tue 21/11/2017

theartsdesk at Glastonbury Festival 2017 | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Glastonbury Festival 2017

theartsdesk at Glastonbury Festival 2017

Chaos, Corbyn, Katy Perry and four days in the festival fields of dreams

Basking in the Pyramid's glowPyramid header + 5 photos © Andrew Allcock. Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Rag'n'Bone Man + 3 photos © Anna Barclay. Chic, B. Gibb © Florence Beasley. K. Kristofferson © Xavi Menós. C. Hynde, K. Perry © Jason Bryant. All other photos © Finetime & Don Carlton.

It’s a Tweet-age Glastonbury aftermath. It’s monsooning grey outside. The real world’s back, consensus reality fast encroaching. Everything’s moved on, spun to the next thing as we A.D.D. onto Wimbledon, Hard Brexit or whatever. Even my 14-year-old daughter knows the “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chant (to the riff from White Stripes “Seven Nation Army”) that rolled across this year’s Glastonbury crowds like a steady rumble of perturbed destiny. “Jeremy Corbyn isn’t just Jeremy Corbyn, he’s a thing now,” she explained. And I sort of know what she means.

I woke up today with Rag’n’Bone Man’s chorus looping round my mind, “I’m only human, after all, I’m only human, after all.” My body feels that way now, but for 84 hours I wasn’t. Powered by ley lines and chaos, procured substances and cider, friendship and foolishness, I rode psychic dragons through vales of sound, liberty, retina-frazzling visuals, wild ideas and brain-crisping insanity. It’s yesterday’s news but then all stories are. Take a ride…

THURSDAY 22nd JUNE 2017

Glastonbury Festival 2017The first thing I see as I hit the site at 5.00 PM is not promising. Former Labour MP and Strictly Come Dancing clown Ed Balls is queuing at the press accreditation office. To be fair, he’s by himself, with rucksack and sturdy festival clothes, and will later write a rather good report of his first Glastonbury for the Guardian. In other news, I’m crapping it as there have been well-documented reports of heightened security on the gates. I wouldn’t want to be searched too intensely. However, we wander onsite, laden with tents, booze and all the rest, unmolested. They’re after terrorists not hedonists and search accordingly.

Glastonbury Festival 2017I’m with Don Carlton, a regular Glastonbury co-dependent. Once we’ve set up we stand and survey, me tall, he less so, the Abbott & Costello of festival freakery. It’s a cloudy, warm afternoon, settling into the evening, occasional glimpses of sun, a far cry from last year’s glutinous, glistening bog. The site is laid out before us, from the rising plasticised bulk of the red and blue John Peel tent next to our camp to the lines of teepees across the valley, three quarters of a mile away, containing everything from a sweat lodge to “a devotional space for bhajans”. There’s so much going on, the constant clamour of human excitement all about, ever-underpinned by the rumbled, repetitive thump of an electronic kick-drum somewhere. We will see hardly any of it. We’ll only have a taste. I haven’t slept properly for days beforehand in excitement. I’ve been an eight-year-old on Christmas Eve. This place is The Mecca. I am home.

We wander down into it, female students in dungarees cartwheeling across the tussocked grass to the right of us, greying hippies in weathered leather smocks to the left, Don and I babbling, eyes drinking in everything. Anticipation’s in the air and, for some, the peak has already arrived, weltering on the verges, soused grins buckling. It may only be Thursday but to be away from the drab logistics of the everyday gives license.

Glastonbury Festival 2017At the Burrow Hill Cider Bus I fill a 1.5-litre Glastonbury Spring Water bottle with two pints of medium and one pint of dry. It looks, as I’ve written many times before, like diabetic urine - cloudy, off yellow-orange - but it’s the nectar, the fuel that will surf me through these days. Made on a nearby farm in the Martock area, a place that’s been turning out this stuff by the barrel for 150 years, it’s 6% scrumpy at £4 a pint, with a rich tang, flat, organic, buzzy but without artifice. The twist is that although it looks like wee, it’s actually the antithesis of the fizzy, overpriced piss served at most festivals. The bus, a light blue double-decker with clouds painted on, alongside its rustic, barrel-filled bar addendum, is a regular pit-stop, a meeting place to the east of the main Pyramid Stage. I wash down unadventurous but energising fish’n’chips from a nearby stall and we head into the far flung fields of depravity; the South East Corner.

Now we’ve eaten, we can indulge. A bump of Quivver Fizz to start things off. A sharpish brain-polish, a focusing. This is the acclimatising period, the bedding in. Up to Block 9, The Unfairground, The Common and, furthest of all, in a multitude of ways, Shangri La, each an area filled with stages, bars, and frazzled post-apocalyptic décor loaded with anti-authoritarian art. Our eyes are assaulted; a grove that looks like a hidden tribal enclave from James Cameron’s Avatar, but with boozing bikers in shorts, a wall full of posters representing apathy (“I REALLY DON’T GIVE A FUCK”, “MAYBE”, “WHATEVER”, etc), a waterfall cave full of gobsmacked festival-goers, giant ugly babies heads revolving on a wheel, so very many venues, in one a psy-trance act, even the soundman doesn’t know who they are, headbanging devotees down the front, and everywhere bustling people revelling, glitter painted on every female cheekbone.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Soon we’re so overloaded with astonishing visual input that language leaves us. The mind simply can’t take it all in, as when you spend a day walking around museums or galleries, absorbing, only with added stimulants, pounding beats, and outdoor pandemonium. I’d wanted to see Napalm Death but our timing’s out. We settle into Shangri La International Television Centre, or SHITV, for short, a venue that promises “a chance to stomp until the morning on the grave of the media’s credibility”. I want to do that, and I also want to catch 12 Stone Toddler, a recently resurrected Brighton outfit who brought out a couple of albums around a decade ago, both of which are well worth a listen.

Unfortunately, they have synth sound problems so the audience drifts off while the band’s wild-haired keyboard guy, who has three sets around him, tries to rectify the situation. When they do start, the sound still isn’t right, but they make up for it with gusto, their female guitarist whaling, deadpan, into angular riffage for a much shortened set. They’re a stew of burlesque jazz, punk-prog and poppy melody, a hint of long lost loons Cardiacs, only more accessible.

