Too cool to love these acts 10 years ago? This year’s Glastonbury is for you

Adam White braves the festival crowds, toilets and ‘special guest’ rumours – Cate, Britney, Dua Lipa – for the first time since he was seven and finds Worthy Farm steeped in nostalgia

Sunday 25 June 2023 13:23 BST
On Fridays we wear pink: Y2K fashion at Glastonbury
On Fridays we wear pink: Y2K fashion at Glastonbury (Kate Hutchinson/The Independent)

They’re older, but that’s OK!” Bill, a 22-year-old from Bristol, is telling me his thoughts on Guns N’ Roses, this year’s Saturday night headliner at Glastonbury Festival, and a band potentially more ancient than the Sphinx. Bill, though, is unbothered. “You gotta have something for everyone, you know what I mean?” He’s en route to see his fave anyway. “Everyone’s seeing Fred Again, mate.” I nod politely.

No one can accuse this year’s Glastonbury of being the most cutting edge of events. Arctic Monkeys, Friday’s headliner, have long been in their elder statesmen era, while Elton John, headlining Sunday, is a genius but one who was probably at his peak in 1973. This is also just one more stop on his farewell tour (although he has promised an entirely different set), and nothing screams dance-floor mood-killer faster than imminent retirement. But as I make my way through throngs upon throngs of teenagers spilling through Worthy Farm as if Lord of the Flies met up with The Belles of St Trinian’s and everyone was wearing Day-Glo sunglasses, I realise this is a place built on specific kinds of nostalgia anyway. The age of the headliners is irrelevant when you’re on the ground.

Everyone here, sartorially speaking, is representative of one of four different tribes
Everyone here, sartorially speaking, is representative of one of four different tribes (Getty Images)

Going to Glastonbury is about the act of going to Glastonbury. Everyone is attempting to cling to a version of the world that has largely evaporated in reality, but which for five days thrives here in a very big field in the West Country. There are posters for nuclear disarmament and the advancement of Corbyn-era policies, as well as “eat the rich” graffiti. I speak to more total strangers than I have in years. Everyone is topless. Everything is gender neutral and no one cares. Community reigns. I watch as an older gentleman asks to buy toilet roll from a trio of girls in front of the cavernous excrement pits that we waddle up to each morning. “What are you talking about ‘buy’, man?” one girl replies. “This is Glastonbury, everyone loves each other!” She unspools a generous wad of paper, and the man seems touched. I should add that these people were all from generous, inherently friendly Newcastle, and subsequently realised they all basically live in the same area – but I want to believe this was the magic of Glastonbury rather than the magic of being a Geordie.

Despite show-stopping sets on Friday by fresher acts including Gabriels (a honeyed fusion of soul, gospel and rock) and Billy Nomates (a true one-off who performs bandless, and whose online abuse in the aftermath of her set is the ugliest incident of the festival so far), a yearning for the past runs rampant through the main highlights so far. Practically battery-powered Swedish garage punks The Hives confirmed they were still alive and still brilliant. The Lightning Seeds remain such sweetly nerdy Nineties indie touchstones that it’s easy to overlook that all their songs sound the same. The roar that erupts from the crowd when Carly Rae Jepsen breaks into her gloriously anthemic “Call Me Maybe” is very much the sound of thousands of people in their late twenties, no longer performatively cynical, who once convinced themselves they were too cool to love it back in 2011.

Carly Rae Jepsen plays The Other Stage at Glastonbury
Carly Rae Jepsen plays The Other Stage at Glastonbury (BBC)

On Saturday morning, everyone seems to be headed to see Rick Astley for the lols, or at least to find answers to the mystery of how he’ll fill an hour-long slot with just one song. (It turns out he has many songs! And that he is pure joy!) Britney Spears’s name is being invoked an inexplicable amount of times – many convinced she’ll drop in for a cameo during Elton’s set on Sunday, despite a Princess Diana hologram being a more realistic stage partner. A Dua Lipa appearance feels a more likely scenario, along with the conveniently-touring-the-UK-but-not-this-week Kiki Dee. Watch it be Dave Grohl, though, just to troll us all.

Even Lana Del Rey, performing later (not, in a controversial move considering the all-male line-up of headliners, on the main Pyramid Stage, but on The Other Stage), feels rooted in a specific kind of nostalgia — she is gloomy, romantic kitsch refracting back at us the fakeries of American myth.

All of this, anyway, pulsates beneath the slightly suffocating swell of too many people in a too-hot place. It often falls on the wrong side of chaos. Clubs and bars near the Arcadia stage become untenable past 11pm, venues rammed and revellers spilling out into the makeshift streets. You can just about decipher the songs being played inside, before being swept up in the crowds of people snaking through to get to other parts unknown.

Everyone here, sartorially speaking, is representative of one of four different tribes: ASOS’s finest; the Kate Moss; the Lanzarote dad; the “I’m mad, me!” The cowboy trend we kept hearing about is present but not overwhelming: I see a few flowery Wild West hats, but barely any flared trousers, and not a single ironic spur. For shame!

Bathed in golden nostalgia: Revellers enjoy the sunset on day two at Glastonbury
Bathed in golden nostalgia: Revellers enjoy the sunset on day two at Glastonbury (Getty Images)

Celebrity spotting also proves tricky. There are reports of Paul and Stella McCartney, Princess Beatrice (!) and Kate Hudson, who is now so synonymous with hanging backstage at Glastonbury that she may as well be the festival’s mascot. I think I spy Paddy Considine, but it turns out to be some guy. I break out my deerstalker and magnifying glass to try to find Bill Murray, rumoured paramour of West Holts Stage Friday headliner Kelis, but have no luck. Her eventual set is euphoric, slinky and Bill-less.

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It’s too busy to focus on this kind of thing anyway, when you’re otherwise overwhelmed by set clashes and how long it takes to move from place to place. I had heard a rumour that Cate Blanchett would join Sparks for a song at the Park Stage (she did, of course), but seeing her in person would have meant crossing back and forth between my campsite, past the enormous flame-shooting mechanical spider and back up to Kelis, and my back was sweaty. Maybe she’ll duet with Elton, too, just for my personal benefit.

Time here is both entirely meaningless and all anyone can talk about. Breakfast is an unholy combination of cheese, sautéed potatoes and guacamole served at 11 in the morning. Dinner is a caramel shortbread slice at 1am. Others debate how the line-up compares to last year’s, whether the “vibes” are the same as they used to be, how nothing’s been any good since Dolly Parton in 2014. People seem to track their lives by Glastonbury, using it as a litmus test for how they’re doing in the present moment.

Rick Astley covers AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ on drums during an impressive Glastonbury set

At around 3am in the early hours of Friday, I hear two men outside my tent having a confessional under the stars. “For the last few years, I’ve been working on myself pretty hard,” one of them says. “So this is all a bit strange.” They drift off before I hear the rest of his story.

I talk to Claire, a woman from Leicester who last came to Glastonbury when she was 19 — today she’s 28. “It definitely feels different to how it used to be,” she tells me. “But I think I just put up with a lot less now. It feels like a big adventure when you’re younger, but now it feels more like hard work.”

The last time I was here was when I was seven years old in 1999, tiny and anxious with a mop of blond curls. Now I’m writing about it in a press tent watching Caitlin Moran chat with her mates and Zadie Smith getting her water bottle refilled. It’s funny how this place puts it all into perspective.

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