By Andrew Simon Noel
Secret Sounds reporter Andrew Noel attends the legendary Glastonbury for the first time on one of its most historical times.
2013 was my first year attending the legendary festival that is Glastonbury, or to give it it’s full title; Glastonbury Festival for Contemporary Performing Arts. Having only attended Reading Festival before, and only in 2011, I was really eager to experience the more mature type of festival and, of course, witness some fantastic musical history in the making. Here is an account of my experiences at Glastonbury as a first timer.
Wednesday June 26th
After setting an alarm for 5.30 am in order to get to Oxford and catch the coach that would take me and my friend to the festival. We queued outside the Randolph hotel with other festival goers, all sat on their cases with their various assortments of tents and wellingtons. The coach journey from Oxford to the festival was about 2 and a half hours long, with obvious notable traffic building up around the festival, however once the coach was parked and the luggage unloaded it was relatively easy to get in. There was no big queue like I experienced with Reading, and we just strolled in, and walked through the festival to find a good camping spot. It was great to see all the different types of camping space for different types of people, such as family camping and space for people who had cycled to the festival.
We got lucky and found a nice little spot to the right of the Pyramid stage, near to the toilets and food stands as well. I was amazed throughout my stay at Glastonbury just how many people asked where the Pyramid stage was, despite it being right behind them. The rest of the day we spent looking around the site, including experiencing the amazing viewing area near the Park stage, where the entire festival can be seen, and it was incredible just to see the vast expanse of the festival, unlike any other festival of any kind I have ever seen. Later I would find out that the festival was actually about the size of my home town, plus a surrounding village. We spent the rest of the day taking in the colours and vibrant atmosphere of the festival, even before the music had started.
Thursday June 27th
Unfortunately on the Morning of this day my friend had to return home. She had been taken ill the night before and had spent the night sleeping at the welfare centre, which was full of very friendly and helpful volunteers, and she was taken home on the Thursday morning after not feeling any better. This was a massive shame, but at the same time, it gave me the chance to ‘jump in the deep end’, so to speak, by experiencing Glastonbury by myself.
I decided to have another look around the site, and got talking to a few people around the site, including a freelance photographer who gave me some tips on getting my stuff out there. I also witnessed two men having a ‘Jagger-off’ on one of the disabled viewing platforms, a sight which drew quite a crowd. There were plenty of shops around the festival; after all, Glastonbury Festival is like a town, with about 180,000 people in attendance (if you count the performers, workers and volunteers). There were shops which sold clothes, to vinyl records, to postcards and shops which sold little odds and ends. On the food it seemed to be largely faster food, Mexican, pizza, burgers, fish and chips, as well ostrich burgers, as well as pasta and lots of organic food stands as well, although after long days of standing up and walking around, fast food was quite appealing. Around the campsites, milk from Worthy farm and juice were sold from back of the bans as well, the organisers clearly taking advantage of the farm’s resources.
After a chill in the afternoon, the rain started coming down. Fortunately it was the only rain we had all weekend, but still turned the dry field walkways into puddle occupied mud paths. I went out to meet my friend who was stewarding at the festival, and we went to one of Glasto’s many bars, The Chameleon bar, after which we sampled one of the Brother’s bars. As you would have expected from a mainstream festival, the drinks weren’t exactly cheap, however for what you pay, you do get some decent alcohol, and the cider they sold was more than satisfying. After sampling some of the bars, we ventured out to Block 9, where we briefly sampled the quite humid and dark space, especially when full of people wherein ponchos and water drenched coats. Later on, I took a stroll through Silver Hayes and witnessed even more dance hilarity in the mud, too much amusement.
Friday June 28th
Friday was a busy day for myself in terms of music. Firstly there was an unannounced set on The Other stage, however after discovering that it was Beady Eye, I opted instead to check out the opening act on the Pyramid stage, who were Congolese band Jupiter and Okwess Orchestra. Glasto had a different African band opening the Pyramid each day, since music has been banned in several African countries. Many people in the crowd seemed to enjoy the music (some getting into it a lot more than others), and you couldn’t deny their beats were catchy, and they really got into their music, which in turn got the crowd into it.