Towards the end of their performance we run into Chris Tofu, who runs this area, a beloved fixture of British festival culture, endlessly enthusiastic, ever-behatted, wide-eyed and full of vim, championing live music that turns people on, regardless of predictable music press foibles. I tell him we’re off to see Extreme Noise Terror at the Earache stage next door and he ushers us through a back route.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Earache are the venerable Nottingham thrash metal and hardcore label, a big favourite of John Peel back in the Eighties, and ongoing home to extreme music. For Glastonbury 2017 they’ve a London tube train, with awnings coming off it creating a tiny corridor of a venue, the bands performing from the open doors on what’s basically a set of scaffolded steps. The small, packed crowd when we arrive are shouting along to songs by Queens of the Stone Age, The Prodigy and more, which are crackling out of a busted monitor amp. The vibe is supremely up.

Suddenly a tall, dreadlocked black dude in a wedding dress and a blue, studded gimp mask appears, a tattoo of drumming starts, played by a guy in the carriage. I can’t see a guitarist but that kicks in has well, jagged speeding riffage, and a second singer appears, this one locked into a strait jacket. The first thing he does is clamber over the scaffolding and collapse into the crowd who pass him about. All hell breaks loose, moshpit mayhem, bodies flying everywhere. This isn’t Extreme Noise Terror, it’s New Jersey punk nutters Ho99o9.

Their set is outrageous, a machinegun fire of riffs and interplay, their delivery redolent of hip hop but filtered through the caustic attack of thrash, interspersed by the strait-jacketed one eyeing the crowd with menace, clambering over anything he can reach, wrenching at the scaffolding like a one-man prison riot, and leaping into the moshpit. Chris Tofu says he’s not seen anything like it and asks us to lean hard on the scaffolding to ensure it doesn’t come apart under this attack. The atmosphere is an invigorating mixture of cathartic violence and good-natured party. It’s electric, bananas, and one of the best things I see all weekend.

When it finishes Don and I stagger out, hardly believing what we just witnessed. Now the South East Corner is in full swing, lit up in the darkness, and we indulge, but not for too long. We want to catch Fabio & Grooverider up at the Stonebridge Bar in The Park but it’s roadblocked so we decide to call it a night. Wednesday and Thursday at Glastonbury are, after all, an aperitif, and we don’t want to spoil the main course. I drift away in my tent, lying under a carpet wall-hanging I’m using as a blanket, listening to the joyous sound of 200,000 people having the time of their lives. Asleep by 2.00 AM.

FRIDAY 23rd JUNE 2017

Glastonbury Festival 2017Eight hours sleep, best night’s rest I’ve had all week, and the last proper one until Monday, of course. Up at 10.00, the earliest in many a Glastonbury. Fools queueing for the shower. Shower addiction. Never understood it. Time waste. You’re at a festival. You’ll survive. Wet Wipes. Teeth clean. Shave. Bottle of cold water over head. Bingo! Cloudy but warm, shorts’n’sandals weather. Put on a grey-white cowboy hat to keep off the bursts of sun. Down we go to the festival’s opening act, proper, on the Other Stage, The Pretenders.

Queues for breakfast everywhere. No. Time to reprogram. Not necessary. Time waste. It’s easy. Eat a food you don’t normally have for breakfast. No queue. Chilli con carne does the trick. Starting to write like Rorschach’s Journal (The Watchmen). That’s the way of it. To make the most of Glastonbury a code is required, self-management, although Rorschach, that cantankerous sociopath, would disapprove of almost everything going on here.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Sit amid young women with unicorn horn head bands. Not real unicorn horns, shiny acrylic material, probably stuffed with cotton wool. Also swaying middle-aged who know all the songs. So do I, middle-aged but not swaying. Chrissie Hynde looks at least a decade younger than her 65 years, clad in blue jeans and a Motörhead tee-shirt. She talks a good game too, giving a speech about “bringing back guitar-based rock”, dedicating a song to Joe Strummer, playing all the hits, “Stop Your Sobbing”, a fiery “Back on the Chain Gang”, and so on. Puts Don and me in the mood.

“If only real life was like this,” Hynde says at one point. “Then we’d be dead in two weeks,” laughs Don. He refers to the relentless hedonism aspect. He’s right. If all my Glastonburys were lived end-to-end, the body might crumble. Yet the “real world” could do with a dose of this too. Does my head in out there, everyone so interested in a load of old bollocks, price of houses, Facebook timelines, sports stars, cars, gym body worship, newspaper drivel, Black Friday, pathological narcissism, the latest iPad, Mrs Brown’s Boys, act your age, sobriety, coffee shops, coffee shops and more tedious stinking coffee shops… fuck it, so very glad to be away from all that crap.

Head for West Holts, another field, where Hot 8 Brass Band are opening proceedings. Of all the many funky brass bands doing the rounds these last few years, Hot 8, from New Orleans and older than many peer contenders, might actually be the sassiest. Their most recent album, On the Spot, is an object lesson in ballistic soul power. However, West Holts is jammed way back beyond the sound desk. This is odd. Usually at this time of day you can wander about here. Never mind. Watch them from a distance for a bit but it’s just not the vibe we’re after for midday (which is about 9.00 AM, when translated to Glasto time) so decide to explore the Greenpeace and Healing Fields.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Don looks up his friend Fedora who’s a Greenpeace chugger and has been here since Tuesday. He’s been splattering his brain every night then up early to persuade the festival masses to let their bank accounts take a small monthly hit for the sake of the planet they live on. I go and look at The Cadmus in the Green Kids Field, the full size land-bound vessel, originally put together by Cornish boat-builders back in 2010. It towers up with two sets of sails and crow’s nests and rigging walkways crawling with elf-people squealing with delight. Their parents mill about below, reading newspapers and sipping waxed cups of beer, orange juice or the Devil’s hot brown piss.

