Glastonbury returns to provide another glorious 5 days

Glastonbury Festival 2022 review

By Katharina | Published: Thu 30th Jun 2022

around the site

Wednesday 22nd to Sunday 26th June 2022
Worthy Farm, Pilton, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 4AZ, England MAP
around £265 (sold out)
Daily capacity: 210,000
Last updated: Mon 30th May 2022

The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is back, finally, for its 50th anniversary! How we have missed it, how we have anticipated it and held on to the precious tickets from 2020, in the hope that it would return in all its glory. It even states 2020 on our tickets, a nice touch that they decided to not print new ones, reducing the environmental impact.

Normally, I would have arrived on Thursday, but there’s a rail strike and so I decided to make the most of it and changed my train journey to Wednesday, the gap day between the strikes. Services from London still affected, somewhat, but eventually, the shuttle bus decanted us all onto the hot and dusty parking area at Gate A, and one of the advantages of being late is that the queues have dispersed!

The site looked great in the sunshine, a little altered, expanded, contracted here and there, but very familiar. This is my 19th festival, I started going in the 1990s (yes, I am getting on a bit). It must be quite overwhelming to negotiate this large site as it is now, for the first time. And judging by how fresh faced almost everyone around me looked, there are probably a lot of novices about, the average crowd age seemed much younger than usual to me.

I spent my first evening finding my partner (who got there earlier and pitched the tent – thank you!) and meeting up with old friends and acquaintances at the traditional eFestivals forum meeting, sampling the food and drinks from favourite haunts near the West Holts stage. This festival food is varied and often delicious, if expensive, although the organisers encourage stalls to offer some deals for a fiver, they can be found, a nourishing bowl of rice and dhal, for example. It helps.  If you ever wondered whether there’s a vegetarian (or vegan, even), buried deep inside of you, this is a great place to try and awaken it.  Not that there is a shortage of pies, burgers and hot dogs - if you are not feeling experimental, so be it. Everyone is being catered for.

Later, we strolled up to the sacred space for the opening fire ceremony, well, we tried to – there’s quite serious crowd control going on, and we had to find a long way round, but we got there in the end and it wasn’t as crowded as feared.

We got properly re-acquainted with the site and the bars of Thursday, spent some time in the Greenfields, one of my favourite areas, although I tend to neglect it a bit once the music starts. Williams Green is one of the stages permitted to have live bands on Thursday evening and it is usually packed as there aren’t many alternatives. We didn’t bother with it. And yes, it was packed, apparently. We sampled a bit of System 7 at the Glade (now a bigger stage next to the old one). There’s a screening of Who Killed the KLF at the new Cineramageddon area, but there’s also Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (yes, 7 times, I got that right) playing the Truth stage in Shangri-La, so we tried to get there early. I know that there is a relatively low limit on  speaker capacity in force on Thursdays, but the Pigsx7 make my eardrums bleed somewhat, anyway. Artwork addressing global problems covered the Truth stage, and Roger Hallam (Extinction Rebellion) wound his way through the waiting crowd, handing out leaflets with the stop oil messages. You are never very far from a message and an activists on this side of the festival. Greta Thunberg got to speak on the main stage, though, on Saturday. Appropriately, we finished the night at the Toadhole stage in the Green Fields, listening to a fine eclectic band called Global. Although that is probably a reference to them using instruments from around the world (yes, digeridoo featured).

The benefit of a relatively early night? I was in reasonable shape to get to the Other Stage to see The Libertines opening on Friday (big crowd), watched for about half an hour, as I was actually on my way to the Pyramid to see Ziggy Marley doing a tribute to his father’s music. Now, there is a lot of controversy about should/shouldn’t which would completely derail a humble festival review, but all I can say, he and his band do this really, really well, and as someone who was born too late (and in the wrong place/Eastern bloc) to get to see the original, this is as close as I can get and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Strange to consider that Ziggy, the oldest son, is now quite a bit older that his father ever got to be (and his dreads are at least twice a long). He is steeped in this musical tradition, he can do this.

Swinging past West Holts for a pear cider, I got to see the end of Afrooj Aftab’s moving set, I don’t get to hear a female Sufi singer live often (although, WOMAD will be back this year too, and I am so going to be there), and the start of Greentea Peng’s , more rebel music in a new vein (I think my 14 year old son would love her – and be surprised to find me listening to her).

And then we had little problem as Dry Cleaning (Park Stage) clashed with Wolf Alice, and choosing Wolf Alice spared us the sight of the Wet Leg related crowd problems up on the Park. Phew. Just serendipity. And Wolf Alice seemed touchingly pleased to finally get to play where they wanted to play back in 2020. We stuck around for Robert Plant and Allison Krauss and got rewarded with them doing – a Calexico cover? Lots of covers, actually, but this one was the biggest surprise, and a very welcome one too, we both really like that band and saw them recently at the Forum in Kentish Town.

