Glastonbury, A festival so big it needs its own post

‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take your breath away’

I have just arrived back from Glastonbury parked in our kitchen freshly showered sporting a wicked sunglasses tan with blisters on the soles of  my feet tired,but happy. I am finally able to take stock of the last few crazy days working at one of the worlds biggest and best music festivals – Glastonbury. I knew of the festival but really had no idea what to expect having never really been to a proper music festival before. But the thing is Glastonbury isn’t just a music festival it’s that and so much more, it surpassed all of my expectations. You may think that’s an exaggeration but you’ll never really know until you see it for yourself, so for now I will do my best to transport you there for a brief moment.

It was only just under a week ago that I piled onto a bus with 50 other revellers at Castle Cary station in Somerset.  I sat and stared out of the window feeling like we were driving out into the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t until we rounded a corner that we got our first breathtaking glimpse of the site over the hill. There are very few wow moments in life that are engrained in your memory forever – these are the moments that inspire writers to write, photographers to snap, artists to paint. It’s how I felt in the audience watching an operatic aria for the first time, how I felt driving into the Swiss alps and that’s how I felt as I caught my first glimpse of the festival on the horizon. I liken it to Vegas in that it’s like an entire city built in the middle of nowhere fully self sufficient the size of of Bath with over a hundred stages and a veritable smorgasbord of experiences; a visual overload of color, art and performance. Gluttonous food, sinful delights awe inspiring creativity, fascinating characters from the four corners of the world who outside would never normally coerce but who inside the walls of the Glastonbury community become like brothers and sisters in the shared experience.

My first experience on site was dragging my suitcase along the grass trying to find the others, it was a few days before the general public were due to arrive and the place was literally still being built. The sun was beading down onto the fresh untrodden grass and people were wandering here, there and everywhere putting together this majestic feat of imagination and ingenuity. The sheer speed in which everything came together was amazing in itself. It took months to complete and was almost entirely broken down by the time we had left.

We settled into our campsite that night as the sun slowly set, our new found work mates (regulars at Emma and Larry’s pub) welcomed us with open arms into our new compound. These people are crazy wonderful characters who were drunk, high and on god knows what at times but they have hearts of gold and their generosity and warmth so encapsulates the spirit of Glastonbury. Marek – whom kindly invited us to steward with them this year is very personable and easy to talk to and became like everyone’s dad on camp. Mick is a such character who called me every name under the sun except my own, and who’s rambling stories and disjointed anecdotes became as much apart of the place as the makes shift benches the men built from the recycled wood in the area. Kevin reminded me of Keith Richards, like the others he’s done the festival for many years and has probably done every drug known to man but is very sharp and can talk his way backstage anywhere inside Glastonbury and ate like a pregnant woman such unusual things like burnt toast soaked in pickle juice, bourbon biscuits that he got the bright idea of covering in actual bourbon and raw noodles.From the moment we arrived he was peddling his firewater which  is some sort of moonshine concoction that they made steeped in marijuana which much to our protests was passed around the campfire more than once.  As these old friends meet up for Glastonbury year after year and you witness the twinkle in their eyes as they tell their stories of the festival you realize it means so much more than just an excuse for a couple of blokes to get drunk and high around a campfire each year.

The first night I set out on my own eager to explore the site, if Glastonbury is amazing during the day, just wait until the night and it’s totally different. All the woodlands light up and all the pixies and fairies come out to play. Wandering around dazzled by the endless array of stalls, the whiffs of marijuana, the smell of cows in the distance and the endless string of lights illuminating this city. These strange weird and wonderful characters roam around looking for excitement and adventure. The hidden bars, the performers, the secret garden pathways there’s so much to drink in. As I ventured deeper into the festival it became a bewildering fairground of dreams with an atmosphere that makes you feel like anything is possible, as my senses became intoxicated with it’s sheer size. I became terribly lost and my legs ached but I was determined to find my way through this maze. Two hours later I made it back to camp, exhausted but overcome with excitement at the realization that this place is huge and no one who talks about it does it any justice. People who have been visiting for years still haven’t seen all of it. That night the moon glowed an eerie orange over the festival and campfires flickered  dotted over the horizon as far as the eye could see.

