sat 13/07/2024

Glastonbury Festival 2024: A Sunlit Epic of Music, Madness, Chaos and Culture | reviews, news & interviews

Glastonbury Festival 2024: A Sunlit Epic of Music, Madness, Chaos and Culture

Glastonbury Festival 2024: A Sunlit Epic of Music, Madness, Chaos and Culture

Take the full immersive novelette-length four day head-trip through the best party in the world

The city that never sleepsAll photos © Finetime, except M Abramović/LCD Soundsystem/C Lauper/Last Dinner Party/C Cabello/A Lavigne © Anna Barclay, Confidence Man © Iwona Pinkowic, D Lipa close-up © Matt Cardy, Red Arrows © Rik Mav, Don Carlton/Smiles Are Contagious © Caspar Gomez

SUNDAY 30th June 2024

It’s late. But not really. Not by the standards of this place. Photographer Finetime and I are in Block9 in the South-East Corner. The so-called “naughty corner”. We take turns juggernauting quomble off a pinecone. Finetime’s right eyelid is twitching. This tic developed today. Nearby is a gigantic head. About the size of a large Victorian house. It’s at an acute angle to the ground. Instead of eyes it has a kind of welders’ mask blitzing white-noise light. Like the haunted, detuned television in the 1982 film Poltergeist.

iiconWe all know what happened to the little blonde girl in that, right? Instead, Roni Size is in there somewhere, bokkin’ out funked-up drum & bass. The IICON Stage. Jungle is all over Glastonbury 2024 like a rash. We jig, worn calves elastic with Quivver-power.

Veins of lightning bleed off the colossus. Posters around glare alive in the summer night, flash-imprinting on my retinas. They are designed by Katharine Hamnett. They say, “YOUR VOTE IS THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL TO GET THE WORLD YOU WANT”.

MONDAY 1st July 2024

I am in a car in a country lane. Sweat beads coagulate, pearling my forehead. They have the texture of fresh Araldite glue. I smell like a bonfire of cow manure and HP sauce. Finetime is driving, compulsively eating peanuts. We pass the sign for Pilton village. Two stickers have been added to the gaps within the “P” and the “O”. One is the face of Spock from Star Trek (original Leonard Nimoy version). The other is the face of glossy, grinning middle-of-the-road TV celeb Rylan Clark. Ah, Glastonbury…

day 2THURSDAY 27th June 2024

I’m as fresh and bouncy as I’ll only dream of being for the next four days. We stomp from Finetime’s car, pushing a heavy-duty steel cart, loaded to chest height with chairs, booze, sleeping gear and Godknowswhat. Its inflated rubber wheels bounce across ruts beneath thick grass, a hard-dried imprint of tractor tyres in mud, speaking of Worthy Farm’s other life. The weather alternates cloud and sun, a light breeze. The annual ritual, pick up press pass, on through the Wicket Gate, into Hospitality Camping (just over from the giant red’n’orange circus tent of Woodsies).

port1Our friends Don Carlton and GB arrived yesterday and put up our tent. When we arrive, a mighty celebratory “meal” ensues, during which I consume a packet of polystyrene Polish cheese puffs, two small pork pies, half a tube of barbecue Pringles and three bottles of Aspalls 5.5% Draft Cyder. Don, male, lightly bearded, sparkly good-humoured eyes, got together with GB, female, blonde, no-nonsense, funny, at Glastonbury 2019 (as related here). They are now married, determined to live a united Glastonbury. “We’re a team!” is their motto. They tell us they have booked a hand-fasting ceremony up in the Healing Fields for 1.00 PM Saturday. 1.00 PM.... Hmmmmmm….

The car park was already uncharacteristically full when we arrived. Glastonbury opens at 9.00 AM on Wednesday. I have always gone Thursday-to-Monday. The ideal timeframe for rushing at it like the proverbial bull-at-a-gate. In mud-sodden 2007 I went on Wednesday. Sunday found me a sweating ruin, bubonic liver, brain a terrorized flea. I hid in my tent. Came out to watch The Who in a rainstorm until ravaging paranoia overtook me. Clambered back in my sleeping bag and shivered. A day too many, I concluded.

Most people used to go Thursday-to-Monday. Not anymore. Almost all stages remain closed Wednesday, but there’s plenty to do. And Wednesday ’24 is scorchio. I made the mistake of thinking I had it sussed. Now I’m ancient, maybe I can adhere to a no-naughties Wednesday rule? Wake up acclimatized a day early? I have fallen into habits. Comfortable patterns. No. This is how we fossilise. Made a mistake. Next year the rules change.

Back to right now. We’re having a goofy conversation about scrambled ketamine breakfast, boiled ketamine dinner, fried ketamine with ketamine-in-the-hole for Sunday lunch. We don’t even take the stuff. Each to their own. I’m playing a DJ set late Friday night at the Cornish Arms, one of Glastonbury’s many pop-up pubs. I head over there with my heavy bag of vinyl records. Don’t want to carry them around with me tomorrow.

postersThere are posters all along the solid green metal of the Hospitality Camping fence (as pictured above). Not for the usual crap. The posters are painted canvases. “YOU THINK YOU’RE TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, TRY SLEEPING WITH A MOSQUITO,” says one. Water refill stations abound, allowing for no sale of plastic bottles. This 1000-acre, 210,000 capacity city is currently the seventh biggest in southern England. It is purposed to entertain and provide a space for “sorts”, but leans into better ways of living. Last year the festival donated £1.7 million to charity partners Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace, with another £1.3 million to a multitude of smaller charities, many local.

port2I’m on a cross-site trek. This first exposure blows my freakin’ mind. Every time. I am home. I pass San Remo, essentially Glastonbury’s suburban high street nightclub, only with better music on a better high street. The ground outside is already littered with nitrous oxide canisters, 640-gram ones. Those silver NOS bullets were always an environmentally unfriendly annoyance, but the Government making harmless old laughing gas a Class C controlled substance last autumn was just folly, playing to suburban golf’n’cars Daily Mailers who know nothing and wish young people would waltz quietly to Patti Page records.

Further on, I fill a 1.5 litre Evian bottle at the Burrow Hill Cider bus, two pints dry to one medium. They’re playing “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia. At the Cornish Arms I go to the bar to drop my records off. I approach the woman managing. She is clad in a striking blue fluffy tank top and shorts, her face a mass of piercings.

“I’ve come to drop my records off as I’m DJing tomorrow night,” I say.

“Are you really?” she sneers, “How do I know you are? You could be anybody.”

A weird response. Perhaps it’s supposed to be funny. I mention the names of the people who run the Cornish Arms. She fetches a lovely, smiley chap called Carl who’s her very opposite. Records deposited and a slice of pizza later, the Quivver fizz dip-diving increases. Time compresses. Human babble is Doppler-effecting my eardrums.

Finetime and I check DJ-producer Joy Orbison (original drum & bass don Ray Keith’s nephew, fact fans). He’s playing Levels, a 7000-cap open-air nightclub space in the ravey-gravy Silver Hayes field. At 9.00 PM it’s already chocka with face-chewers. We wander on, perch beside a gigantic sign that says OPTIMISM IS A POLITICAL ACT outside a venue called Assembly. We start talking to a real live young person, female. She’s 20-years-old and working as a steward. She tells us a great story about one of the buses that a fellow steward took to the festival. The onboard toilet exploded into the luggage compartment, saturating all. I tell her a matching yarn picked up from recent Glastonbury worker chat. One clean-up crew person was asked what the oddest thing they’d found litter-picking after the festival: a human turd in a bra, hanging in a tree.

fat dogThe three of us clang-clang the gumblesnaps like troughing wart-hogs, picnickers in Super Happy Magic Forest. Chemo-yomp our way to Strummerville, high on the hill to the far south of the site. Once a bonfire overseen by the Clash singer, it’s now an enclave with its own stage. Rum’n’coke and in, but there’s a queue. The band we’ve come to see are Fat Dog (vaguely visible in the picture above), a London outfit much-touted by pals who proclaimed them the best performance at January’s Rockaway Beach (Bognor Butlins indie-fest beloved of Worthing pub-goers).

