First Night: Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm

3.00

An electric start to Glastonbury

Maximo Park signalled Glastonbury Festival's earliest start yesterday. Avenues became impassable near the marquee where they were playing as a good proportion of the 90,000 people already here strained to glimpse the first band of British rock's biggest and longest weekend.

The traditional torrential thunderstorms rumoured for much of the weekend came suddenly, later in the evening, promising trouble ahead. But for most of the day, the sun baked relentlessly down. Worthy Farm looked the idyllic mini-city it is intended to be, with a mass of mostly young people in swimwear milling through the tipis, bazaars and ad hoc clubs. It felt like the first day of the music world's summer, at a place more associated with trench-foot. The musical omens are more promising, with the most high-calibre headliners in many years set to appear. Neil Young's music was already ringing around the site last night ahead of his appearance today. While Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's British festival debut is dwarfed by Blur's official reunion gig.

The fuss around rapper Jay-Z's appearance last year looks more ludicrous in a festival which is putting Dizzee Rascal on before Crosby, Stills and Nash this year. From Lady Gaga to Steel Pulse, it is a festival to make you dizzy with pop's possibilities.

That is the contention from which Maximo Park's Paul Smith has always worked. He looks like a cross between a Saturday Night Fever disco king and a Clockwork Orange thug in his white suit and bowler hat. The combination suits the intellectually ambitious singer, who emphasises the dreams that make ordinary lives special. Stuck in the shadows of the marquee as the afternoon's lazy heat went on outside, there was a metallic edge to the glimpses of his white-lit band. The sleek yearning of their biggest hit, "Apply Some Pressure", was the festival's first great moment, for the lucky few heard it.

Thursday's other early highlights were often occurring in secret, designed to be discovered. The folk songs of Liz Green, Metronomy's deadpan, The Streets-style urban tales and Stornoway's rugged folk rock were all available for the early risers. But just as important were the blue-painted faces of Oxfam's anti-climate change campaigners. Watching them move through the crowd was a reminder that the festival's farmer-founder, Michael Eavis, has always harnessed rock'n'roll's anarchic, life-changing energy for the most benign purposes.

When Eavis delayed his appearance at a press conference, it was announced he was absent for the first time in 39 festivals, suddenly retiring two years before his scheduled handover to his daughter Emily. Thoughts of final infirmity flashed through the crowd, before relief when Eavis appeared, grinning at the jape.

As other festivals sink beneath the weight of their sponsor logos, this remains one giant English field where everything isn't for sale, a place of rest from the outside world.

When the rain did drop, paths became small rivers and the usual misery of this meteorologically cursed farm loomed again. But around a small, old-fashioned stage, a languid ska band kept hundreds dancing. The spirit of Glastonbury, embodied in Eavis's weather-proof idealism, may still make this the perfect festival.

Glastonbury: Weather watch

Today

Rain, some heavy. After a sunny burst, heavy, thundery showers are likely.

Saturday

Dry and possibly sunny, but a risk of heavy showers later in the day.

Sunday

Warm, but still the risk of a few heavy showers in the afternoon and evening.

Dry and possibly sunny, but a risk of heavy showers later in the day.

Source: Met Office

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