Glastonbury – no place for old men?

We're delighted to have another music special from our (young) reporter, Matt Wright.  Matt has just graduated with his English degree and is off to learn about journalism shortly...


‘Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge’.

Believe it or not, the above Wilfred Owen quote was precisely what was going through my head on the rainy morning of Wednesday 22 June as my friends and I staggered tent-and-beer-crate-laden across the Glastonbury Festival site, desperately trying to find a spot to pitch. We had all seen pictures of the infamous mud of ’97, as well as heard the stories of how, only days before our arrival, entire cows had been swallowed up in the deluge. So, we arrived apparelled in wellies and anoraks, ready for the worst that Worthy Farm could throw at us. But, if the weekend that followed taught us anything, it was that we were still very green as Glastonbury goers go – and that’s not just because we opted for the ecologically friendly coach-travel option.

This year’s festival was my second Glastonbury; I proudly wore my 2011 wristband just above my slightly frayed 2010 one, just so people knew I wasn’t a Glastonbury ‘virgin’ (shock, horror!) Yet, the more I think about it, the more I feel that my first Glasto experience didn’t really count. It was beautiful weather throughout, and, let’s face it, you haven’t really ‘done’ Glastonbury until you experience it wet and muddy. This time round, after hearing heaven pound my tent on the first night, I was able to give the thousand-yard stare to people who had just arrived, as I made my way to the shockingly primitive long-drop toilets.

The first 48 hours for most people means exploration of the site. They say that, every year, Glastonbury equates to the third biggest city in southwest England; but what other city can you stand face-painted on a weekday morning watching trapeze artists, while supping on a pint of dubiously-named real ale (Leper’s Foot –or words to that effect)? Even in the hideous weather, the carnival spirit of Glastonbury is never dampened, and there’s so much going on – from silent discos to political seminars – you can never fully ‘do’ Glastonbury.

Undoubtedly, music underpins Glastonbury. Most of the Friday I spent at the Park Stage, where I enjoyed country singer Caitlin Rose, the fridge-chilled angst of Warpaint and a secret set apparently from Radiohead (not that I could see from my position in the crowd). I then waded my way with the bedraggled masses to the Pyramid Stage to see U2. They were great, particularly because they wheeled out a lot of ‘Achtung Baby’ numbers, showing their groovier, edgier side. And Bono didn’t talk too much.

I didn’t see the other two main headliners. I’ve never been a massive fan of Coldplay, so on the Saturday night I caught James Blake (whose soulful voice majestically bounced off the Somerset hillsides) and the ever-intriguing Wild Beasts. By Sunday night, my appetite for noisy guitar music – having been whetted by the likes of The Kills and Pulled Apart By Horses – had been worked up to the extent that only Queens Of The Stone Age could satiate it. They of course clashed with Beyonce, which was a shame. But, thanks to ‘Little Sister’ and ‘Go With The Flow’, you always feel that QOTSA are giving you a decent fix of pop music – pop music on steroids that is! Unfortunately, by this stage of the weekend, my singing-along voice was completely kaput. Cheers for that, Noah And The Whale.

On the Monday morning, my voice was not the only thing suffering: dirty and blister-ridden, I felt my willpower groan under the weight of five days’ festival living, with its lack of comfort, lack of hygiene and astronomical food prices. I couldn’t fit my tent back in its case, either. Having said that, it wasn’t the austere words of a war poet that stuck in my head as my friends and I left Worthy Farm. Instead, I remembered what the bassist of indie rockers Grouplove had said on the dreary Friday morning. “You know what, guys, we’re probably at the best place in the world right now,” he grinned, niftily summing up the Dunkirk spirit central to the British festival experience. And, at all times throughout Glastonbury 2011, I took this sentiment with me, alongside my anorak, my hand sanitizer and a can of beer.


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