There’s a stall-space set out like burnt-out rainforest, a large notice announcing, “An area of forest the size of Glastonbury is destroyed every 23 minutes.” What hope for the planet? Some hope if the kind of people round here have any sway. Or if we listen to them a bit. There’s a virtual forest but it has a large queue so I give it a miss. A young woman in shorts approaches with a luggage label and asks if I’d like to make a wish. She is in charge of a “wishing tree”, a kind of wooden laundry rack covered in luggage tags filled with people’s hopes and jokes and other thoughts. It’s art, it’s silly, it’s throwing out positivity to the universe, so I biro my own wish, one for my younger daughter, that her friends the Orangutans might survive the endless onslaught on their habitat, that there might be respite for them. We’re a bunch of cunts, we humans, always after a buck. I don’t get it, personally. The material wealth game is a fucking bore. Time is what we have. Enjoy it. Max it. Spend it well. Reach the end of a life lived, not loaded. Or move to Surrey and play golf.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Don and I buy our first booze and sit in watery sun in front of the main Greenpeace stage. A band is setting up. Random band. Don’t know who they are. Could be intriguing. I ask a guy onstage how long they’ll be. “Five minutes.” 25 minutes later, our drinks finished, we give up waiting. Don Letts walks by looking overly serious. Two girls zoom about a skate park, doing tricks. Everywhere you look the eyes find something to munch on.

We tramp on, past a placid fayrie pond into the Healing Field where every sort of therapy you might imagine being available at Glastonbury is available, from reiki to reflexology to cranial massage to a marker pen scrawled A4 notice that says, “Talk on: USING TANTRIC SEX TO HEAL CO-DEPENDENCY ISSUES in this yurt today. 2pm > 3pm”.

Glastonbury Festival 2017I talk to a hypnotherapist about addiction. He says he’s just going on a break but then proceeds to enthusiastically expand on the reasons for nicotine dependence. He’s interesting, informed. Don looks into booking a deep tissue massage that he will never take. He walks into a small tent where a wizard is workshopping but comes back out quickly. “He looked like a wizard but he was saying something about Europe, didn’t sound very wizard-like,” he comments. From one large yurt comes the sound of tinkling harmonies. It’s some sort of group therapy through singing. Inside a circle of women, about 20 of them, stand holding hands, blissed smiles or serious, eyes closed, committed to the lovely sound they’re making. Is this a bhajan? Who knows.

Opposite, a hand-fasting ceremony is taking place. A notice announces that the hand-fasting is fully booked for this year but that we can book now for 2019 (Glastonbury has a year off next year). A woman dressed like an exotic street vendor extra from Game of Thrones, all earthy red and brown and cloak, is explaining how she’ll joining the couple standing next to her, Abi and a ruddy bloke with a beard whose name I forget. There’s going to be beer and broomsticks involved and we will all be witnesses. It’s marriage, Glastonbury-style.

Don and I move onwards to the Craft Field. I haven’t been up to these parts for a few years. Glastonbury is so huge, I can never over-emphasise that enough. Those who haven’t been and watch it on the BBC truly have no idea of the scale. I’ve been here many times and amazement is still very much on the agenda. In the Craft Field there’s a forge, copper-work, belt-making and much more. One stall is called The Mushroom Peddlers: Jonny Hill and Father. It looks like your dad’s workshop but with a few hand-carved Liberty Cap-style wooden mushrooms strewn about. Three gentlemen, two of whom look like they might be Jonny Hill and father, chat beside a wood-turner, amid their tools and shavings, unconcerned about custom.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Don decides to have a go at chalk carving. An enthusiastic man teaches him how to create a flat surface from his lump of chalk, then to make indentations without chipping away big chunks. He explains it’s a good way to learn how to wood-carve, to gain the technique. There are beautiful objects, boxes, spoons and seats all around that his wife and his mother-in-law have carved from wood (check them out). Dan asks what he should do with all the chalk powder he’s generated. “Snort it,” I say, crassly.

It’s so peaceful up here but we must get amongst it. I didn’t come to Glasto to become a hippy. Well, I did a bit. Why not? Those old hippies had a sounder value system than consensus reality Britain in 2017. I go on a cider run, to fill that 1.5 litre bottle. On the way I stop at The Bandstand and watch an act called Dexter Selboy & the Shonky Trio. They’ve a smoked groove going on, a man dressed as a bright blue shark, his eyes peering from between the rows of serrated white sponge teeth, dances, as do families with small children. Dexter Selboy & the Shonky Trio have a smart jazz-blues-soul thing going on and it’s working a miniature magic. Brett Anderson of Suede wanders by looking overly serious.

Cider refilled, it’s onto William’s Green, another marquee in the festival’s central market space. Brighton quartet Fujiya & Miyagi are just starting. Gorgeous girls, their hair up, glittered to the gills, sari tops, and silk, are slinking about their men, really embracing the band’s pulsing Krautrock electro-pop. The men pace from foot to foot as most men do. Unlikely-looking lead singer David Best wears a black tee-shirt that says, “THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT”, his voice whispery, a flavour in the sound. A flag in the crowd says, “WHERE’S MOTHER?” Mine’s not here but many are.

We stay for the rest of Fujiya & Miyagi. In some ways I prefer them on record. Live they are almost too cool, never pressing the accelerator to the floor, held back by their sharply defined motorik rhythm, but for an afternoon set it was enjoyable. Outside, comedian Phill Jupitus, beneath a peppery beard, walks by looking overly serious.

Over on the Pyramid it’s time to see an American icon, Kris Kristofferson. To some he’s just that beardy bloke with wrinkles who teaches Wesley Snipes’ vampire-slayer Blade the tricks of the trade, to others he’s the beardy Seventies sex symbol who snuggled up with Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born, but to country music-lovers, he’s a songwriter of impeccable credentials who casts a very long shadow. Not many seem to know all that, however, as the Pyramid is remarkably empty. Don and I stand about 50 yards from the front.

