By Lewis Lowe
Whenever returning from a festival I know straight away what memory will define that festival in my mind forever. I’m sure it works that way for lots of other people as well, not that they only remember one moment, although that could also be true for some, but there is something that stands out above the rest. With so much going on it could be just about anything; a band, a performance, friends, food, booze or love, it’s different for everyone and always had been until Glastonbury 2016. That’s because anyone who went to this year’s festival will always remember it for the mud, lots and lots of mud. Sitting in standstill traffic nine miles from the festival is probably not the best place to read Tweets from organisers requesting that people don’t travel on that day. We had already committed however and despite our extra early start we were now in it for the long haul. Our convoy took bets on what time we expected to walk through the gates, we all failed miserably as one by one our guesses came and went. Even the brilliant #GlastonburyTraffic trending on Twitter began to wear thin as our journey time neared 12 solid hours of what would normally be a journey of around 2 and a half. Weeks of rain had seen the festival site deteriorate gradually, with pictures of giant puddles and knee deep mud being well documented by the media in the build up to the festival. Cars getting stuck upon entry had caused the delays and if it were not for the tractor drivers working non-stop to tow people in to site I think we may have still been queuing on the A361 now.
The rain had managed to dampen just about everything apart from the spirits with a real sense of excitement building in the air, expectant of great things over the course of the weekend. Our first stop on our customary Wednesday walk around was the newly positioned John Peel tent which has been relocated slightly further North which seems like a good choice, now higher up the slope it is less prone to flooding, whilst congestion around that area seems to have eased up loads. It also has a new neighbour; right alongside it is the latest addition to the festival site called The Wood. A series of meandering pathways flow between an area of woodland and offers a great cut through to the Pyramid Stage. During the day it’s a nice place to grab ale from the bar and relax whilst taking in some of the sculptures. At night the canopy comes alive with a series of coloured lights being shone onto the leaves of the trees making you feel like you are walking through a giant kaleidoscope. It also benefits in the evening from being the opposite side of site from the late night entertainment, offering a welcome moment away from the madness.
It’s almost like I’d expect the Stone Circle to be if it wasn’t inhabited by the constant sound of balloons being filled for giddy teens. It ruins that area for me to the point where I no longer enjoy going there. I wouldn’t mind it elsewhere on site as I’m all for people enjoying the festival anyway they choose but the guys selling them drop thousands of the canisters straight on to the floor. It seems the ethos of the festival is lost on so many people, with a lot thinking its fine to sit on the hill above the Park, down ten cans of ‘Stripe and dump them on to the floor only to walk past a bin on the way back down. I’m not sure if people are getting worse or if it’s just that the older I get the more I care and notice other people’s bullshit. So I don’t just seem like a grumpy old bastard I should say now that there was a lot to enjoy about this year’s effort.
The mud meant that walking between stages quickly was impossible so I didn’t see as many acts as I normally would but it also meant that I decided to watch a few that hadn’t considered beforehand.
Friday saw Skepta take grime to the main stage, an uncompromising performance from the man of the moment. It was an impressive showing with a large crowd coming along to watch his Pyramid debut. I would have liked to see him joined by the likes of D Double and JME but that’s just me being greedy, especially when Novelist and Jammer did make an appearance.
“Friday saw Skepta take grime to the main stage, an uncompromising performance from the man of the moment”
Vince Staples and Protoje were next on the West Holts stage and definitely didn’t disappoint before it was back to the Pyramid again, this time to see the mighty Foals.
As a band who have developed their style quite dramatically over the years they really manage to put on a well rounded show. Including hits from throughout their career this really was a band at their best, preparing their sound for their first attempt at headlining a major festival when they top the bill at Reading in late August. Even sound issues towards the end of the set couldn’t damage the atmosphere. Foals really are a band in ascendance and I expect that the next time we see them play Glastonbury it will be in the top spot.
We opted out of staying for a headliner after catching Disclosure for a few songs at the Other Stage and instead headed to watch the Metamorphosis show at Arcadia. What can only be described as an alien abduction, involving lasers, fire and acrobatics, all set to the sound of dance music and it really is worth checking out if you ever head to the festival. I hadn’t seen it during any of my past visits and this is common at Glastonbury. No matter how many times you go there will always be a new experience to enjoy.
Our Saturday was dominated by the Pyramid Stage line up which offered a welcome rest from walking around the now swamp like site and we were even graced with sunshine. It was probably the best day overall for me as well. Things kicked off with Senegalese legend Baaba Maal, followed by new grungers Wolf Alice, then Ska legends Madness before ending with an atmospheric performance from The Last Shadow Puppets. Such fantastic variety is hard to find at any other festival in the world and is more incredible to consider that this was the Mainstage.
Santigold was our next choice and it was definitely worth the effort, with a whole host of brilliantly performed hits, numerous costume changes and a mammoth stage invasion all instigated by Santigold herself. Whilst the security didn’t seem too impressed with the antics, the fans who got the chance to dance on the legendary West Holts stage seemed more than happy.
“Santigold was our next choice and it was definitely worth the effort, with a whole host of brilliantly performed hits, numerous costume changes and a mammoth stage invasion all instigated by Santigold herself”
It was the perfect level of craziness to get us ready for the evening and after stopping off briefly to hear the brilliant vocals of Adele on a few of her boring songs it was on to M83. Despite competing with some other big headline acts they attracted a really lively crowd who were definitely happy with their choice of headliner. The enjoyment was infectious; with a high energy performance accompanied by lighting effects that filled the tent perfectly I was instantly won over. The French seem to have a knack of creating really good dance music and M83 are no different. The performance completely caught me off guard; I thought they’d be good but not that I would enjoy them that much.
