I’m unsure where to even start attempting to describe these 5 days in the beautiful Somerset countryside. The world famous festival had been on my list of places to visit for as long as I can remember, but timing and demands for tickets had proven barriers in the past.
It wasn’t until early April that I managed to get tickets through the re-sale window. Two friends (who had successfully got tickets back in October) were on hand with various internet devices to improve my chances of success, and it worked!
I had been to a number of music festivals in the past but nothing can quite prepare you for your first Glastonbury experience. This was despite being fairly well educated on the festival via one of the above said friends, who was attending for his 5th time.
Upon recommendation, we booked our pitch up at Worthy View, a pre-erected tent site, situated just outside the main Glastonbury boundary. The extra £20 a night, for our 2 man scout tent, was definitely worthwhile. This was despite the climb up the ridiculously steep hill when making your way back from the festival in the early hours.
A few thousand of us camped up on Worthy View, sharing showers and toilets, a handful of café’s and bars, as well as enjoying the relative quietness in comparison to the general camping areas.
Day 1: Excited Arrival Time!
We arrived on the Wednesday evening, 2 days before the main stages opened, but there was plenty to see and do.
The festival officially opened with the traditional fire ceremony and fireworks at Stone Circle. After this, we made our way to the South Eastern side where everything literally comes to life after dark. Here we experienced Block 9, a post-apocalypse themed mini-city, where we ended up dancing in a metal cargo box to some funky house tunes. The atmosphere was electric with festival goers clearly excited for the days ahead.
Day 2: Our First Taste of Live Music
Thursday morning we were up, out and back down on the festival site by 11am, not wanting to waste a minute in our tents. Our backpacks were filled for the day, mostly with alcoholic supplies, knowing that we didn’t want to attempt the walk back up the steep hill to Worthy View until we were ready for sleep. This became our daily routine. The great thing about Glastonbury is that you can take your own alcohol, providing its glass free, which over 5 days saves you a fortune.
After a walk around Greenfields, the traditional spiritual and hippy part of the site, we saw our first artist, blues guitarist Wilko Johnson at Williams Green. The sun was out and so was the cider whilst we listened to some great guitar rifts.
As we carried on trying to navigate through the site we ended up at the quaint Rabbit Hole stage, where a few acoustic performers entertained us whilst we had some much needed shelter from the sun.
At some point I was obviously going to mention food, and I was not disappointed by what was on offer throughout the festival. Stalls were in abundance covering a wide range of cuisines from Thai and Mexican, to Burgers and Pizzas. We never waited more than 10 minutes to be served despite the 175,000 people requiring sustenance!
The one cuisine however I was not expecting to come across, and try for the first time, was Tibetan. The Tibetan Kitchen offered a wide range of dishes. Upon requesting what I should try being a first timer, I accepted the combination of Tibetan beef stew, with rice, potatoes, dumplings and chilli chutney. It was delicious and hearty, with a strong flavour of cloves coming from the stew. I was even more delighted when informed that there is a Tibetan Kitchen in Leeds, where I’m currently residing.
The atmosphere simply walking around the festival was amazing, everyone seemed relaxed yet excited. Strangers from all ages and backgrounds exchanging conversations on who they were looking forward to see perform.
That evening we went back to the South Eastern side and visited Shangri La. As the sun set the place came alive, with hedonistic ‘Heaven’ on one side and the much darker ‘Hell’ on the other. The main highlight of Heaven was a large white cube shaped building, whilst Hell was a mixture of narrow backstreet seedy clubs, not to dissimilar to the red light district of Amsterdam! Various House and Dance DJ’s played here during the festival into the early hours.
In Hell, there was also the Hell stage, which opened that evening with the politically inspired and sharp witted lyricist Beans on Toast. With folky rifts and catchy lyrics, he soon had the audience’s attention and laughter. The John Fairhurst band followed and they produced a heavy bluesy rock sound which was pretty amazing. To finish off our time at the Hell Stage was Gypsy Hill who were uniquely mesmerizing with a mix of ska/rock sounds, live brass and electronic beats.
It’s so easy to get distracted at Glastonbury. During my first toilet visit that evening I discovered the Rocket Lounge and that was it for the evening. Every time I visited the toilet after that I couldn’t resist popping in to see who else was playing. The 3 piece Glasgow band, the Shivering Sheiks, were my favourite playing a mixture of 1950’s rock & roll, rhythm & blues and jive, which you couldn’t help but dance too.
Day 3: The Main Stages Open
Friday was the day the main stages opened and this is when it got difficult deciding who to see, especially when artists clash. We decided to head toward the Pyramid stage where we were entertained by American Blues band Alabama Shakes and diva Mary J Blige, as well as some unwelcomed rain. It would however be the only time we would be rained on during the festival, so we couldn’t really complain. The sun came out again literally as soon as Motorhead took to the stage and the ageing rockers did not disappoint.