A brown-bearded man appears onstage. It’s the film star Bradley Cooper. He tells us he’s shooting a film and they want “the biggest best music festival in the world in it”. “Hurrah!” we shout, only Bradley won’t let us hear what he’s up to. Shy, probably. So, surrounded by multiple camera crews, he plays first one guitar, then another, sings a song and, very quietly, plays a scorching guitar solo. It would have been more fun if he’d let us hear. He’d have got a better response. As it is, patience starts to wear thin by the time Kristofferson takes to the stage. The funny thing is that Cooper is filming a new version of the aforementioned overwrought showbiz romance, A Star Is Born, with Lady Gaga in the Streisand role.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Dressed in black, Kristofferson is accompanied by Roddy Hart and John Martin of the Scottish band Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire, all three of them brandishing acoustic guitars. A chorus of “Happy birthday to you” breaks out as Kristofferson was 81 the day before. However, his set is underwhelming, despite consisting almost entirely of 24-carat country gems such as “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Jesus Was a Capricorn” and, my own favourite, “Casey’s Last Ride”. He seems, to be brutal, a bit past performing like this. His voice is shot on the low notes, descending into a gargle, but, more crucially he emanates no spirit, no energy, and chats with the audience hardly at all, except to tell someone – twice – how much they look like the film director Sam Peckinpah. He also becomes confused at various points, as to what number’s next and even, on one occasion, how to finish a song.

For the song Johnny Cash made famous, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”, a grizzled, baseball-capped Johnny Depp, who’s been lurking stage-side throughout the set, comes on with a guitar for a song-and-a-half. Cue huge applause. He’s over here to present his film, The Libertine, at Julian Temple’s new Cinemageddon area. It’s fun when these enormous Hollywood megastars pop up in the Glastonbury mix. Wouldn’t it be a laugh, after all, to share a whisky and a spliff with Brad Pitt and Sienna Miller down the Rabbit Hole at 4.00 AM? One to tell your mates afterwards. But anyone who understands Glastonbury via such celebrity presences is a deluded selfie-stick saddo.

A key member of our Glastonbury team should now be arriving and it would be rude not to help him carry his stuff from the car park. Finetime is renowned for his epic amounts of camping equipment. Unfortunately Finetime decided to leave for Glastonbury after work on Friday despite my best efforts to persuade him otherwise. “I can’t let my work colleagues down this time,” he’d explained. “Fuck ‘em,” I responded, “it’s Glastonbury.” Yes, fuck ‘em indeed. The name of the game is to get the Hell out of normal life and into Worthy Farm’s fields as fast as possible. Unless you’re a surgeon required in theatre. Maybe.

Glastonbury Festival 2017While Finetime is stuck on the roads. Don and I dither about the corner of the site where he’ll arrive, drinking rum and cider and whisky, schnozzing into Quivver Fizz city, injecting our brains with zip-zap-zoooooooooom. Time passes. Nearby, first Ride, then Future Islands play corking, raucously received sets in the John Peel Stage, the latter, particularly, on a roll in the wake of their somewhat flat Other Stage show a couple of years back.

I change into black combats, Rhinestone cowboy hat and a Lily Allen tee-shirt ready for the night shift but then make a rookie error. I leave the site fully loaded with all my biz-baz-boogaloo to pick up Finetime from his car. Never do that, especially as night approaches. Loaded with Knocky Noo-Noos, I’m wandering the perimeters where Old Bill and, occasionally, gnarly forms of security lurk. Now I have to circumnavigate the gates back in again. What’s worse is, as we make our way back in the whole site is briefly put on lock-down due to would-be gatecrashers. Ice freeze veins...

But all is well and, soon we’re on our way, back on site and guzzling bad behaviour like we were born to it (we were). We’ve missed Lorde, which is annoying, but you can read about that elsewhere. Hell, you can read about the whole thing elsewhere, text-spat out micro-seconds after sets finish with the literary panache of Q Magazine droning on about a Hoosiers set-list, flat, fizz-free and plain as unleavened dough. Nah, stick with me.

Loaded to the gills, jumping with bloodstream bang-bang, 1989 Bop Power added to the cocktail, we rampage through the site, a three-person storm of excitement, both my associates liberally smeared with eye make-up. They have insisted we watch Radiohead, whose sets in 2003 and, especially, 1997, are the stuff of Glasto legend. I’m not a fan but go with the flow.

Glastonbury Festival 2017I have a quibble this Friday night. A multitude of bands I want to see are on at once – Major Lazer, Dizzee Rascal, Clean Bandit, Sleaford Mods. I wish they’d been spread around other nights. But no, here I am at Radiohead and what a drear noise they’re making. I’ve always thought of them as a prog rock band channelling Jeff Buckley. A misery-wallowing deal, then. The highlight of the first half hour is when a man with eyes out on stalks storms up to us and asks, “Who’s the biggest killer of ants? The Pink Panther!” Then proceeds to sing “Dead ant, dead ant” to "The Pink Panther Theme" before rushing off cackling.

As Radiohead goes on I feel my pleasure centres being drained. Their music sucks the spirit down into a mire, the tone of it leaden and sludgy, designed to kill any buzz. I’m hoping Finetime and Don Carlton will feel the same and, to my relief, they do (with Don’s caveat that he thinks they’ll end well – I couldn’t care less). So, refilling the cider and heading to West Holts my spirits elevate. Thank the nocturnal gods for that. Radiohead might have ruined my evening.

Instead, Dizzee Rascal brings the party. His set is sprinkled with new songs that are stripped back to the style of his Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut Boy In Da Corner. He’s come a long way since then, as his glitzy performance well shows, although he turns old tunes from that album, such as “Just a Rascal”, into crowd sing-along monsters. In a space we’ve carved with plenty of room to dance and a good view, the night is now really pepping up, exploding finally with “Bonkers”, one of the great pop bangers of the 21st century, its Armand van Helden speed garage bassline a whopping dancefloor contagion.

Glastonbury Festival 2017It’s also around this time I first hear the “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chant that originally generated, apparently, when the Labour leader visited the Wirral Live concerts at Tranmere Rovers football ground back in May. It’s absolutely a key theme of Glastonbury 2017 and, while something of a festival fad, has wider implications. The General Election earlier this year showed the possible start of a turn in public thinking. If ever there was a place that was likely to be representative of that, it’s Glastonbury, always a hub of forward-looking, alternative thinking. In one blow, this simple, rather silly chant made ostentatious left-wing politics a boisterous, loud presence rather than something “heavy”, not to be acknowledged. Very healthy and cheering.

