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2010-07-11 - 7:06 p.m.

The Buildup

Okay, I'll admit it. I was painfully glass-half-empty for months before the festival. When U2 were announced as the headliners I complained that of all the "supergroups" they could have picked they had to go with one that I'd already seen- despite the fact that they were my favourite band for about 5 years in the late nineties. Nonetheless, when they cancelled I didn't like that either. When Gorillaz were announced as their replacement I moaned that the lineup lacked bands with "lifetime achievement" status (except for Stevie Wonder- who has never been someone I've always wanted to see). There were heaps of current bands that I had said would be good to see in a festival setting because one can't afford to go to every show of everyone that sounds good on the radio- examples included Phoenix, Florence and the Machine, Marina and the Diamonds, Tegan and Sara, The Temper Trap- but then I complained that they make it look so good on paper when in reality for every band you see there are 2 or 3 that clashed. In short I was a pain in the arse, but only as much as what anybody who knows me would have expected ;)

The stories of previous mudbaths came in thick and fast from anybody who had been before. Sally told of the friend who got changed into her only clean clothes on the morning they were leaving only to fall face first into the mud as they were leaving. The friend added that Sally conveniently forgot to mention that she was almost in tears herself when she sunk into a foot of mud and almost had to abandon her gumboots. Claire warned that you shouldn't plan to move between stages because it would be physically impossible with the mud and the sheer number of people trying to do the same thing. Even if it wasn't muddy, we would need the gumboots for the portaloo experience. It would take 8 hours to get back to London on the Monday. We heard all the horror stories.

There was some rain in the weeks leading up to the festival, and the day we went to Ascot (less than a week before we were due to be at Glasto) I don't think I've been so cold in a long time. Still the weather forecast was for a fine few days, and it was only at the last minute that I bought the requisite gumboots, rightly assuming that their purchase would guarantee a complete lack of rain and mud.

Thursday 24th June

Jo and I awoke in Cardiff to the news that we had a new Prime Minister, and in our rented car we drove down to Bristol to pick up Sally who had caught the bus across from London. We went shopping in Bristol, buying 5L of water, 2 12-pack cans of Magners, random snacks and soft drink and fruit juice. DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU ARE GOING TO GLASTONBURY. Yes, we are used to Australian festivals where your bags are searched and you are not even allowed to bring your own water in, let alone alcohol, and it seems like a bit of a novelty (no alcohol restrictions, just no glass) and you figure it will save you money and queuing but... whether you arrive by bus, or by rental car, best case you will be lugging your stuff for half an hour. More likely you will be doing so for 90+ minutes. It is for this reason also that is is absolutely worth spending time going through the clothes you have brought over to the UK and only bringing what you need. I tend to find it less stressful to just shove whatever will fit into my backpack in their, but an overpacked bag does not a happy spine make, and plastic shopping bags full of food will turn your fingers purple.

But back to the food and drink- I didn't find either overpriced, and the site is so damned big and full of stalls that you really don't have to wait long for anything- including alcohol and toilets. And with the weather we had, cold beer purchased from a stall won out every time over a can of warm cider stuffed in your day pack.

So nothing could have prepared me for just how big it was. But on the other hand the drive from Bristol to Glastonbury was a breeze, and there wasn't even much of a queue to get to our allocated carpark (the one that was 90 minutes from our campsite ;) Thursday was probably the mildest of the 5 days, and it was at least 25 degrees and sunny. Sally's friends had come down in a campervan on Tuesday night, and put up our tents for us, now it was just a matter of finding them. Once inside the site Jo waited with some of the stuff we had been lugging while Sally and I found the tents. It was easily over an hour before we got back to her (once you knew your way around had weren't loaded up like a pack horse it didn't take quite so long to get around).

We explored the site on the Thursday night- I wish I'd taken more randon pictures of the carnival/ freakshow atmosphere away from the main stages, but really you can see all that if you got to the Glastonbury website. In contrast to the ridiculously hot days, it got freezing overnight. I'd be wearing tracksuit pants and a jumper, under a sleeping bag and using my heavy waterproof jacket that wasn't used for anything else that weekend as an extra blanket, and by about 9am I had stripped down to my underwear and the tent was a sauna. This made it difficult when there wasn't a band you wanted to see first up- there was very little shade but the tent was unbearably hot. It's only since getting out of the heat and reflecting back on our experience that I'm thankful that it didn't rain and it wasn't a mudbath.

