6 years since my first Glastonbury, I’m working the same jewellery stall and so have some idea of what to expect. I pack two bags too many, 40 beers and some shoddily stashed contraband. On the drive up I’m blessed with a hopeful weather forecast and a live session by Mattiel on 6 Music.
Arrive on Tuesday afternoon, set-up the stall and work through until Thursday afternoon. Sun shining bright, we bolt through Glade where some old dreaded crusties are throwing out D&B with some theramin for good measure. They look delighted; like they’ll be talking about this forever. A girl with a bejewelled face walks towards the tent with her hand raised high, clearly the first bit of live music she has seen, “This is going to be shiiiiiiiiit”. Bless ’em.
Rush coming on but in need of food, we follow the path to the gate of Permaculture and grab a Som Tam curry, fire-side where some pakora is being prepped. Everyone here is volunteering, including the chef who has just almost cut off his finger. Onto the Greenfields we explore the installations of the Healing Fields, hand cranking a dragon made of olive oil tins and reanimating the head of David Attenborough by pressing a traffic lights button. A quick hug from the Lorax, forwarding the picture to my boy who cannot believe that I met the real real Lorax.
We watch the sunset from Aradia’s Pangea – where there was once a DJ booth in a mechanical spider, with eyes that shoot lasers and legs that articulate and shoot fire, there is now a crane, that moves just like a crane. There are still jets of fire shooting from around the perimeter, but maybe more controlled since that spider roasted a kid a few years back. Hush now, the cranes moving a hook about. Apparently there’s a 5 year plan to build up this stage to it’s former glory, whilst meeting health & safety requirements and minimising the death count.
Now dark, fly through the cabaret tents to catch some campy comedy and a campier trapeze act. Cold now, so some tea on a double decker doesn’t sound like the terrible idea that it is. Return meekly to camp with burnt tongues.
Up and out early Friday, up close for Ta’shan’s Foodie. Hungry now, grab something on the way to Mo at Other stage. Like a Europop Sia, produced to within an inch, but she is captivating. 2 songs is plenty though, back to Cabaret in the day time now it’s much more sprawling and interactive, leaking everywhere. Thought I’d be better at slacklining. Fuck it, Mac DeMarco’s on soon best dust off to get a spot up front.
Saw him a few days previously at Rough Trade in Shoreditch thanks to my shrewdly swift GF, a solo acoustic session with the intimacy that it implies. Now he’s in his element, albeit with the flu. Always undercutting the beauty of his falsetto, he perfectly interrupts the last sustained note of The Stars Keep On Calling My Name shouting REAL SAUSAGES REAL MASH in a Mockney accent – one of the food stalls behind the crowd.
Pit stop at the tent for a bag’o’beers and a bit of the other, climb up to the John Peel for some Pond. Turnover’s are tight now, catch Paint Me Silver before hot-stepping across the site to West Holts for Comet is Coming. Cut through Greenpeace and walk right into Mattiel at the Deforestation stage, no bigger than my fucking kitchen! I have to stay for a song, but my girl back home has already bagged us tickets to an intimate Mattiel show in a weeks time, so I feel some obligation to stick to the plan.
Mind blown by some fish-gilled saxophany, I begrudgingly dance away from where Maribou State and Holly Walker will now appear, regrettably past where Idles will play The Park, to get back to work.
Lock up at midnight, up and out to catch some of Four Tet at WOW, not my vibe right now, head across the way to Pussy Parlour to discover Afrofuturist champions of self-belief: Oshun. Two female vocalists with soulful melodies and flow, singing, rapping, taking prayer breaks in songs and with rehearsed patter to each other underlining the message of the songs. Confusingly they have a DJ pushing a Sci-Fi narrarive, steering a spaceship through his laptop’s soundboard, and announcing arrival at different planets with dog-in-car-window glee. Utterly endearing and musically impressive, they are a baffling treat in the run up to tonight’s main event: Tank and the Bangas. The stage-setting fills some of the delay, as giant green cloud-shaped balloons are filled and placed about with other such decorations. The ensemble make it out at 2am and elevate the crowd. I am front and centre as Jelly lights the place up, wearing thin neon green overalls filled with green balloons that she releases throughout the set. Electric excitement through all of us. How to sleep after this.