The long hillside stagefront slope is so jammed that, at one point, cowboy-hatted singer Joe Love tells us “Everyone has to simmer down or we’ll have to shut down; we don’t wanna break an ankle over here.” Thursday night sound limitations (I assume) mean those nearer the back (us) are listening at underwhelming volume. It’s not ideal. But their 40 minutes of thumping is festival-ready (they play all over, all weekend).

night3They give off Alabama 3 vibes but their default setting is Al Jourgensen in Revolting Cocks mode attempting peak-Trade hard house via a side order of Balkan ska. The songs bellow about sliding into the night covered in Vaseline and “satisfied shite” but, overall, I only received a teaser-flavour of their capabilities. Next time.

From there, we blag our new friend into a Hospitality bar, Jack Daniels, ale, blather-blather-blather about lives and hopes. Run into a man who once ran a large independent label and now runs a smaller one and who is one of the nicest people in showbiz. He recommends I see an American singer called Kara Jackson who he thinks is amazing. But he doesn’t know what stage she’s on. Nor do I. Never do see her. He leaves. I’m wired. It’s Thursday at 2.30 AM. Time to quit before Friday’s ruined. We leave our new friend.

Arrive back at the encampment at exactly the same time as Don and GB. They’ve been in NYC Downlow all night, GB’s home from home, steppin’ to the queer-bear disco sleaze.

Ready by my bed is a bottled green pottage of promethazine hydrochloride, dextromethorphan hydrobromide, melatonin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. I take two large swigs and settle.

FRIDAY 28th June 2024

The first sensation is that someone has hollowed out the back of my throat with a trowel. Parched suede hide. The taste of last night’s green pottage is glued to it. Make a noise like a snore. Inner gunk pushed about. Swig water. Better. Just. No shower. Ever. Wet wipes. I can hear bizarrely named, hijab-wearing Indonesian femme-metal trio Voice of Baceprot at nearby Woodsies. Would have liked to see them but 11.30 AM? No chance.

port3I overhear someone in a nearby tent. The voice is croaky. “If we’re gonna go hard today we might as well start now – we’ve got enough… things”. Ah, the spirit that’s kept the UK near the top of European consumption stats for well over two decades. Sling on shorts and a tee-shirt saying JOE WALSH FOR PRESIDENT (which the great man himself gave me). Queue at food van. Avoid eyes. Gather a couple of plates of veggie sausages, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns and oat cakes. Wake a lazing Finetime. Pass him a plate.

“This will make me feel better but it will make me feel weird,” he says.

“Like all the best things,” I add.

Slosh it down with Morrisons supermarket brand orange juice from Finetime’s still iced chiller box. Cult Indian star Asha Puthli is on at 12.30 way away at West Holts. I can still make it. Don is making tea. He tells me the weather will be good. The Eavises, he says, get their weather reports from a local cheesemaker who always has it right. Good enough for me.

Head out. On the Pyramid Squeeze are playing “Cool For Cats” to a large crowd for this time of day. I push on. I’ve seen Squeeze many times. Last time Asha Puthli played the UK was 1974. On past Joe Rush’s multi-hued replica of Stonehenge constructed from cars, within which a steel band are playing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. People dressed as glittery birds of paradise groove about.

I arrive at West Holts to hear Asha Puthli talk about when she used to live with Holly Woodlawn. She of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. “She had the body of a man and the head of a woman,” she explains, “I have the body of a woman and the head of a man.” The Bombay-born singer is nearly 80 and clad in a white dress covered in multi-coloured hearts. A wild card who quit her air hostess job in the late-Sixties to explore New York’s music world, she first came to prominence as singer on Ornette Coleman’s ballistically self-reinventing Science Fiction album in 1971, then spent the decade making often superb, stoned-out disco/funk grooves.

ashaMore recently she’s been rediscovered via reissues and endless sampling by hip hop producers. Her sound is just right for this balmy day, a synth-laced, psychedelic slo-mo’, lots of tablas. Congas and bongos a-go-go. Her voice goes high and girlish, then runs deep and forceful. She’s like an infinitely less terrifying Grace Jones who’s had some mushrooms.

Sitting on the ground beside me a man looks intently at his phone. For minutes on end. He’s not reading messages. He’s staring at a photograph of moustachioed Brighton hip hop satirist Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer. Each to their own. More happily, beside me a woman in a black’n’red BANGFACE HARD CREW tracksuit jives with a guy waving a brick-like 1980s cell phone.

Puthli plays a cover of JJ Cale’s “Right Down Here”. It deliciously epitomizes what she does. On her eponymous 1973 solo debut album (pictured above right - no pics of Asha because Finetime was still in his sleeping bag) this number is preceded by a bubbling noise. She tells us that fans often ask if it’s the sound of a bong. No, she explains, raising a cup of tea to her lips and gargling. “Of course,” she adds, “in those days I drank champagne.” She’s class. And, of course, she ends on her Balearic behemoth “Space Walk”. Since she’s almost solely US-based, her set is a true Glastonbury treat.

day3I swill down a couple more pints of 6% alcohol fermented apples and take a wander. Up in the Greenpeace Field’s Flamingo Skate Park, a man dressed as a chef takes a tumble off his board. Over the ceaseless ragga rhythms the hype man keeps up his patter, “Bob Marley and the bailers there,” he jests. A large crowd has gathered at the nearby Greenpeace Stage. They are waiting to see secret act “Mr T”. They whoop every time a terrified child plummets down the near-vertical slide opposite, with its climbing wall on the side saying “VOTE FOR CLIMATE”. I am hoping the gig will be the actual Mr T, B.A. Baracas himself, but it turns out to be tatted, once-punk folkie Frank Turner.

I pause, willing him to be my cuppa. A banner in front of me reads “Keep a little dirt under my pillow for DIRT MAN”. I ponder the meaning of this. Later I Google it and am little the wiser. Later still I discover it’s a TikTok thing. Designed, then, to bamboozle the ancient. Someone else waves about Kermit on a stick. More my speed.

Turner’s first song closes with the line, “Get another round at the bar.” So I do. Study a nearby wall covered in posters created by La Linterna, a nigh-on century-old poster factory in Cali, Colombia, printed on letter press machines from 1870 and 1890. The posters are simple and word-based but look great, retro-chic like San Fran ’67 mingled with something distinctly their own; “SEX AND DRUGS AND PLEASE LEAVE”, “AFRO-FUTURISMO”, “NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL”.

port4I head back to West Holts to catch Brighton band Squid. I bought their 2021 debut album on vinyl but never listen to it. Like many pretentious muso’s with many bands they claim to like, maybe I just like the idea of them. We shall see. A five-piece, they seem slightly flustered to be playing a decent crowd. “So I can’t dance, I’m not very good at being a frontman,” singing drummer Ollie Judge mumbles, as he clambers out from his kit to begin barking into his handheld mic.

Their sound is original to the point of challenging, like early Happy Mondays crossed with King Crimson, abstract funk, shouty vocals, jagged stop-start rhythms, choppy post-punk factored by prog. A man next to me wearing a sequinned trilby embossed with the words ZERO FUCKS moves from leg to leg. I watch and listen for around half their set. “This is a new one about cannibalism,” announces Judge. I head off. Squid are, indeed, interesting, but their tricksy music doesn’t fit this sun-dappled afternoon. Their 2019 debut single, “Houseplants”, though, that’s a whopper. And they play it after I leave. Boo!

I meet Finetime by a Mexican ice lolly stall. I never discover what aspect of Mexican-ness is the USP. Girls in silver crop tops are taking photos of each other. They each, in turn, stick one leg up at the back from the knee, like Twenties flappers. It’s an Insta thing, I’m guessing. The girls at the Taylor Swift concert I was at last week were all at it. She’d be good here, incidentally. Send the place nuts (even more nuts). She would have been here in 2020 but that unmentionable plague put the kybosh on it.

avalonWe head uphill to Avalon. I dig the vibe here. An immense timber ale house (pictured right) with a first-floor balcony, opposite a decent-sized marquee. The bar is run by wenches from the Middle Ages, the men too. Tips are thrown into chest-perched cups, then a bell is rung to massed cheers. The further out Glastonbury areas have their own ambience. There’s something of the village green about Avalon. Unfortunately, it rarely has much music I wish to sample. Finetime and I swiftly drink two ales. One an amber ale at around 4%, the other a darker Otter ale at 4.5%. Actually, Finetime doesn’t. A recent convert to ales, these are too flat for him.