After seeing how bad the ground had become by Sunday we decided to pack our stuff up early and take it to the car to avoid the chaos that would no doubt make itself apparent on Monday morning. That many people trying to leave from already heavily waterlogged and damaged car parks was always going to be a nightmare. Unfortunately by underestimating how long it would take we missed Gregory Porter who I would have really liked to watch. Instead we managed to get back onto site just in time to watch Mystery Jets at the John Peel tent. They are a band that seem to really connect to the audience and spoke fondly of their own experiences at the festival. I’ve wanted to see them for quite a while and it was thoroughly worth the wait.
With rain gracing us with its presence once again we decided to stay put in the tent and with Bat for Lashes and Band of Horses due next it was a very easy decision to make. Both managed to keep the momentum that was built earlier in the day. Natasha Khans beautiful vocals during the Bat for Lashes set were almost soul bearing and impressed a really substantial crowd that had grown in size with people looking for somewhere dry to shelter.
A tough act to follow but a challenge that was met by Band of Horses whose rumbling set built expertly. Their atmospheric anthem ‘Funeral’ proving to be a highlight.
After indulging in some delicious Vietnamese food we headed to the Pyramid to see Beck. Now Beck is another artist I’ve always wanted to see but never had the chance. I’ve never been completely hooked by him as an artist but have always appreciated his talent. A multi-instrumentalist who has had a whole host of hits which encompass numerous musical genres, I was always interested to see how he translated live and it was incredible. Undoubtedly the best sound of the weekend with every layer of complexity in his records being expertly performed in a set that spanned albums, decades and genres, it was a deliciously satisfying set. I’ve not stopped listening to him since, even now as I write this I’m working my way through his back catalogue currently giving his 2005 album Guero a run through. Without a doubt the best act I saw at this year’s festival and hopefully I will be able to catch him again in the near future.
“Natasha Khans beautiful vocals during the Bat for Lashes set were almost soul bearing and impressed a really substantial crowd that had grown in size with people looking for somewhere dry to shelter”
With a bit of time spare we visited the Theatre and Circus area to see what shenanigans were going on. This area has been a regular go to for me over the years as a quick turnaround of acts means you never have to wait long to be entertained. The best act we saw this year was called Fauna, a brilliantly talented group of performers who combined dance with some seriously impressive athleticism. A highlight was definitely seeing a girl doing a one armed handstand whilst balancing solely on the top of someone’s head although the backflip competition set to an ever quickening drumbeat was certainly memorable. I really can’t recommend this place enough and if you ever find yourself at the festival then make sure you set some time aside to pop in as Glastonbury isn’t just about the big Radio 1 artists, it’s also about all the other acts who put endless amounts of time into their craft.
A difficult decision saw us choose Earth, Wind and Fire as our final headliner of the weekend. With hits and history they were a safe bet and with many years of experience their set was highly polished and entertaining. In hindsight I wish I had chosen to see Grimes at the Park. I love that stage, its location and having seen some of the footage it looked like an incredible Glastonbury moment. That’s the thing with Glastonbury though, no matter what big name acts are performing, there will always be a performance elsewhere that will blow your mind.
Having a Special guest no show on Thursday at Strummerville and a general lack of space on the line for any surprises, a TBA slot at Arcadia at the end of play on Sunday was our last chance to perhaps stumble upon something a little extra special. We headed up in anticipation, with past acts including Disclosure and Chase and Status gracing us with their music until the early hours in previous years… But nothing. It was a disappointing end to a rollercoaster of a festival where rumours of Radiohead, Will Smith and a whole host of others just fizzled out.
On our walk back to the car it all just felt a bit lacklustre. I was a bit deflated, I’ve always loved Glastonbury but this year felt like it would go down in memory as that one year the mud was more awful than usual and will forever act as a ‘where were you?’ when discussing over a pint the time the nation voted to leave the EU. Having spent the whole weekend at an event designed to bring people closer together we have returned to a society that seems to be growing further apart and acted as a massive downer. Things were not helped by our national team deciding to follow suit by becoming a complete shambles where nobody seemed to have a clue what was going on, bloody footballers and their trend seeking.
“I’ve always loved Glastonbury but this year felt like it would go down in memory as that one year the mud was more awful than usual and will forever act as a ‘where were you?’ when discussing over a pint the time the nation voted to leave the EU”
How it compares to past festivals is probably to blame, I’ve been ridiculously lucky to have attended on so many occasions, especially with tickets often being harder to come by than gold tickets in Wonka bars and I now see it as a bad festival because it wasn’t quite as good as others I’ve attended.
No doubt I will try for tickets again next year along with thousands of others, the potential is always there for it to be incredible and I wouldn’t want to miss out on what is a fantastic experience whether it is your first Glastonbury or your 10th. With so much going on you will always find something to keep you enthralled for the whole weekend and credit really does go to the organisers who even on an off year still manage to put on a festival that’s better than most others out there.
So farewell for another year Worthy Farm and hopefully I will see you next year for a weekend of Sunshine, green fields, fun times and Daft Punk. Or, just Daft Punk. Pretty please.