Meanwhile Don has been doing his own lyrics, or rather re-doing Dizzee’s. “Some people think I’m a cobbler/I don’t fix shoes for free/They don’t know nothing/Because I also cut keys.” “That's GENIUS!” shouts Finetime and joins in, arguing with Don about ways to improve this masterpiece. I’m not so sure about the genius of it and tell them so but am poo-pooed into orbit.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Then spend hours dancing at the enormous Block 9 monstrosity, Genosys, its cubic bulk hallucinatory as we stomp and blather and have our feet and heads tonked by DJs such Berlin tech-break killer Shed and Yorkshire grit-meister Blawan, shovelling in the Class A goodness, riding the relentless 4/4 cataclysm, beside us a series of glowing obscene digital billboard ads, “WANKING WITH IVANKA”, prostitute Farage’s phonebox card, Putin scatologically rendered. We dance on and on. Take a break at the Deluxe Diner where Finetime goes missing in a haze of Mondrian Mandolins, before being rediscovered after much search, waiting outside the Rocket Lounge next door, thinking it’s the same venue.

Both these places are riven with old funk tunes, causing me to unnecessarily lather vitriol on Craig Charles and my own age group’s fossilised music taste. Wild Turkey bourbon and fine Jamaican rum mingle in the belly. A fine mist-like rain starts to fall and we dance around Ford Capris turned into menhir megaliths. We play on the Unfairground’s impossible, ludicrous throw-a-ball-in-the-giant-revolving-babies’-mouths stall and we wander, eventually, as the sun is rising to see Billy Daniel Bunter spin old Nineties hardcore rave tunes messily, with a terrible female MC, at Bez’s Acid Lounge, the old Happy Monday himself capering around behind the decks. High and tired, 6.00 AM, home is calling. Soon lain under my carpet wall-hanging again. Outside the tent, as sleep cotton-wools my consciousness, Finetime and Don discuss the minutiae of the 1985 Michael J Fox film Teen Wolf. I plummet into dreams of skyscraper scaffolding made of bright-coloured rock candy.

SATURDAY 24th JUNE 2017

Glastonbury Festival 2017Around two hours later I wake with a start. Mind a squall of boiling existential horror and death. Body twitching. I neck two Neurofens. Their muscle relaxant quality can assist in these situations, but it doesn’t. I need to sleep. This is Glastonbury. I need these hours. Worse, fighting off the narco-fear is an exhausting business that requires psychic stamina. For every thrust of doom, a mental parry of positivity is necessary. Fending off these pitch black blues is a sweaty business, pushing with all my might to squeeze them back where they belong in some lost nowhere.

I slope to the nearby breakfast bar, a walker in the risen dead sense, and queue for a breakfast bap with bacon and egg. People around me are talking a language I don’t understand, a universe away. I force down the food, hoping its weight will send me down into peaceful oblivion but, again, it does not. I lie still, at least, the kernel of my consciousness relentlessly clinging on, albeit finally somewhat supressed. Lucky Finetime in the next tent snores peacefully. How I envy him in his eye patch and wax earplugs.

Glastonbury Festival 2017I give up and rise, in the end, and feel better for doing so, although the whole day will prove to be a long battle against yesterday’s excesses. Hedonism is a lottery, ugly sometimes happens. The only way to avoid such risks is to slow down, a ludicrous idea. We head for the Circus Field. I eat a sausage roll on the way and drown it with a lager top. My stomach starts somersaulting. The only thing that can alleviate the nausea turns out to be a group of roaming trolls in sackcloth who swamp around me and give me a group hug. The Circus Field is full of light-hearted silliness. You can just sit there and it comes to you, the walkabouts, roaming players indulging in every manner of absurdity, two women with crazy hoop skills and grins like half moons, a taxi cab with a dodgy “healer” offering snake oils, a flock of human pelicans, magicians, puppet pop stars and so on.

Glastonbury Festival 2017We pause and watch a manic Australian hooper-juggler-comedian called Katie Wright Dynamite on the Outdoor Circus Stage. She’s good value, sending herself up and boosting a lackadaisical day-after crowd. I was very glad when she didn’t pick me as one of her three male volunteers, on whose shoulders she stood to juggle. Think I’m going to vomit. Need cider. Head to the cider bus and, indeed, the first draught is curative, settling. Across the way, Craig David has the Pyramid wrapped around his finger doing that Nineties pop-dance-R&B DJ-karaoke thing he does. Don loves him. I do not. It’s an ongoing cause of debate.

The Pyramid is about to have a moment. Jeremy Corbyn, rumour has it, will be on before American hip hop act Run The Jewels. The Pyramid’s speakers and dual giant screens kick into life and part of the wonderful speech that the late historian EP Thompson made at Glastonbury back in 1983 is broadcast. At the time, Margaret Thatcher and the yuppies were on the rise, the free market brigade were taking over, ruining everything in the name of money. Thompson said Britain “has not just been a nation of moneymakers and imperialists, it’s been a nation of inventors, writers, a nation of theatre, musicians, an alternative nation, and it is this alternative nation which I can see in front of me now.” We all roar. I love that speech. It makes me feel even better than cider.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Then Michael Eavis comes on with Corbyn, the pair of them together facing a baying mass of applause and “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chants. Corbyn gives a speech that’s measured but urgent and passionate. It receives waves of cheering. It’s full of the right stuff. How this country needs to care for its services, education, health and so forth. The essence of it encapsulated in the lines, “I want to see a world where there is real opportunity for everybody in our society. That means sharing the wealth out in every part of our country, and looking to global policies that actually share the wealth, not glory in the levels of injustice and inequality, where the rich seem to get inexorably richer and the vast majority continually lose out.” And he closes with a bit of Shelley, “Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number/ Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many, they are few.”

Ha! Yes! Sounds good. The crowd agree. A fellow journalist told me later that where she was people were booing, leaving the field, and saying there was no place for this sort of thing at a music festival. They’re wrong, Glastonbury has always been a countercultural event as much a music festival and, as long as I’ve been coming, a rich hub of all kinds of radical thinking and outsider ideas, looking to a better future. There will never be a Conservative Tent at Glastonbury. Let’s face it, in 2017, the only people who are Tories are the badly informed and the self-serving, or, to put it less politely, the ignorant and the greedy. Enough.