The second day we had free, we woke up that morning and literally overnight thousands of new tents had popped up all over the place as people had been arriving all night setting up camp and the once lush untouched areas of green were now covered with tents of all colours shapes and sizes. We browsed the hippie stalls while poor Larry sat on the grass and watched like a typical man.

We hiked up the hill to the sign and got photo’s, exhausted from the humidity almost collapsing on the grass watching the sites and sounds in the sun. And then there was the cider bus…. The cider bus is an institution at Glastonbury and cheers can be heard all over the festival when it first opens it’s bar to the public each year. People gather from miles around the festival to sample the chilled somerset cider, and at night the spiced cider with a double shot of brandy.

It was there in the hot summer sun that we gathered to sample this sweet potent concoction and it was there that I was offered LSD by one of the guys in our crew.With the notion in mind that what happens at Glastonbury stays at Glastonbury and caught up in recklessness of it all Larry and I halved one and as I placed it on my tongue I remember Mick probably already off his chops talking to me saying ‘Now just relax and go with it you’ll be fine…’ I kept sipping the cider and chatting trying not to think about it, after an hour I didn’t feel anything different and I was watching Larry as my yard stick for measuring the effects of it, he seemed fine.

Not long after that I was laughing hysterically at god knows what,wearing three pairs of sunglasses and clapping into people ears and saying ‘How loud is that?’ and laughing as I couldn’t get over how I was suddenly able to hear random noises so clearly.Larry appeared to be acting normally and was joking that I got the good half.

Next thing I knew Paul offered me a Valium and  I remember making Larry take it with me so we could remain on the same level. I remember texting a few people and my fingers moving really slowly but my mind was still sharp.

We made it back to the campsite and I remember staring at one of the flower decorations intently as it swayed in the wind American beauty style. I kept taking photo’s of it certain it was posing just for me.

We wandered around to another campsite in the staff area that was playing music and had  random psychedelic projections everywhere and I was drawn to it like a moth to the flame and found myself chatting to these guys by the campfire. When we eventually made it back Roxanne had taken an e and with eyes as big as dish plates kept asking me questions about where I had been and what I was doing and I kind of replied in a vague way off the wall way as we were on two different planes by that stage. I took a long time to get to sleep that night and I had to end up wandering around the festival for a while after dark with Hannah to help get it out of my system, had some weird dreams that night too.

The next day was our last full day off  before our shifts started and we set out to discover more of the festival and try and orientate ourselves with everything. We explored the fields filled with hippies from the four corners of the planet practicing tarot, palmistry, henna, massage, saunas and meditation tents workshops on healing and shamanic practices. Vegan cafes offering a free feed for an hours volunteer work. There were hillbillies whittling wood into amazing creations in corners, acoustic guitar, craft workshops, art, acrobatic performances. The smell of incense and sheesha punctuating the heady summer air. Greenpeace had an entire area complete with interpretive performers acting out global warming and a huge globe complete with  faux snowfall. Actors dressed as Eskimos interacting with the public pretending a guy that was passed out on the lawn was a seal.

That afternoon it rained for the first and luckily the last time as it does every year and almost immediately the entire festival became one huge mud fest and we waded around in our wellies thinking holy crap are we going to be working in this? All of the mud mummified the thousands of objects left by people into a Pompeii like state which meant we had great fun finding hundreds of random things on our shift. I was speaking to a security guard who found 60 pounds in coins one morning just by looking through the mud. Bottles of morphine, a bag of cocaine… almost anything can be uncovered here a treasure trove of goodies for the inquisitive  awaits – that’s Glastonbury, and that’s what happens when you get thousands of people together in one place off their heads for three days.

We resigned ourselves to our tent convinced that the rest of the day would be miserable which it was and we collectively fell into a coma for a few hours. I dragged Emma out later convinced we were missing something amazing as I could hear explosions and lights coming from the distance. The fog that hung in the air combined with the huge mass of people wandering around off their face made you feel like you were in the middle of an apocalyptic zombie film.

