Did I go to Glastonbury? I thought so. On the weekend of 27th-28th June I went to a pop festival of that name in the English countryside. But most Glastonbury veterans I have spoken to since say I wasn’t there. The problem, you see, is that I did not have a sufficiently squalid time. Courtesy of an invitation to my wife from the head of Aggreko (the company that provides Glastonbury with its electrical generators) I was staying in unimaginable luxury—a Winnebago motor home in the VIP zone (next to Franz Ferdinand) with its own roof terrace and chemical loo. This is the equivalent of the royal box.
Nonetheless, in order to see any of the bands I did have to venture out among hoi polloi, and the rude assault on the senses—in particular the rubbish and the stink of human excrement—took a few hours to get used to.
Despite the familiar and phony counter-cultural packaging, my first impressions of Glasto were military: the tent encampments were like a medieval army, the duckboards through the mud brought to mind the trenches and everywhere people carried flags. And with 30,000 staff to 178,000 festivalgoers there was a well-drilled feel to things. It was also notably multi-generational and well behaved.
The high point of the weekend for me (aside from a fascinating tour of the Aggreko generators) was a late-night sing-song on the Winnebago roof terrace (in which the editor of the Spectator showed a remarkable grasp of Madness lyrics) combined with the old debate among forty and fiftysomethings about whether today’s music is a patch on the golden age of our youth. I always take the reactionary position in that debate and nothing I heard at Glasto prompted a change. Indeed, one advantage of a festival over a pop concert is that you can drift off after 20 minutes when the pretty boy in the silly hat on stage gets boring, as most did.
Exceptions were: Jarvis Cocker, who is funny, Status Quo’s stomping self-parody and Florence and the Machine. (I know Florence’s father, Nick, and had hoped to show off to my fellow Winnebago-ers by taking them backstage. It was not to be, but Nick confirmed my hunch that Grace Slick was a formative influence on the young singer.)