Glastonbury Festival 2017After a smidgeon of Run The Jewels' righteous, ballsy belligerence, I pop to the tent to try and grab half an hour’s sleep. I lay and, perhaps, pass out for 10 minutes. It helps. Then Finetime produces his endless bottle of Tuaca which, topped off with cider and a spicy chicken wrap, replenishes. We head to the top of the field for Katy Perry. Clad in a silver glittered cat-suit with an eye on the front, she’s an explosion of pinky kitsch. “Chained to the Rhythm” is her second song and it’s a killer, especially when an army of TV-headed dancers appear to emphasise its digital age dystopian themes. These dancers will pop up throughout in all manner of bizarre outfits, from giant red lip-heads to fluffy split banana-heads. Perry has the field’s younglings, right to the back, cutting moves. All around the little ones are engaged. It’s their moment. Even Don feels compelled to give it some to “Firework”, while the housey “Swish Swish” has me jiggling. Despite occasional bursts of over-compensatory Hollywood-ised blather, she works it and wins. She even crowd-surfed. When’s Madonna coming to Glastonbury? That would rule.

For those wondering how I manage to miss so much of the festival that they see on telly, it should be noted that stuff like “popping back to the tent” or “getting a drink” are sometimes 20-minute or half-hour exercises, and it’s quite possible to lose an hour milling between venues, especially if you meet friend, pause for a beer at one of the 20 billion bars, or stop to do some shopping at the huge array of stalls in the market (I bought a “distressed” straw cowboy hat of a kind I haven’t seen anywhere else in weeks of looking, pre-festival). If it’s a muddy year, you can double those timings. Fortunately, it’s not. Saturday morning saw misty drizzle but the rest of the day has a sometimes tropical closeness beneath threatening clouds and spots of sun.

Glastonbury Festival 2017A case in point, in terms of distances, is The Park, where we go next, stuck out on the far south-eastern side of the site, up the steep rise of Pennard Hill. On the way we pass Wiley playing the Other Stage. While the man deserves respect as one of the founding fathers of grime, all we heard going past was cheesey samples that sounded as if they’d been pulled off low-grade YouTube clips, functioning as choruses to his songs. “My Rolex” never sounded so poor, as if he’s trying to recreate the vibe of an iPhone speaker playing on a bus, but he has a crowd who don’t seem to mind and are swarmed there, rapping along.

By contrast, we make it to The Park in time for Songhoy Blues, a Malian rock band doused in purest Afro-funk. Their beginnings were under a regime of theological fascist bullies who legally banned music in the most vicious manner possible. Their lead singer, Aliou Touré, in a pork pie hat, is a one-man lesson in jubilation, which he projects with force onto the crowd, performing very African dance moves and grinning fit to bust. A flag moves through the crowd saying “I’ve just about had enough of these shenanigans”. But only the various bodies sleeping on the grass around the field truly have at this point.

Glastonbury Festival 2017While I jig to these fluid sunny grooves, boosted by an evening dose of Whatamahavu, Don and Finetime are playing with a cheap werewolf kit that includes facial hair. When the latter is applied it looks like some sort of fungus, meanwhile the make-up, applied by Finetime to Don, simply makes him look like a 1930s racist cartoon themed around a bat. “Music is love,” Aliou Touré keeps telling is. At the back is a percussion/brass duo who hail from the UK. They look like a couple of Happy Mondays roadies who’ve time-travelled in from 1990. Clad in a combat motif, Songhoy Blues have a power that’s persuasive.

At some point flames burst into life on the Doric columns either side of the stage. Don and Finetime have now entirely given up on the werewolf thing. It’s a lovely warm evening, occasional gusts of breeze washing over us as we head back to the Pyramid for the Foo Fighters. We pass Stormzy on the way. He’s having a moment on the Other Stage. We’re too far away to tell much, except that he’s receiving lots of love.

I’m not bothered about Foo Fighters. I only properly know one song by them (“Best of You”) although I’ve enjoyed their Sonic Highways documentary TV series about the musical heritage of various US cities and, of course, it’s hard not to warm to Dave Grohl. He seems a good sort and entirely not up himself like he could be. Despite a lack of interest in their eight album’s worth of material Finetime, Don and I all have a suspicion they might be a success.

Amid the massed warmth of the Pyramid Saturday night crowd, all those banners catching the lights from the stage, we’re joined by Don’s Greenpeace mate Fedora and a crew of Finetime’s buddies, all of us passing flasks around – Maker’s Mark bourbon, rum, tequila, powders and a bubbling sense of anticipation. Suddenly the stage lights up and there Grohl is, centre-front, strumming a guitar and chatting a long introduction to the opening number, “Times Like These”, which eventually explodes into huge, slamming stadium guitar enormousness.

Glastonbury Festival 2017The whole set is like that, tension and release, massive choruses, Seventies US rock of the Cheap Trick variety dosed with a dash of punk attitude and tight, tight musicianship. They’re a band completely in control but also loose, gum-chewing, having fun like they were in a bar or rehearsal room, especially when Grohl introduces each member for a quick showcase. They drop into snippets of Queen, Ted Nugent and others. I don’t know the Foo Fighters songs but it simply doesn’t matter. The guys in front of me do and are rolling all over each other howling them. Our crew bounce about. It’s enjoyable but, if truth be told, about an hour-and-a-half into the set my guts are calling.

A funny thing about Glastonbury is it takes you back to the primitive on many levels. You find yourself having extended conversations, quite normally, of the kind you’d never have in a pub, all about how your bladder and bowels are working. In this field environment, where toilets may be far away and queue-laden, control of such issues is primary. At one point I was having a slash in a urinal and farted. The bloke next to me said, “You want to be careful with that at this stage of the festival!” I laughed and said I wasn’t going to follow through, adding that, “Eating unhealthy food is the key” (a theory of Don’s). “Nah, mate,” he responded, “I just double drop Immodium.” He wasn’t joking.