Then, another clash of clashes, between a great line up at John Peel (Jesus and Mary Chain, followed by Primal Scream) and Khruangbin at the Park. And we opted for Khruangbin. We’d seen them play the Park a couple of years ago, around mid day, seemingly just for us and a few dozen people, and I am clearly out of the loop, I had no idea that they are now so popular. The Park is rammed. Though not as badly as for Wet Leg, apparently. There’s a future for psychedelia, if Khruangbin can attract that many followers. Four Tet turn out not to be quite my thing, so downhill again to the Glade stage, where a rejuvenated Gong are playing more psychedelic rock with a great swirling backdrop of light. I don’t think anyone who is playing in Gong now was in the original line up, and again, there is a principled debate to be had on this topic – elsewhere. But it was a most enjoyable gig, if one likes that kind of material.  And then it’s time for The Egg who are played Ancient Futures in the Tipi Field – with Gaudi guesting this time, no less. The best music to dance to. Ever. If you like your dance music live, try them. They play every Glastonbury, and usually more than once (3 times this year). The rest of the night was spend ambling around various areas, admiring structures and decorations (That Unfair Ground! The Greenpeace tree at night!) and sitting by fires.

Saturday morning, I found myself at the John Peel stage as GO_A got going.  Bit of a coincidence, I was just looking for a place with a good phone signal. I was meant to be at West Holts, watching Kikagaku Moyo, but I never got there in time, being quite mesmerised by the passion GO_A displayed. They are Ukrainian, and apart from driven and soaring electro folk, they have a mission now. I got quite emotional, but more of that later. I hope Kikagaku Moyo are on iplayer, though. After chilling for a while in the Avalon Field, with quite manageable crowds, and getting re-acquainted with Grace Petrie (political song writing from Leicester) and Molotov Jukebox (Natalia Tena), we wanted to check out the situation at the Pyramid, because being there was the plan for the evening after Richard Thomson at the Acoustic - well this one did not pan out as Mr Thomson had to cancel (he was replaced by Ralph McTell).

So, back to the main stage to find a good spot for the evening; we did, close to the second line of speakers, no crowding problems, good view of screens, and I don’t mind watching Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds for a while, actually. Funny that he takes the slot before Paul McCartney, the Saturday night headliner on the Pyramid, giving me a moment of hilarious deja vu – we have been in a similar situation before, with Primal Scream playing the Pyramid, just before the Rolling Stones in 2014. Must be almost like a tribute act opening for you, and they all have the same problem, the crowd wants to hear their greatest hits, and isn’t that interested in the new stuff. And they know it. Noel commented on it, and so did Paul, a bit later. Though the latter is pretty much at a stage of life and career where he can do as he pleases. And so he does just that. He plays something very old, and something very new, and the great medleys from the Abbey Road album, something I had not dared to hope for. And he makes use of his contacts (this man’s address book must be quite something) to invite friends, so Dave Grohl and Springsteen turn up to play just for a few songs with him (Glory Days! Quite an inspired choice of song.) and Dave Grohl looks happy. Last picture I saw of him was taken at an airport, just after Taylor Hawkins’ untimely death, and he was distraught, in tears (I wish I hadn’t seen this, btw, it felt intrusive). Perhaps this gig cheers him up, who knows what the future of the Foo’s will look like. A really good set, all in all. Must watch a repeat. And find some people to sing Hey Jude with, when drunk.

I would have liked to see the Waterboys at the Acoustic stage, but the McCartney gig is really special, and overruns quite a lot, he went well past curfew back in 2005 too, I remember. So there will be another fine to pay. I hope the locals will forgive us. He is unlikely to headline Glastonbury again, after all. He’s 80 years old now. Mind, Herbie Hancock is 82 – and played a great set on the Pyramid on Sunday.

We got a bit merry at the cider bus after this, meeting some friends and.... my memory is a bit hazy here, but at some point I woke up in the tent being quite annoyed with myself for having fallen asleep instead of going over to see The Egg again, at 3am at the Rabbit Hole. Ah well, should have paced myself better.

On Sunday, Ukrainians DakhaBrakha are playing, no, have to say performing, at the Pyramid. We’d seen them at WOMAD a couple of years ago and really enjoyed their energetic and spell binding mish-mash of different traditions, mostly unknown to us. But this time they have themed their set to hammer home the message of how their country is suffering, and it is very powerful, moving, and sad, although they try to finish on an upbeat note, with a song about the return of spring. Cried a bit (it’s good to wear sunglasses). Slava Ukrayini! Heroyam slava! I have no idea how they manage to retain some optimism in the face of so much adversity.

