I have been to the Glastonbury Festival three times: in 2002, 2003 and 2004. I had to double check that those were the dates (thanks, Wikipedia, for your memory-jogging lists of stage line-ups) because, not unlike the Sixties, if you remember Glastonbury, you probably weren’t there.
Not that I was high on drugs, you understand. It was, I imagine, the beer and wine – consumed in large quantities from paper cups – which destroyed those key brain cells. And at the time, it seemed worth it.
Because there’s no place – or rather, experience – quite like the Glastonbury Festival. The combination of non-stop live music, good friends, green fields, and overly priced food and alcohol makes it a delight.
When I popped my Glastonbury cherry in 2002, it wasn’t just some cheap two-night stand – it was love. I spent a blissful, sunny weekend with my then-new boyfriend (and some other people, apparently) watching the likes of Coldplay, Alabama 3, Nelly Furtado, Manu Chao and, of course, Rolf Harris. I’ll never forget Chris Martin opening Coldplay’s Pyramid Stage-headlining set with the pounding chords of Politik; nor Rolf’s incredible didgeridoo solos.
Having enjoyed the experience so much, I eagerly returned in 2003. Once again, it was a wonderful combination of sunshine, music, friends and overly priced food and drink – and I saw terrific sets by the likes of Radiohead, REM, Moby, Souad Massi and Jimmy Cliff. If there’s more fun to be had in life than sitting in the blazing sunshine with a paper cup of beer in your hand while Jimmy Cliff plays live, then I’m not sure what it is. Possibly doing all that and then returning to your luxury caravan in the VIP area… I don’t know. I’ve never done that.
But despite my lack of VIP experience, I still loved the festival, and went back the following year. Only: two things changed.
The first was the weather.
Never listen to a Glastonbury old-timer who assures you that the festival is just as much fun – maybe even more so! – in the rain.
Here is Glastonbury in the sun:
Here is Glastonbury in the rain:
I’ll make no bones about it: it’s rubbish. And even if you have wellies and jumpers and at least one cagoule, it’s not so much the damp or the cold that gets to you, but the tiredness that ensues from the fact that you can’t sit down anywhere. You walk around and around and around… endlessly, achingly. During a sunny Glastonbury, you’d just park your denim-shorted bottom on any available patch of grass, but you simply can’t do that when it’s a rainy year. Mainly because grass doesn’t exist anymore. Because it’s mud.
Secondly, popular music was entering its Quite Difficult To Listen To Blokey Guitar Music Phase (this is as opposed to the Very Easy To Listen To Blokey Guitar Music Phase, which took place in the Nineties and was dominated by Oasis). In 2004, Kings of Leon, Muse and Franz Ferdinand were all main acts on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage – and over the next few years, they would be joined by likes of The Killers, The White Stripes, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys, none of whom are my cup of warm beer. The acts I enjoyed most at Glastonbury in 2004 were Paul McCartney, Sister Sledge, Keane, Bonnie Raitt and Amy Winehouse. Clearly, I would be more at home listening to that sort of music at, well, home, than being at Glastonbury listening to bands I found it quite difficult to listen to.
But mainly, it was the mud. I wasn’t high enough, mad enough or tough enough to enjoy the mud.
So the love affair was over. Glastonbury and I were through. I had been badly burned – unfortunately not by the sun – and I vowed that I wouldn’t return, lest the weather was terrible again. It’s not been a decision that I’ve ever really regretted. Especially during the years that it’s rained.
Besides, as I say, mainstream pop music and I were seeming to part company. I mean, I was always really a Jazz World Stage kinda girl (Bonnie Raitt, Souad Massi and some of the others I mention above all played that stage, for example) – and so, when the line-up for this year’s Glastonbury was announced, I looked through the list below, and wondered who would be playing my favourite stage – the Jazz World one – this year:
Except, as the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed, there’s no Jazz World Stage anymore! I have no idea when this changed – presumably when someone decided that it was possibly quite patronising to call anything other than white Western music ‘world’ music; or perhaps Jazz and World had some sort of big falling out due to musical differences – but realising this made me feel rather out of touch.
Still, that was nothing compared to my next realisation: that the only stage I’d be really interested in hanging out at at Glastonbury this year, if I was going, would be the Acoustic Tent. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’m TOTALLY hip and down with The Kid – I like First Aid Kit and Alabama Shakes and I know one song by Frightened Rabbit. But really, look at the line-up at the Acoustic Tent:
The Proclaimers? Martin Stephenson & The Daintees? Stev(i)e Winwood?! NOW you’re talking!
Yes, siree. You could plonk me down in that tent – and I would have to be sitting down, I just can’t stand for that long any more – and I’d be as happy as Larry. With ‘Larry’ being the 18-year-old me.
And it’s not just that it’s the music of my youth. It’s also that I’ve realised I enjoy music by older people – in my heart, I think I always have – and as I’ve got older myself, it makes more and more sense to me, in an unconscious, instinctive way. I listen to James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell… and in the case of jazz musicians, sometimes they’re so old, they’re dead. As a result, unsurprisingly, I’m now more drawn to the likes of Lucinda Williams (60), Gretchen Peters (55) and Stev(i)e Winwood (64) than I am to a band whose collective age is one of those numbers. So the Acoustic Tent would indeed be my Glastonbury stage of choice – and I’d probably only have the urge to leave it when The Rolling Stones and Kenny Rogers were performing over at the Pyramid Stage.
But while (a) liking the acts playing the Acoustic Tent and (b) not knowing the music of approximately 70% of the rest of the festival line-up are both good indicators that I’m over 40, another, of course, is that I’m not going in the first place because the whole thing seems like too much of an effort.
I like to think that I’m fairly hardy. I’m not some dreadful figure of a pampered, city woman like Carrie in Sex And The City when she spends a weekend at Aidan’s house in the woods, tottering around in high heels and complaining about nature. I like going for country walks as much as the next person who has walking boots they wear every six months.
But the fact remains that these days, I’d rather spend £200 on a weekend in a boutique B&B which gets good reviews on TripAdvisor. These days, I like my home comforts. I like a good night’s sleep. I like a hot shower. I like a nice duvet. I like an indoor toilet. I like sitting down.
In short, really, it’s about the mud.