After riding the Foo Fighters tension’n’release rollercoaster I decide to leave my crew. I’ve invited everyone I can think of onsite to a DJ set I’m doing at the Cornish Arms in the Leftfield. I do one there every year, a bit of a tradition. It’s at midnight but I want to get there early, sort my records, and I definitely have a cosmic need to drop these kids off at the pool beforehand. I trek and trek, hitting queues, but eventually find long drops relatively unattended at the back of the Other Stage Field. Booof! The moment it’s done I feel my spirit lift. It’s as if I’ve just mainlined daylight into my bloodstream. A quick bump of Quivver Fizz to top it off and I’m flying. Boy, do I feel good.

Glastonbury Festival 2017My set lasts two hours and goes well, people dancing, friends dropping by to say hello, the Cornish Arms looking after me, endless double JD and cokes. It’s not for me to comment on it more than that. Suffice to say it starts with Solomun’s remix of Lana del Rey’s “West Coast” and ends with the US Club Mix of “WHAM! Rap”, and in-between has everything from the tribal drums of Silvestre Mendez’ “Ven Francisco” to a 1983 12” remix of The Beat’s “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” to Scott Bradlee’s impeccable Twenties speakeasy reimagining of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” to Captain Sensible rapping on “Wot” to some bangin’ Nineties techno trance courtesy of “Hullaballoo” by Probe.

Afterwards, I take a moment outside to cool down, then a few of us head to The Glade where Sacha is playing and playing and playing. At least I think it’s Sacha. His head is warping in shape as I stare at it, dancing and chatting with old and new mates. I have my second wind and surf it. Don leaves and, eventually, so do Finetime and I, sharing a pungent fudgy cigaroon by the tent before we slide into sleep.

SUNDAY 25th JUNE 2017

Glastonbury Festival 2017Six hours later I awake gloriously refreshed. I feel I’d like to sing along to Martine McCucheon’s “This is my moment, this is my perfect moment,” as if it was a metal song. The weather is even perkier than previously. Full English breakfast for Don and I while Finetime sleeps. Then he’s up and we all head for The Glade where YouTube mavericks Cassetteboy are performing with DJ Rubbish. It’s hard to get anywhere near as it’s packed, even though at 1.30 in the afternoon, quite early by Glastonbury standards. We’d keep vampire hours if the festival went on any longer.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Cassetteboy’s show is a ridiculous, amateurish and very funny, partly reliving their best-loved online cut-ups, partly allowing us all to revel in the joyous universality of brutally mocking all the people and ideas that our mainstream media accept as everyday reality. Wearing a Jeremy Corbyn mask and a monkey mask, the Cassetteboy duo are accompanied by leery DJ Rubbish, a geezer prowling the stage in a blond wig and a baseball cap, making surreal asides and, when required, encouraging the crowd to cheer or boo. The material runs from video-songs about Masterchef goon Greg Wallace to regular skewering of Sir Alan Sugar to a Theresa May mash-up to the tune of “West End Girls”, the chorus of which runs, “In election terms it’s getting worse with public school boys and dead end girls.” They’re never shy of a knob gag, reducing those they pillory with guffawing, bawdy pre-Victorian satire. One of the funniest bits is their firework show, wherein a tray of feeble indoor fireworks is set off on camera while DJ Rubbish keeps reminding us, “This is the time of our lives.” Finetime and I are giddy with laughter by the time we leave.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Don then goes off to see Laura Marling on the Pyramid while Finetime and I catch Brighton blues turn Rag’n’Bone Man at the Other Stage. He’s an endearing presence, overwhelmed by the large crowd that’s turned out for him.

“I had it all planned out, what I was going to say,” he tells us, “but now I can’t get the words out.”

“Ah, big cuddly bear,” sighs a girl next to me.

Dressed in a combat jacket, baseball cap and jeans, with a full band and a female backing singer in a black emblazoned hussar’s jacket, he’s likeable, his hip hop-rhythmed stew of soul and blues being pleasant rather than vital, even when he brings on his old Brighton crew, Rum Committee, to do a more energised straight hip hop number. The highlights are the crowd sing-along to his big hit, “Human”, the closing gospel blow-out, “Hell Yeah!”, which recalls Plan B in Strickland Banks mode, and there’s a great moment when he does a raw acapella of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying”.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Afterwards a classic example of a Glastonbury faff. Only 84 hours here and I lose one of them collecting my record bag and returning it to the tent, then picking up Don and Finetime and more cider. By 4.00 PM the sun has finally come out, properly, for the first time since Wednesday (when I hadn’t arrived yet). It turns up for Barry Gibb whose set reminds how the Bee Gee ranged from Saturday Night Fever and disco gold to wet Radio 2 ballads. The set didn’t sweep me off in a Lionel Ritchie 2015 manner, although his playing the Bee Gees’ 1966 single “Spicks and Specks” is weirdly touching. Perhaps it’s because it’s a goofy Monkees-style effort from the dawn of the Gibb brothers' career, when everything was before them, when they were all alive and riven with unfulfilled ambition.

Over-whitened teeth glimmer behind a beard and beneath that famous semi-mullet. He doesn’t exactly exude stage presence and keeps mumbling inaudible things into the microphone between songs, although it’s funny and, again, faintly poignant when, for his final song, “Tragedy”, he dons a cheap gold jacket thrown to him by the crowd. A cut-price imitation of one of the Bee Gees' most famous disco era publicity shots.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Finetime is slumping by this point, but I’m zooming upwards on a tide of rum and cider. Don seems to be midway between. While the former heads back to the tent for a nap, Don and I stream forward for Chic. I’ve heard Nile Rodgers do approximations of this set numerous times over the last six years, even once at Glastonbury (2013). It should have grown old and tired, surely, yet this time, once more, under the clear blue Somerset skies, it simply works beyond any expectation. Nick Mulvey is playing the Park any moment now. He’s a favourite of mine but, by the time Chic reach Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” it’s unstoppable, I’m having a moment. My eyes bubble, my heart’s exploding with exhilaration. Don and I can’t stop laughing. It may occasionally seem like the whole thing is Nile Rodgers undergoing a continent-sized ego massage, but Chic are hosing the crowd with psychic glucose. It’s irresistible. Fronted by iron-lunged Kimberly Davis and, on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, by drummer Ralph Rolle, they hammer home disco-funk classic after disco-funk classic. All my cynicism evaporates. I feel young and free and I’m dancing my arse off.