At the tiny stage inside the Avalon bar a guitar-strumming man called John Coff is playing to one person. He doesn’t exist on Google so may be a figment of my imagination (he isn’t). Whoever’s on the main marquee stage is saying they nicked their drummer from a heavy metal group but that they’re an “indie-folk girl band”.  This description is exactly right. I ask someone who they are. “I don’t know,” they inform me, “some bits are quite good and some bits are not so good” Music journalism is that easy. Finetime checks the Glastonbury app. The band are The Deep Blue and are from Manchester.

I don’t have the app. I rely on squares of laminated card on which I’ve printed acts I want to see. Find it easier than faffing with the phone. Of the acts listed, on Thursday I caught one out of 13, Friday, seven out of 17, Saturday, six out of 23, Sunday, six out of 16. Bear in mind the lists include multiple acts that are on concurrently, as options. I know. What a Virgo.

We head for the Other Stage and Aussie party band Confidence Man. Last time I saw them I was distinctly unimpressed by their sappy dance routines and pre-recorded backing, but I’ve been told they set off festivals. They do. They are the opposite of Squid. An easy-to-digest Benidorm-rave saccharine rush. Musical fast food. Going down a treat. The central dancing-singing duo are Janet Planet, in puffy mini-skirt with suspenders to knee-socks (pictured below left), and a suited Sugar Bones. They do choreographed dance routines po-faced, like over-excited teens 100% committed to an online dancercise class.

confidence manAll around flags wave: “ELECTRIC BOOBS”, “QUEEN OF PUTNEY”, “GARY”, “POUND-FOR-POUND BEST DJ IN THE WORLD”, “THIS KET IS SHIT”, “ANYTHING GOES” with a photo of Rik Mayall’s Blackadder character Lord Flashheart, “DISCO” in Tesco’s font and colours, a photograph of a goose wearing a bucket hat smoking a spliff . A man walks by in a tee-shirt with a query on: “Surely Not EVERYBODY Was Kung Fu Fighting?”

Confidence Man’s other members, on synths and drums, have their heads masked in black sacking. The front duo’s routines become increasingly acrobatic. Sugar Man’s top comes off. Cheesy pop. Hints of rave. “Feels Like a Different Thing”. Breakbeats. Italo-house piano. The crowd lap it up. We last 20 minutes. It does, indeed, work a festival but is too arch, cloying and samey for me.

Over at Japanese Tapas stall I purchase Karaage Fried Chicken Donburi and a Vegetarian Tapas Platter. The latter is for Finetime who loves a spring roll. The former for me. I’d not eaten meat this year until I arrived here. Glastonbury no holds barred. In everything. All these veggies and vegans say they don’t miss meat. Lucky them. I do. Back to a no-meat diet after this, though. All about the planet, innit. Bloody annoying, though. Finetime sings tunelessly to Chic’s “Everybody Dance” which is blaring loudly from a nearby winebar.

Back to the tent for a change of clothes. Ready for the evening. I opt for a peaked officers’ cap in red sequins with a skull on the front, and a diamante-encrusted blue’n’black-splattered kaftan. I plaster a line of black camo make-up across my eyes. I look like a raccoon. Paint lines of fluorescent pink and green down my cheeks. Smear my goatee in bright mauve. Once suitably attired, out comes the penknife for a dip in the noogle-nang zing-zang, a pull on the Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon (45%), and off we go, veins firin’. Over at nearby Woodsies a massive singalong to The Vaccines echoes across the campsite. We jaunt elsewhere carrying a one metre x one metre flag proclaiming DON CARLTON ARMY, with an image of the Pixar Monsters University character.

voteWe pass through the Hospitality area behind the Pyramid, a short cut. There’s a new section this year. The Hideout. A bar hived off by suburban bushes. Popping in, it has a private chill-out vibe, low buzz-hum of chat, cocktail-tonica soundtrack, clean, well-dressed people, possibly doing business, Soho House vibes. Gives me the heebie-jeebies. “Let’s run some exploratory research points on synchronised logistics, Gordon.” “Affirmative, Ruth, we can implement compatible social media options.” No-one says any of that. But in my head, they do. I wanna play gabber and spray them with bright purple gloss paint from a Nerf Super Soaker.

Refill the cider bottle and glug an aged-five-years apple brandy. The cider bus is, again, playing “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia. Soon we’re watching PJ Harvey in a half empty Pyramid Field. Everyone’s gone to see Sugababes at West Holts. So many of them that the festival blocked access to the field. Much protest results. On Monday someone called Eleanor Peake will write a piece for the i newspaper headlined, “Glastonbury put the wrong acts on the wrong stages – I missed my favourites”. It reflects a widespread moan from some of this year’s festival-goers unable to reach areas that were too full (more of this later on my own adventures).

paperIt's hard to know what Glastonbury should do about this. Things have been dangerously packed in the past. I recall trying to enter the Pyramid from the lower west side when Amy Winehouse was playing before Jay-Z in 2008. Adults were, literally, being carried along, feet off the ground, by the weight of the crowd. Go back further and the 2000 festival was overrun. Mad Max III Bartertown mayhem. The festival has, over the years, worked out crowd management methods to respond to the issues, the notorious superwall, from 2002 onwards, being the most controversial.

Two thoughts spring to mind. One is that it’s spicier fun spreading high profile artists around the site, rather than a gormless populist gold-run on the Pyramid's long 120,000 capacity slope. The latter option would change the area’s character. The Pyramid thrives on an eclectic seasoning of musical options. Secondly, it’s not easy to anticipate sudden bursts of popularity that render areas rammed-to-the-gills. Charli XCX at Levels later tonight is also packed to impossibility. Would this have happened if a social media cult had not blown up within the last month, around her new album, BRAT? Certainly, I’d have guessed that tomorrow’s set by multi-chart-topping US millennial pop star Camila Cabello would be chocka, whereas the set before it by ageing Noughties indie outfit Bloc Party would not, whereas the opposite was true. “Shit happens,” as Hannah Love Lanier’s character observes in the dodgy new remake of Roadhouse, “only here it always happens on a beautiful day.”

marinaBack on the ground we just miss conceptual artist Marina Abramović’s seven minutes silence for peace but do briefly glimpse her onstage in a white CND sign-shaped dress (pictured above). Soon PJ Harvey’s doing her thing. It’s contemplative. Very late, I’ve come to appreciate some of her music, but this afternoon is more a pleasant mooch than fiery, even though she plays songs such as “Let England Shake”, “50ft Queenie” and “Man-Size”. She gets out a dulcimer at one point, and at another sits down behind the drum riser and scribbles earnestly in a notebook. She closes with “To Bring You My Love” which, today, feels like a Cornish Pagan blues.

Don and GB appear, having accidentally turned up at Sugababes and had a ball. Two guys, bright with enthusiasm, burst from the crowd. They’ve spotted our Don Carlton flag. Unbelievably, they’re members of the Mr Waternoose Appreciation Club (Henry J Waternoose III is the baddie in the original Monsters Inc.). They are overjoyed, fizzing with it. They cover my kaftan in Waternoose stickers that ask we “JOIN THE REVOLUTION”. You couldn’t make this up and I’m not.

flagThen LCD Soundsystem (pictured below). On a golden evening they slew. Filled the stage with enough analogue synthesizer kit to start a major 1980s electro-pop studio. The extensive band mill between banks of it. The set slowly builds and builds. Singer James Murphy’s lyrics, enigmatic yet so human, ride layered pulsing tuneful hum, part kosmische, part New York nightclub.