Work Saturday morning, missing Mattiel’s only listed performance at The Park. Head to the top of the hill there anyway after my shift to see the mystery guest. Foals – not my jam, shimmy over the hill to a little bar called The Crow’s Nest. Grab a coffee and realise that I’m standing next to Mattiel! Apparently having just played another unannounced pop-up, an unplugged set that was 5 minutes from me. I’m about to say something when she disappears behind the bar. Meet a veteran litter picker who gives me a hot tip for the evening, we trade recommendations and I head back to change my clothes and grab supplies.
Back to The Park. Kurt Vile and the Violators are playing, I queue for the Rainbow Tower to get a decent view. It takes longer than expected. By the time I get up there the sun is setting behind the stage and Kate Tempest opens her show with EUROPE IS LOST, the song that I revere her for. The wardens of the tower see my glee and let me stay for this song. I dip down into the crowd where Kate whips up a contentious spirit, her lyrics challenging government give berth to applause, stirring the discontent in us all. This I admire greatly, and I see it’s place here, but I want to dance – so I bolt to Avalon to catch some electrofunk in the shape of Ibibio Sound Machine. Cut into the crowd to dance it out to Give Me A Reason.
Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M plays me out as I head past an impressive beatboxer at the Deforestation stage, over to the Wormhole. This venue is a new addition for 2019, an intimate two floor bar with a stage dedicated to the UKs new-wave of Jazz. I manage to get in quickly to see Sons of Kemet vs. Ezra Collective. The same saxophonist as Comet is Coming battles some trumpet, all with such intensity that the entire place, which is now shoulder to shoulder, with a couple hours of queue outside, jump in unison. It is exhilarating and never lets up, to the point of exhaustion. I lose my breath and my ankles numb. The highlight of the festival for sure.
I float out towards Shangrila and check out the Unfairground. It’s empty this early so I decide to get tentways to get more involved and pick up some company. I dive a little too deep and things get too wonky. Out to the Pussy Parlour, Kiddy Smile are now on stage, PVC clad men in drag with inflatable hair 3 feet above their heads dance in front of a giant inflatable mouth. It’s dancy but dark. The frontman, I recognise from Noe’s Climax, screams – for long enough that the music splits out, the music strobes, and it dips slightly into something terrifying. I want to get a picture to remember but have forgotten my phone. Ditch back and then to try and make it out to Shangrila but the tracks have been reversed for the night time route and things are already looking upside down from my point of view. Herded with the masses before taking refuge at a small stage where some jungle reggae is playing. People dance and skank, the guy next to us shouts that the music is misogynistic and homophobic. He’s not wrong, but that rhythm is the only thing that makes sense to me right now. Home please.
Sunday morning, off to the Acoustic tent for Hackney Colliery Band. Toto’d through the crowd, quick sprint to West Holts for This is The Kit. Prize spot at the front but something about the setting, her voice and the lyrics move me to tears a few times, so I hope that I’m not distracting. I meet Kate from The Kit moments after at the tent adjacent, almost accidentally meeting Jeff Goldblum instead. This would have been fine.
Work until 1am, then head out to Shangrila properly, constructing a rave halo out of a flower garland and some LEDs on a wire. ICON and Block 9 for some techno with incredible panoramic visuals and bump mapping technology. Lose the group and dance solo through Shangrila, making sure to go to every open door and live act. Sleaford Mods bemoaning the fall of BHS at the Truth stage. A full lap, I ask if there’s any other place open on the site at this time (4am), probably not, okay I head back in and queue for Carousel and am greeted by a sweaty crowd and some hard D&B with constant builds and drops, whilst a collection of clowns dance a few feet away. A fight almost starts, an oddity, but the mute little clown girl leans in and wags her finger. We dance.
Sunrise at Glade, hug some strangers en route back to the tent, listening to people glowing about this place and its magic.