Words by Sofie Jenkinson
A skinny fellow carrying a crisp, scrunched up plastic bag full of chocolate bars pads out onto a tiny stage on the tip on a Somerset hill. He pauses, throws a Twix out into an ocean of raised arms, looks over his glasses at the wide-eyed awe before him and whispers, “Do you remember the first time?”
The site is awash with shades of cocktail hour peach and pink as Jarvis Cocker flicks his hip out to the side and gives a tightly packed field of thumping hearts something that they’d never thought they’d see: Pulp on the tiny, most beautiful stage at Glastonbury. As the echoes of our youth roll between the ley lines and the lyrics of Disco 2000, Babies and Common People hang in the air, The Park nods as Cocker pontificates about the philosophical state of Glastonbury: it’s not just a place, it’s a feeling.
The air is tense with a certain fragility as clouds daubed onto the blue-grey sky clang together in the cool breeze. You have a quiet sense that you’re among friends and like-minds as you smear glitter in stripes under your face like a warrior, ready to fight in the unnerving, gut-wrenching times that lay outside of this utopia. To buoy yourself in the presence of heroes, from Tony Benn through to B.B King, hoping a bit of determination will rub off. A well needed, fleeting moment of hope and humanity.
Like hearing kind words from a friend, the beat of your favourite song or when looking out across the most breathtaking ocean, it feels, for a moment, like anything is possible.
Nothing compares to that second you clap eyes on the site, as you clamber up and reach the apex of the sprawling, lush hills and it tumbles out before you. The contents of your imagination tucked in tents and buried in woodland paths, under clearings of trees like treasure. The most creative and beautiful ways to explore in every direction as you pull on your fox suit and head out into the night, via a stool-making workshop.
When the unbelievable trinity of Wu Tang Clan, B.B King and Jimmy Cliff burst through the centre of a day, hazy Somerset cider soaked arm waving takes hold. A mid-afternoon, rain speckled hit of hip-hop and a Pyramid stage full of the gloriously infamous. The moment barely sinks in before B.B King rolls out of the wings, but, as always, walks out onto the stage. He closes his eyes as decades of music shoot through his fingers and he plays us the blues, the lines on his expressive face contorting in joy.
A little later Jimmy Cliff bounds out in a suit of gold and makes himself at home on the West Holts stage as a drizzle descends. Amid the sweet smell of the rain on the warm grass all you can do fill your lungs and sing out “I can see clearly now…!”
A beautiful, navy blanket covered in a glimmer of light drapes over the sky as the night settles in and is taken over by the deep, swathing electronic sounds of Caribou. And, after a quick skip and hop, DJ Shadow encased in an orb hits the John Peel stage spinning a blend of tracks that are, by his own admission, heavy on Shadow but eclectic in a spirit of Peel himself. No better excuse to dance in his memory right down the front.
As fires crackle on the surrounding hills you make your journey through the different worlds. Eating pickled onions out of cups in the labyrinth passageways of Shangri La, dropping in on Narasirato, a band that have sailed for days from the Solomon Islands to be with you at Club Dada, popping into a debate on unions at the Leftfield, taking part in the record breaking game of Twister and dancing in dark corners by tipis to the Master Musicians of Joujouka as they hand out piping hot Moroccan mint tea in paper cups.
Gliding into a new day on a wave of London Afrobeat Collective might just be the new excellent way to start every day. Dancing with strangers in the sticky morning sun as the biggest grin in the world sings back at you. After daytime adventures with BBC 6 Music’s Adam and Joe and the Black Squadron we find ourselves in the presence of the incredible Wild Beasts. Their sound finds a perfect home in the small hollow of the Park, with an appearance from the fantastically talented Sky Larkin front woman, Katie Harkin. A perfect start to a night spent wrapped up in spoken word poetry in a woodland chalet straight out of Twin Peaks, picked out in fairy lights and home-made bunting.
A surprisingly large gaggle of misty eyed people circle around Crystal Fighters at Oxylers in West as afternoon sun crackles high in the sky, kissing shoulders. Shaking off a heavy one with a massive, lolloping beats in a sweet breeze.
We drop our plans for the afternoon and head to the Speakers Forum. “Never believe you cannot do it. That’s what they’re always trying to say. It’s not true, you can do it!” says Tony Benn, crumpling up his face. At 86 he is still capable of overshadowing everything else we come across today. He continues, with fire in his eyes: “There are only three questions worth answering in politics. What’s going on? Why is it going on? And what can we do about it?”
A slight and gentle, Laura Marling, is blown onto the Pyramid stage in a light gust, filling the expanses before her impressively with the soul in her voice. And in a heartbeat the afternoon sun matches Paul Simon’s mood, as he packs out the Pyramid field and doesn’t disappoint as the trumpets slide in and we finally get to realise the lifelong dream of hearing that bass on You Can Call Me Al.
As the wind down kicks in a crisply suited Eels step out into the blazing evening sun on the Other stage, backed up by a natty brass band and crank up their sound to an altogether more massive level. Spinning the dark edge through a set full of sunlight and blissed out bodies twisting and dancing around each other.
Last hurrahs don’t come much bigger than Beyonce, whether your peccadillo or main attraction. Bringing the fight to the Pyramid headline slot; the voice, the glitter, the desire blowing so many others out of the water. “I’ve always wanted to be a rock star,” she says, her voice shining. As fireworks burst into the skies it’s clear, from the moment that her swagger hits the floor that this, the first female headlining the Pyramid, is an exceptional moment. And off in the distance cries of ‘Wahooo!’ come floating through the air like paper lanterns from the West Holts stage, as Kool and the Gang top it all off.
With smudged face paint, glitter stowing away on every limb and sweet Somerset apple coated skin, we take in one last, long breath as a weekend straight out of our wildest dreams lays in a beautiful mess behind us.