Murphy’s strange stage presence is no hindrance to the emotion he conveys. He fiddles with kit. Makes dryly gnomic pronouncements. Sings many of the lyrics as odes to drummer Pat Mahoney. Pours himself glasses of wine behind the monitors. He remains impassive, as do all the band, Nancy Whang, present and po-faced. Only guitarist and synth twiddler Al Doyle, wearing a brown brimmed pastor’s hat, his eyes thickly made up in green, cracks smiles.

lcdThe electro-clash 4/4 crunch of 2005 single “Tribulations” ramps things up. “Losing My Edge” is a feat of musical rigorousness, each section perfect. A wistful hipsters' anthem. Snippets of Suicide and Yazoo dropped in. But it’s the closing triple-header that’s the knockout blow, by which point everyone's fully engaged. The New Order-ness of “Someone Great”, the joy and melancholy of “Dance Yrself Clean”, with its zinging synth gnarl, and finally a magnificent “All My Friends”. It’s penultimate couplets, “Where are your friends tonight?” somehow becomes “We’re your friends tonight”. Everyone’s singing. I have something in my eye.

Over to the cider bus. Refill. Place is abuzz. Palestinian flags and tees everywhere. Jamaican colours too. MUSIC. GIRLS, WEED. RUM. In RED. GOLD. GREEN. From somewhere, Sadé’s “Your Love is King” is playing. The lyrics waft into my oak-smoked brain. “You’ll kiss his ring…” What? Kiss who’s ring? I don’t recall that one. Five-year-aged cider brandy. The 29-year-old Best Man I met at a wedding in Crete last summer starts dropping me a series of texts. We fail to meet up.

dua1Dua Lipa time on the Pyramid. Planned a disco gaggle via Don Carlton flag but Glastonbury meet-ups are impossible. Just accept it. Don, GB and Finetime it is. Crew. Dua Lipa is the only Pyramid headliner I see. In the media, she comes over more like the pretty MD of an entertainment company than a pop star. Prosaic, practical, ambitious, on track. Aside from the tunes, nothing much to get the teeth into, unless you’re looking for a businesswoman examplar. If in doubt read this Guardian interview from back in May. A "charming avatar of disco/house glitterball vibes” is what Joe Muggs of this parish called her. That’s about right.

dua4It's the tunes and show we’ve come for. That rusty beloved old exchange from Sixties biker flick The Wild Angels rolls across the gloaming glow. “Just what is it that you want to do?” “We wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time.” But no Weatherall mix of Primal Scream lollops in. The scaffolded stage lights up. Dancers writhe. From the floor Dua Lipa rises in a studded black mini-dress. She breaks into “Training Season”. Bosh-bosh-bosh. An undeniable pop banger. There’s a band there, kind of hiding, not sure how much they’re actually doing, especially on banger number two, Calvin Harris’s UK chart-topper “One Kiss”. I like the song much less but the show’s a circus for the eyeballs.

dua2Over on the Other Stage, I’ll later find out that Idles perform a set which, from the BBC coverage, looks extraordinary in its potency. Visceral, urgent, political, rampantly rock’n’roll, and including a Banksy stunt – a model migrant boat surfing across the crowd - that even received commentary from the Home Secretary. By comparison Dua Lipa is Las Vegas froth. A frolic. But there’s a party going on and we’re fry-minding at its core. Finetime has a giant babyhead mask which is borrowed by girls around us. Photos are taken.

baby“Levitating” is as good a pop song as the last decade has heard. I shimmy. Indeed, the best ones are from her second album, Future Nostalgia (a storming “Physical” and “Hallucinate”, plus “Don’t Start Now” and “Break My Heart”). She does a section on a platform in the crowd. She brings on Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, looking overwhelmed in white tee and jeans, to perform his decade-old “The Less I Know the Better”. She does “New Rules” with sing-along aplomb (the second best girl-pop song of 2017  - come on, Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” inches it). She changes hot pants a lot. She has requisite firework overload. And she concludes on a high with last year’s No.2 hit “Houdini”.

And yet. And yet. While she drew the crowd, won Pyramid acclaim, for me, an hour-and-three-quarters was pushing it. An hour would have been just right. By the end it’s all too much Legs & Co for this old codger, all frills without the balance of artful moments, characterful asides and the unexpected. NB. for those younger than a stegosaurus, Legs & Co were a dance troupe who appeared on a programme called Top of the Pops which, in fairytale days of yore, was weekly TikTok in a metal box, featuring occasional undercover paedos.

By the end, I’m alone. Finetime, having tried and failing to utilise one of those portable TravelJohn wee-bags amid the crowd (stage fright), cannot contain a loo trip any longer. When we locate each other, we head off to ply our enzyme-blistered insides with chips and bourbon. Then meet a few mates at the Cornish Arms prior to my DJ set.

dua3When we arrive the place is full-ish, the dancefloor revved with ‘avin’ it original bucket hat sorts revelling in a slick set by DJ Loopdeeloop. She’s also the CEO of Creative House, a company which “creates exhilarating cross-art form visionary experiences globally, for live and online audiences”. Which is what’s going on now, I think, non-stop Nineties rave crossover goldies themed around the “reach for the lazers” 1999 film Human Traffic, interspersed with “safe as fuck”-style samples.

I’ve come with a set based around my club night FREEDOM, wherein I spin a propulsive amalgam of Afro rhythms, post-punk percussive, electronic knockings and anything that has the right conga-bongo groove. On those nights we pass out hand percussion, there’s free veggie food, and it’s an affable madhouse. But my sounds are not well-suited to the Kevin & Perry Go Large massive. I clear the place with my first tune.

It doesn’t help that the bass range has somehow been turned right down just before I go on but it’s mainly wrong place, wrong time, wrong DJ. I’m somewhat excruciated for pals who turned up and must now be wondering when they can leave. It’s Glastonbury after all. Not short of places to be. In the end I somewhat refill the dancefloor by resorting to drummy remixes of familiar cuts by Kelis and Adele alongside singles by Canned Heat (“Going Up the Country”), Chris Spedding (“Motorbiking”), Elvis Costello (“Pump It Up”), Madness (“Night Boat to Cairo”) et al. My favourite bit is a smattering of bodies bouncing about to Greenskeepers’ obscure but spikily excellent 2006 indie-dance single “Polo Club” and the more recent “Everybody’s On Drugs” by Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey.

night4But, overall, my set goes down like a flaccid cock at porn shoot. When they tell me turn off a few minutes before the alotted 3.00 AM stop, I bolt out of there like Snow Patrol just arrived onstage. Happily, I remain in buoyant mood. Finetime and I elevate further to Genosys up at Block9 where Leeds-raised DJ Midland sorts us right out with a creative, off-piste slant on techno. After that, promethazine pottage and bed around 5.00.

[INTERLUDE] WEDNESDAY 3rd July 2024, 7.05 AM

Christ, I want to sleep. My brain is a desiccated husk. Festival fervour dissipated. I’m too grizzled for this. How am I going to get it all down? Nothing left in the tank. Why did the internet come along and ruin everything? I loved those old long-lead magazine deadlines. Return home. Have a bit of rest. Brain half in order. Then do some half-decent writing. Not this instant response murder. At least it’s not onsite, half-considered, transitory Insta-rapidity. At least. But I want to sleep.

SATURDAY 29th June 2024

Awake at 11.45 AM. It is the day of Don and GB’s hand-fasting ceremony in the Healing Fields. A location a long way from here. My eyes are congealed. Don and GB are still asleep, lying half outside the tent. “Are you still doing the druid marriage thingy?” I croak. Don blears up. “Yes,” he says, “What’s the time?”

port5NO TIME is the time. Unfed, unshaved, unwashed and unwatered, we arise. The loving couple make some effort in clothing. GB in green flowery dress, blonde hair free flowing, Don in Hawaiian shirt, straw hat and jeans shorts. I, on the other hand, remain in the same striped blue pyjama bottoms I’ve just slept in, pull on sandals and that same stinky old JOE WALSH FOR PRESIDENT tee-shirt.

The sky is brightest today. Beating down. Don and GB lead off. “But where is it?” I caw. “Near the Laughing Yoga,” says Don, disappearing ahead. I stick with Finetime who’s slower and suffering, a pop-up umbrella desperately warding off the sun. Our blood must be like molasses by now. We stumble along. “Where’s the Laughing Yoga?” I wheeze at passersby once we reach the airy peacefulness of the Healing Fields. God, I need a beer, but this is the one place they don’t sell it.

