How crying at Glastonbury cured me

Last week I stuffed some stuff in a Twitch holdall, slung some wellies in a car boot and made my way down to Glastonbury Festival.

The last time I visited the world’s largest music festival, it was 2010. I was 21 and about to move to Newcastle to do my first full-time job as a radio producer and presenter.

KThat year it was unbearably hot and I didn’t really get how to “do” Glastonbury yet. I packed my least fabulous clothes, didn’t stay out late and actually slept. Although I went with friends and had a reasonable time, it’s safe to say I was a little lost, despite my excitement as we initially approached the massive site.

Roll forward to 2019 and things were the opposite. Stressed and – dare I say it – a tad burnt out from everything I’ve been up to this year (I hadn’t quite recovered from the depressive dip I slipped into during my few days off in Dallas earlier in June), I was very apprehensive about whether I would enjoy things. Having time off and a pretty open calendar after July was playing on my mind.

Luckily, I had bar work and the group cameraderie of my boyfriend and our friends, who were decked out in a variety of different medieval costumes, to distract my dizzy brain. We set to work in the Avalon Inn on Wednesday, the bar newcomers such as myself trying to remember how to do basic mental maths as we served our first customers.

Thursday was tough – with no acts and a shift from 10pm – 3am, the unusual environment led to inner self-loathing and restlessness. My hayfever went crazy – I took three tablets but the itching and sneezing was relentless. I queued for the pharmacy to discover they didn’t take cards, and I’d already run out of cash. The pharmacist kindly put an order of the last nasal spray on site and a bottle of eyedrops to one side. I waited in the queue hoping my boyfriend could bring me some, letting more and more people go in front of me as it dawned on me I could be late for my shift. (Being late for work is somewhat of a phobia for me.) After ten minutes, a girl in the queue behind me noticed my distress and to my surprise offered to buy the eye drops for me as she could see how worried I was. “I hope someone would do the same thing for me,” she said kindly.

I can’t just put the turnaround of the event down to this person, but it was absolutely a factor. Glastonbury, with its focus on charity, the environment and celebrating life, can absolutely bring out the best in people. Perhaps I had judged it on the people who camp out all day at the Pyramid stage with large chairs or legs spread on the ground, tripping up people trying to find their friends in the anxiety-inducing crowd, but when I explored it more this year I discovered that, away from the larger attractions, there’s the magic of human spirit and kindness to be found.

On Friday, I managed to take in Grace Petrie‘s set on the Acoustic Stage before I headed to my late afternoon bar shift. Grace is following in the footsteps of fellow protest folk singer Billy Bragg, calling politicians to rights with her powerful voice and emotional lyrics, matter-of-factly pointing out that people are dying in our oceans trying to find peace or beg for enough to eat at food banks, while individuals born into priviledge sleep soundly at night in palaces.

The last time I saw Petrie was at Latitude in 2015 (she was kind enough to give me and my then-boyfriend a lift to the station post event), and since then she’s been finding a loyal following with her humourous appearances on the Guilty Feminist podcast and has released a stellar album, Queer As Folk. I pretty much cried during her entire set, and was absolutely relieved when my friend Igraine turned to me after set highlight Black Tie to say “oh, I’m glad you’re crying too!”.

As well the music giving me the feels, I’m particularly susceptible artists’ reactions as they witness the crowds who have turned out for them. Petrie, of course, was one of them – seeing the results of her hard work and steely determinedness to call our lawmakers and bigots to account paying off. Imagining how they could take her to even bigger stages in future makes me well up thinking about it, as does the utterly empowering beacon of fabulousness that is Lizzo – who occasionally paused her superstar, breathless Saturday set to laugh in disbelief at once of the largest audiences West Holts has most likely ever seen.

Put both of these women on the Pyramid Stage next time, Glastonbury – you won’t regret it.

Full disclosure; Lizzo was so utterly phenomenal that I quickly moved on from the fact that I’d got someone else’s… deposit(!) on my hand using a dreaded long drop loo prior to her set. (No one told me off when I skipped the sink queue to wash my hands, fully freaked out – thanks guys.)

