Glastonbury - where have all the hippies gone?
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens would have loved Glastonbury. With its population of urchins, toffs, thieves, painted ladies and pompous officials, it’s like spending four days in one of his books.
Throw in some foul sewers, beggars, dirty faces, disease and potent grog, the likes of which were beyond the imagination of old Charlie D himself, and you have one hell of a setting.
And then there was music. Lots and lots of music. So, let’s get out that of the way first.
Leonard Cohen stole the show and don’t let any Ting Tings fan tell you otherwise. A towering presence, he is a truly generous spirit with a band that was with him every second of the way. His voice was honeyed and his wisdom came straight from Solomon. He called us “children of the mud”, too.
Indeed, the best performances of the weekend came from the oldies: Neil Diamond, John Fogerty, Shakin’ Stevens, Crowded House and Alison Goldfrapp.
Dotted all around the place were the current generation of indie darlings, all no doubt chuffed to bits to be playing this legendary festival and giving it their all. They all sound the same to me.
Due to the sheer size of the place, it was impractical to flit from stage to stage so you had to choose your place and stay there.
That’s why I wasted an hour of my life listening to the intolerable braying of the awful James Blunt.
Kings Of Leon made a decent fist of their Friday night headline slot, Jay-Z blew it after an awesome first ten minutes.
Amy Winehouse was remarkable considering she’d just come out of hospital with a lung disease. You could smell her from 150 yards away.
But you can watch all that stuff on your BBC red button. Glastonbury was never about the music, it was always about the occasion.
It was 30 years ago I went to my first Glastonbury Festival. Judy Tzuke headlined. We all went to Michael Eavis’s farmhouse for milk for our tea. Roy Harper and Ginger Baker had a fight on stage. It blew my 17-year-old mind.
Glastonbury 2008 was a different country. I saw the best in our young people and I saw the worst. Let me paint you a few vignettes.
My partner and I arrived at the festival on Friday lunchtime, it had been raining all morning. Security pointed us to car park B15, which may as well have been in Stroud.
We thought we’d packed light: a couple of rucksacks, a bag of food, two sleeping bags in Farm Foods carrier bags, a case of lager, two garden chairs, some wellies.
We thought we were smart because we’d packed a heavy-duty bale trolley to lug all the stuff to the campsite. We were wrong.
There was simply no way we were going to be able to get all our stuff from car to campsite. The weather was against us, geography was against us and physics was against us.
The Farm Food bags spilled their contents into the mud, the trolley got stuck in the mire. It was a two-mile endurance test worthy of the SAS.
Then we had the first miracle of the weekend. A muddy, gurning figure appeared and said: “Do you want a hand?”
This was Leroy from Peterborough and he dragged that trolley right to where our tent had been pitched by friends two days earlier. Accepting only a bottle of water for his efforts, he disappeared into the throng and we weren’t to see him again.
Our party consisted of people 20 years younger than us; family and friends who, in the real world, were typical teenagers. In the two days they’d been at Glastonbury they seemed to grow up.
They were resourceful, generous, funny and polite. This wasn’t the second miracle, just a reminder that this generation can be pretty cool. That spirit of collective responsibility stayed with us all weekend.
Sadly, I can’t report that all the youth of today are angels of light. We witnessed some pretty dark things at Glastonbury.
Petty crime was rife and drug use was phenomenal. In our corner of the campsite, there was a crime wave worthy of Gotham City. Many of the tents there were broken into in the night while their occupants slept.
We were to find out later that we’d spent a couple of hours chilling with the ring-leader. Let’s call him Robbie, because that’s his name. He’s a typical Scouser, a strange mix of sentimentality and menace.
He approached us, trying to sell drugs. Robbie told us that he and his three mates had turned up on Wednesday night, walked in through the VIP entrance, and had been wheeling and dealing ever since.
He told us he had four children; that he’d do anything for them, and that he’d been in jail 14 times. He told us how to steal cars, how he was wanted for stealing a truck and how he makes his money each year by going around the festival circuit.
From that moment we made sure we had all our valuables with us.
On Saturday night, security opened his tent and found all the stuff that had been taken from neighbouring tents. On Sunday, he had the audacity to come back and steal a woman’s purse in broad daylight. He didn’t get away with it.
It turned out that his gang had turned up without anything and simply nicked whatever they needed, starting with a tent.
The dark side of Glastonbury was everywhere. From the cadaverous drug-faces of wasted kids on Sunday, to the tales of people who had returned to find that their tent had been used as a toilet by squeamish scumbags who couldn’t face the appalling toilets.
And many of the causes can be laid at the door of Glastonbury’s organisers.
Security was woeful. There were no regular patrols around the campsites, which, once the music had started and people were at the stages, presented easy pickings.
The police seemed happier to have their photos taken with flowers on their helmets than doing the job they were raking in the overtime money for. On Saturday, when James Blunt played, it seemed like every officer on site was stood behind me, singing along to You’re Beautiful.
Main thoroughfares were muddied up, the stages were too far apart and there weren’t enough litter bins. Forget recycling and green credentials, the standard of cleanliness was disgusting.
The camping areas looked like refugee camps and the arenas were littered with rubbish.
It was only the company of friends that made the event bearable. Come Sunday, we faced the same trek back to the car, a daunting prospect.
Once again, it was kids to the rescue as friends Josh and Strikey hauled our rucksacks and trolley the ridiculous distance back to the car.
The myth of Glastonbury has been well and truly punctured. This isn’t a throwback to the England of King Arthur. It’s a commercial enterprise aimed at fleecing the people who have already paid £155 for the pleasure of being treated like cattle.
I won’t be going back.