thu 25/07/2024

theartsdesk at Glastonbury Festival 2018 | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Glastonbury Festival 2018

theartsdesk at Glastonbury Festival 2018

Fallow year or no fallow year, we're going to get amongst it

All grassed up at the Pyramid StageAll photos © Finetime

Daft Punk! Kendrick Lamar! The Kinks! Yes! We blew the lid off!

What? No! There IS no Glastonbury Festival 2018, I hear you cry. You think that’s going to stop Caspar Gomez? Never! I need my fix. If they’re not going to have Glastonbury this year, I will. In my head. And it will be on Worthy Farm. I call Loki, Glastonbury’s bearded archiving anarchist and trickster, and arrange to camp there. You can’t just plot up, it’s a working farm. I quickly pull together a reconnoitre unit; one of my usual Pilton partners-in crime, Finetime, and GE (pronounced “Jee"), a youthful understudy. We clamber in the Finetimemobile on a balmy near-equinox June afternoon and head for the Mecca.

treeWe drive. We drive. Why? Why do I need this? It’s just a few fields in Somerset. It’s no more than that, right? But don’t you ever desire to escape? Doesn’t the everyday drive you nuts, with its boxset plot-blathering, its Harry & Meghan, its Facebook/Snapchat, its supermarket shopping, its Nintendo Switches, its regulated working days and nights and weekends and holidays, its fucking coffee, its endless bland hoodies, fleeces and tracky bottoms with the names of vast killer corporations on them. I must escape. Take me down to the Paradise City. Only they haven’t built it this year.

Pilton is idyllic. It’s what every American imagines this nation to be. It nuzzles easily, haphazardly about its striking 13th century church, plantlife greens everywhere, tight gandering lanes winding through, verges overhung by nettles, dandelions, comfrey, hawthorn, fleabane, toadflax, willowherb; even the names rustle raw Englishness. Loki’s in his garden having lunch with his family. They make us welcome, tell us stories about how Lionel Richie, when he played Glastonbury 2015, stopped his tour bus afterwards and strolled through the village, the Sunday gardeners tending their roses stopping briefly to give him a wave.

cadmusLoki leads us to the site in a two-car convoy. As we approach Worthy Farm my stomach knots with gut anticipation. I can’t help it. There’s nothing going on but it’s the place. I can see into the vale. My sister-in-law says I’m obsessed with Glastonbury. I sort of am. Why not? Man’s got to have an obsession and why shouldn’t mine be the best party on earth (which also just happens to be locked into a bunch of socially conscious causes and the last trailing remnants of Sixties/Seventies counterculture)? Should I embrace golf? Or cars? Or rugby? Or Sudoku? Or identity politics point-scoring on social media?

Loki unlocks what needs unlocking so we can drive onto Worthy Farm. It’s a stunning day, clear skies, and we chug on up to the Greenpeace Kids Field (I shall refer to all places by their festival names). The first thing that hits is the grass. Not like that. Not this time. It’s so long, unkempt. This weekend it’s being mowed, ready for silage. Naturally there’s no giant fence all round and no roll-out metal roadway, but gravelly tracks exist where most of the festival’s major arteries are. The whole place looks smaller, much smaller, as if the miles we walk at the festival are a figment of our imaginations. All that’s here today is a few lush meadows.

oakUp at the Greenpeace Kids Field, Loki suggests we camp under a large, twisting and very old fairytale oak tree. It emanates lysergic mysticism and Avalon vibes, man. It’s where Michael Eavis has suggested we might like to spend the night. Who am I to argue. It’s an arcadian location. Loki adds that Britain’s best-loved dairy farmer might visit us in the morning but he goes to chapel at 11.00 AM so if he hasn’t come by then “you’re safe” (he doesn’t appear, although he did wave to us from his old school Land Rover while we were waiting by the farm toilet as dusk fell). And with that, Loki is gone, promising to let us off the land the next day. He tries to purloin Finetime’s car keys but we grab them back just before he disappears. I stop and stare into the oak. GE climbs it. It’s sucking me in. I see a lion in the bark-crevices, beleaguered old men, labial squids, claws, and I see promise.