Post-shift I’d expected to be too knackered to go out, but I knew I needed to make amends for my 21-year-old self. So off I went, in an Austrian dirndl dress (yeah I know, kind of cheating the medieval bar theme) to dance around Arcadia.

The very large resident of the Arcadia field at Glastonbury

For those not familar with Arcadia, it’s a dance music destination (ie, a field) which used to be home to an “anatomically-incorrect” spider. This year, the aracnid had been replaced by a new longterm resident; a massive crane that used to be put to work at Bristol Docks, but now puffs out the ocasional smoke ring and snows little blobs of foam, as a DJ performs within its open belly.

Saturday presented a Sophie’s Choice of headline acts – did we go for Hot Chip or Chemical Brothers? The latter, headlining the Other Stage for the fifth time, won out. Squeezing into the crowd, past a woman who had seemingly brought her weekly big shop into the thick of the throng and couldn’t comprehend why this might be a bad idea, we positioned ourselves far enough away to avoid the neck ache of looking up at the stage’s massive LED screens, but without much view of where the performers would be. Not that we realised at the time how solid a play this was.

Suddenly the screens burned brightly into life and Tom and Ed – the Chemical Brothers kicked things off with Go. And there began the best live show I have ever seen, ending with me rendered unable to speak like Bishop Brennan after he’d be kicked up the arse.

(If You’re UK-based, watch it on iPlayer before it’s gone, I beg of you.)

Still in awe, a few of my friends and I stumbled across towards Shangri-La with a cup of white wine and discovered the camp-as-Christmas Sensations stage, compered in that moment by Miss Frisky, known to many as the big voice of comedy cabaret double act Frisky and Mannish. Between belting pop mash-ups, Frisky invited different acts onstage, who did an inifinite number of jawdropping things with their bodies, from rolling around and freewheeling in a giant hoop, to setting nipple pasties on fire and whipping flames across the stage, and all while we danced along in appreciation.

Sunday brought on the waterworks again as I finally got to witness Self Esteem playing live tracks from her brilliant, horrendously underrated album Compliments Please. It’s an enigmatic album full of alternative pop bangers like The Best and (Girl) Crush, with lines such as “what I might have achieved, if I wasn’t trying to please you” that strike directly to the core of many Millienial women like me. (In my work as an esports host and reporter, I’m essentially trying to please a male dominated audience as I talk about video games, so I’m tempted to get the lyric “remember you don’t owe them anything” tattooed somewhere I can see it before I go live…)

Rebecca Taylor, who initially found success as one half of indie duo Slow Club, has soundtracked my life for the past ten years. Back in 2009, Slow Club’s debut LP featured a secret track called Boys On Their Birthdays, which ended with Taylor confessing that she’d “always wanted to be a rapper”, and although this record doesn’t feature rapping, it’s accompanied in person with fiercely powerful dance routines performed by Taylor and her backing vocalists that give the sense that she’s finally making her destiny happen. There’s a confidence from the artist that doesn’t just control the room, but compells it to go forth and conquer.

image1
Rebecca Taylor, aka Self Esteem, in action

(Also, fuck yes to that outfit.)

Knowing the BBC would be covering the larger stages, I felt safe in forgoing the crowds of Kylie and Miley Cyrus to watch This is the Kit perform on the West Holts and soothe souls, before my final bar shift.

Being a Sunday night, the Avalon Inn’s bar nearly ran dry, so we decided to entertain the punters in a new way;I got to live my dream of performing at Glastonbury, via the medium of a Spotify playlist and a little crowd of have-a-go perfomers who each took their turn on the stage. Hopefully we can make it a proper thing in 2020…

Usually I’m happy to head home after sweating in a field for a week, but this time I felt a tinge of melancholy as our car crawled its way out of Somerset and back to London; I didn’t want the magic to end. I’m someone who used to go to four or so live gigs a week (sometimes playing my own) during my short stint at Amazing Radio, and rarely get to gigs anymore, and Glastonbury had reminded me never to take it for granted again.

But on sorrow’s flipside, I was happy to be taking a new found optimism back to the capital with me. Glastonbury might have a destination called the Healing Fields, but it’s possible to find restoration in any one of its varied pastures.

Did you head to Glastonbury, or watch the BBC’s coverage? Let me know who your favourite acts were – I’d love to hear your memories too!

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