Glastonbury Festival 2017 will most be remembered, not just as the year with the best weather on record, but also as the year it put politics back at the forefront. Politics that starts debates on society, power, wealth and poverty, refugees, environment, climate change, unions, equality, wellbeing, rights and justice, and local viable economies. The sparks for this new ignition of political activists were the two speeches by Jeremy Corbyn. But, it wasn’t just him, it was LeftField, and the Greenfields, speakers like Yanis Varoufakis, the headliners Radiohead, and bands like Boy Better Know, Stormzy, Billy Bragg, She Drew The Gun, and a terrific set by Kate Tempest that also highlighted that Glastonbury Festival gives the space for open political organization and creativity.
The fact the spotlight was so focused on Corbyn’s appearance on the Pyramid stage left some people (mainly on the right) frustrated that Glastonbury Festival had ‘suddenly’ been politicized by the appearance of Jeremy Corbyn.
The voices of dissent clearly unaware of the event’s roots, who didn’t know the founder and farmer Michael Eavis once ran as a local candidate for the Labour Party, and that he once sheltered the Peace Convoy from a brutal police force. They were unaware David Beckham was there to open the farmer’s local social housing programme.
In a relatively short time the political landscape of this country has been very changed, back when I first went to Glastonbury Festival, in 1990, just going to the CND supporting Festival was a political act that put you on a blacklist. It was an act that I lost my job over back in the early nineties, for being a supporter of Glastonbury’s alternative movement.
The politics at this year’s Festival was not just about the Labour Party, and not just the oft heard rallying cry of “Ooo Jeremy Corbyn!” that the young crowds repeatedly chanted. But, all over the site, every day there were ordinary conversations happening about political issues not just between Festivalgoers, but also performers, and comedians, in the site wide artworks, and songs and poetry.
Glastonbury Festival had, it seems consciously, this year put its political roots, and its anti-establishment stance back at the forefront. For many it felt so good, after last year’s Brexit result, to hear young people, who have seen Corbyn overcome supposed inevitable defeat again and again, now firmly believing that they don't have to believe the lie that they can't change anything with their vote – this year it was, as Shangri-La repeatedly lauded about ‘Truth’. For the old hands of Leftfield it was good to see a new generation coming through and getting so active politically.
The Festival is the product of the Eavis family's passion for music and social justice - with pop and politics at the heart of the event. The fact Leftfield has (nearly) always been there, the fact that the naughty corner exists is down to that alternative spirit and the counter culture that Glastonbury was at the forefront of. It was repeated in Shangri-La’s many anti-globalisation posters. The fact it embraced metal and grindcore from those acts defiantly against corporate corruption for the first time, and made it clear that in the face of Brexit and Trump ‘apathy is a curse’, and please ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ get involved, this is about you and your world. A world polluted by the waste of consumerism, and what we can do about it. The need for us all to look at reuse, to recycle, to waste less, to strive to be greener, and to create a new reconomy.
In the words of Tracy Chapman, the youth were “talking about a revolution” and it was affirming to see it in progress. You won’t read about in the main press. There are vested interests behind the attempts to rubbish the people leading it, and the Festival itself in supporting it. But my abiding thought from the week in a colourful world of flags and sun is that our youth are too angry about what is happening to be put down, and they are ready to take action to address the injustices they witness.
Glastonbury may be riding high on the ideals of a more equal society but the main stage has Greenpeace emblazoned on it, and it has a large Greenpeace presence. Yet, still, many attendees seem unwilling to consider their own environments around the, let alone care for their wider world.
Students, anti-frackers, tree huggers, greenies, and eco-warriors were all the subject of vitriol for leaving the site afterwards in such a mess. It’s a criticism I find hard to defend against. Whilst I personally endeavored to leave no trace, cleaning the grass under me of the small pile of rubbish generated eating delicious meals and took everything we brought home with us. Glastonbury still has a huge problem getting their audience to realise that it’s also about the green issues, the environment and the rubbish we generate. Shangri-La highlighted the rubbish left behind, and the fans still ignored it or moaned about it. Whole camping areas were still abandoned like the Mary Celeste and whilst an improvement overall, the images of it are used by the media to downplay the efforts of those fighting for a greener society.
It’s the next crucial stage of the process, it’s why the establishment are making jokes about who attends the event, and it’s something that may come too late now. We heard in the Greenfields forums on climate change. Here it was brought home that experts have warned that entire ecosystems are already beginning to collapse, that summer sea ice is disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs are dying from the heat.
After it’s fallow year next year, Glastonbury Festival will return in 2019, just one year before the year 2020. A year that ecologists warn is crucially important for if emissions continue to rise beyond it, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris will become unattainable. We thought this year at Glastonbury Festival the temperatures were hot, but they’ll be hotter still when Glastonbury returns with more record breaking summer temperatures, unless drastic change is campaigned for now.
As Corbyn said in his Leftfield speech, “We cannot go on destroying, damaging, polluting, and degrading our planet at the rate we are.”