Unsure where to go next, The Courteeners being a big draw, we decided to stay around the Pyramid Stage and wait to see who the TBA act would be. Rumours were excitedly being spread amongst the crowd and it wasn’t until 5 minutes before they came on stage, that The Libertines became the favourites to perform, and perform they did.
We then headed over to the Other stage to watch Rudimental headlining, which gave us a much needed energy lift with their uplifting funky dance beats. Arcadia was next on the list, with its enormous 100ft plus metal spider, which sporadically shot out flames of fire and strobe lighting, whilst DJ’s worked the decks from the spiders head.
Although my mind wanted to carry on with the night, my body had given up and rest was in order. Walking back up toward Worthy View the Tipi Field offered temptations to stay out longer, with live music being played in some of the tents.
Day 4: Saturday Night Madness
It was Day 4, and we were surviving with 2 more days and nights of music, dancing and exploring left to do. I’d estimate that we had visited approximately just over half the site by this time.
The John Peel stage was the next in line. Here we saw the Sleaford Mods set, with angry lyrics and not so catchy tunes, but at least they were not boring!
We then went for a walk around the Dance Field, taking in some dub-steps at the Blues Shack, and a bare chested Idris Elba DJ’ing house tunes at the Dance tent, including a great Fleetwood Mac mix.
Again, unsure where to go next we decided on Pharell Williams at the Pyramid Stage which turned out to be one the best performances of the festival. Great at interacting with the audience and playing some of his greatest songs such as Lucky, Happy and his new single Freedom, his soulful, funky pop beats brought the crowd to life.
Headlining the John Peel stage that evening was Suede, a band that although I knew a couple of their songs from my teenage years of the 1990’s, I admit that I didn’t know much about their live music. My friend on the other hand was a massive fan so I went along with her to their set. As a front man Brett Anderson was incredible, a true performer, putting his heart and soul into everything. I would definitely go and see Suede again the next time they tour.
After the Suede gig, we basically spent the night tent and bar hoping. We would spend an hour dancing in a tent that was playing rock music, then moving on to the next one, playing funk and soul. This pattern carried on for the rest of the night taking in lots of genres of music along the way. The sun had risen by the time we got back to our tent up on Worthy View, but what an amazing night we had had.
Day 5: The Final Day
The final day had arrived and it felt like we had been in these fields for much longer than 4 days…… it almost felt like home! It was difficult getting up this morning, aching all over from the amount of walking and dancing we had done. We popped to the café near our tent for a breakfast sandwich that was much needed.
Heading down the hill into the main Glastonbury site for the last time, we made our way to the Pyramid stage. There was a lot more people heading this way compared to previous days. Unknown at the time we were to be in the biggest crowd of the festival that afternoon, with approximately 120,000 people turning out! The sight of all these people is something that I will never forget as a humbled Lionel Ritchie belted out his hits including some Commodore classics.
After Lionel we headed over to the Other Stage to see a great set from Belle and Sebastian, with their unusual catchy pop/orchestral sound, and who encouraged fans to get up on stage and dance along with them. This was followed by Jamie T, someone who I only started listening too over recent months thanks to 2 of my Glastonbury companions. His performance was very energetic with some great guitar playing and lyrics which were known by almost the entire crowd.
The choice of deciding which headliners to see was difficult, stay at the Other Stage for the Chemical Brothers or head back to the Pyramid Stage for The Who. Two of us decided on the later. I had always wanted to see the Who play and this could be the only chance.
The Who, celebrating an incredible 50 years together, played a collection of songs from their entire back album. Although some great songs were played, it wasn’t one of my favourite sets of the festival. The crowd didn’t seem to get going, maybe this was due to festival fatigue! The light show, and watching the sun go down at the Pyramid stage for the first time, was memorable though.
We all met back up at Stone Circle on our way back to our tents for one last look around the site and have a rest before our final hike back up the now infamous hill. It was 1am by the time we got back to our tents, the earliest of the festival, we did have a 6am get up though to miss all the Glastonbury traffic.
The organisation and planning of the festival I feel needs a mention as it was simply brilliant. Much smaller festivals I’ve been too have been nowhere near as well planned. The majority of staff who were so friendly, are volunteers, and this helps the festival raise millions of pounds for good causes each year.
What I loved about Glastonbury, was that it made you step out of your comfort zone in relation to your usual music preferences, and gave you an opportunity to listen to music that you wouldn’t necessarily listen too.
For me, going to Glastonbury with my music loving friends made the experience even better. Who you go with can certainly make a massive difference to how much you enjoy it. I can see how going with someone who for example, doesn’t like camping, are too high maintenance or, don’t even like music (yes, these people do exist!), would make the experience much less enjoyable.
Finally, what surprised me the most was just how overwhelmed a lot of the big artists were who performed at Glastonbury for their first time. Mary J Blige was choking back tears and Lionel Ritchie flabbergasted by the sheer crowd and noise of people singing back his own songs to him. It all just proves that no one is bigger than Glastonbury, and I have a very strong feeling that I will be returning to these marvellous Somerset fields one day!