As you walk around the Glastonbury Festival site in 2014, you have to wonder just how much of Worthy Farm, which hosts the Festival, has been altered over the years to accommodate an event which happens for just five days most years. Okay for many of the support staff, it's a case of being on site for perhaps up to as much as 2 months, but it's still fact that the fields under your feet have been subtly altered over recent years.
Why do I mention this? Well, I've been going to the Festival since 1990 and have seen huge areas of the site almost disappear under mud, and although it had not rained in the weeks leading up to the festival, Somerset got majorly flooded earlier in the year and the water table is still pretty full.
The Thunderstorm which brought the lightning which stopped play for an hour or so, also brought with it enough rain to fill the empty paper pint glass on the table beside me at the time. That much rain should have enveloped the festival in mud, but instead major hidden drainage, and installed hard standing meant we barely noticed the mud underfoot much of the time. All that tinkering with grazing land doesn't come cheap and it isn't there for the herd of dairy cows' benefit.
What also doesn't come cheap is the building of huge concrete 'long drops' pits a couple of stories deep in the ground, to hold the waste from hundreds of thousands of revellers, yet they had pretty much replaced the old squarebox toilet cubicle design.
Then there's the water reservoirs to provide us all with drinking water, and the solid structures that acts as stages (the iconic Pyramid), venues, playgrounds (in the case of the wooden 'pirate' ship), and even the stone circle. Again all there in the fields for us to enjoy for less than a week. The Pyramid structure is not, as many believe, used as a barn the rest of the year.
The Eavis family have given their land over all year around for us to feel comfortable on, and they've also given over their time, the mammoth task of bringing thousands of acts to hundreds of stages takes a whole year to plan, and along with that comes the annual review of how to improve things each year.
The Festival relies on many different Festival types coming together in the various fields to put all the disparate parts together to make a united whole, it's a major exercise in collectivism.
This year there were a few major changes to the site, though you wouldn't know if you looked at the map in the fine guide, as it was last year's. Late night venue Arcadia, the giant mechanical 'spider' and home of fire and lasers, took it's tornado that blasted nightly into the sky, as a visible marker from much of the site, to a new location this year, and it's new home suited.
At times over crowding was an issue and it may need a tiny bit more space, but it has found a home now, it felt the right location for it. Like a cuckoo it took up residence last year in the home of The Glade amongst the trees. With it having flown the nest, The Glade was able to return and recapture the space, and it was a welcome return to see the canopies, lights, bespoke stage, and installations. It also smuggled in a spaceport, and secret wooden path venue set among the trees, with underlighting and more changes to the farm's landscape. My only slight gripe is a lack of loos for the whole Glade/Other Stage left area and the one longdrop block at the entrance to Pennards had massive queues at night.
Arcadia's independent sibling Mutoid Waste also moved this year, from the late night area to Glebeland and set up their mass of metal and vehicles there to bring us a show each night. I'm not sure the location worked, Being at the top of the hill, meant audiences could not really see the show very well, perhaps they will be elsewhere next year, in a more suitable location.
In the same field the Summer House, with it's front of stage deckchairs also moved, but this was a decent relocation, near to the Glastonbury Free Press who were charging £5 a print this year, hardly free!
Most of the rest of the site changes were cosmetic, bars were now clad in BoomTown style building frontages, tweaks were made to layouts, and additional signage and access routes meant the site was even easier to both navigate and traverse, unless you were using last year's map.
This year there was more happening on the first two days of the Festival than ever before and that meant more people arriving early and getting out and enjoying it. Many people who had only been based around the main stages, an area often referred to as 'Babylon' found they had time and sunshine to explore the craft, healing, green, circus and theatre areas, and this resulted in a more even balance of people across the site for the rest of the weekend.
Well up until Sunday, when country music legend Dolly Parton took to the stage, I was in the much improved Silver Hayes Dance Village, reworked last year it had implemented minor improvements and the Boat Party, iconic Sonic Stage with cubehenge, and the shanty town feel of The Blues, and Gully really have made the place feel unique. Usually the walk from there to the Pyramid is fairly straightforward, but with 20 minutes until Dolly was set to take to the stage the queue to the Pyramid field stretched to the edge of Lower Mead near the John Peel Stage. Eventually we ended up on the flanks of the farm, high up on the steep bank which overlook the site, among a throng who were looking at a crowd that filled not just the Pyramid Arena, but the space beside tents in the surrounding campsites of Webbs Ash, Hakwell, Row Mead, and Big Ground. We could also see it was packed all around the Cider Bus and back towards the markets. I've never seen such a big crowd at the Festival, it was incredible. The delay between the sound and pictures reaching us, made it look as though we were watching a very out of sync performance.
As for the rest of the acts? Well, I'm only one person, and there's no way I could do justice to the line-up by even attempting to review it, but suffice it to say all the headliners site wide drew decent crowds, as did the three main Pyramid Stage headliners. 2014 will also be remembered (along with Dolly) as also being the first year a metal act has headlined, and the first I think Nik Turner of Space Ritual fame hasn't played!