The toilets- not exactly for the squeamish but we all agreed that the setup they had was far better (and less easy to abuse/defile) than standard portaloos. Picture a giant tank lowered into the ground, a lid put on it with numerous bottom sized holes cut in each side, toilet seats around the holes, walls put up between each seat(high enough so that your head couldn't be seen if you were sitting down)to form a cubicle and doors to complete the picture). I guarantee that anybody who has been to a festival portaloo will appreciate the ingenious design, but basically if (and really, you can't help it) you look down you will see an open sewer. And only if you are really lucky will your tent not be downwind of one of these setups for the whole festival.

Just wanted to prepare the propspective festival goer- was anybody eating? Seriously they are a festival that has spent 40 years looking at the year before and asking "what can we do better?" For all my glass-half-full theatrics it is an amazing place to be regardless of who's playing (not sure if the same can be said in a mudbath year).

Friday 25th June

The first act on the main stage for the first day of the festival proper was...wait for it... Rolf Harris. How could we not see if he still had it (or if he ever did)? For 11am on Day 1, the number of people at the main stage was amazing. We were sitting on a patch of grass a good 150m back and there were people everywhere. For a guy who turned 80 this year, he wasn't bad. Wasn't fantastic, but then he was taking antibiotics after having a cold, or a throat infection, or something the week before (couldn't hear him very well, but on a scale of 0 to Muse his music isn't exactly amped up).

Next up we decided to test how easily you could in fact move between stages. Rolf finished probably at close to 11.45am and the Stranglers were playing at the other stage at 12.20pm. Not a must see but worth checking out, so if we truly couldn't move then it wouldn't be the end of the world. Well, we almost couldn't. I think it had something to do with it being early on day 1 and people just starting to kick into action, but it was complete gridlock. We didn't experience anything like it for the rest of the weekend fortunately. We got to the Other Stage about 5 minutes after the Stranglers were supposed to start. Now I didn't quite know what to expect,I had no idea what they looked like and unless they were playing "Golden Brown" or "Strange Little Girl" they could have played anything and I wouldn't have known the difference, but it didn't take long to realise something wasn't quite right. I think it was about the time the main guy dedicated a song called "You've Got Some Growin' Up To Do" to his ex-girlfriend. This was no seminal 70s post-punk band. We were risking heatstroke (I'm not exaggerating, Jo and Sal went back to the tent in the early afternoon because they couldn't handle it anymore, leaving me to see Phoenix on my own) for Joshua fucking Radin. No I don't know who he is but the expletive is more than warranted. Erroneous Glastonbury Program 1, Us 0. The glossy mag was actually correct, I discovered yesterday, but for some reason the program that we wore around our necks for 3 days wasn't. It was the only time it happened all weekend so I've made my peace with what was otherwise a very helpful litte booklet. The Stranglers followed the erstwhile Mr Radin, but we had a date with Tegan and Sara so I still don't know anything more about the Stranglers.

Miike Snow (you know the guy who's still, who's still an Animal?) was playing in the John Peel Tent before Tegan and Sara, and it could have been anyone and we would have been in there for the shade, but it was full to overflowing, so we found what shade we could near a food stall for some lunch while we waited for the dance fans to leave and the indie kids and lesbians to tag team. The fact that we could fit inside the tent for Tegan and Sara was not an accurate reflection of how they compared to Miike (yes there are two "i"s)- they were fantastic. Highlights included "Walking With a Ghost" early on and the recent single "Hell" mid set. Great deadpan banter engaging the crowd as well. They finished up about 3pm and Phoenix weren't on until 4.30pm, so I walked back to the tent with Jo and Sal, which ate up a fair bit of that time (to the strains of Willie Nelson on the main stage), then braved the afternoon heat once again to see the energetic boys from Paris on the Other Stage. A fantastic set sandwiched between their two best known songs- opener "Lisztomania" and closer "1901". I had more time to kill so I caught a little Snoop Dogg but was underwhelmed, and back at Other Stage I just mustn't have been in the mood for La Roux, so I went for a beer instead.