I spent ages up here last year, pootling about, noting details, but this year it’s heads down, past the gong baths and reiki and straight to Cloud9Ceremonies where we find one Glenda Proctor, celebrant, awaiting us, grey long-bobbed hair, cheery of expression, in a medieval-looking white cotton dress and red shawl, a silver Peruvian necklace resting on her sternum.  

handfast1The space is a white gazebo, laced with white drapes and white roses. In its four corners are sacred objects, pebbles with “earth”, “air”, “fire” and “water” written on them, a pestle and mortar, a Welsh dragon, an incongruous upside-down red welly boot. Glenda waves smoking healing herbs over the small gathering (us, one GB friend, one GB cousin and boyfriend). Glenda was once a marriage registrar and that comes across, combined with something hippier and driftier, immersed in the ages. She tells us handfasting is a bonding tradition for loving couples that goes back to the Celts, before Christianity. Don and GB were married last August but always wanted to do this. Glastonbury is where they first hooked up.

By now I’m feeling proper ropey, all my yesterdays fugging my head. Most of the ceremony is whispery, really just between Glenda, Don and GB. Lots of staring deep into each other’s eyes, whispering sweet somethings. Salt is sprinkled. A sandstone on a cord is placed around GB’s neck. Finetime’s camera snaps away. I clap and cheer when appropriate but otherwise feel battered and ill. Finally, the handfasting itself. Don and GB are not supposed to take the woven binding off until midnight. This will make the Portaloos tricky (and doesn’t happen).

handfast2The custom has not had any legal precedence since 1753 but, as a signifier of love alive, it’s sweet. Finetime is done. He heads back to collapse. The newly-fasteds and I stagger across to the Pyramid to catch Cyndi Lauper (pictured below right). The trouble with bounding along in pyjama bottoms is constantly checking that the flappy front-opening is not displaying fleshy wares to the world.

cyndiDespite being briefly an Eighties star the equal of Madonna, Cyndi is underwhelming. Her sound is muddy. She appears distracted. Mumbles into the mic. She’s in powder blue and silver. Her hair a puffy grey thatch. She plays wank anthem “She Bop” but its flatter than Norfolk cabbage-fields. We wander off as she breaks into “I Drove All Night”. No-one ever tells me “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was a glorious Glastonbury moment. So I assume not. Shame. More of a shame, if I’d swerved Cyndi I might have seen cacophonous female Japanese punk band Otoboke Beaver at the Park Stage. Mind you, since that’s 137 miles away, up a steep hill, maybe not.

Back at the tent. Ablutions. A shave. Pull on the endless cider. Makes a new man. I and the new-fasteds cut across to the Other Stage where we intend to watch The Last Dinner Party. As soon as he arrives, Don leaves. Sleep is calling. GB and I stand between a flag saying SPICY BISON and one portraying a lump of cheese and the word “GOUDA”. The latter is bitter for me. For years I pronounced it “goo-da”. One day it came to a bet on the matter. I lost. It’s pronounced “gow-da” (like “cow-da”).

The Last Dinner Party are often held up as poster girls for posho’s taking over popular music. Now that the country’s in ruins, Brexited into a car boot sale, every art form calculatedly disenfranchised, and the Tories have redistributed all remaining wealth among their scuzzy cesspit of grubby mates, well, no-one can afford to do music except the toffs. That’s how the thinking goes and, tragically, it’s partly true.

last dinnerThe conundrum is that, while undoubtedly posh, as can be immediately heard when lead singer Abigail Morris (pictured left) opens her mouth to introduce songs, The Last Dinner Party are a lively female/non-binary rock band, original in scope, with things to say. They look theatrically flash and emanate sassy femme-gang energy. Morris is clad in a gauzy white pre-Raphaelite dress, the skirt splashed with crimson. Her compadres are in a variety of bustiers and similar Medieval Babes fare, except guitarist Emily Roberts who’s in a bright blue bunny-girl-ish outfit with ribboned hair, wearing giant Kiss-style platform boots

They are musically super-tight. The songs are crafted, their voices gelling at different pitches, their playing fluid, with Robert’s guitar solos taking things to full rock-out. Their sound has been likened, aptly, to Kate Bush and Florence and the Machine, but they’ve as much in common with Queen and, even more, I’d suggest, Sparks.

Morris proclaims they’ll “get the weepy ones out of the way first so we can make room for the dancing and the sex”. They grow more confident, synched and dramatic as the set progresses. It’s contagious. A new song, “Second Best”, is played. Roberts demonstrates her skills on the flute. Keys-player Aurora Nishevci sings “Gjuha” in Albanian. “Sinner” shows off those striking harmonies. “The Killer” slides twangin’ to a loose blues.

Towards the end, Morris makes a confused but impassioned speech advising that kicking out the Tories is only the start. We have to keep pushing. Unfortunately, she then concludes by telling us to “just remember that… nothing matters”. Since that’s the name of their last song. Despite the clunkiness, the song itself, a 24-carat belter, saves the day. The blaze from the skies has settled to lightly gusty heat. We sing along, lots of us, unfettered. "And you can hold me like he held her/And I will fuck you like nothing matters". Seeing a small child on their parents shoulders yelling along to those lyrics is quite a thing.

glastoGB heads off to camp and I to the cider bus. Keane are doing something unfeasibly dreadful on the Pyramid. I focus hard away to save my sanity. A flag featuring a psychedelic corgi helps. The cider bus is playing “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia. She must be paying them. I’m fully indoctrinated now. Best tune ever. Cut through backstage hospitality. See Simon Pegg being pestered for a selfie. In a cap, he looks well festival, not celeb-y, his arms covered in tattoos. A black Range Rover drives past. Cyndi Lauper is in the back, texting.

Tom Cruise, Gillian Anderson and the Ripley actor Andrew Scott are also around the place. The only other “name” I personally see is Norman Cook, Fatboy Slim, which is hardly exciting as I live on the south coast where we’ve all see him seven billion times every week in Sainsbury’s.

He’s also being pestered for a selfie. Leave them alone, kids. We’re on holiday from reality. Then again, if this sort of stuff interests you, I should mention that Don and GB do better. They see grime superstar Stormzy, footballer Steve McManaman and, best of all, up at the Park’s backstage, Noel Gallagher trying and failing to cut in at the bar.

aphexI head to the tent to fetch Finetime. On the way I am accosted by a poster suggesting smiling is contagious. I become fascinated by it. Freaks me out. Looks like an Aphex Twin video. See what you think (as above). At our encampment I’m confronted by Finetime, GB and Don sleeping in a row under an awning, like polite sardines who don’t want to be publicly intimate. WTF am I supposed to do with this scenario? Finetime snores contentedly. My limbs suggest a break but there are ways round that. Push on.

Through Silver Hayes, the Levels is jammed at 6.00 PM. Sounds high street house to me. The throb of every broken market town in Britain on a Saturday night. A.I. beats for cocktails, community and Insta posts. The MD ganglions, thousands of them, sway in the evening sun, like jelly-triffids. My eyes water. Stop staring.

hunksA nearby space called The Information is hosting a chat, gawped at by multiple lunch-outs perched on benches. A chalk board tells me this particular gathering is called Party Lines: Blues Dances to Free Parties – The Radical Roots of Rave. Onstage are journalist Dhruva Balrami, proudly queer DJ Grace Sands and Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll. The host is journo Ed Gillett, who wrote a similarly-titled book that the session is based on.

I spot a friend who edits a dance music magazine, snogging his girl. I prod him on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, sir, no heavy petting allowed here.” He looks momentarily startled. Then recognises me. We chat briefly. Onstage they’re going through the usual about how Ecstasy changed everything back-in-the-day. History lessons for the kids and that. “How has your experience of Glastonbury changed, Phil,” ask Gillett. “Every moment is the moment and then it’s the next moment,” comes the response. Well, hell, it isn’t the ICA.

I walk by Lonely Hearts Club. London MC Lord Apex’s hardcore hip hop in the Somerset sun. “Ain’t Messin’,” he tells the assembled. I stroll up to Rollin’ Dogs stall. “Loaded dogs and filthy fries,” its signage boasts. Lots of filthy fries around the site. Filth is a big selling point. They’ve run out of jalapenos so pickles it is. As I wait, a jolly fellow approaches, points at my orangey cider. “Is that piss to throw at Coldplay?” he cackles.