For me Metallica were the highlight of the weekend, closely followed by Steve Hillage giving Gong a reboot, and The Radiophonic Workshop getting me dancing and singing along to theme tunes! Other highlights included Yoko Ono doing her thing, Attila the Stockbroker celebrating his 25th anniversary at Glastonbury, and French troupe Airnadette doing a show entirely constructed from audio clips, very clever, and I wonder how long it took to put together! Probably the act making the biggest impression this year was Royal Blood, personally I loved Pretty Lights, Turtle Island, The War on Drugs, Above & Beyond, and many more too. Robert Plant was also terrific, and returns later in the year to Glastonbury to headline the Abbey Concert, his reworked sound is sure to sound terrific in that setting.
I've no complaint about the pricing of food and drink this year, it all seemed to be about the same as last year, around £4.50 for a pint, and snacks available for around £3.50, main meals around the £6.50-£8 mark, but what did seem to fluctuate was the quality on offer, with some of the better food places, not all, to be found away from Babylon. This year's personal favourite eating haunts being mainly in and around the Greenfields, West Holts and William's Green.
I thought Sunday's programming of Ballet on the main stage was a great idea, with
Billy Bragg and the World War 1 imagery riffing on Metallica's 'One' visuals of the night before. It was moving for many, and paves the way for more exploration of other arts on main stages in future years I hope. The Festival has offered the English National Opera, and Archaos Theatre Troupe slots in the past although it's promotion of Performing Arts on the main stages has been pretty minimal, but it's nice to show new crowds there is something else available on site.
Another thing I'd forgotten Glastonbury did, was play informative films between acts, particularly worth noting the 'Don't Go Back To The 80s' video which with a little help from Pat Sharp clearly gave the crowds the message about the stupidity of more Weapons Of Mass Destruction on our soil. I wonder if the BBC Coverage carried the same message, as the stage which boasted a large CND sign of chrome and engines on it's apex. More sobering were the 'What To Do If Stabbed', and the plight of many in 'Wateraid' videos.
Of course there was much campaigning present elsewhere at Glastonbury, something many festivals don't bother with. But it was good to see, especially as Leftfield and the Festival celebrated the life of Tony Benn. High on the agenda were the majors like Wateraid, Greenpeace (with it's giant polar bear), and Oxfam, but also making a big impression was the anti-fracking campaign, the White Ribbon campaign, the Everyone Everywhere campaign, and more. For the old campaigners Billy Bragg singing the hymn 'Jerusalem' for Tony Benn, was a moment for all those who were there.
Art was also in abundance with (almost) resident artist Banksy (though his bins, loos, and fence work of previous years was absent) brought a van full of shrieking stuffed animals which made you think for a second before chowing down on another pulled pork roll, and the wealth of vegetarian food has always been a great part of the Festival.
I also found a shop selling light changing T-shirts, what a trip down memory lane think Global Hypercolour without the hot armpits, in this case a black and white shirt becomes a riot of colour when it's hit by UV light.
Hours of fun where to be had late at night with the South East 'Naughty Corner' proving the biggest attraction with Heaven taking a tip from Hell with a big outdoor stage this year and more amazing videomapping. The BladeRunner inspired alleyways were gone replaced with a workplace inspired Departments Of Hell theme, and more crazy antics. Most unnerving of all were the men fishing above the crowd with £20 notes as bait.
For those wanting an escape nearby was the stone circle with a big opening night fire, and the nearby gentle world of the Tipi field, and the Stone Dragon, plus the secret Piano Bar, numerous silent discos, and small acoustic stages, plus someone must have bought a job lot of pianos as there were various chances to make your own entertainment with a very old school knees up.
Every year Glastonbury seems a bit slicker and a bit more precisely thought out, gone are the rough edges, but it still offers a huge wealth of experiences, that you just can't capture through a TV screen, whilst I do appreciate the move to long drops I think for many young women in particular it proved challenging for them to use them, and that may put a few of the ladies off. I hope not.
This year there was a clear generation shift, with a noticeable new crop of fresh faced youth coming for the first time, those carrying flags saying things like Living Wage, Workers Rights, waving Cuban flags and the attendance at some of the more socio-political forums saw a new breed of youngsters fighting for their world. It's good to see that the ideals of Glastonbury are still as important as they were when it started.
Michael Eavis revealed during a press conference he is considering stepping down from the organising of the event when it celebrates the 50th edition in 2020 although he didn't suggest the Festival itself would be stopping then. The farmer who turns 79 next year, also commented (as he nearly always does) that he has all three headliners in place for next year, and added there would be another fallow year in 2017.
I'll pause for a moment to remember the two people who died this year, before adding that all those involved need to be heartily thanked, and in the words of Fleetwood Mac, "So long, got to leave your land. Many thanks, it was might grand!"
It's likely demand will once again be huge, but I hope I'll be getting a ticket again as it's my own personal 25th Anniversary of going next year. Much like it has for the farmland, it has become part of the fabric of my life now. Myself, and many others! Long may it continue to inspire, educate, and entertain generations in future.
In the words of Tony Benn, "Glastonbury is a fantastic event. So many young people in a community which is self-governing and tolerant. It confirms my belief that despite everything, humanity really does want to get on with itself. Michael Eavis is a genius for making it happen."
Registration for 2015 is open already. Everyone who plans to the come the Festival must register, and that includes children aged 13, 14 and 15. Each ticket sold will feature a photograph of the person in whose name it is registered and will be non-transferable. Registration did not reserve or guarantee you a ticket when they went on sale, but if you don't register you will not be able to buy a weekend ticket for Glastonbury Festival 2015.
Online registration for 2015 is free and can be carried out by clicking here.
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