I found dozens of people in the backstage compound wearing sunglasses, even though the sky was hangover grey; two men standing 10 feet apart, spitting pieces of bananas into each others' mouths (a cabaret performance); hundreds of men urinating in hedges (not a cabaret performance); and thousands of girls painting fluorescent flowers on each others' faces; but a woeful dearth of bands that a) hadn't been in these pages recently, or b) I could bear to listen to without flinging myself face down in the mud.
Sorry, have you already heard about the mud? For those of you who haven't (and if so, I should probably also mention that Hong Kong's gone back to China and Tim Henman's gone back to Chiswick), Glastonbury was mercifully free of rain over the weekend, but the downpour during the preceding days had turned the Arthurian verdure into a swamp of oozing, sucking chocolate mousse. This was mud as you'd always imagined it: platonic mud, mud you could squeeze into gooey sculptures, mud which made every clod-lifting step a trial of strength. The famous Green Fields certainly weren't green, and they could barely be identified as fields.
Most bands were pelted with mud or commented on it. Maxim of The Prodigy announced that it couldn't stop the group: "A hurricane couldn't stop us!" Two songs later a power failure stopped them. Ray Davies came prepared, in flat cap, raincoat and wellies. Incidentally, he was right in thinking he could bolster his revered status by playing his classic oldies, but wrong in thinking he could bolster it by turning those classic oldies into panto singalongs or by inviting members of Big Country to join in.
His protective clothing was not required until later on Saturday when he joined Dodgy on stage to play "Tired of Waiting". Andy Miller, the guitarist, nobly insisted that he be the target of any mud-slinging himself, and by some miracle he got through the set without being covered head to foot in glutinous slurry. A tribute, perhaps, to the band's verve, humour, brass- and backing-vocal-enhanced festival sound, and their all- round ability to make music that tends to be described as "sunny" without anyone accusing them, in the circumstances, of poor taste.
Still, there were no must-see bands on until 10.45pm, when, in true London bus tradition, Radiohead were on the main stage, Primal Scream were in the dance tent, and David Byrne was on the Jazz World stage, all at once. I went for Radiohead, and, unlike two years ago, when I opted for Oasis over the Prodigy, I made the right choice.
Beginning with "Lucky", from the chart-topping tour de force OK Computer (Parlophone), Radiohead made a fierce, towering, field-filling sound. Thom Yorke's racked chorister's voice was more frightening and beautiful than ever, but Radiohead are definitely a team. Even as strobes strafed the crowd, fireworks blossomed in the night sky and smoke flooded from the front of the stage, so that we seemed to be staring in the mouth of a volcano, it was the black-dressed band members themselves who gripped our attention. To play these dark epics - rich and complex in their arrangements, but violent and spontaneous in their execution - is an acrobatic feat of co-ordination and balance. Jonny Greenwood switched from keyboard to unhinged guitar within the space of a beat; five men made nearly as much unholy noise in concert as they do with the benefit of a studio's multi-tracking. It was an electrifying, timely reminder of why people sink ankle-deep in mires at midnight when they could be listening to CDs in their warm, cosy living rooms.
The intensity never let up. One of the least complacent of all current live bands, Radiohead kept pushing their music to ever stranger, more emotionally fraught extremes, until, by the end of the set, I for one needed a lie-down. I went to my tent and had one. Sound systems boomed until 6.30 in the morning and the first line of "Paranoid Android" - "Please could you stop the noise, I'm trying to get some rest" - seemed particularly incisive.
Unsurprisingly, considering that the main stage's bill on Sunday (Sting, Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow) was designed to ensure that all the teenagers present got home in time for school on Monday, there was no more excitement to be had that came anywhere near that created by Radiohead. Neither the Stereophonics nor Travis on the second stage could provide it, promising as they both are, nor could the moment when Zoe Ball sat down opposite me at the breakfast table (and I'll be phrasing that for maximum suggestive ambiguity when I tell my friends about it).
So it came as something of a surprise to hear Michael Eavis, Glastonbury's knighthood-deserving organiser, pronouncing it "the best festival on record". I expect he was thinking of the triumph over adversity, the tens of thousands of people who didn't let a little flooding dampen their spirits, but his words were still an insult to those festivals which didn't see two deaths, the cancellation of nine second-stage bands, or the withdrawal of Steve Winwood, the Sunday headliner, thereby leaving the festival's grand finale to Kula Shaker and Ash, who had already played earlier in the weekend. And have I mentioned the mud?
I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, and I had quite enough of being a stick-in-the-mud last weekend, but I can't agree with Eavis's evaluation. Marvellous as the Blitz spirit may be, the winter of 1940 could hardly be called London's "best winter on record".Reuse content