Thursday, 2 July 2020

here's mud in your eye...

In the process of clearing out about 10,000 emails (I'm not even joking) from my account, I stumbled across this review I wrote of Glastonbury 2009 for one of my old blogging friends, Postculturist aka Queenie, aka Lizzie aka Urban Fox. Her website doesn't seem to exist anymore, and it's sort-of topical and kind of interesting, so I thought I'd reproduce it in full here before expunging the email into the digital void forever.

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"Here's mud in your eye".

If Worthy Farm's Ministry of Propaganda has anything to do with it, and they were at it from the very first day, then the 2009 Glastonbury Festival will be hailed as the best ever. This is the view that will be slavishly be repeated in the rapturous reviews that will now be appearing across all available media outlets, print, broadcast and online.

Perhaps we've all been seduced by an affable 73 year old farmer and his Utopian ideals and charitable work, but of all the festivals, Glastonbury is the one that is most readily given a critical pass. Yes, Glastonbury has raised millions of pounds for charities like Oxfam, Water Aid and Greenpeace, but this is no hippy idyll and big corporations are everywhere you look: the beer is provided by Carlsberg; the mobile phone partner for the Festival is Orange; The Guardian and Q Magazine are the official print media partners and both have their own venues on the site. In case you missed their saturation coverage by actually being at the Festival, the BBC are all over Glastonbury like a rash, sending more than 400 employees and flooding their networks with saturation coverage. I actually thought that Steve Lamacq might be stalking me at one point this year, so often did I run into him.

Those parts of the site that made the Festival different are slowly bur surely disappearing: Lost Vagueness disappeared after 2007, The Leftfield Stage, run by the Unions and a place for campaigning, watching Billy Bragg play and Tony Benn speak, disappeared after 2008. As long as the Green Fields still exist and the Glade is still hosting endless gigs by Ozric Tentacles and Gong, then I suppose there's still hope. There can't be many people that really miss the drug dealers selling Class A narcotics on the bridges between the two main stages, but surely there's no denying that the individuality and anarchic edge of the festival is slowly disappearing, to be replaced by something altogether more corporate and conventional. There are now even special entrances for hospitality pass holders at the pedestrian gates, for goodness sake.

Given that I consider it essential to take a flask of homemade Mojitos and a cool bag filled with ice and fresh mint, I can hardly complain about the festival becoming middle class, but I do I like to think that I was at least a little less middle class than the couple carrying the flag proudly proclaiming that they were "Tougher than the Rest" because they'd got married in Italy and were honeymooning at the Festival. Tougher than the rest of the tennis club maybe. To steal a line from Jimmy Carr, they're not so much hard as 'al dente'. The Festival has become a place to be seen, something that you do to say that you've done it, somewhere you go with your mates to celebrate a stag or a hen do.

As a relative veteran of eight Glastonbury's since 1993, including several very wet ones, I tend to pack for the worst and hope for the best, I expect the toilets to be a little more basic than the one I have at home and I make do without a shower for a few days. I find it amazing to see people moaning to their friends as they struggle through the mud in their flip-flops and pull faces in the queues for the toilets as they push toilet tissue up their noses to try and avoid the smell. I know it's not something you would normally do, but does your shit not stink? Do you really need to straighten your hair, curl your eyelashes and have room for your own shower tent at your campsite? Is life not worth living if you don't bring your own stereo system into the campsite at a music festival?

Perhaps I'm just grumpy because it took me more than 8 hours on Wednesday afternoon to drive the last 25 miles onto site; because it inevitably started to pour with rain on my first full day on the site; because I barely saw a dozen bands over the whole weekend that I really enjoyed; because I found myself drawn to the main stages again instead of making a bit more of an effort to get around the rest of the site; because the sound at Maximo Park at the Queen's Head on Thursday was so appalling; because the crowd trying to see Rolf Harris at the Jazz World stage was so predictably large and so un-stewarded that we couldn't even get close; because I fell asleep during the much anticipated, but ultimately very uncompromising set by Bruce Springsteen on Saturday night (frankly, I can't top Dorian Lynskey's simile in the Guardian that watching the Boss play the Pyramid was "like someone standing in front of a magic-eye picture and being told that, if he stares long enough, he will see the Statue of Liberty but who finds, two-and-a-half hours later, that it's still just squiggly lines")

Was this the best Festival ever? Well according to such backstage luminaries as Harry Enfield and Peaches Geldof, then it certainly was.

Me? I'm not so sure.

Still, although it might not have been a classic Glastonbury, that's not to say that I didn't enjoy myself. Highlights for me included: finally arriving onsite after 12 hours in the car, that first pint of Burrow Hill cider at the Cider Bus, getting to wear my fedora for four days solid, Neil Young's seemingly endless false endings to "Rockin' In The Free World", listening to the early morning rain on my tent, the Fleet Foxes, that ridiculous rumour that Michael Jackson was dead, Lily Allen - yes, Lily Allen - on the Pyramid, watching the British and Irish Lions on a big screen in the blazing sunshine, Status Quo, Tom Jones, Nick Cave ripping the heads off a sleepy Sunday afternoon crowd with a coruscating rendition of "The Mercy Seat", Blur's stately rendition of those beautiful sad, slow songs in the middle of their set.....

My absolute favourite moment? Standing in a massive crowd in front of the Pyramid Stage on Sunday afternoon, surrounded by all of my friends for perhaps the only time in the whole festival, singing and dancing along to Madness. I love Madness. They're one of first bands that I can remember, and I haven't seen them performing live since Madstock in 1994, when they were supported by A Guy Called Gerald, Aswad and Ian Dury & the Blockheads. They have a new album to promote, but essentially they gave the crowd exactly what they wanted and played all the old songs we remember: One Step Beyond, The Prince, Night Boat to Cairo, Embarrassment, House of Fun, My Girl, Baggy Trousers, Wings of a Dove, Shut Up, Grey Day, Bed & Breakfast Man.... when they played Our House, I looked around to see (almost) everyone singing and dancing their hearts out with huge smiles on their faces, and found myself uncontrollably welling up with tears. It's a nostalgic song, and I was filled with nostalgia for my childhood, for the friends around me and for this moment at this brilliant festival. I pushed my sunglasses back down onto my face, turned back to the stage and continued to dance happily as the band brought their families out onto the stage to share the moment with them and with us.

Same time next year?

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Though I say so myself, I think that stands up okay!

My last visit to the Glastonbury festival was 2016, the year I heard the result to the referendum when my phone pushed an update in the early hours of the morning in my tent. I actually haven't missed it all that much, to be honest. I enjoyed watching this year's virtual festival, watching some iconic sets that I actually attended on tv for the first time. Will I be hurrying back? Well, never say never, but - whisper it quietly - I've discovered that smaller festivals are actually more fun. Not that it's easy to imagine attending any kind of large gathering of people ever again, given our current situation.

Ah. Great days, crazy nights (not that I've ever been one for partying the night away at a festival, to be honest. And now I'm old, so.....).

I've often said it, but nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

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