Stayed for Herbie Hancock, and then fled from the churn that was created by the enormous crowd of George Ezra’s audience, rolling over to see Diana Ross, who we did not want to see. There. I’ve said it. Each to their own, her following is big enough without me. Spent some time at West Holts instead, watching Nubya Garcia (more fine Jazz), and then decided to make an early move to the Park for the “secret” Jack White gig. Also really wanted to see Jarv Is right afterwards and was a bit worried about not getting into the Park area based on some crowd problems we anticipated (although apart from the George Ezra exodus, which we waited out on the side lines, as one in our group was using a mobility scooter, we’d been really lucky avoiding crowd crushes so far). Turned out the Jack White crowd was quite manageable, and I enjoyed his set, but I enjoyed Jarvis Cocker even more. Good to have him back. First time I heard him play as/with Jarv Is.

We tried a bit of Bicep afterwards, but like Four Tet, it was not for me (should have tried to get to the lovely Strays at BBC introducing - regrets, I have a few) so took a wander around the South East corner and finally settled in Strummerville, taking in the view of the site and finishing on a gentle note. I would have liked to potter up to the new lotus structure near the Crows Nest, but did not quite have enough energy left in the end. Only so many hills I can climb in one night. But what a view from Strummerville, what a great couple of days, and altogether, what a great crowd. There’s the view that the festival has lost its edge a little as the crowds are too compliant. I don’t share it. There is quite enough “edge” in the world already. Back in 1995, I was camped opposite the Other stage, and every tent was robbed over the course of 2 nights – in my case, they took the whole tent with everything in it. There are some things about the old days that I miss – and quite a few that I do not miss at all.

So, any problems and room for improvement? Of course.

Toilets, let’s make this eternal bugbear short. Yes, thousands of people produce a massive amount of gunk, and in hot weather, it will smell. We got to live with that. I think a primitive toilet is a small price to pay for all the fun to be had. It will never be like home (or if it is, I feel sorry for your home and its inhabitants!). But the site needs more toilets now, particularly in the camping areas. The queues just never dispersed. It’s one thing to be caught out when a large crowds leaves the Pyramid field (think ahead!), but a queue in a camping area that lasts all day and almost all of the night is a sign of not enough loos. And, like some modern offices, they seem to have gone entirely paperless? Sure, I expect them to run out sometimes and come prepared, but there never was any, all week long, wherever I went. Next time I’ll know. On the up side, hand sanitizer bottles must have got refilled around the clock. Never came across an empty one.

Crowd management. The site is massive, I actually think it is big enough for the slightly increased number of attendees. But. The days when one could keep a gig or late announcement secret are long over, and we all know why. Even with a patchy phone signal, you cannot keep it under wraps. Hence, I strongly believe it is high time to put the big-acts-on-smaller-stages-are-cool idea to rest. You want to do a late announcement for George Ezra, to keep an element of surprise (or perhaps he hasn’t confirmed yet)? Fine, but you need to find a slot on the Other stage then – somewhere that has the space to take his followers. They will all find out and want to be there. They do not fit into the John Peel tent/area. Never. And most of them will then want to go and see Diana Ross, as this is also a main stream act with a massive following and scheduled just after, so far so predictable. The problem wasn’t so much the sheer number of people on site, it was their distribution. There seem to have been some major problems around the Park and Arcadia at night, and yet, we also spent a lot of time in pleasantly uncrowded areas (Avalon, Green Fields). There seems to be a large appetite for the bigger acts now. Perhaps, just a change of demographics and taste that goes with it? We need some proper clashes of big mainstream acts, and no more big acts on small-ish stages. The crowd was by and large very good natured and pliable, this problem can be solved by co-ordination.

Finally one of my personal bugbears: that Stonebridge Bar at the Park stage. Not about what they sell – but it is too loud. Much too loud. Fine if they want to torment their staff and make them and the customers yell at each other (one reason I hardly ever buy a drink there, it is torture), but they could at least turn it down a bit when someone like Jarv IS plays the stage. Seriously, if you are at the back of the crowd their thumping music drowns out the main performer, and whilst there always is some sound bleed at a festival (Ralph McTell was not that happy about what was wafting into his performance from the Pyramid stage when he did his gig at the Acoustic tent), this level is completely unnecessary. Just turn it down for a while. I want to hear the performer, particularly if it is someone who has to say something between songs. Someone have a word with the bar’s management. Please? Or move them to Silver Hayes, I am clutching at straws here.

But never mind. We had a glorious 5 days with almost perfect weather. It was a wrench to leave on Monday (although I was looking forward to a hot bath). Many thanks to the organisers, workers, performer and to the crowd in general, despite some crowd management problems here and there, I saw practically no aggression and very little deliberately inconsiderate behaviour; this bodes well for the future. No need to bash the youth of today, they do many things differently, but they do festivals very well in their own way for all I can see, and a site like this caters to a huge variety of tastes. Once I get to that sad stage of moaning that it isn’t how it used to be, I know it will be my time to quit. It sure is different now, but it is also very, very good.

Bring on 2023, that’s a nice thought to have, whilst queuing for the shuttle bus to Castle Cary  train station....

review by: Katharina

photos by: Raph Pour-Hashemi

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