Vampire Weekend are without a doubt my favourite band of the last few years, but I wish they'd mix up their set a bit- after Notes in Enmore late last year and the Enmore Theatre show a couple of months ago this was the third time I'd seen it in a year. I can't say that I'm sick of them yet though. I left mid set after the "A-Punk"/"Blake's Got a New Face" combo, to see the much anticipated Florence and the Machine (at this point I found the girls again). I guess I'd probably sum up the set by saying that it was everything that I expected but not necessarily anything more. Given the expectations that had been set though, that still describes a pretty fantastic show. It was basically the highlight of Florence's career- people as far as the eye could see at a festival she first performed at 3 or 4 years ago early in the day on one of the small stages, and probably attended as a teenager. Biggest audience response was a tie between "Dog Days Are Over" mid set and the penultimate "You've Got The Love". A cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" was thrown in for good measure- apparently the only time they were ever going to play it. Unfortunately seeing Florence meant missing Mumford and Sons, but such is life.

At some point around this time I noted that there were "special guests" on the Park Stage, and also noted that we didn't have anyone we were specifically planning to see at the time, and so they might be worth checking out, but I promptly forgot about it in favour of getting dinner before "Gorillaz". Damn the elitist "special guest" concept that meant I missed Thom Yorke solo (not a huge deal) joined by Johnny Greenwood at the end of the set for a couple of Radiohead classics ("Idiotheque" and "Street Spirit" I'm told). Not to be stung twice I faithfully found the BBC "Introducing" stage on Saturday to see who it would be this time, only to find it was "Plan B". I waited 5 or so minutes for somebody I'd heard of to join them on stage in case I missed a "Glastonbury Moment" but to no avail.

So...Gorillaz. A little disappointing. A little clinical. Very little banter. Just not Friday night headlining material as so many said afterwards. For me the most cringeworthy part was Damon trying to get the audience to sing along to a song off the new album that nobody knew. "Clint Eastwood" it was not. Lou Reed came on for a song, sung, and left without an introduction or farewell, Snoop Dogg came on for a song and apparently I missed the fact that Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash were part of the band for the whole set, but it just fell flat for me. No matter- there were some bonafide mainstage headlining moments to come over the next few days.

Saturday 26th June

Okay, I've got to be a bit briefer or I'll never finish this. First up on Day 2 was Two Door Cinema Club at the Other Stage at 11am. Can I be the first to coin the term "Post-Emo"? Maybe I'm just getting less prententious about what I listen to, but a band that a few years ago I might have lumped in with the dreaded E-word to me were just a power pop band from Northern Ireland who were quite enjoyable.

It was as hot and shadeless as Friday at the Other Stage, but we'd dragged Sally to enough bands that she didn't know that it was only fair that we endured the heat for "Reef", who were guaranteed to have one song that would get a good crowd response and everyone would know. They weren't bad actually, for a band that hadn't had a radio song in 12 years. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about either (I'm looking at you Joshua Radin). Next up was our first visit to the equally shadeless West Holts Stage to take in a bit of The Phenomenal Handclap Band, who weren't bad but would have been more enjoyable out of the sun. It was time for shade and lunch after that (I highly recommend the Jaimacan food stalls selling Jerk Chicken and Goat Curry), and then Jo and Sal retreated for a few hours again while I was highly impressed with Kate Nash at the Other Stage. I already liked a few of her songs, but I had her pegged as a Lily Allen clone, not someone who played piano and guitar as well, evoking comparisons to Regina Spektor, Kate Miller-Heidke and Missy Higgins. The Dead Weather (featuring Jack White and the girl from The Kills) were so so- nothing catchy to latch onto but then that's not what they're about.

Now a moral dilema. Do I go with version a- I wanted to see Marina and the Diamonds, but there was no way I would be able to get all the way over to the John Peel tent for a few songs and back in time for Shakira, who Jo was very excited about and surely the Festival is as much about shared experiences as it is about seeing everyone on your list, so I was a martyr and watched Shakira and I guess she was alright... or version b- Jo's enthusiasm for the Colombian pop princess had been rubbing off for some time now, and I couldn't make it all the way over to the John Peel tent for a few songs and still be back in time for Shakira, who in all honesty I didn't want to miss. And I don't regret it. See previous assertation that I'm far less pretentious about what I listen to these days, and this is somebody who writes songs in both her native tongue and a second language and really entertains, and can do inexplicable things with her body and it's not just the hips that aren't lying in that song let me tell you...

Then onto the Scissor Sisters- and please don't think I'm pigeon-holing gay lead singers when I say that the spirit of Freddie Mercury is alive and well. I mean it in the best possible way- he played to the audience and filled the stage in a way that would have made Freddie proud. Great set- the new songs are very mainstream but still great fun, the interaction between Jake and Ana was fantastic and the(deliberately I'm sure)worst kept secret of the festival- special guest Kylie Minogue had all the Aussies and Brits cheering and many others probably wondering what was going on.