Push hot dog lathered in dried onion crumbs, pickles, mustard and ketchup into my face. Heaven. Pass Holy Cow Burgers and the Tibetan Kitchen. “Where are we going?” a voice asks. “I don’t know, I haven’t fucking slept,” comes the answer. I can relate.

crowdI don’t much care for Noughties indie band Bloc Party but there’s no denying they’re owning the Other Stage. I wait for their final two songs to finish (“This Modern Love” and “Ratchet”, since you ask), then settle in the dirt in my dusty Motörhead shorts and new straw cowboy hat. I buy three wicker/straw cowboy hats during the festival. You can’t get ‘em anywhere else anymore. Half an hour passes. I loll.

Then a pack of grey boiler-suited wolves with gasmask faces rampage onto a stage-set that looks like a municipal swimming pool. Turns out to be a skate-park with ladders all around. One of these wolves is Cuban-American star Camila Cabello (pictured below). I can tell because she’s singing her recent single “I LUV IT”. She takes the wolf costume off, strips down to deconstructed revealing grey rags. Dubstep farts pulse. The other wolves start smearing orange ice lollies around her bare flesh. It’s soft-porny and bizarre.

camilaThere’s no attempt at pretending to be live. This is pure show to a backing track. Like Kali Uchis, such Latin-tronic pop, doesn’t always fly in the UK in the way it does on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s laced with a heavy dose of what the American’s call “partying” and I call “simulated sex moves”. Much thrusting and pouting at the onstage cameras. Relentless twerking.

Nonetheless, Cabello has spirit. She comes over. She rouses the crowd. “No Sleep Gang, let’s go, we’ll sleep when we die,” she blurts with an approximation of conviction. “Chanel No.5” has weird Warp Records-ish diseased piano. “Sangria Wine”, which she did with Pharell Williams, causes massed onstage booty-shakin’. Look, there are three guys on bicycles riding around, doing tricks. Look, Cabello is on the handlebars like Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Chart-topper “Havana” pushes the energy up. Singalong time. She advises us to tell our mates, “You’re the shit, best friend”. She’s a bit bonkers but I like her, especially juxtaposed on the giant stageside screens with a flag featuring Martha/Jessica Gunning from Baby Reindeer, which reads HANG MY CURTSAINS. Now Camila’s on a swing. Now she’s spinning round on a children’s playground roundabout, pouring bottled water over her head. Now one of her backing dancers is hanging upside down, smacking Camila’s arse.

red arrowsMid-set the Red Arrows zoom over the field in formation (as above), leaving vapour trails in the clear cerulean sky. CHEM TRAILS, MAN!  Camila is busy with trop-house wonker “Pretty When I Cry”. She closes with a song featuring the loathsome Drake but she’s been convivial. Glad I came. Much as I’d enjoy Yard Act or Lambrini Girls (the latter on my list but a fail), I can see them on the regular. I’ll likely never see Camila Cabello again.

Back at the campsite they’re finally waking up… AT 8.15 PM!!! Don is trying on various outfits. He wants to wear a blue neckerchief but it makes him look like one of The Wurzels. Finally he settles on a gold lamé-effect jacket and just about gets away with it.

avalon2We discuss Coldplay tonight. A friend has told us that the tall rigs all around the Pyramid field will have lasers on. The show will be immense, a spectacle on a scale seldom seen. Don is half-tempted. “But you’d have to listen to Coldplay,” I sigh. We agree it’s not do-able. Some lines cannot be crossed. Don and GB head off to see Yard Act at Woodsies, followed by Orbital and Peggy Gou at The Park (Don’s review from later on: “Yard Act were absolutely brilliant; clever, edgy, angry, acerbic and impassioned. Orbital were exactly as usual but we like that. Mel C came on for their Spice Girls mash-up. Phil Hartnoll should have stayed off the mic. Peggy Gou was ice cool but played a bangin’ techno-house DJ set. Sophie Ellis Bextor suddenly came on and did “Murder of on the Dancefloor” which was weird but worked").

More naughtiness. More booze. Flash-forward. Finetime, in his favourite red trilby, loves watching Sleaford Mods. It was a set by them that saved him from queasy mushroom-induced Hades at Glastonbury 2022. Tonight they’re on at Woodsies. They’re the same as ever but also compulsively watchable.

Smiley Andrew Fern has the best job in popular music, pressing play on his laptop then bouncing around in shorts and cap, or playing air guitar. Vocalist Jason Williamson is his polar opposite, a centred furnace of boiling rage, spitting lyrics, shrieking, squeaking, making raspberry noises, a mass of tics, balancing a water bottle on his head while slapping his ear. They do a burly cover of “West End Girls”. Williamson sneers the chorus. He comments little, aside from “We played this stage 10 years ago and it’s still the fucking same - Glastonbury, fuck off!”

But their gritty electro-punk stream of consciousness diatribes don’t pall, from last years’ “UK Grim” (“In England nobody can hear you scream”) to the grunt-poetry classic “Tied Up in Nottz” and the super-sweary “Jobseeker”. Their persistent bile at Britain’s everyday people blandly accepting their lot is bracing.

birdWoodsies, once the John Peel Stage, used to be just a marquee and bar but is now an area with its own feel. Finetime and I buy pints of ale from the bar where young jazzers The Chiriard Quintet are playing a number they tell us is called “Moving On”, fronted by a trumpet-player and a baritone saxophonist. They add intimate flavour to the venue. Although, why can’t jazzers think of better song titles?

Outside there’s more. Ambient electronic noodle plays here each night until 2.00 or 3.00 AM. Who’s there? Cyberdelic horizontalists? I go to the cosy Blue Moon Café where three ladies in their sixties, all from Yorkshire, looking like good church-going sorts, are discussing which act so far was best. Squeeze they mostly reckon. I order a cheddar toastie with smoked kimchi and sriracha mayo. The toastie takes a while but is mouth-wateringly worth it. Finetime tries to get in on the action but I limit him to two bites.

We make it to Woodsies big top to catch the start of dance-punkers Gossip. Frontwoman Beth Ditto is bodysuited in black with hair a bright orange frightwig (her words!). She’s great value throughout, yakking in an Arkansas drawl. Talks about her days as a teenage Tori Amos fan, prior to crooning that singer’s “Cornflake Girl” into the gee-up funkin’ of “Real Power”, from the band’s recent album of that name. She wells up talking about a now-deceased hairdresser boss who encouraged her. She comments on the bared nipple-taped breasts of ultra-tattooed drummer Hannah Blilie.

gossipBut this is a band operation, not the Ditto show. From founder member Brace Paine to statuesque, dark-haired, trans woman bassist/keys-player Bijoux Cone, they throw themselves at these songs, each laced with rollicking outrage at an America curdling against LGBT+ values, songs of trust, love and “Heading in the Right Direction”. It’s an exhilarating set and, of course, climaxes with a roof-lifting (now-anti-Trump) throwdown of their 2006 monster “Standing in the Way of Control”, with a few Nirvana licks thrown in for good measure. The place is ablaze.

Wrung out, we come across a friend, Hoss, in the crowd and sit outside the Woodsies bar drinking ales and JDs, overlooking the twinkling lights spread across the vale before us, the whole surrounded by eight miles of fence. Stories are exchanged. Hoss works as campsite staff and has today manhandled a gibbering ket casualty into an ambulance. He tells of Big Larry whose mantra one year was “Lick the lilo” after large quantities of MDMA dissolved into his canvas blow-up bed. It all became a bit much for Big Larry after two much lilo-licking but that’s another story. Time’s up. We want to catch wild Irish hip hop trio Kneecap on the Peace Stage way over at far-flung Shangri-La at 1.30 AM. Unfortunately, we're to be defeated as the far regions of the nightworld become increasingly hard to access later on, packed to the gunnels, closed off for safety reasons.

night againInstead, we go to the Greenpeace tree with its JUNGLE IS NOT MASSIVE sign and epic sound system. As we approach, firin’ foot-moving drum rolls clatter elegantly forth, fine-tuned, tempered with an organic Indian subcontinental underpinning. “Nice!” say Finetime and I at exactly the same time. It is. Courtesy of British-Pakistani DJ Ahadadream (not to be confused with Cambridge singer-MC Jayahadadream, who’s also playing the festival). This dude is great, a discovery. Name noted.