After this, the music turned to the pop and rockier side, with LA sister act Haim taking to the stage, and I managed to get pretty much at the barrier. They’ve come really far, being relatively unheard of this time last year and now being played all over the radio and playing major festivals. They don’t let down the crowd either, playing their already popular hits and bringing the LA sun to Somerset. Even when bass player Este has to leave to stage due to feeling faint, the enthusiasm was not lost from the remaining members, and the cheers of the crowd really help Este through the remainder of the set. As a self confessed Haim fan, I have to say, they really did themselves proud. After them was Folk rocker Jake Bugg. While a popular one, his set was rather muted. Once you took out the stomping modern Folk anthem’s you’re left with some very quite acoustic numbers, which seemed a little out of place to such a vast crowd, and this was combined with Bugg’s quiet demeanour gave off a muted performance.
After Bugg’s set, (which finished with the crowd pleaser ‘Lightning Bolt’) I wandered over to the William’s Green tent to watch Savages. An untelevised tent, William’s Green showed more up and coming bands, and would be where I spent the majority of my time in the weekend. By the time I got to their, Savages set was already underway, and the tent was packed. I could barely see the stage, without standing on my tip toes. Despite this, Savages sounded amazing. They were pitch perfect, and Jehnny Beth’s vocals were even more raw and distinct live. Definitely one of the best bands I have heard live.
After this I proceeded over to the Other Stage, after a rather random conversation with 3 guys on what I should aspire to in life (don’t take drugs when you’re 30 and to ‘get my shit together’) which was hilarious. I had intended on seeing Tame Impala, and since there was nothing else on, and because I wanted a decent spot, I watched The Lumineers. Not usually a fan of the folkier side, I had to admit, they really knew how to pull a crowd. At one point the guitarist and accordion play waded through the crowd to about half way between the stage and the camera box to do a few songs. I had to tip my hat to them. A lot of people left after their set, Tame Impala still sort of falling into the ‘no-so-mainstream’ bracket, so I was able to get a very decent spot. I got talking to two girls before the set, discussing how we felt we were the only ones there for Tame Impala, and that everyone else was probably waiting for Alt-J. Even if this was the case though, Tame Impala produced a strong set which was unlike most bands’. They combined full songs with jams and shorter parts of other songs. It was such a psychedelic set, with backwards vocals, epic drum solos and complete breakdowns of songs, and left me buzzing, a complete musical high. ‘Sorry if I look like an old banana’ says Kevin Parker. It doesn’t matter though, it was totally epic. After this set, Alt-J took the stage. Due to their immense popularity, they attracted a massive roar from the crowd, and didn’t disappoint, performing their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’, pretty much in full. Their set was certainly moving, with sing-along’s to ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Breezeblocks’ no doubt going down in Glastonbury history. Alt-J seem to represent the band that has built themselves up to playing this festival, having come up from handing out demo CDs years before. Their set is very mellow, but is full of funky percussion and dub like synths.
Foals were next to take the stage, however I only stayed for a few of their songs, but, like Alt-J got the crowd going with their highly popular current tunes. Notably ‘My Number’, a personal favourite song of mine, which gets the crowd even from really far away dancing along, it’s that catchy. Talking of catchy tunes, I then promptly made my way back to the Pyramid stage, where I was forced to dance through the crowd of Dizzee Rascal in order to get back to my tent; everyone was loving life through that crowd. Once I was back there, I got to know my neighbours, due to a slight misfortune with tents. They realised I was by myself, and offered for me to join them anytime I liked. I was amazed at the kindness of this, certainly not a proposition I would have found at Reading Festival. I then proceeded to try and get a spot for Arctic Monkeys, were I knew my steward friend was. The crowd, however, was so packed, I could barely move, so I must have annoyed a fair amount of people trying to find room to breathe. Despite this though, the Arctic’s set was something special. They held their own on the Pyramid Stage, Alex Turner making the crowd sing happy birthday to his mum part way through their hit packed set, which didn’t fail to disappoint. Even from fairly far back, I couldn’t help but dance along to their songs. It’s not every day you see a guy butt-naked in the crowd dancing along as well. From ‘Teddy Picker’ to ‘Brick by Brick’ and from ‘Pretty Visitors’ to ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor’, the Monkeys held the festival in the palm of their hand. New versions of older Arctic’s songs were also given a ‘re-vamp’ with string arrangements done by Guy Garvey from Elbow, and they performed these with the final song bringing Miles Kane on as a special guest. ‘Glastonbury…I love you’, said Alex Turner, and it was clear that Glastonbury loved him too.
