Glastonbury Festival ... heard of it?
100+ stages, 500+ artists, 175,000 fans, thousands of traders, stewards and production teams. And one crazy farmer who lets them all in.
For five days in late June, Glastonbury Festival is the biggest city in Somerset with over a quarter of a million people gathered on the legendary 100 acre site. In fact, far more people are living on Worthy Farm during the festival than are living in the whole of Oxford, Cambridge and many other urban areas in England. A quarter of a million people! The scale of it is hard to believe.
Plus, these days, it commands the attention of a global TV audience and has become one of the UK’s most recognised brands. People come from all around the world to visit 'Glastonbury'. It is so well known and holds a lot of energy in the psyche somehow ... it is powerful. And having been booked to play there this year, I can confirm that the Glastonbury effect is highly contagious.
I've never had so much interest in a gig. The Facebook post announcing the show was easily the most popular thing I've ever written on social media. People asked for the performance to be filmed and live streamed. Fans made a bootleg redesign of the official poster to make sure I appeared on it. Even my dad wanted a photo of me playing on 'the stage' (like there is just one!).
And it's true ... I certainly felt a level of recognition for the work I've done in the last couple of years. Without a label, there is no way to get booked for Glastonbury unless you know someone who works a stage there. And through a contact I made while touring last summer and a chain of people that all liked my music and passed it along into the right hands, I now do. There is no doubt that it's cool...appearing in the official programme and on the official Glastonbury app, next to artists that I love and admire. I could feel that excitement.
But what was the experience actually like?
Well, for sure, Glastonbury still has a magical energy...even the mud couldn't take that away. There are some amazing spectacles to behold on a huge scale. Fireworks from the hill, a sea of mobile phone lights at a night-time concert, the pure thrill of seeing a much loved artist walk out on a stage right in front of you to start a set. There are small oases of calm in the healing fields, tibetan monks on an afternoon stroll, sea buckthorn served with apple juice, street performers and buskers, choirs of voices by the stone circles and fields of medieval crafts...the potters and the blacksmiths tinkering away. There was definitely something very primal, creative and communal, still in the air.
But there is also a shadow. The mass of neverending drunken and drugged human traffic going from place to place. Mud like you wouldn’t believe - the poor trampled land. Sound systems until 6am, much dark angry alienated music, seeing a lot of young people completely wrecked night after night, thousands of tents abandoned at the end of the festival...the sadness in it all somewhere. The crazy money spent in creating this strange city ... while so many live in actual muddy squalor in other parts of the world.
So yeah, I couldn’t help feeling all of that, the light and the dark, being a sensitive type amongst a quarter of a million people! The extremes of human behaviour appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye.
Still, the gigs went really well. The stage (Toad Hall) was absolutely lovely and run by some very lovely people. John Mudd came with his beautiful cello playing later on and the final show we did felt very much like one of the typical intimate festival performances that I'm used to giving. Very satisfying. And I was so touched that some fans made a point of trudging through the mud to the stage in the Green Fields to see us play. It was hugely appreciated.
As I think of it now, that wild and muddy beast being tamed, dismantled and given back to the ground ... then I'm happy to have played my part. Thank you to everyone who supported me on my journey and shared their positive energy in so many different ways.
Maybe next year I'll be able to get you all a ticket...