We wander on past a giant afro comb stuck in a mound. “I’m a Believer” plays from somewhere. “Always The Beatles,” I puff. “It’s The Monkees,” says Finetime. The Bread and Roses pub is packed. A gaggle of about 20 very folkie-looking folkies called Old Time Sailors are onstage shantying up “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”. Did not expect to hear a thousand refreshed voices singing that tonight.

Walk past Glowman’s shop, selling all things that glow. I go to bed, drink my promethazine pottage, and wonder how Glowman survives for the rest of the year.

SUNDAY 30th June 2024

Wake up early with my stomach in revolt, burning. I know GB has bananas. I swig Gaviscon but it’s not touching it. Need bananas. I flip-flop about drowse-dreaming of bananas, tummy roiling. When I see Don peek from their tent I demand a banana and am thrown one. It does the job but now I must rush to the bogs. My pee is the colour of walnuts. As for the back end, good Lord in heaven, let’s not go there. But we have to. The banana done it. At Glastonbury the digestive system becomes a processing machine for all manner of liquids, splodgy matters and wicked elation-toxins. The whole lot eventually needs to exit. For the older hedonist, a few days in, “Glastonbury ring” is a very real issue. Even the softest, most extravagant luxury 3ply sugarcane toilet paper might as well be cutthroat razors to the ruins down there.

man on groundAs ever, people packing down and leaving on Sunday makes me rage. Why’s everyone here on Wednesday, then half the Hospitality campsite leaves Sunday morning, missing a third of the festival proper? What’s that about? It’s depressing. Reminds that we’re into the final 24 hours. The real world awaits with all its sickening Alan-Sugar-is-a-funny-guy-off-the-telly brain-death. And Farage. Jesus. But as we always say here, there is only now, tomorrow does not exist.

Back at the encampment Don is bemoaning that he has the ratios wrong in his legendary homemade trail mix. He has. Too fruity. But he does have chocolate-covered pretzels, something I’ve not tried before. I eat two before breakfast. Caligulan decadence. I pack a box of red wine, grab the cider bottle, and Finetime and I head for the Theatre and Circus Fields.

ekleidoWe pass the Pavement Stage. Two ponytailed women in in black’n’white-striped body-suits perform contemporary dance in front of mural mock shop-fronts for Rose the Florist and Athelstans Greengrocery. They are called Ekleido Dance (pictured above) and the piece – Splice - is precisely choreographed. Quite how appreciated it is by dazed Sundayheads is open to question but even the most jaded cultural consumer couldn’t complain about lack of choice round here.

back therapyOn past Blo Dry Bus hairdressers, where clients, unbelievably, really are having a trim and a dye-job. At Back Angels inversion therapy, upside down people hang like bats, relieving the aches of 50,000 steps a day. Peek in the Circus Tent and the High Society troupe’s buccaneers and pirates fly about on straps and netting. A classical string quartet walk by as rubber gloved cleaning ladies with BEYOND FUCKED emblazoned on their housecoats pester lazing couples. But Fish Finger Heaven is our initial destination. Fish finger sandwich with beans and tartare sauce. And a pint.

Sit at a table in a nearby bar but I'm gone. Trouble with food at this stage of the game is digestion just zonks you. I glaze over. Far away there’s a child in an orange Wild Thing tee-shirt. Beside him a woman. Mother of Wild Things on hers. I stare. Looking for meaning. Looking for energy.

Finetime is as bad. We sprawl in front of Bootworks Theatre’s Juke Boxes. These two units, about chest height, perform short shows every now and then. We’re just in time for one. Hatch opens, fancy dress approximation of pop star sings a line from a song, record scratch, hatch closes, hatch on the other one opens, same deal, costume change, snap-snap, quick-quick, on-on, Taylor Swift, a Beatle, Britney, Bowie, Gaga, Dolly, Pistols, ABBA, Sia, Daft Punk, Eminem, “Let It Go”, Queen’s especially good, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video in puppeted miniature.

jukeNearby those Old Time Sailors are at it again. Yes, it’s a long bloody way to Tipperary. A long way to energy level restoration too. But we’ll get there. Artic explorers with ragged union flag and frostbitten faces lurch by. A cup of red wine revitalizes. A short Sunday stroll. At the Daemon or Doppelganger area, there’s an orangey clay Glastonbury. I seem to see Georgia D’Arcy Roden every year at Crooner’s Corner by Bella’s Bridge and the Buddhist prayer wheels, merrily laying on standards to a recorded backing track.

clayJust beyond a surrealist reimagining of Time Team have dug a large-ish hole in the turf and are pulling out artefacts, a toilet seat that contains the universe. One of them sits nearby on his mobile. “OK, seeya later, have to get back into character now.” Comes over goggle-eyed and begins with the gibberish. A full-on exercise class is taking place at salsa central, Glasto Latino. The red wine is starting to exercise my liver awake. We’re at West Holts for British Brum reggae dons Steel Pulse.

Why not at Shania Twain? Yes, I enjoy the Sunday afternoon Legend turns and haven’t missed one for years, maybe decades, but Shania Twain, to steal a Don Carlton phrase, gives me the ick. Her big hits make my soul shrivel. The filler and ballad stuff would undoubtedly be worse. Like a vat of molten steel to the T-1000 in Terminator 2. Much better to catch these sturdy perennials of rebel skanking.

Steel Pulse appear. Bassist Amlak Tafari, super-cool in white and yellow robes, lets rip with the first bass note. It’s thunderous. My ears creak and the hairs on my arms vibrate. Wow! Finetime is in the photographers’ pit and later tells me that when that note hits, his eyes wobble. He had to quickly find ear plugs. Lead singer David Hinds (pictured below) rushes on in a red Nehru suit, an impressive array of interwoven dreads on his head.

Their set gathers pace as it goes along. It only features one song, “Soliders”, from their groundbreaking Handsworth Revolution album, a British reggae game-changer, full of punk-rasta spirit, which saw Steel Pulse tour with Bob Marley & The Wailers.

steel pulseTafari wrangles his bass as if it’s alive and attempting to escape him. It sounds that way too. Hinds' voice remains a soulful instrument, capably backed by a female singer. Highlights include “Drug Squad” from 1980 and “Don’t Shoot”, the latter preceded by a speech righteously bemoaning that this band, involved decades ago with Rock Against Racism, should still be tackling the same ignorant nonsense. At the end of the song they all put their hands up in surrender as a fusillade of gunshots ring out

Long-standing keys-player Selwyn Brown occasionally contributes Jamaican DJ-style toasting. Unsurprisingly, the crowd are deep into herbage. There is a man with an arm-width dreadlock down to his ankles. Shania Twain is in another galaxy. “Babylon Makes the Rules” is outstanding. I dance, shaking the woodchips from my sandals every few minutes. They close with “Steppin Out” – “Open Sesame, here comes Rasta man, Abracabdabra, catch me if you can” – featuring a fret-strangling guitar solo from David Ellecirri Jr worthy of metal festival Download. Together with most of a box of red wine, they’ve kicked the day into gear (it’s the antioxidant flavonoids, you know…).

crowd2It’s cloudy. Sun came out during Steel Pulse but mostly only glimpsed. Two scavenging kids spot a discarded mobile phone shovelled into the dry pathway soil. Grab it and run off giggling. We hit the tent. Re-up bing-bang-bongo-quivver eye-pops. Theres’s laxative somewhere in all these portions and potions. Rush off again to the smallest room. Finetime goes to find her old friend Seb backstage. He’s working for one the backstage production companies.