The tents go up. The barbecue goes on. If they’re having a fallow year, I’ll have a fallow brain. Nothing naughty ingested. Just cider, just scrumpy. Haven’t you heard? Apples cannot harm you. It’s one of the keys. Scrumpy, apple brandy, maybe a mushroom or three, all that (not white cider or that processed, carbonated pub pop on ice). The bucolic calm is very, very present. More cider. I’ve been here 18 times but never like this.

campBetween us and Worthy Farm the valley is richest green, the only sounds from birds and crickets, the low rumble of a distant tractor, the buzz of rare black bees from the nearby Permaculture Area, skitting from buttercup to buttercup. The Greenpeace Kids Area contains The Cadmus, a full size play-ship with two sets of sails, a crow’s nest, a wheel and rigging. It sits proud against the clear blue sky but there are no children playing now, only we three, rollicking about.

Also across the valley, the cockpit and fuselage of a small commercial jet aeroplane glint in the sun, piled around with all manner of oddments, bits of bar and graffiti’d detritus. I’ve seen that same plane in the far flung South East Corner, draped with transvestites on an early Sunday morning comedown, their mascara splodged, cigs hanging lank, attitude still fierce. It now resides, surrounded by all manner of curious junk, in an outdoor storage space used by the festival’s master of giant artworks, Joe Rush.

But let’s take a break. Why read when you can go on a photo-filmic journey around Worthy Farm, exploring its nooks and crannies when the festival isn’t on. For the true Glastonbury Festival fetishist, the geek freaks, it shows what the spaces look like when the stages and marquees aren’t there. Each image is, accordingly, captioned to explain what you’re seeing.

theartsdesk’s Glastonbury 2018 Photo Movie

Did you enjoy that? I did. Not photographed due to tactical error, scrumpy and an unexpected toilet run, were a stack of all the multi-coloured bins from around the site, hundreds of them, cylinders blaring bright tribal paint. And, not too far from them, a woodpile larger than the average British town’s Guy Fawkes bonfire, from which we took to build our nighttime fire in the Permaculture Area’s seated glade. Wandering about I feel like a stoner archaeologist coming across artefacts from a long-gone culture.

monsterSo what’s it like to sit in the silent Stone Circle as the sun goes down, rather than when it rises? It’s best with a bottle of red. And we found a dragon and memorial plaques to the lost. And a river. None of these I’d ever seen before. What’s it like to stand in the Pyramid and stare out like Bowie, Beyoncé, Dylan, Sheeran, The Stones, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and all the rest? It’s a trip, man, that’s what. I stand there at Pyramid ground level amid the skeletal frame, waving my purple’n’yellow stringless electric guitar about like I’m Joe Strummer, while GE solos wildly on a ukulele, and Finetime takes close-ups of clover.

Pyramid-front, lines of piled, mowed grass, lead off up the hill, but the mind plays a trick. Suddenly, like psychic overlay, I can see, for a second, the whole space a mass of people. I can see them, having the time of their lives with banners flying. Then they’re gone. I don’t really see them, like a hallucination, but I’m thrown a fritzing of the senses, a vision of the area as I’ve always known it. This happens all weekend, these zappings. I see them milling about the markets. I see them. I see head people. The freakiest bit is when I go to my wellspring, the Burrow Hill Cider bus. It’s not there, of course, but such a sense of place hits me it’s almost a physical rush. Instead I can see right through. It’s gone. Invisible. The land is naked.

pyramidThat night we stay up around the fire, talking, eating Morrisons Cheese Savouries, discussing what Edward Woodward would do, remembering the deer we saw bouncing across West Holts, recalling that, before Dr Beeching’s report axed it in the early Sixties, the railway track was once a real railway that used to take the young Michael Eavis jaunting to Burnham-on-Sea. As the night wears on, the bouquets of nails sticking from our logs glow red. It’s then I see the only musical performance of Glastonbury 2018. It’s GE’s. She gives us a song called “Finetime’s Got Hayfever” on the ukulele (Finetime’s eyes are, indeed, red and itching). It’s frankly a bit repetitive. It probably won’t trouble Arctic Monkeys or Paul McCartney or whoever’s lined up for Glastonbury 2019, but it’s surely the only song performed here this weekend, and we sing along.

