"I survived the trenches of Worthy Farm"
A week after the end of Glastonbury, journalist Laura Steiner tells us the story of her first experience of the "trenches of Worthy Farm". Whether you've been to the festival or not, this is the only account of Glasto you'll ever need.
We had been warned: traffic might be bad. We had enough food and drink to get us through the wait. But nineteen hours of traffic for a journey that usually takes around three hours, well, that could barely be called a wait anymore. That was just a bit sadistic. Like the whole of the festival experience. A bit gruelling. But Hell can be appealing and Glastonbury was definitely one hellish beautiful thing.
Fast-forward to Wednesday and we finally made it to what I can only describe as the trenches of Worthy Farm. It was a parallel universe where there was a sea of tents pitched on rolling hills and on day one the floor was already covered with beer cans and everyone had a leather jacket underneath their rain poncho and Greenpeace and Oxfam ads were everywhere. Glastonbury is arguably the world’s largest music festival and, without a doubt, a trip to the heart of the UK.
The beast was alive and running and on Thursday, C and I got to attend a wedding reception. The bride was wearing a white gown and silver wellies, the groom had a grey suit and same colour wellies. The guest list: close friends and a bunch of random festival goers, C and myself included, who just happened to be at the right time at the Indian restaurant the couple had chosen for their celebration. Commitments were made, food was shared and a respite from the mudslide was appreciated.
The first act I got to see was Kate Tempest performing a spoken word piece on Thursday night at the Rum Shack. In Tempest’s finest style the words were equally beautiful as they were uncomfortable. It was all a bit raw and wholly unapologetic. The crowd was loud and boisterous at first but quickly quieted down to listen to this force of nature. She talked at us, about us, about the world, about our responsibility to do what we must, all with a delivery that was nothing short of powerful. Tempest’s words are as lyrical as they are political. A punch in the gut...
Followed by the feeling of being punched in the face as we woke up on Friday to find out about Brexit. The news cast a shadow on an already bleak Glastonbury sky. Out. The majority voted out. Conservatism, misinformation and convoluted political agendas have won. It was almost too ironic to digest the news in a place that stands for quite literally the opposite: liberalism, openness and inclusiveness.
The Glastonbury bubble was in full force.
On Friday night the Icelandic band Sigur Rós headlined the John Peel Stage with a show that was music but also just pure art. They took us on a journey where the sound was so deep and the vibrations were so strong it was sometimes physically painful to be standing so close to the stage. They created their own world - both musically and visually - and the show was absolutely hypnotising. With eyes half open, bodies seemed to be moving in a sort of trance to the band’s ethereal sounds.
Walking towards somewhere which I never actually made it to, I passed The Other Stage to find flashing projections of pink faces accompanied by high-pitched, distorted “na na-a” vocals. It was Disclosure playing their last song, “Latch”. Lost in a sea of people with mud up to my knees, it was the perfect pit stop for a dance.
The thing about Glastonbury is that you can try to get somewhere but you’ll most likely fail in the attempt and that’s exactly when the best things happen.
Walking aimlessly in the Healing Fields at night, you hear music coming from a tent that has stone-carved sculptures in the front and in the back it’s a makeshift pub that sells beer and tea and has vintage sofas and even more vintage looking people. You end up with old school hippies who talk about taking Ayahuasca in the jungles of Peru, who have been coming to Glastonbury for 25 years and whose commitment and love for this place is at the heart of what makes this festival so grand.
On Saturday morning Shura performed on The Other Stage and joked about how her breakup songs were starting to sound like a “bad metaphor for the current politics.” It was a tough crowd - it was too early, too wet and a lot of people were still feeling the political hangover. A different context and perhaps the crowd would have been more up for dancing. She still put up a good show that fluctuated between her intimate lyrics - “if you get my name wrong I won’t get pissed off cause I wish I was somebody else” - and her charming laugh each time there was a pause. Her songs were dreamy with “2Shy” definitely exemplifying those 80s revival sounds that make her music so great. At one point in her set she did a shout out to her dad which was the most genuine display of happiness to be performing at Glastonbury.
Saturday morning was grey and cold and it was actually hard to believe that it was June and not the middle of the English autumn. And still mud everywhere.
Mud. Mud. Mud.
But you had to keep walking behind thousands of people. Try to keep walking behind thousand of people.
The music kept calling. The music always kept calling.
Baaba Maal was up on The Pyramid Stage. The Senegalese singer was all soul. His funky beats - a combination of percussion, guitar and an unbelievably textured voice - channeled the best of psychedelic African music. There was not a lot of talk with the audience but his presence on stage was powerful and conversations were definitely had through his musical vibrations.
One of the most exciting shows of the whole festival was without a doubt the English ska band Madness. Suggs walked on stage with a mullet wig making it even more evident that we were about to embark on a journey a few decades back. The Pyramid field was packed and after the band’s first two songs the floor was already a cemetery of wellies. The death of their shoes didn’t stop anyone from jumping in their socks to “Baggy Trousers”. Politics kept making an appearance and in this case, after a reference to Brexit, they played a karaoke version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”. The sun appeared right when they started playing “Our House” and needless to say the crowd reached an all-new level of madness.
After ska the turn was for the Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala. In full disclosure this is one of my ultimate favourite bands and, while seeing them live was exciting, their performance was somewhat disappointing. "I've tried to imagine for a really long time how good this would feel, but I guess I failed," frontman Kevin Parker told the crowd. It highlighted the immensity that it must be to play at this festival and the overwhelming feeling that comes with that but after the sweet confession, the band felt too distant during the rest of the set.
Another whirlwind of a night happened in Glastonbury. The beast delights itself in the night and Hades came alive. The trenches of Worthy Farm seemed to be winning the battle. Cue in Sunday and news quickly started spreading that this was the muddiest Glastonbury ever (but don’t they say that every year?) Four days of festival and that was the last stretch. The anticipation was big. A sense of nostalgia was already starting to kick in.
But leave it to Beck to get rid of any uncomfortable feeling. The American singer, looking swanky and sunny as if he had literally just stepped off the plane from LA, owned the stage in such a way that we all (momentarily) forgot we were standing in what looked like a natural disaster at that point. He obviously knows how to work a crowd and when he’s not feeling it entirely he’ll go right out and say it. “Feels like we’re on a blind date” he said while we were all still warming up. A music career of 20+ years couldn’t possibly fit all into one set but it didn’t matter. Everything the self-proclaimed Loser brought to the stage was of such epic musical and showmanship proportions that we couldn’t help but feel the blind date took us out to dinner, then drinks and we ended up sleeping over. What a show!
And then it was really ending. And hello Coldplay and hello one of the most unbelievable live shows I have ever seen. Who cares if you like their music or not - I am not a fan - or whatever your feelings are towards Chris Martin, the light show at The Pyramid Stage was something beyond measure. And just when we thought that was sufficiently mind-blowing, they brought Barry Gibb up on stage to sing “Staying Alive” and Glastonbury’s own Michael Eavis to sing “My Way”. Endorphins took over Worthy Farm.
The endorphins were still there the next day even though the bubble that had been created in a few days was slowly beginning to pop. Reality can be a mean thing. But showers are good and it was time to go. Everything that had existed - the exaggerated amounts of mud, impressive acts, other less impressive ones, old school hippies, younger ones, debauchery of every kind, Brexit as an unfortunate headline, awful weather, a rainbow that came out of nowhere - they were all to stay behind in the crazy cosmos of Glastonbury. Until we meet again my friend.
Words Laura Steiner
Photography Andrew Allcock