Evening’s heading in but time has lost meaning. I head for Avril Lavigne (pictured below) to see what she’s like. Not my music but could be a thing? On the way, at Lonely Hearts Club, dreadlocked Hak Baker is doing a chatty Cockney-Caribbean geezer singer-songwriter thing that drags me. The visuals are a psychedelic head-rush, the songs catchy strummy touches, tickled with electronic rhythmic warmth. One even sounds Chas’n'Dave-ish. He seems very refreshed.

avrilI like it. Stay awhile. This proves foolish. When I make it to the Other Stage, I can make it no nearer to Avril Lavigne than the Earth is to the Moon. Such is the crowd. Soon they shut then field off. I realise, after a couple of songs, that I wouldn’t have wanted more than a quick investigative dip anyway. Head off and eat three doughnuts. An inadequate supper for a growing lad, it turns out. Occasionally huddles can be seen squinting at mobile phones, laptops, or iPads in carboard boxes, watching the England/Slovakia game.

One definite date is Nia Archives, 8.00 PM, West Holts. I arrive well early on the off-chance it becomes roadblocked. Thus I see the latter half of a set by ex-Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard. It’s very Glastonbury-righteous but the mellow R&B-soul isn’t hauling me in until one song at the very end when she goes into a gospel blues number. I lounge in dusty wood chippings at the back drinking cider.

footballSuddenly Idris Elba is there. On stage, not in the dusty wood chippings. He gives a rousing speech about knife crime. I am appropriately roused and head forward. He says that if anyone of us paid some attention to just one teen, it all helps. He introduces a young woman called Romaya with a bright pink weave who delivers a spoken word piece about knife crime. DSYF says the banner behind. Don’t Stop Your Future. A stat pops up. Knife crime has increased by 81% in the last decade! 81%! A gobsmackingly depressing stat.

Warming up Nia Archives’ crowd, prehistoric rave tracks play. Ragga Twins and the like. I move by the sound desk and boogaloo. I’m not interested in Pyramid headliner SZA but, in case you’re interested, my associate Katie Colombus has reviewed her Hyde Park gig last night here. It’s exactly the same as tonight’s show, only better attended and without accompanying media gabble and bitchery. "HELLO CHARLES," says a nearby flag.

niaNia Archives (pictured above) comes on with a huge grin, dressed in Burberry. Her DJ station is atop a bunch of giant silver inflatable eggs that may be supposed to represent teeth. I’d expected the 24-year-old Bradford DJ-producer-singer to perform but it’s a DJ set to start, an obvious but joyful one, junglized versions of “You Got the Love” and “Hollaback Girl”.

Suddenly Finetime reappears with Seb and another production crew person. They’ve been working on’n’off all weekend. They talk about how tightly pre-scripted Coldplay’s set was, how film footage of the crowd was manipulated. Makes me wonder how much Nia Archives is actually DJing. Then she starts singing tracks like Sonique used to, most from her recent Silence is Loud album. We agree she sounds like Lily Allen. The crowd is wrigglin’. Bass. Drums. “If anyone’s gonna get Burberry back in fashion it’s her,” says Seb’s mate.

crowd againThe hour-long set is more a pop-up party than a gig. It fits the evening like a glove. She gives us “Forbidden Feelingz” then happy hardcore pace, then finishes with the frenzied machine gun-BPM carnival explosion of “Baianá”. She’s another female artist who’s brought a real buzz.

Glastonbury 2024’s blunt instrument inclusiveness policy signified positive revision. Like all change, it involves testing the ground. Finding what works. The initial massed griping about the line-up was misguided. But there are a lot of outfits about playing watery vocal downtempo of a kind that’s lush when home from a club at 4.00 AM, or sensual in the bedroom, but maybe too muzak-backdrop to hold a festival crowd?

night5Seb and pal disappear. My intention was to see Justice but I’m old’n’ugly enough to realise that their energy will not save me now. Sometimes staying in the same field and listening to the same music zombifies. I need food too. Three doughnuts doesn’t cut it. Finetime and I tramp up to Avalon. There, from Truly Crumptious, a stall that proclaims, “Sexy humans munch crumpets,” we buy two toasted cheddar’n’Marmite crumpets each. Two lively guys are well-intended but being dicks, noisily playing to a crowd that doesn’t exist here. They make me think of rugby, always a bad sign. They start poking at holes in a man’s tee-shirt, then pretending it wasn’t them. He is very patient with them. Eventually they wander off, honking their laughs like drunk schoolboys.

The crumpets have done me. Digestion again. I slump on the bench. One more push. Part of me is terrified of the day I won’t be able to do all this properly. Does that happen? If so when? My biggest fear is anhedonia. When the things that give you pleasure no longer give you pleasure. When the body won’t give you all that good dopamine, serotonin, prolaxin, etc. It can and does happen to the old. Haunts my dark nights of the soul. Now where did I put the whisky? Glug it. Shake it off like Taylor. Onwards.

shangri laOver in the large Avalon marquee, rising “relatable” TikTok pop star Caity Baser is having a moment, singing a song about her disco shoes. “I’m just a girl at Glastonbury,” she sings. There’s a bit of “Dancing Queen”. A later tune borrows wholesale from Touch and Go’s brassy 1998 hit “Would you…” (you know the one; it goes “I've noticed you around, I find you very attractive… would you go to bed with me?", then an effervescent trumpet riff kicks in). The whole set-up isn’t for me but looks, as my mum would say, like “a lot of fun”.

We make for the South-East Corner, good and early. I buy a pint of Coca Cola, take three big gulps, then pour in half a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Big ol’ quing-quang on the bunkleflips. Last push to Moscow. We make it to the furthest flung of all, Shangri La. Here the walls are plastered with what's inside my day-to-day brain. “ADVERTISING TAKES A MOTHER’S LOVE FOR HER CHILD AND USES IT TO SELL BLEACH”, “HYSTERICAL MASS CONSUMERISM”, “LIFE’S GREAT. YOURS ISN’T”.

Best of all, “THE POLITICS OF POLITICS ARE OVER. OCCUPY THE MANSIONS OF THE RICH. RECLAIM THEIR LANDS FOR CULTIVATION. SINK THEIR FUCKING YACHTS”. It’s refreshing. Seeing it all shouted loud everywhere.

cam coieAt the Peace Stage Cam Cole (pictured left) is giving it very old school Glastonbury. I’d guess he’s only in his thirties but the piratical dreadlocked rocker in a topper is wanging out a stew of Hawkwind-like space-rock riffage, a one-man band playing his own drums, while wizards in elf hats rush about him, leaping into the crowd. Later we’ll glimpse Bob Vylan up here but not enough to offer any sort of useful report.

Meet with Don and GB on fine form, buzzing with Nineties night energy. We ensconce ourselves in the Rocket Lounge and bop about to The Frank Harvey Trio who, with upright bass pingin’, whip up a hell of a Johnny Cash-goes rockabilly hoedown. A security guard dances and flirts with a petite blond displaying extensive décolletage.

Next Door is the Deluxe Diner, an American-style diner tonight jammed with bodies dancing to DJ Chris Holt playing disco, with a side order of housey doings. I lock eyes with a guy who looks exactly like the cowboy from the Village People. It’s too much disco for me but my people are loving it. The crowd is feral. A young Australian man is having a medal ceremony nearby. I have dancin’ legs and a smile but have lost the power of extended intelligent speech. I use my eyes and short phrases. However much you take, in the end it’s the people, the company and the music that keeps you going. The hours pass. Let’s draw a veil here.

deluxeEmily Eavis, who oversees the festival, told today’s Glastonbury Free Press, printed in the Theatre and Circus Fields, “We’re taking a fallow year in 2026 to give the land a rest. And the festival before a fallow year… you almost have to fit two years into one.”

I like the sound of that.

Later still, in my tent, distant 808 drums still audible, my mind folds further in on itself. It’s almost over and I’m shattered. The outside world is looming like impending drizzle. The worn-out social media prattle. The very British moaning. Farage. I hope change is coming. Perhaps starting to arrive the very day this piece goes live. Optimism, as the large orange sign in Silver Hayes pronounced, is a political act. Change must come.

Jangled sleep approaches. The Mirror ran a piece in March, when this year’s line-up was first announced. It was full of “fuming” voices. “Thank God I didn't get tickets,” said one, “I don't even feel like I'll be missing out on anything.” I think of them now in their bed, comfy, happily not missing out on anything. I lie on a sag-flattened layer of decrepit bedroll, sticky and rotting. And I smile.

Glastonbury never gets old, only we do.

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