Muse- say what you want about their overblown one dimensional sound, they can fill a festival mainstage (and about half a mile back) like few others. I saw Muse in the big top (or whatever it was called) at Livid in Brisbane in 2000 when everyone else was watching No Doubt on the mainstage, having bought their first album a couple of months earlier. They were doing Radiohead better than Radiohead (who had just released "Kid A", in which Thom Yorke stopped spitting vitriol and forever after started whining) and I thought they were definitely a highlight. Skip ahead 10 years and after winning me back a little with "Starlight" and "Knights of Cydonia" I found Muse's latest album just a bit too overblown. After their Glastonbury performance however I say "go forth and entertain the masses and I will quite happily count myself amongst the masses". My Glastonbury highlight came shortly after they had thrilled with "Starlight" and had gone off for the predictable encore where I was waiting to see if "Knights of Cydonia" would top it. After an annoyingly long wait (we were far enough back that we couldn't quite tell if people were still cheering) a solitary figure with a goatee, a beanie and an electric guitar sauntered onto the stage to some definitely audible cheering and starting playing some very familiar spine tingling guitar notes. The three members of Muse soon joined him on stage, the drums kicked in and Matt Bellamy started to sing "Where The Streets Have No Name", accompanied by The Edge. So I got what what has always been one of my favourite U2 songs without having to hear any of the rubbish from "No Line on the Horizon" or "How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb". I was now officially glass-half-full.

Sunday 27th June

After Muse the night before we actually spent some time checking out the Glastonbury nightlife (feeling very old and sober, but still quite amazed at the spectacle) and got to sleep later than the previous two nights, so we were in no hurry to get down to any of the stages. Plus there wasnt a lot that interested us eary on. The first act we saw on Sunday was Norah Jones at 1.30pm at the main stage. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but for someone who we weren't hanging out to see, the heat made it difficult to really appreciate. Still she wasn't bad. I went to see the Temper Trap while Jo and Sal hung out in the shade of a makeshift bar, but after hearing "Fader", "Down River" and another song I recognised by mid set I realised there would be nothing that could truly surprise me- the set was going to end with "Sweet Disposition", the crowd would go wild, and that would be that- so I went back to the girls, got a drink, then caught enough of Slash to hear "Civil War", "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City".

Next up on the main stage was Ray Davies from the Kinks, a definite highlight. Apart from some inexplicable prima-donna behaviour (how anyone can "not get" why you have a set amount of time in which you have to play at a festival, especially when you're not the headliner, is beyond me) he played close to an hour-and-a-half (to the despair of the organisers) of folk-pop classics including "Lola", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", "Days", "Waterloo Sunset", "You Really Got Me", "All Day and All of The Night" and "Sunny Afternoon". The set was dedicated to the original Kinks' bass player who died a few days earlier.

We caught the end of "We Are Scientists" who failed to impress me, then "Broken Social Scene" who also weren't really my thing, before catching enough of Julian Casablancas for him to throw in a requisite Strokes' classic ("Hard to Explain") before squeezing through tens of thousands of people gathered to see Stevie Wonder and finally finding where Sally and her friends were. Okay, so Motown and 70s disco have never been my thing, but you could not fault Stevie Wonder's set. I was worried he'd be too much like Brian Wilson (not that I'm speaking from actually having seen Brian Wilson)- relying on a formidable back catalogue but too old and past it to do much more than clap and sing along to his songs. The last sentence couldn't be further from what we got. Energy, talent, passion, humour- songs from "Higher Ground" to "Superstition" to "Master Blaster" to "I Just Called To Say I Love You" to "Happy Birthday" (the set closer dedicated to Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis on the 40th Birthday of the festival) to a cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" and The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out". We may have missed both Ash and Gomez, but I doubt we'll get another chance to see Stevie Wonder and he was well worth it.

Monday 28th June

We were packed up and ready to go by 8am, back to our car by about 9.30am and back in London by about 2 or 3pm, having never been more in need of a shower in our entire lives (possibly with the exception of Sally who has been to a Glastonbury mudbath). Litres of sunscreen, litres of sweat, countless baby wipes (that's the Glastonbury equivalent of a shower).

And not a drop of rain.

 

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