and, most importantly, get away from the worries and cares of the faintly miserable life that teenagers and young adults seem to live these days. And all this to a sound-track of the biggest bands in today’s music scene.
I have been to other festivals. Reading in 1991 and 1992, The Big Chill in 2003, Endorse-It In-Dorset in 2006, 2007 and 2008, Camp Bestival in 2009 and Bestival in 2010. I have been to day-festivals like the Boscombe Community Fair, the Global Gathering, Lovebox, the ill-fated Eclipse Festival on the Lizard, Ashton Court and Brisfest. This year, I am going to the Boomtown Fair.
But I won’t be going back to Glastonbury. I had four great years and one slightly dubious one at Worthy Farm (2000 was a bit much – the fence came down and an estimated 150,000 extra people appeared overnight). I don’t want to spoil the (hazy) memories of those sun-soaked weekends. Plus, I only got rained on once, in 1999, and never had to wade through a thigh-deep mix of mud and overflowing toilets. I’m quitting while I am ahead.
If you are going I hope you have a brilliant time. Enjoy the music, live the life, lose some brain-cells and then remember it as fondly as I do. Give me a wave, I’ll be looking out for you on the telly coverage.