Glastonbury is shining in the Sunday blaze, the best party in the world. There are some who prefer their festivals smaller, calmer, less frenetic. Fair enough. I like those too, although they rarely achieve Glastonbury’s extreme elation overload. In any case, Glastonbury has areas that are just like those smaller, calmer festivals. Most of all, though, there’s chaos here, such good chaos energy. It sends me wild. Once Chic hit “Le Freak” and “Good Times”, bringing a crowd from the audience onstage for the latter, I’m high as a satellite on it all. Good times, indeed.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Back at Hospitality Camping the amount of tents that have disappeared is disgraceful, especially compared to Public Camping where they want to maximise bang for their bucks. Work on Monday? No, thanks. These early-doors escapees should be made to exit through a Tunnel of Shame, unless they have truly decent excuses. Perhaps sponges dipped in sour goats’ milk might be thrown at them as they leave. It’s depressing seeing them clear away and prepare their psyches for normality. Not what a man needs when preparing for the final push to Moscow. In the background, as I sit awaiting my comrades, belly warm on sun and spirits, the Peel tent has first Goldfrapp, then London Grammar to much applause, although neither sounds especially invigorating.

In fact, this segment of the evening is not quite successful. It’s corralling cats time. Despite the fact there are three hours between Chic and Justice, the next act we want to see, somehow Don and Finetime, known collectively as “Just Give Me a Minute”, manage to dither the clock down to a point of cutting it fine. The moment I know we’re actually fucked is when Don decides to go for a shower an hour-and-a-quarter before Justice are due to hit the stage. From there I can visualise exactly what’s going to happen but can do nothing about it, watching it all occur in slow motion through a mirage of “just give me a minute”s. It’s frustrating, although regular doses of Whatchamacallit and Maker’s Mark whisky ease irritation, as does the deliciously sunny evening.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Long story short, by the time we reach West Holts, the band’s coming on and the field is so packed we have to stand behind the sound desk where the decibel level is just passable and the view rubbish. But here’s the thing. You can’t hold onto that. Sure, on these sort of occasions it’d be easier if you could just roll friends up into little balls, put them in your pockets, and take them out again at your destination, but it doesn’t work like that. Without wishing to sound like some life lesson-preachin’ Disney TV Channel human turd, they’re my Glastonbury team, it’s unpredictable hardcore hedonist terrain, and there’s going to be the occasional bout of hiccups before bedtime.

So I swallow it up and enjoy Justice’s stroboscopic, steroid electro assault, all black leather and stacked Marshall amps, with Don’s Greenpeace-chugging mate Fedora back with us, unstoppable, apparently, despite hardly a wink’s sleep since Tuesday. Predictably it’s “We Are Your Friends” that slays it, the whole place singing along. Then we trawl on into the far flung fields, the South East Corner. We land up at the Truth stage in Shangri-La, outdoors. Sit on the grass gabbling until Gentlemen’s Dub Club come on. Didn’t know what to expect but these white dudes from Leeds in Reservoir Dogs suits flat out boshed it, starting with head-nod bassline business and moving into high calibre danceable fare, like a Leftfield b-side with a brass section.

Glastonbury Festival 2017During their set I cut into a tape-wrapped, dried portion of Fungus Cubensis from South America, but I make a mess of it and the twigs explode out into the darkness of the night so I scrabble around plucking them up with pinches of the dried grass they’ve fallen among. Only taste can detect which is which but I think I’ve eaten a few. Turns out I have, as have Don and Fedora. We return to where Don and I began the festival, SHITV, to see Dutch psychedelic groove merchants, MY BABY.

A gathering of Finetime’s friends have appeared for final frolics. MY BABY are late. It’s unsurprising, they’ve been playing shows here all weekend. Frontwoman Caro van Dijck looks flushed, while guitarist Daniel Johnston starts to jam with the drum & bass the DJ’s playing. Slowly their set blooms from there. Takes them a moment to find their stride. When they do it’s a torrent of dance-friendly psychedelia, wha-wha-ing riff’s riding drummer Joost van Dijck’s jazz-elastic drum patterns. Ozric Tentacles having it out with Jefferson Airplane in Ibiza. Between the three of them they weave urgent sound into the air. The Cubensis fumigates my head, my eyes muzzing the perimeters of the human forms, trails in the air. Before long I’m in the music, dancing at speeds I didn’t know my Glastonbury-fatigued limbs could muster. I’m down in my DNA, heading for hyperspace.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Don seems lost but dances on. Later, he will not recall a single thing about this set except that two girls were very rude to him, asking him to “stop dancing near us and stop looking at our bags”. Nice. He zones out from this point. By the set’s end, decades later, I’m a sopping pile of perspiration, a sack. Finetime balances Don and I on his shoulders. With certain aids, recovery kicks in. Stand talking with Finetime’s fine gang. We aim for Kevin Saunderson, Detroit techno don, but miss him by moments, settling into Felix Dickinson’s final acid techno set at Genosys before wandering up to a café in the Tipi Field for last knockings.

Glastonbury Festival 2017Even this last bit - maybe two hours - is an adventure of hills and chat and stamina and rising sun and Stone Circle and daylight’s advent and shaking hands and making connections and liquor and all that other good stuff. But the end’s arrived, that final stumble, a hint of dread at the toll such excellent times reap. But that’s for later. For now, tent-side, I sink, brain fighting like a tiger to the contrary, into three hours sleep, finally sated. The dream kingdom will now vanish. Not reappear for two whole years. I’m going to miss it hard. I already do.

Overleaf: Watch Chic play "Let's Dance" at Glastonbury 2017

Comments

I can never decide whether a Glastonbury adventure with CG should be on my list of things to do before I die, or whether it will ultimately kill me.

Regardless, this remains my very favourite annual TAD tradition.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters