Why would I be
To wear this crown
When all, it’s given
Yet loving many,
Many all around.
I hope I can give out,
Out into the open air
Air to breathe,
And that’s riches.
For today, it may
May be enough.
Enough for one,
But tomorrow is two;
To search out new gems,
Gems for a holy head.
To wear this crown
I don’t deserve;
But I will serve,
And diamonds come
Enough for one.
Waking up pleasantly late due to no little boy noise, I made some princess cooing noises and stretched. ‘The last day of music!’. I’d slept amazingly, better than in bed. Cliché but true: ‘I’ve really grown to love this’.
Sunday was the best day for music. After making my pilgrimage to the least disgusting toilets, I stayed at the Pyramid Stage, coffee, listening to African music and contemplating several things. Not reading poetry, as I had planned. Sometimes we need breaks, even from things we love. Words of wisdom, part one. I thought gratefully about ‘African music’. Not really my ‘thing’, but it fulfilled an important, ministering role to me throughout the festival, like sun making greening chlorophyl in a plant, only I imagine this music made me bright yellow, zanily alive. Music ministers – most music does, in its own way, but I especially appreciate the musicians who do it gently. Early at 11 in the morning, especially. It’s amazing how early I was to everything because we were camping, with so little to distract us, and I wanted to be out.
My friends joined me for First Aid Kit, one of the bands I’d been really excited to see on the lineup poster. They were great. Their voices always are – I’ve always loved their original sound; again, singers with attitude. Their quirky country-infused sound, heavily harmonised, has already impressed me plenty. I was surprised that one of the sisters, the less smiley and shorter brunette, does all the melodies, and the smiley agreeable blonde does more harmonies and talking. Why don’t people smile? She must be shy, I suppose. I really, really appreciated their talking; it was insightful. They talked up Paul Simon, their favourite songwriter. Johanna introduced their cover of his song ‘America’, as ‘a song about a journey of self-discovery’. I had never thought about this one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkel songs in that way. Insightful, girls. It was amazing to be seeing this band I love live. And to sing along to ‘Emmylou’. Which is just so clearly their best song. It’s in the perfect key for a melancholic, passionate country song. And ends happily. My friends liked them, too. Who couldn’t, a little bit?
Oh, dear, but all, all was eclipsed under the dark moon that is Rufus Wainwright. I went through a long phase of liking him and all his albums in sixth form. I listen periodically now, still, and think ‘Yeah, he’s actually everything I want in a songwriter’. Yeah: despite his deliberately offensively kitsch flat decorations, his toy dressing up; despite – yes, that is a good word for Rufus Wainwright.
‘I’m here to delicately take you into the next phase…. of your downfall’. Despite the split infinitive, that phrase made me laugh suddenly. I was glad to be standing, alone, to see him, the closest I got to any band. I’d made an effort with my appearance but felt the raffish headband a little tatty, a little too ‘Glasto’ for him, who apologised with impressive mock self-deprecation for his inability to provide ‘happy festival music’. And proceeded to play a ‘happier’ tune, (hardly: as if any of his music was ‘happy festival music’!) ‘Sanssouci’.
Did I mention how devastating he looked? Only to absolutely everyone who’s asked me how Glastonbury was. He wore a simple black shirt, with only the smallest trim of glitter on it, and jeans. I adored the close-ups of his face. I became the 17-year-old fangirl I always was. I wonder if the Queen of the Night finds it off-putting that so many girls find him drop-dead gorgeous? His cute lispy banter was dry and made me want to, almost, drop all this ‘Glasto’ lark and follow him into the darkness. Almost. Oh dear, leave me to reading his several fascinating interviews and listening to Want One again, over and over. Does it help to say that Elton John thinks him the best living songwriter on the planet?
I was slightly disappointed that there was no band to play his elaborate arrangements (probably for financial reasons), but his being there made up for it. He’s pretty good on piano and guitar. And he did Memphis Skyline, all vulnerable about it (could he be serious?) : ‘this song’s kind of a mess’. Only my favourite mess in the world!
I’ve forgotten who even followed him. Oh yeah, that’s right, no one. I went to see Tom Odell, who had a great band with him and created the ‘festival atmosphere’ really well, but the stuffy John Peel stage made it hard to see him. I’m also underwhelmed with how heavily he has been marketed, although Odell himself seems like a sweetie, a newcomer, and super-keen about the whole ethos of Glastonbury on facebook. Quite good songs too, especially ‘Another Love’, with the zombies singing in the background.
After a soltan-handbag catastrophe, I found my friends at Segafredo and danced to Vampire Weekend in the late afternoon sun of the Pyramid stage, dress pockets stuffed indelicately with the purse and sunglasses case I’d rescued from my dead bag. This is my life. I adore Ezra Koenig, I think. The English teacher turned musician. Especially having since listened further; Vampire Weekend give me twinges of Glastonbury. Then, I just thought they were brilliant party music. Now, I know this was the start of something far more than a one-day stand. Something about their tone touches the spot. Its major simplicity would be overly bright, sun-shimmering and dazzling if not delivered so intelligently. And being just the right amount of flat; just the right balance of electronic. Now, whenever I use an Oxford Comma I cackle in delight.
Sunday had three outstanding acts, both musically and vibe-wise, but Tom Odell was pretty good. Mumford and Sons provided a fitting finale, too. Not that I would call them musically outstanding; but we were with some jolly nice 30-year-old men who knew all the words. Mumford and Sons do have some pretty eloquent lyrics.
The lighting – gold – was gorgeous. The band are beloved sons of Glastonbury, having performed there for five years already. It was especially lovely to celebrate their amazingly bearded bassist’s survival of a recent scary illness all together as a crowd. Mumford and Sons are darlings. There was a special moment, singing ‘Awake my soul’, which has a bizarrely Christian line: ‘for you were made to meet your Maker’. It was special, and ethereal, that they got everyone to sing along there. Usually I become irate at people waving their hands vacuously in gigs, but this moment, my hands were right in the sky. High as kites. There was nothing vacuous about it. The finale was lovely, bringing in several other bands. Ezra Koenig played saxophone, the ever-more-eligible little multi-instrumentalist!
Wonderful enough, to bear the long, long queues for the train home the day after. To endure the scornful glances of London airheads on the tube, who judge people for having a backpack – you weren’t there, man! It was like returning from Narnia. This grime is like being anointed with oil of honour. I’m made of substance, to have got through all this muddy crap bearing an epitome-of-uncool bag on my back with dignity intact. I am eternally grateful to the wonderful man working in Pret a Manger, Kings Cross, for calling me ‘darling’ when I bought my cheese croissant and cappuccino.
All that remains, then, is for me to say ‘I’ll be back’, like my dear friend Arnie, only minus the comic understatement (back in one second when I will proceed to motorcycle into your police station and smash everything up) which makes it worth saying. Yet, with good and civilised manners, a happy half-hippie, I will be back.
I think Saturday was the day when we had a very funny wake-up, when the guy (who shall remain unnamed) in the tent next to us was talking loudly about how he had a brown accident… on the loo. I think wet wipes sufficed? Urrrgh. And maybe it was that day, too, when the sawdust loos had poo piled higher than the toilet seat. It’s grimly fascinating to wonder how that even happened.
We clever girls, though, managed to wash our hair and go against the dirt. All it took was 40 minutes queuing at the single tap in Pylon, and a little sacrifice of pride. And, some bracing at cold, cold water. I put on my new headband and pouted in the portable mirror, slightly smug at not having been sunburnt. Oh! pride comes before a fall.
Segafredo, African music, and we found a spot which was shady at noon, although it meant we weren’t facing the stage. We heard Billy Bragg first, and I gloatingly texted my dad. We went to see him because he is that kind of national treasure. He also sounds like he should have a much chubbier face than he actually does.
Billy Bragg’s music doesn’t strike me as magnificent but his lyrics are witty; I especially liked ‘Handyman’. Some good ad libing too. Yes, what was absolutely impressive was his ease with the audience, his almost complacent affection for them and his clearly being at home at Glastonbury. Chatting away, he gave some good old time left wing talk. Particularly interesting were two remarks: that nothing big, no political action, happens these days because of cynicism (not apathy, as I had thought), and that poets and songwriters need leaders and inspiration; we come after, not before, the revolution. Those were highlights: I also found myself wondering how he formed his classic views; he came across as rather a Red cheerleader, especially when celebrating two facts together that gay marriage and marijuana were legalised in some state. Marijuana? Seriously?
Laura Mvula after; one I’d been prepared to see, since her music is like cyber-inventive gospel. ‘Gospeldelia’, is what the Guardian said. A genre of her own; a lovely voice; and she was tranquil in her puffy white dress and sequins. She didn’t say too much, but she seemed calm. Perhaps too calm? Her songs are delightful; written perfectly for live events such as this. Yet she had been upstaged by Amanda Palmer, in my mind. She was perhaps too nervous to really give – in an interview she said she’d been nervous. Or maybe too nice. It also, to be fair, didn’t help that we weren’t really looking at her. Our shade was rapidly disappearing and we would make the most of it while it lasted.
Afterwards, Ben Howard attracted the masses to our Pyramid Stage. It was really boiling hot. There was one woman in a bikini top and skimpy skirt who looked cool, tanned really well (I’m jealous), but she clearly thought she was an important fan of Ben Howard’s. Sang along with a quite good voice, and said ‘Love you Ben Howard!’, when there is just no way he would have heard her! I can only assume she said it for our benefit. As for me, I was more resigned than psyched to see this gig. Like Mr. Darcy, I would say Howard’s voice is ‘tolerable’. Very good actually, but overrated! Too many crowds; too many girlie fans. Another irritating thing he did was to say ‘This is f-king amazing’. It came across as quite wet, actually, that he couldn’t come up with any better banter than using a swear word as an intensifier. He’s not the only one who did this at Glastonbury; nor will he be the only one in the music business to do so! It’s rather infected me actually, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Only, Ben Howard’s charisma was, as my brother and I have described some of Kate Rusby’s lesser songs, like being hit over the face gently with a fish. Music decent enough though, and I basked in the sun in a dream-like stupor, content to melt, burn and passive-smoke ‘til Elvis came along.
I stayed to see Elvis Costello, because he’s truly great, but by then the sun was so bad and I knew I’d burned, so badly that I sat with my back to the stage for most of his bit. I love that his accent is northern; never knew that. He did many of his best songs – especial highlights were ‘Good Year for the Roses’, and ‘Shipbuilding’. His singing voice was as good as ever; new arrangements for some of the songs brought new life out of them. Love it when that happens. But that’s another one to add to my iPlayer list. Such a shame about the burn: sun, 1.
I went and did sneaky sunburnt things in the empty campsite for the rest of the lighter hours, while my friends were at Primal Scream. So glad I didn’t bother seeing them, from BBC ‘highlights’. Much better to get long-overdue business done in peace, and also to get water with no queue! To wash my face without feeling guilty about making 30 people wait. Getting pro at ideal camping rhythms.
In fact, the only downside to doing this was becoming utterly stranded from my friends for the Rolling Stones gig afterwards. I had to become one of the ‘pushers’, and managed to get to a substantially central place by joining a long line of them. I navigated my way between the vague flags my friends said they were near. Only… no friends. Turns out, it’s surprisingly hard to find someone in a crowd! And then my Nokia (not yet spam-doused) ran out of credit.
I was amazed at the kindness of so many people; two men offered me their iPhones to ring my friends. So now two random men have Shamina’s number. But to no avail; network wasn’t very good. So I sat by some other people. Some kind, nice girls said ‘We’ll be your friends now’. I smiled and thanked them, pulling faces inwardly. Some middle aged ladies gave me advice. I smiled and thanked them politely. ‘What’s the biggie about seeing a gig on your own anyway?’
Quite a lot, it turns out. I regret bringing my purse, which was utterly pointless. I might have been less concerned then. Probably, I didn’t seem inhibited. I hummed along, sang along. It was a bit of an exercise in acting though. I was pretty distracted, not so much by the purse as – other things.
