Forty years ago, dairy farmer Michael Eavis put on his first music festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton. Just over a thousand hippies parted with £1 to see T-Rex perform and enjoy a pint or two of free milk from the farm’s Friesians.
Fastforward to 2010 and a staggering 170,000 people made the pilgrimage to what is undoubtedly the world’s greatest festival of performing arts. Others might have their moments but none can match the sheer size, range and breadth of acts that light up Glastonbury Festival each year.
As 40th-birthday celebrations go, you can’t get much better this. A line-up as diverse as you can imagine, shiny happy people everywhere, less crime than your average city centre on a Friday night and Not. A .Drop. Of. Rain. Mr Eavis couldn’t have scripted it better.
Friday night headliners, Damon Albarn’s supergroup Gorillaz, might divide opinion but for me they neatly sum up what Glastonbury is all about. A hypnotic mix of styles from rock to rap, orchestral to synthpop, all woven through with Albarn’s eco-conscious lyrics. It’s the old hippy ethos of saving the planet reworked to a 21st- century beat. Yes, there was the odd technical hiccough and true, the extended pre-‘White Flag’ orchestral section was probably not the best thing to buoy the spirits of a sunstroked, flagging crowd. But Albarn doesn’t bow to convention and his ambitious multi-media show hit the right spot for me. With a constant stream of guest stars including such luminaries as Lou Reed, Bobby Womack and De la Soul – all topped off with a show stealing ‘Clint Eastwood’ finale with Snoop Dogg (fresh from a storming set earlier in the day) on the mic _ the crowd definitely got their money’s worth.
Saturday afternoon saw West London’s finest Dub Pistols set the West Dance tent alight with their ska-infused dub pop. Barry Ashworth and co’s party hard set provided the perfect escape from the relentless heat. With their cool brass section, Lindy Layton’s sweet summery guest vocals and overall catchy, feelgood vibe, the Pistols left the crowd re-energised for the rest of the weekend.
Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra on the West Holts Stage paired Specials’ hits with Sun Ra classics, and reggae legend Johnny Clarke with Arthur ‘Fire’ Brown. A mad combination – but it worked. The stunning show culminated with Sun Ra’s ‘Space is the Place’, the mass of musicians reappearing in front of the stage and snaking through the delighted crowd, still keeping up the song’s refrain. Pure genius.
Festival favourites Dreadzone played a mix of tracks from their back catalogue interspersed with tunes from new album Eye on the Horizon to a rammed Glade Lounge. Their infectious enthusiasm, reggae bass, beats and guitars made it impossible to stand still. New track ‘Gangsters’ went down a storm as did the customary “I say ‘dread’, you say ‘zone’” chants from MC Spee. Perfect festival fodder.
And what can you write about Stevie Wonder that hasn’t already been written? Suffice to say that his festival-closing Sunday set was outstanding. And the ‘duet’ with Michael Eavis on ‘Happy Birthday’ meant that everyone left the arena with a broad a smile on their face. It’s a show I’ll remember for many years to come.
Of course, the real beauty of Glastonbury is that you could quite easily not go anywhere near the main stages and still have an unforgettable experience. Arcadia with its flame-belching techno towers and fire dancing freaks, crawling through a tunnel to get to the Rabbit Hole in the Park, or just watching the sun rise over the misty site – it’s an adult playground that brings out the inner child in everyone for four days a year. And long may it reign.