Our first shift was the following day at the blues tent which plays reggae and was decorated like a ghetto town, people were even encouraged to graffiti certain walls in the area to add to the feel. The majority of the shift involved me telling people to stop smoking and watching white people off their heads trying to sway to reggae music being gratified when the occasional black guy would walk up and nod their head approvingly as that was the indication that they were cool. I was stationed in the doorway of one of the exits and this guy kept bringing his friends over to me so I could ‘check their bands’ and let them backstage. ‘Backstage’ was just a grassy patch behind me through the door but I played along because this guy was getting such a kick out of tricking his friends into thinking they were being allowed backstage only to be bitterly disappointed to see there was nothing there, It was an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.

The first DJ – (DJ Badly) that was actually his name, was as the name suggests bad. He actually had silent pauses in between songs. Luckily the next artist was great because it made the shift go quick, that and the cloud of pot that hung in the air. Afterwards we ran around on a mission to see a number of bands, we discovered the Cabaret area of Glastonbury which had its own circus, trapeze artists, outdoor cinemas, poetry tents, comedians and small stages for lesser musicians.

Then there was the un-fairground which had a gothic drug fuelled feel with horse heads and skeletons and babydoll heads and scary sideshow games – that lead into Shangri – La, a popular haunt for those looking for some devilish adult fun after dark. The whole area is modelled on heaven and hell. Heaven is represented by a white cloudy looking nightclub and hell has an outdoor dance area complete with flames and has secret passageways modelled off the seven deadly sins with plenty of dark and scary corners for crazy things to happen.

Then there’s the stone circle – Glastonbury's own Stonehenge which plays host to a whole variety of weirdo’s chanting and drumming to their own tune. I contemplated following one such group up there as they invited us in the early hours of the morning after one of our big nights but I decided they might rape me so best not. During the day we sunbaked up there and all you can hear is the constant sound of people inflating balloons with laughing gas and ingesting them. These capsules can be found all over the grounds left by people, probably the most prolific drug used at the festival simply because it’s legal, cheap and easy to get your hands on. The downside is each hit supposedly only lasts three minutes, hence the endless array of them all over the place.

Unfortunately not everyone gets into the whole hippie save the planet vibe which at the end of the day is what the festival is supposed to be about. Yes it has gotten commercial, and yes a lot of people don’t appreciate the message but I still believe Glastonbury has a heart underneath it all and the spirit is still very much alive.

Unfortunately we missed the Rolling stones as we were working in another section of the dance area with a TBA performer which turned out to a be a secret party with Skrillex which turned out great. We also hear Daft punk and Fatboy slim did secret unlisted sets at Arcadia stage that’s home to a huge robotic spider that shoots flames. After all the walking over those days we still only just managed to scratch the surface of the festival. We missed the infamous rabbit hole where apparently just like Alice in Wonderland you follow a guy dressed as a rabbit to it’s secret location of bars.Prince Harry was said to have been spotted there this year.

Then there was the water dragon that I never got to see, and the Kids field which we arent allowed into without a child but through the bushes looked amazing. The 1950’s style beat hotel, Glasto latino salsa village, 3D movies, NYC downlow, Block 9 – a post apocalyptic themed haven, we didn’t even get a chance to wander in there but apparently there’s an underground club with a life size burning tube train in the side of a east London style building, The common with the rumshack and the list goes on. There  is literally an endless stream of entertainment and sights night after night somewhere in festival.