The Rolling Stones were good performers; nothing short of death or insult could have taken away the special vibe everyone had, waiting for them. Personally I’ve gone off the Stones; too ’60’s, not arty enough! Mick Jagger’s sexy but his voice does not make me fall in love with him any more; they’re caricatures, not richly layered older men. But there’s a special place in my heart from when I really did like them a while ago, so I did like singing along. With the old folk around me: the crazy ancient pair of stoned hippies, a huge dreadlocked man who kept sloshing his cider and spilling it on me (good job I had loo roll in my bag – wiped away three times!) and his stupendously cackling hag of a wife. Glasto veterans, surely. And there were middle aged glampers with their wine in a plastic bag, looking like a blood transfusion packet.
I had some more interesting company: a very attractive (and very tall, and rather dark!) strange man started holding my hand. I- reluctantly!- tried to communicate that I wouldn’t be coming back to his tent after the gig. Without words. I ‘just didn’t have a clue what to do!’
That intriguing bombshell left me not entirely regretting the strangeness and strandedness of my night with the Stones. An unusual experience! After the gig, I walked through the warm, dark, people-filled passages back to my tent on my own. Happy to pick up the rubbish (water bottles we’d shamefully scattered outside the tents from Operation Hairwash), because inside I was glowing. Love those moments.
So yes, the Stones gig was strange. Perhaps it reflects all I’ve been thinking about Glastonbury: the music is there, sometimes louder, sometimes in the background; but there is so much more to observe. So many people, on stage and around you. I’ve been thinking about being a music journalist, but maybe I prefer people watching after all.
I want to apologise for not being a journalist. For being one whose iPhone barely lasts a day, let alone six, and who actually poured suncream on her cute wee Nokia, making for a pathetically flickering screen – a living example of technology being rather incompatible with camping. MacBooks, as well as not seeming wholly in-keeping with the spirit of Glastonbury, might, therefore, have been a bit muppetish to even attempt to bring.
For these reasons, then, whilst Q magazine minions were selling their Glastonbury Review all over the place, before the most part of us had even left the campsite, and so many blogs and reports have now been published about Glastonbury, a week in, I am somewhat late. But still, stubbornly, I insist on going on with this writing.
OK, I’m chaotic, disorganised and unprofessional. But maybe this characteristic lateness will also reap benefits: I’ve re-watched videos of some of the performances, read reviews, and pondered a little. And I’m not going to abandon those little pencilled notes I wrote in my minuscule Guardian guide, a few words per act. My only souvenir from the event, save the dwindling phone, a peeling suntan, and a rather raffish spotted headband.
We arrived on Wednesday to pitch our tent, even though music starts only on Friday. This, I found depressing. Perhaps it was because I started with horrendous blisters, over an inch in diameter, on each heel. Tiptoed in my wellies. Dropped my camping backpack on the train catching on my bare bingo wings, making a grotesquely fascinating bruise. Staggered around the campsite in pain from those bloody blisters.
Took ’em to the medical tent on Thursday and a real podiatrist popped them. I felt no pain, and they vanished and never bothered me again. Wow! You’d think my mood would lighten, but it didn’t. Kept wondering, what’s on with life at the moment? Worries about the future. Worries about not reaching God. Fears of getting dirty. Worries about not sleeping! We were in ‘Pylon’ campsite, which had a hilarious enormous cricket-like buzzing sound. Right under the bleeding Pylon, which made it hard to sleep. Aren’t earplugs disgusting?
And then it rained, that afternoon, and I wrote in my new diary about sadness transposing to joy, because God is everywhere. The rain driving around the tent, like God’s courting, His surrounding. And then, finally, it seemed to go better, even though now the campsite was proper muddy, real, sticky mud, flooding the tents of the mugs who’d camped downhill. We had a great time going out to the portaloos in the rain. And I felt like I started to click better with my lovely friends. Or maybe we always did, and it’s just my neuroses.
The action began with the delight of actually finding a good coffee stall on the campsite. On Thursday I had thought it’s odd that people can not wash and still have an appetite for pies, hot dogs, hog roast, pizza, nachos, chips… But now maybe I can do the same. As long as I have my Segafredo cappuccino, we’re good. Had a Costa-pwning raspberry and white chocolate muffin too, and vaguely enjoyed the African music starting off the day at the Pyramid Stage. Having relatively enjoyed the open-air portaloos.
The first act was Haim. An unusual act in that more than one of our group wanted to see them, as well as me! They appeared, dressed in all-black, and hairy: one review compared their hair, a little cruelly I think, to Cousin It. It’s just all three of them had very long hair. Their voices – I’m listening again now, and reminded of the fact – are outstanding live. They are so gritty, punkty. The bassist, Este, did a lot of chat, flirted, and was a teensy bit annoying, but she’s got a good persona going there with her gurning and bright lipstick. I love that the lead singer, Danielle, is the least showy of them all. But what a voice. Slight Michael Jackson influence? The other one’s cute and minxy. And has a stellar voice too. I am so looking forward to their album this autumn. It was during this gig that I decided I wanted an electric guitar for my 21st birthday present.
Amanda Palmer next, a friend’s choice. She made us go! I thought, ‘no, I should be open-minded’, when Amanda started all noisy and, to be honest, offensively shouty (not music!). But stood there in the magnificently sun-dried field listening to Neil Gaiman’s wife’s music, admiring her extremely engaging performance, her lovely bra, and her many changes of clothes. She did some fantastic show: crowd-surfing in a massive floaty train skirt. Looking back, I wonder, is this crass? Perhaps, but so engaging. And her voice is great, though wasted on shouting sometimes. Her ukulele song was a bit cheap but quite sweet. Not gold, but some fair enough bronze. Overall she really brought home the importance of performance. Drama and music, I’m learning all the time, fertilise one another. Charisma is almost everything I looked for from then on at Glasto.
The Lumineers, then, disappointed. A poor man’s Mumford and Sons, an astute reviewer decided, and a singer who didn’t seem to try, though his voice is alright. We left for better things after they’d done Ho Hey.
‘Better things’ was Martha Wainwright. Of course, she’d be better singing in the shower. She sings with attitude! It took us blooming ages to find the Acoustic Tent, which was miles away, and disappointingly ill-supplied with tech (maybe I should have expected it from the Acoustic Tent), so that her face was hard to see, and the PA might have been a bit dodgy too, since I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Maybe she mumbles? Which was a shame since the singing was delicious, and she was saying a good deal. What I could hear, was interesting remarks on how and when she wrote the songs. She’s got charisma; she’s from a music family oozing nasty bitchy charisma. Give her a bigger stage next time! But she carried it off totally on her own. Enough drama and musical prowess to need no band.
Onto Alt-J, whom I chose over Bastille, achingly. Bastille are pretty mainstream though; the John Peel stage also seemed unpleasantly stuffed with teenagers. Not sure they were; just the stage being in a tent is so unflattering. Alt-J, I had never heard before, but my friends like them quite a bit. They’re great – check them out! Moody, interesting voice, harmonically elaborate, creative. I have since loved their very cheap album, £4.99 from iTunes. The only damper was the crowd around us. The Other Stage was horribly crowded; our first experience of pushers. The man in front of me had a massive bum and was wearing a tiger-striped knitted toga (some comic value when the pusher-in-front of me said, ‘We can’t stay here, this man has a massive bum!’ and the man turned round). But worse, an absolutely derpy couple who were the same height and seemed to be grinning and rubbing noses the entire time, right before my face. Imbeciles. Still, I was so glad to have done Alt-J.
Arctic Monkeys last – a real toss-up whether to go or not bother. We went, and left after four songs. The music, boring! Just loud boys. (In my bigoted opinion). But worse, the dark side of Glastonbury: pushers! Idiots. Some people have waited hours to get a good place; can’t you respect that? And we didn’t appreciate being ground by some pushing guys who were way too close behind.
I left the gig disillusioned. What happened to the friendly hippies who were supposed to make up Glastonbury? Replaced with a load of yucky teenagers, sluicing around their too-much, stinky cider. But maybe that’s just Arctic Monkeys audiences! (Gordon Brown?! http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5375988.stm). Never fear… it did get better. See Part Two, coming soon.
That night I slept well under the Pylon for the first time.