Eventually, as the wee hours trundle on and our secluded grove becomes a bit Blair Witchy, Finetime and GE go to bed but I go walkabout. One of the scribings on the loudly pink castle in the Kidzfield says, “Go proudly amidst the noise and haste, and know what peace there may be in silence” (from Max Ehrmann’s "Desiderata"). It is kind of silent. Mostly. An owl hoots somewhere. It’s dark, though. Even the giant white-lit Pilton cross, originally placed there by staunch Christian Anne Goode to save the souls of Glastonbury’s possibly Satanist revellers, is turned off. A half moon is in the sky. It’s 2.30 AM but there are lights on around the farm across the valley.

fireI am a bloke in a field in the middle of a warm summer night. That is all. This is just a farm. Let’s be real here. Just a working farm where, most years, people gather for a weekend and have fun. That’s what I try to believe, for to think otherwise is to join the séance set and the hippies, to tumble into all that ley line stuff. The truth is, though, that this place gets to me, evades hard logic. I try to pin it in words, like a display-case butterfly, but it just gets away. That’s as it should be. We live in a world of too much data, not enough Dada, and whether it’s the Dionysian gods of rock’n’roll or just me trippin', I don’t care. I’ve gone native.

Another Glastophile compadre, Don Carlton, was supposed to be here with us but was waylaid by domestic drama. I chat with him later. “For hundreds of years people have been saying stuff about the area,” he declares, “The myths, King Arthur, the druids, the earth goddess cults, Joseph of Arimathea, all that. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not, it just is. See you there next summer.”

Yes, Glastonbury 2018 is over. As of today, there are 369 days until contemplative, rustic Dr Jekyll becomes blissed, manic, musical Mr Hyde, until this peaceful vale becomes it’s fabulous other self.


The next day we drive over to the festival’s headquarters, now silent and still, directives for no muddy boots to be worn, irrelevant. In there, surrounded by giant photographs and posters from nearly 50 years of Glastonbury, Loki energetically traverses books, desks, a large Lego recreation of the Festival Pyramid stage-front, a signed photo of Charlie Watts from the Stones (who thought he’d hate doing their magnificent 2013 set but felt quite the opposite afterwards).

maggies farmBefore we leave Loki wants to show us something. Thus we drive over to Maggie’s Farm, a close in Pilton. Named for Margaret Bondfield, the first female cabinet minister (Labour, of course). It’s filled with affordable housing built of durable oolitic limestone from Eavis’s own quarry, on land he donated. They hope to have 52 affordable homes here by 2020. In 2017, during the festival, David Beckham came down and planted a tree (pictured below) and chatted with residents (he was looking forward to seeing Radiohead), opening some of the homes, giving the whole project publicity. That is the true real-world power of the Glastonbury Festival and Loki wants us to see it.

beckhamDon’t make the mistake of thinking Glastonbury is just any festival. Quite apart from all my salutory lather, Glastonbury has been doing good things for decades. It was anti-Thatcher, pro-CND during the Eighties; it gave the travellers a haven when others wouldn’t during the same decade (although that all famously ended badly in 1990); it has a long, profitable association with Greenpeace and numerous environmental organisations; Eavis is a patron of the Bhopal Medical Appeal and much else. The Glastonbury Festival rejects ugly corporate crap, the endless sales pitches to a captive young crowd favoured as fund-raising mechanisms by most festivals. Instead, it favours acres and acres of stalls that propound free-thinking, everything from WaterAid to tantric sex classes. Somehow, 48 years ago, when Eavis’s liberal Methodist beliefs crashed into the 1970s counterculture, it gave birth to something unique and rather wonderful.

Glastonbury undoubtedly has flaws, probably a good few of them. It’s a vast sprawling organisation that provides a living for thousands and makes millions. There are those who’ve become rich off the back of it, and those along the way who’ve abused the opportunity it provided. But make no mistake, all my hippy warbling aside, Glastonbury Festival is one of the good guys. All that and it provides a haven to snort amyl nitrate while dancing frantically to obscure disco records surrounded by sweaty queens in a replica New York Lower East Side tenement at 4.30 AM in the morning. And you can’t say fairer than that.

See you next year.

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