After the crazy Arctic’s set, my friend and I proceeded to Silver Hayes, were for a good proportion of the night we spent at the Silent Disco. Like most Silent Discos I had been too, there was the general mix of popular music, but alongside Ambient and Drum ‘n’ Bass music. Quite a weird experience doing it all in Wellies, but nonetheless still a pretty cool experience, and I eventually got to be at 4.30 the following morning, pretty exhausted.
Saturday June 29th
All through the Friday the weather had been excellent, so much so I had sunburnt a small part of my neck where I had missed applying sun cream, which was, for obvious reasons, a pain in the arse, but did not dampen my spirits for the second day, where the weather continued to be glorious.
Unsure what I wanted to see to begin with, I had another wander around the site, deciding in the end to pay another visit to the William’s Green tent, as there was a band I wanted to see there a little later. When I got there, the band The Others already had the stage, and were producing some strong songs, in a manner that reminded me of a cross between The Sex Pistols and Damon Albarn. A good band nonetheless. A lot of people departed after The Others (a trend that continued after pretty much every band to play William’s Green), and I was able to get to the barrier for the next band, one I had heard much hype about, Drenge. I didn’t realise it was them who did the soundtrack, so when they came back on to do their set, the entire crowd seemed surprised. It wasn’t just this that was a surprise. Their front man, dressed in a yellow polo shirt, pulled up socks and pumps looked like the complete opposite of what their music represented. Hard rock, heavy distorted guitar solos and deep and sometime screaming vocals racked William’s Green in what has to be one of the coolest sets I saw. Their music was crazy, and sent the crowd roaring. Their front man ended up on the floor playing the hell out of his guitar, before ending their set playing the opening to ‘Happy Birthday’. Needless to say, Drenge broke their Glasto cherry with a bang.
In complete contrast to this, Swim Deep where the next act I saw, about an hour later, also on the William’s Green stage. Unlike Drenge, they were very Indie, using a lot of effects, not an uncommon trait amongst modern indie bands. They certainly drew a crowd, being one of the most popular new bands to emerge recently. It’s easy to see why, with the band seeming to lead this new wave of effects-laden bands, which doesn’t diminish their sound too much, the catchiness of their songs still coming through. They were more of a chilled out band than Drenge though, that was for sure. Their stage presence was a little clumsy, the bassist and singer almost bumping into each other more than once, which kind of gave off a slight naivety to their performance, but still an enjoyable one.
After this I took a walk down to the Park Stage, one of the more secluded parts of the Festival, to see Haim’s second set (yes I know, I’m a massive fan). It was my first trip down to the Park Stage, and I was astounded at just how small the stage was in comparison to the other ones, even William’s Green. I could see now why they had to close the stage during Radiohead and Pulp’s secret sets in 2011. Unfortunately, due to that very reason, there were to be no secret sets this year, due to health and safety, although rumours of Atoms for Peace and Daft Punk flew about the place, and were immediately shot down by the festival’s twitter account.
