The mother of all festivals: Glastonbury

Written by Sofie Jenkinson, photos by Richard Ramshaw

Glastonbury is nigh on impossible to explain. It’s not about what is happening where and when.  It’s not about maps and atlases. And it’s not about a plan.

When John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” he was possibly sat on a grassy patch in Somerset. Your Glastonbury moments are truly won and lost in the moments of your schedule left undecided and unassuming.

It’s an overheard conversation. It’s dancing with the person standing next to you. It is the overwhelming feeling of peace that takes you over as the sun dips behind The Tor. And it’s finding somewhere great for tea.

It’s discovering something tucked away in a hidden little side-field that you never knew was there. It’s finding a field full of hammocks and looking at the stars. And it’s the kindness of a thousand strangers.

There is nowhere else in the world where you can flit between hip-hop legends, political activists and a marching kazoo band. Where you can have a massage, sit with a gaggle of Hari Krishnas and go to a rave in a little space enveloped by trees, all within metres of each other.

Every year melts into the next and moments are hard to pluck out. Everything awash with the same shades of faded splendour.

You think and you remember. Eating the most perfect pie in the world from Pieminister with all the trimmings (think piles of mash, lashings of gravy, handfuls of peas, crispy shallots and cheese) washed down with Brothers strawberry cider all the while watching Quantic play out over late afternoon slumbering on the West Holts stage (formally Jazz World).

You can’t remember whether stumbling into a debate on Global Solidarity in the thankfully ever-present Leftfield tent was better than Snoop Dogg telling you the top three things to do in the morning: a) brush your teeth, b) thank God that you’re are alive to see another beautiful day and c) smoke some more mother****ing weed.

One day hangovers are being blown out of the water by Steel Harmony covering ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ by the Buzzcocks followed by a rather serious lecture on waves at the Free University of Glastonbury. The next Femi Kuti is taking the Pyramid stage and painting it in every vibrant colour of Nigerian rhythm.

Your head jostles with the memories. Pulling and pushing the ‘best’ ones around. J5’s Chali 2na teaming up with Breakestra at West Holts, his deep, booming tones rapping relentlessly or the most perfect performance of ‘Do You Realize?’ by The Flaming Lips, that made every hair on your body stand upright? Sitting by the ‘Glastonbury 40’ sign at the top most tip of the festival and looking out of everything in the cooling afternoon sun or the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble causing a ruckus in the middle of the night in the heart of Shangri-La?

Landmarks always stand out, the Somerset Cider Bus on the wings of the Pyramid stage, the climbing wall and skate park in the Greenpeace field and the giant mother-earth angle sculpture guarding the entrance to the Stone Circle. As do unique moments in time, as 300 strangers form a flash mob to propose to a girl on behalf of her boyfriend. (She said ‘Yes.’)

And, if you go for the music, there are always stand out performances. The National storming The Other stage, as Matt Berninger forges routes deep into the centre of the crowd. Grizzly Bear’s complex and intense instrumental layering bouncing of the dusty ground. Staff Benda Bilili taking the swelling down on sore English egos (after a sport event I shall not name). Frankie and the Heartstrings, being tightly wound and gregarious in the most beautiful of fashion up on The Park stage. And Laura Marling coming back, a wiser, more headstrong young woman and playing The Park into the night, her beautiful worldly tinged yarns falling out of her rosy pink lips.

But by far and away the most special moment at Glastonbury that I have ever experienced was on the Friday night, as the deep ochre sun sunk low into the cooling evening air and Thom Yorke trundled out onto The Park stage, old sports headband taming his messy locks. “Hello, my name is Thomas Yorke.” And the touch-paper was lit.

As the orange glow bled out into the rest of the evening skyline a few solo songs rattled around and around through the air. And then just as the weight of the moment seemed to creek under the strain Yorke picked out the first few notes of Karma Police and I could feel tears in the air already.

Very simply a moment of crystallised perfection, delivered so aptly by a band that makes up the fabric of this festival. “For a minute there, I lost myself.” Hanging in the air, never more accurately describing the throngs of melting people beneath.

The whole fabulous affair was tied up in the most wonderful of ways. Toots & The Maytals floated out onto the stage at West Holts with the sunniest of reggae hitting reddened cheeks and freckled shoulders like a cool breeze. The perfect entrée to the biggest party in the world, hosted by a one Mr. Stevie Wonder. He was kind, funny and serious in all the right places and his voice still held within it the strength of a thousand men. It made your heart sing and every single fibre of your body want to dance.

The fires crackled late into the night as parties were encased in utopian nightmare worlds in Shangri-La and Block 9. Up at the top, looking out over the festival there were late night picnics and paper lanterns as people started to leave. All staring into the orange glow of the flames, arguing over the best bits, guessing next year’s headliners and wondering what else could possibly make it any better. Never with any doubt that we’ll be back next year.

Watch a video of the highlights on the Guardian website


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