Arcadia hosted guests from the Whadjuk Noongar Nation, Australia, and the Indigenous Lakota Water Protectors from Standing Rock who performed earth ceremonies in the hope of awakening people to the need to protect our land and our water. It was also water, refugees, and climate change that once again the Greenfields focused on. Alongside their staple fare - educating the throngs on alternative energy, permaculture, and sustainable living. With the weather so pleasant and the site so traversable it was good to see so many taking to these fields to be educated on the alternative to the media pushed all consuming consumerist lifestyles. To realise there’s a widespread fight against the Tory elite’s plans to frack the country.
The healing fields too were well attended with all those alternatives to pharmaceuticals generating a lot of interest, not just from those used to the positive effects of a bit of muscle massage, or getting away from the crowds for a bit of me space and quiet meditation. But, again the youth were interested in the benefits of practices to offer respite from mental and self image issues, and depression. We’ve had politicians on the main stages at Glastonbury Festival but how often do we hear from healers and those trying to change the way we treat the world we live in.
Talking of main stages I suppose for many Glastonbury is just about the music. Which this year offered a fantastic range of musicians that drew crowds to every stage of the site. The numbers on site, and the crowds prepared to move from stage without mud to slow them down, meant the site was obviously crowded for popular attractions. The Craft Area still offered the chance to create something creative, as an archer I was tempted to make a longbow and forge a few arrowheads. But whilst the talk was of ‘Resist’ and ‘Revolution’ I didn’t feel an uprising was necessary!
The Theatre and Circus area was busy but it’s many covered areas seemed less packed than in years when the crowds seek shelter from the rain. The Kidz Field seemed rammed at times, and perhaps needs some expansion for all those future activists to fit in it.
With so many venues at capacity, organisers must surely be considering introducing a new area or two when they return to help spread the numbers.
The late night areas seemed a little less crowded with audiences perhaps more attracted to the Dance Village, and newer south west corner and the fire belching Arcadia (amazing show Arcadians), and The Park’s late night venues, than the traditional South East naughty corner. Or, perhaps the Worthy Warrior community campsite areas within the campsites fostered revellers to stay around the fire in the campsite. Maybe it was the two late night cinemas with The Pilton Palais now joined by an outdoor ‘drive-in’ venue of crazy mutoid vehicles from the inspired mind of Joe Rush. It could also have been the lack of mud underfoot opening up access through wider walkways to micro-venues. Whatever the reasons the late night areas of Glastonbury Festival felt less overcrowded than previous years.
This year also boasted a first, not a single flushing toilet on site, and if you are male there were little issues with visiting urinals, but at times the queues of ladies needing facilities were long. The she-pee approach appears not to have worked. And yet, it was still mainly young men who tried to relieve themselves in the hedges, often under torrents of abuse from the passing crowds. It was less prevalent than previous years but still unacceptable, perhaps the Green Police need to make a return?
There seemed to be more caterers than ever before, food and drink both reasonably priced, with many offering a £5 meal deal, and around the same price for a pint. There was a great range of new craft bars appearing this year, but much less to appeal to the real (non-fizzy) cider drinkers, and less choice in real ale than usual offered at the various main bars. But at least there was real ale provided by Otter Breweries nearly everywhere this year.
I saw no trouble over the week I was there, except the occasional drug bust as I entered or left the gate from the campervan fields each day. The police presence whilst slightly higher profile were good natured as ever, taking selfies and wearing the occasional flower garland or the like. The security were top drawer, if I didn’t know better I’d say they were straight out of the ranks of the forces. They all seemed so much more alert than the usual hi-vis wearers. As we melted in the heat of the Wednesday they issued bottled water to the crowds even carrying them out to access points to provide water to those not near to the barriers. With the Water Aid kiosks not yet open this service proved vital in staying hydrated in the 30C+ heat.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to thank everyone who makes this amazing event possible. It’s still far and away the best festival this country offers for diversity. Headliners Radiohead did a set that appealed to fans, and if they can’t do that at Glastonbury where can they do it? They even played all the big hits, rare for them, as a fan I loved it. Not sure if ‘You And Whose Army’ was a planned addition, but after the Corbyn chants it fitted perfectly.
Foo Fighters were terrific providing a hi energy singalong and making a heartfelt dedication to LWP (from Devon) who is a local inspiration for fighting until the end against her cancer. The crowd at Rag n Bone Man created one of those never to be forgotten moments. Liam Gallagher drew a big crowd, and The Killers were Emily’s big surprise, whilst Elbow helped The Park to celebrate 10 years. This was the year the Underground Piano Bar moved, the whole of Shangri-La’s posters went from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ and their 360 visual sight the Bomb debuted, and we even visited the Amazon’s Munduruku people through VR.
No doubt Michael Eavis declared it the best yet, but this year I think he was correct. As the Festival takes a year out, it seemed as though every area of the Festival was on top form. A strong line-up and the near perfect weather helped.
Glastonbury is still the flagship event of festivals in this country, still holding off intense corporate branding, and offering a wealth of performing arts alongside the music. Though I do feel there were sections of the audience more keen on image, appropriating cultural images, and bum bags than their fellow Festivalgoers. It’s still the best value for money, and the most fun you can have in a field (better than running through one Theresa).
A huge thanks to the organisers, to the volunteers, the staff, crews, those who created and inspired, and the bookers who delivered acts that gave terrific performances - you can read all about those in other reviews elsewhere.
If you want a ticket to 2019’s Festival, remember you will first need to register, and tickets are expected to be on sale in October next year - the wait won’t seem that long.
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