Haim were welcomed to the stage with even more gusto than when they performed on the Pyramid, most likely due to the smaller venue. They performed the same set they did on the Pyramid, bar Este having to leave the stage. The energy in the crowd was ecstatic, with cries of ‘I fucking love you!’ erupting now and then. It was clear that the band were having a great time and were pumped full of energy, at one point Alana (rhythm guitar and keyboard player) jumped down from the stage, before running up to the crowd, and then giving high-fives (much to my dismay, stopping before she reached me). Their set was possibly even better than their opening set, with their songs getting the whole crowd to sing, and Danielle (lead singer and guitarist) rocking the crowd with her epic guitar solos. I left the stage completely buzzed.
Now came the big wait. I fed and watered myself, and prepared the long slog till The Rolling Stones’ set, which was another good 4 hours away. I arrived at the Pyramid half way through Elvis Costello’s set, and, while not knowing much of his work, I still enjoyed what I saw, after all his years in the music business, Costello had by no means lost his vocal and performance ability. I managed to get a good view by moving into random spots in front of the stage, without pushing, just moving, a technique I used a lot over the weekend. Slowly, people moved out from the crowd, either not fussed about seeing the Stones, or wanting more room, and I was able to get further forward, and passed the time by talking about past Glastonbury’s with people in the crowd. Primal Scream were next one A Glastonbury regular, the band seemed to be having a good time, but the crowd really only went wild for the hits from the likes of ‘Screamadelica’. It was clear that the majority of the crowd were there to see The Stones, but it didn’t stop Bobby Gillespie from giving it his all as front man, and producing a really strong vocal performance. Haim were even brought on as a surprise guest (although not so much of a surprise since they seemed to be everywhere at the festival), and provided backing vocals on several songs including ‘Rocks On’ and ‘Come Together’, which did feel like the song was never going to end. It was slightly disappointing when they did leave the stage; it felt like they just wandered off until the crowd realised their set was over gave a huge cheer.
Then there was the long wait for the Stones; an hour and a half of standing in a hot (but rapidly cooling field), while the monstrous set was assembled. I ended up talking to two other guys who had come by themselves, about past Glastonburys, Morrissey, and Radiohead. Gradually the mood of the crowd turned from one of impatience to excitement as people constantly called out the time of how long we’d have to wait till the set began, and one of the guys I was with said ‘I can’t believe it, I’m about to see The Rolling Stones!’By this time I was 5 rows back from the front, and when the gig began, the massive rush pushed me even further forward. Even as not a lifelong fan of The Stone, it was impossible not be so excited by the prospect of seeing them live. Looking behind at the thousands of people watching, it felt amazing to be so close as well.
When they finally came on, there was no disappointment. The set list was jam packed full of hits, from the opening of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ to the end of ‘Satisfaction’, they were The Stones, that’s all that can be said. I was so surprised by Mick Jagger’s moves as well! I, like everyone else, had been plagued by ‘Moves Like Jagger’, but I wasn’t expecting the actual moves to be quite so entertaining. During ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, a mist took over the stage and created a very ‘Vietnam war’-esque feel to the performance, coupled with the large bird and reared and shot flame on top of the Pyramid, and really added to the atmosphere, the entire crowd shouting ‘woo woo!’ at any given opportunity. In previous Rolling Stone shows, various special guests had been brought on, most notably during performances of ‘Gimme Shelter’, and for this headline set there were lots of rumours flying around, including Kate Bush for ‘Gimme Shelter’ and David Bowie to come on and do ‘Dancing in the Street’. However, aside from former Stone guitarist Mick Taylor being brought on for a few songs and two choirs being brought on for ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ (which was an outstanding performance), there was a distinct lack of guests. I, personally, was not fazed by this, but I was wondering if others would. In the end I think it doesn’t really matter; where ever you watched it, you witnessed The Rolling Stones headline Glastonbury, and that in itself will go down in history.
My feet absolutely killed after The Rolling Stones, however it was totally worth it, a real gig that you could not help but enjoy, not only because of the Stones played some massive tunes through that 2 hour 45 minute set, but also because of their charisma. With an average age of 69 between them, I think some people doubted whether they still had the energy, but they had it buckets. They showed how it’s done, going to show they’ve still got it.
