Ahsan Akbar decodes Glastonbury for the Rookie

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 25.07.13

Imagine 150,000 or more hearts beating out of chests that form a vitamin-packed crowd with unparalleled energy and thirst for live music. The main stage is distinctively structured. It resembles the Great Pyramid of Giza and it has been playing host to some of the biggest names in the music industry for decades now. Late nights translate into more music, and blasting out gigantic laser shows, along with flame-throwing sculptures from the top of the stages.

Make space for 350 cows

Let’s visualise the audience: devotees, fanatics or simply put, music junkies. Most of them travelled from afar and all of them would be camping over five days across a festival site that is spread over some 900 green acres.

Welcome to the Vale of Avalon, and more precisely: Worthy Farm, home to Glastonbury Music Festival. Incidentally, it is also home to 350 cows. It won’t be an exaggeration to call the place boondocks; if you’re feeling generous with words, it sits between the relatively unknown villages of Pilton and Pylle in Somerset. Yet during those five days at the end of June, the idyllic setting got a makeover with guitars and drums, and generally music from across multiple genres. In short, Glastonbury is an annual smorgasbord of music and one of the biggest festivals in the world.

Free pint of milk after the guitar god died

September 18, 1970. Jimi Hendrix pronounced dead in a London hospital. Michael Eavis, a local farmer from Pilton, had his defining moment a day after, single-handedly organising Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival. Glastonbury began its journey. The Kinks got replaced by Marc Bolan and his glam rock group T. Rex as the headline act. This was a last-minute change. Some 1,500 hippies attended the low-key event. Everyone was given a free pint of milk, something to enjoy under the sun along with the jingly-jangly music. Love was in the air. History was in the making.

Biggest band at the biggest event

A total of 135,000 tickets were sold last October in a record time of just under two hours. Michael Eavis has a co-organiser now, Emily, his daughter; they run a tight ship and it is worth noting the festival has remained independent in the day and age of corporate sponsorships.

In terms of music, there cannot be a bigger and better event in the UK. A mammoth figure of 2,000-plus musicians participated in the festival, performing over 100 different stages. Headliners this year were Mick Jagger’s wild horses and they rocked The Pyramid Stage like nobody’s business. Interestingly, this was the first year The Rolling Stones had appeared at Glastonbury. Better late than never.

Best among the best

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Aussie alt-rock behemoths, pretty much stole the show with their intense energy coupled with incendiary lyrics. Next to their illuminated swaggers, the younger bands appeared somewhat tame. Nonetheless, there were some outstanding performances by the newer bands. Vampire Weekend, Alt-J, Haim, Palma Violets, Savages, Of Monsters and Men, Rokia Traore, The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, Arctic Monkeys — all deserve a special mention.

Representing the older generation, Johnny Marr definitely hasn’t lost the magic touch from his Smiths days, and equally impressive was the set put on by Primal Scream. There was the trademark ‘angry’ performance from Public Enemy with exalted energy, something Dizzee Rascal picked up on, while smooth to the ears were Kenny Rogers, Sinead O’ Connor, Bobby Womack, Martha Wainwright, Steve Winwood to name but a few.

Extending a little help

On the closing night, British folk-rockers Mumford & Sons called on their friends from the fraternity to join them on stage to offer a beautiful rendition of the timeless Beatles number –– no prizes for guessing –– With a Little Help from My Friends, which clocked just over seven minutes. It marked the spirit of Glastonbury: a celebration of friendship through music. To further warm the cockles of our hearts, a generous portion from the proceeds of the festival, estimated at around £2 million, were donated to charities that support worthy causes: Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid. After all, what’s music without compassion?

Plan for 2014

Rush now to pre-register at glastonburyfestival.co.uk with a scanned passport-sized photo. Tickets for Glastonbury are always gold dust. Tents, canopies, portable toilets and alcohol, however, will be available on site, along with 350 cows!

The writer is a London-based music junkie with an interest in all things literary. His debut collection of poetry, The Devil’s Thumbprint, is coming out in autumn 2013

Have you been to Glastonbury Festival? Tell t2@abp.in