After our second last shift we hastily made our way to the Pyramid stage to get a good spot in the crowd for Mumford and Sons, we managed to slowly move closer and closer to the front and watched an amazing performance by Nick Cave and the bad seeds. Hilariously he started singing directly to this one girl in the crowd and they had eyes fixed on each other and he came right down into the audience and she was trying to be all serious as she was up on the big screen for everyone to see, and she was just staring into his eyes but this inflatable dolphin kept smashing into her head in the meantime which had the whole audience roaring with laughter as it became really ridiculous. What was more ridiculous though was that a girl in front of us in the crowd decided rather than working her way out of the crowd to a portaloo she would just stand there and piss herself like it’s the most normal thing in the world Ala Linda Blair in the exorcist  before dropping  a small cup afterwards as if that was meant to fool us into thinking she was simply pouring alcohol onto the ground. Everyone around her looked around in disgust. And that wasn’t the end of the golden showers, some guy decided to piss in a cup and throw it on everyone! As we stood in the crowd waiting and getting more and inebriated we started chatting to people around us and making friends.

By this stage it was a huge crowd of which we couldn’t see a way out of so we made the best of the situation. We spoke to a couple from Birmingham, and an older lady who happily took a glowstick and wore it after we offered it to her and a girl who was also stewarding with another company called Emily who so graciously succumbed to our peer pressure of  ‘here drink this, now drink some more’ when we handed her a bottle of vodka mixed with lemonade that for some reason we thought would be fun to pass around. Mumford and sons were amazing live and it was beautifully capped off by the phoenix that had been sitting on top of the stage all week taking flight right at the end complete with flames as it was ‘rising from the ashes’ I will never forget the mad dash that was us racing through thousands of people looking for the loo afterwards before dancing in the staff bar out the back of Silver Hayes and starting our last 2am shift only hours later still buzzing from the nights festivities.

Larry and I basically had the task of keeping people off the light cubes outside the silent disco til 7am. It’s called a silent disco because everyone listens to the music through headphones being played by three different DJ’s and all that can be heard is a whole lot of out of it people singing along to these different songs. So very bizarre especially at that time of morning and i must say I had all sorts of conversations with people that evening and sung along to the mass karaoke that was taking place. It was quite novel for the first two hours, after that my feet ached and I just wanted to go to bed and tell them all to piss off already.

Wasn’t feeling the spirit at that time of morning let me tell you. After sleeping the rest of that day – we woke up and did the ‘annual scavage’ Every year people leave thousands of tents and other valuables all over the fields of Glastonbury we scored two tents and two airbeds which we carted all the way back to London, but more than that we had the brilliant memories which will stay with us forever.We were there for a day after the public left and at night the place took on an eerie feel with litter everywhere and empty tents and possessions.Apparently some guy was wandering the fields and licking the inside of empty sealed pill bags.

We set out looking for the annual Shangri – La staff party (that never was) wandering the abandoned streets at night covered in fog we could see other people walking along the streets in zombie like fashion like something straight out of a  film, so different from the place we had come to love which was sad in a way. It seemed that Glastonbury really was over – at least until next year.We said our goodbyes to our new friends and were off on our own again

It seemed as though the entire thing had almost been packed up over night like some sort of mirage in the middle of the desert. Naively thinking there would be a shuttle bus to take us back to the train station we waited but to no avail. After calling all the taxi companies who each said no flat out, we were stranded. Finally we rang one called Mum’s taxis and were picked up by a cranky woman who wouldn’t have looked out of place on a bike at Mardi Gras and who practically yelled at us and our new random mate Mark for not standing in the right place.  Later she apologised and did not shut up talking for the entire trip, what crazy woman.

We waited at Castle Cary station with a whole host of stragglers from the festival whom were all exhausted smelly and out of it really. It was like we were all experiencing a mass comedown collectively as the weather began to turn overcast and drizzly.

It was a bizarre way to end what has been a brilliant few days, the people we met, the things we saw and the once in a lifetime experience that was working at Glastonbury I am truly grateful for. It’s something I will never forget, that and the toilets..I have never experienced festival toilets until now and my goodness when you flush those portaloo’s it’s like releasing evil spirits into the atmosphere. And then there’s the drop toilets where I found that someone could see straight into my toilet when I was taking a wizz. 175,000 people all shitting and pissing together builds up to epic proportions. We smell like fire, we’re burnt from the sun and will probably talk about this for the years to come. What an amazing experience, Glastonbury will always have a place in my heart.

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