After the Stones I took a walk over to the Arcadia, a massive, flame spitting, light shining spider. Despite the impressiveness of its show, it was obvious most people were there for one reason. Daft Punk were rumoured to play at 2am. First, Fatboy Slim played an hour long set, which was good, to say the least, he teased the audience with several samples of Daft Punk songs, as well as exhibiting his classic DJ skills. It was about 1.50am when 2 figures walked up the ramps at the Arcadia carrying things. Hopes were high, was it them? That was when the announcer piped up: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for Fatboy Slim! And now, please welcome to the stage… Chase and Status!’ You could hear the groan echo around the Arcadia. Slightly disappointed, I decided it was time to go back to my tent, feet still killing from The Stones.
Sunday June 30th
The final day of the festival had a notable more relaxed air to it. Again, I wasn’t really fussed about what I saw so much, with only a couple of acts I really wanted to see. I decided to start off at the Pyramid again, and watched the opening African act Bassekou Kouyate, a band that consisted all of family. You could really feel the rock aspect of their African beat music, which the crowd lapped up. They were closely followed by First Aid Kit, a folk duo from Sweden, with obvious influence from Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. They added even more to the chilled feel at the Pyramid, and did a few cover songs as well. While not an act to get the crowd jumping around as such, First Aid Kit were definitely a good way of breaking in the crowd after the rock fest that was Saturday, and to sooth anybody that was severely hungover.
I decided after this to head over to take a walk over to the Park stage, just to have a look around, as I’d only had a brief look the day before. It was like almost another world to the main festival site. While there were the classic shops you would find on the main site, but I think the best way I could describe it is like a village on the outskirts of a town. I went and sat by a little tent for a bit, and watched people just jamming together, using the guitar, piano and drums available just jam, and played some Beach Boys covers. I felt the strong Glastonbury community spirit most strongly at the Park area. I also went and had another look at the view at the ‘Glastonbury’ sign, and once more took in the amazing view. I then decided to go and watch The Vaccines’ ‘secret set’ on the William’s Green stage, however, I realised that the times in my booklet had been switched, so the stage was already jammed packed, so I instead opted to check out the BBC Introducing Stage, where I watched duo The Katanas, who produced some nice fresh vocals over RnB beats. It seemed like the kind of thing you’d expect to find in the charts, but was nonetheless a pleasant little discovery on one of the smaller stages.
I’d assumed that The Vaccines set would be over now, however by the time I got to William’s Green, however it wasn’t, so it was odd pushing through the vast numbers of people leaving the set when it was done to get to the front for New Build, an act who were playing their first Glasto. I was very pleasantly surprised with what I heard! It was like a combination of Alt-Rock with some smattering of Dubstep and Electronica. It certainly got the crowd going. The beats they were using were really heavy, using drum samples as well as a live drum kit AND percussion. The effect was overwhelmingly catchy, and New Build I feel really made an impression, drawing a large crowd for their first appearance, something they said surprised them. Looking at their past history of bands (LCD Sound system and Hot Chip); it’s not surprising they got such an ecstatic response, and a well deserved one! They were an unexpected surprise for a crowd I feel some of whom were there for Everything Everything. I myself was guilty of this, and I have to say, however, while of course Everything Everything had some very popular tunes, I enjoyed New Build more. Of course, Everything Everything went down a storm in the crowd, and it was clear to see why; their performance was really good, no doubt there, I think it was just down to personal taste. Everything Everything definitely deserved the attention though, bringing their A game to the performance.
