Worthy Farm, Somerset
taNo man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. (John Donne, 1624)
Of all the anti-Brexit sloganeering and onstage solidarity with the attendees of Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts (who overwhelmingly would have voted to remain in the European Union), PJ Harvey’s poignant reading of Donne left an indent. Roughly paraphrased, it means humans cannot thrive by being alone. So as the news of Brexit broke at around 6am Friday morning, this reviewer glumly slumped back to his tent, despite five hours of revelry with Julio Bashmore, Joy Orbison and Moxie in the Stonebridge Bar and the company of friends in Strummerville offering dialogue and debate. It’s good to have mates when you need them.
Aside from that fateful Brexit date, the the odds were stacked against the festival. The Pyramid headliners were the least inspiring in history, the site was sludge a week before anyone had arrived, and I doubt anyone was vibing in the 12-hour car queues that greeted those that weren’t up at 4am on Wednesday morning. But if Glastonbury was an island, it adhered to what Donne laid down in the aforementioned literature. When the site essentially turned into brown glue and getting anywhere was extremely tough, there were constant displays of patience, kindness and congeniality.
Some performances only strengthened that sense of unity. LCD Soundsystem closed out the weekend, and as our crew swung their tops in the air, popped all bottles that had been saved and hugged each other en masse to All My Friends – arguably the most appropriate tune to end any festival – the whole thing felt like an unequivocal “fuck you” to adversity. This was probably performance of the weekend, a reunion that was originally greeted with scepticism brought back into focus. While Coldplay were imitating a disco-influenced tribute act, the real deal was being greeted with flares on the Other Stage.
Other musical highlights included Tame Impala, whose step up to the A-league was confirmed by a performance that was framed by rainbows, colour and a realisation that their psychedelic pop is among some of the most immaculately constructed around. Well executed vocal harmonising, highs and builds, meant that there was a feeling from the band that this one really meant something.
Elsewhere, Skepta and the BBK collective riding around the Pyramid stage on bikes and bringing grime to the grandest of stages was a wonderful booking, Kurt Vile at The Park with his distinctive drawl and bittersweet Americana was a perfect fit for the afternoon, and Sigur Ros in the John Peel was powerful, dark and epic. Meanwhile, Vince Staples was on playful form on West Holts, cracking ironic pro-Brexit jokes, and Underworld rolled back the years with a set that raided the best of their latest work along with all the classics.
The most joy at Glastonbury is often derived in the rich contrast of music in tents and stages in the smaller areas of the site. In one day we moved from the politically charged comedy and exuberance of Beans On Toast in the Avalon Field, to dancing in shipping container in the turbo charged Maceos, before stumbling across new bands in the site’s most elevated point – The Crows Nest. Later on that evening we watched drum and bass’ hardest, Andy C, take on Arcadia and in the process have to be dug out of the mud before finishing the evening with five hours of the best disco and techno in the NYC Downlow – Glastonbury’s rejuvenated and re-imagined LGBT quarter with drag queens aplenty and incredible music courtesy of Horse Meat Disco one night, and Panorama Bar mainstays Tama Sumo and Black Madonna the next. Coming here has become an annual pilgrimage of beaty, meaty goodness.
Final hurrah of the weekend took place in The Rabbit Hole in the company of Charlotte Church – that’s right, the operatic prodigy turned socialist icon and karaoke queen. Opening with a cover of Closer by Nine Inch Nails, she worked through an hour of crowd-pleasers and before announcing to the crowd that “she’d been partying too hard” to roars of “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte fucking Church!” from the crowd. A stupendous ending to the weekend.
As the mud finally dried and the Stone Circle gathering found a place to sit (and in many cases sleep), there was a sense of peace. Moving between different pockets of Glastonbury can leave you with the lingering regret you didn’t do enough, but the fact is you always do enough – and if ever there was a weekend to escape the madness of reality, this was it.