Next was the Other Stage again. I caught the end of Editors set, and wasn’t anything I wasn’t expecting. It seemed to be the usual rock material, not really my sort of thing. However, the crowd liked it, and the band seemed to enjoy themselves, so all was in balance. I was more focussed on slowly moving through the crowd to get a decent spot for the next act up. While Editors weren’t really my thing, they had a couple of catchy tunes, which sounded pretty good. I managed to get nearer the front in what would be one of the craziest crowds I’d experience at Glasto. The Smashing Pumpkins came on to a massive round of applause, and played through some of their newer hits, which went down pretty well with the crowd, but, as one would expect, it was their classic songs which got the biggest reaction. ‘Tonight Tonight’, ‘Zero’, ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Disarm’ were all massive songs which turned the usually quite passive Glasto crowd into a mass of moshing rockers. They also pulled out a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, which was very unexpected, but went down a storm. ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ produced the biggest mosh pit I have ever seen, and it was bloody fantastic. Crowd surfers were appearing at about 2 per song, more than I saw in the entire rest of the festival. At one point I witnessed a man in a blow up raft being pulled from atop the crowd. Billy Corgan and Jeff Schroeder stood at the edge of the stage like Gods, producing some epic guitar work. The crowd were left chanting for more at the end of the set, but the Pumpkins had dished out one of their finest performances, and were done. Their set contained all the rock you could have found at the height of their fame in the 90s, with some renewed energy of the new line up.
The final act I saw at Glastonbury 2013 was Phoenix, on the John Peel Stage. I had been tempted to go down to the Park Stage, as there were rumours that Atoms for Peace were headlining, since Cat Power’s set finished so early. However, after advice from members of the Smashing Pumpkins audience, I opted to stick with seeing Phoenix. I was not disappointed. Even from a relatively far distance back, you couldn’t help getting into Phoenix’s set. Playing largely material from their last 2 albums, they managed to get the crowd dancing and singing along to their hits. The band were clearly enjoying themselves as well, at the end of the set, Thomas Mars crowd surfed from the barrier to one of the John Peel pillars, climbed up it, and then crowd surfed back again. Their energetic rhythms drove the performance on, in what was a fantastic alternative end to the festival to the folk being shown on the Pyramid and Other stages. Phoenix music can’t help but put you in a good mood, and with that, I retired back to my tent.
Monday July 1st
On the Monday morning in the early hours, there seemed to be a fair amount of activity. Not just with people leaving quite early, there also seemed to be a lot of music playing, which left me confused as to the actual time. I had to stick my head out of the tent and ask people the time, since my phone had died. Eventually I found out it was a reasonable time to get up and begin packing up. I then joined the hoards of people heading to the exit I needed. Luckily, there are several entrances and exits to the festivals, however, the crowd for the coaches was still big, and I had to push through to get to my coach.
The journey out of Glasto was an excruciatingly long one as well. Whereas it had taken me about 2 and a half hours to get to the festival, it took me 6 and a half to get back to Oxford. The traffic was awful along the A303, we literally crawled, and I spent most of the journey either asleep or reading. Finally however, I was back in Oxford, after one of the most musically exciting weekends of my life.
3 Things I Learnt From Glastonbury:
- 1. You don’t have to attend the festival in a group
I met so many cool people are Glasto, the atmosphere was very friendly, and there was a really community spirit. I would say though, that to go to the dance arena it would be better to go with a group, otherwise it’s like clubbing by yourself.
- 2. It’s not all about the Pyramid Stage
I expect many experienced Glasto goers could tell you this. As I say, I spent a lot of the time at William’s Green stage, seeing bands I’d never heard of before, and with over 100 stages, there was still plenty more I didn’t get to check out.
- 3. Alcohol isn’t always the best thing
After finding myself feeling tipsy one day at 2pm, I thought it’d be better to lay off the alcohol slightly. The rest of the weekend was boiling, and keeping hydrated was the best thing if you’re seeing a lot of bands. After the sun goes down though, that’s the best time to drink if that’s what you’re planning.
My 5 Favourite bands from Glastonbury 2013 (excluding Arctic Monkeys and The Rolling Stones) in no particular order.
- Haim – Saturday – The Park Stage
- The Smashing Pumpkins – Sunday – The Other Stage
- Drenge – Saturday – William’s Green Stage
- Tame Impala – Friday – The Other Stage
- Savages – Friday – William’s Green Stage
For more Glastonbury photos, check out my blog: http://andrewsimonnoel.wordpress.com/