John Robb’s Glastonbury diary : FridayGlastonbury diary

I’m sat on the train on the way to Glastonbury eavesdropping a conversation between a gaggle or a herd of brash and confident young A and R men (and it’s still me for some reason..) . They are bragging about bands they have signed and trying to sign in that detached bravado of people who love money above everything else. It’s a breathtaking glimpse into the shark eyed soullessness of modern corporate culture.

Which bands are you in for man?’, they cackled…’How much did you pitch for them..’, ‘They are not worth the money…’, ‘Fat White Family, have you heard them, nice little band, bit weird, who’s in for them?’ , ‘what about Slaves? bit of a racket but my boss reckons they could be turned into the new Blur…‘
It’s an anti Glastonbury moment and I slip my headphones on as they continue to talk about the posh hotels they are staying in and how they won’t be seeing any bands and getting off their heads…


Glastonbury sprawls in the distance like a herd of dust covered wildebeest as I enter tickling the underbelly of this stinking hairy behemoth that I once helped to save.

Is there any point in even attempting to cover a festival that is carpet bombed all over the TV?

Is Glastonbury the only festival that the BBC seems to cover ever single minute of? even the World Cup cowers from its blanket coverage and it’s great to see some music on the TV at last after months of silence but even from the relative carpet slipper safety of their temporarily built ivory tower they can’t spy on everything!

There is so much going on that the ever rolling cameras just can’t broach the deepest thickets of the eternal night time madness that goes on far beyond the main stage. This, after all, is a mini city- temporarily the biggest city in Somerset (whatever that means in this naked county of trees and cider!) where the genuine madness still lurks in the lesser known thickets of Michael Eavis’s farm that seems to sprawl on for ever like a mud stained middle earth full of the weekend hobbits.

Glastonbury is a place where people wear any hat they want- whether it’s fancy dress or the hat of chemical madness or the hat of escape. It’s a place where the main stage is like watching a band the size of ants playing to what seems like a half interested football sized crowd and can still make that electric connection and the celebration of community thing work.

Arguably this is a place where the best stuff goes on beyond- in the fields at the back of the farm that is the size of a small nation. The worst part of the whole festival is maybe the liggers enclosure where micro celebs and people you have never heard of rub expensive shoulders with music biz termites and the atmosphere feels supercharged with a gabba look at me white powder of VIP privilege.

The real action is going on elsewhere – the music business enclosure is a curious place where the strutting young kings who believe that they are at the heart of the action are very much the fringe of the fringe- geographically they may be located at the heart of the action but the action left them behind a long time ago and the real warm glow of the festival is found in places like the Leftfield stage or in the Green Fields or the all night dance areas decorated with the madness of the music and assorted props.

It was in this other world up a hill that I met an owl called Merlin again.

The owl was not on its own and came complete with an owner who was in awe of his lifetime companion. Merlin was far smarter than you average pet and could turn his head around in a full circle fixing you with its powerful stare as it hopped around the table and onto your hand. ‘Careful his talons can break all your bones’ smiled his owner who lived in a caravan on top of the hill next to the Eavis farm having moved down here to become part of the perma furniture of hippie idealism that still exists out there after the festival.

This uneasy coexistence is never better underlined than in the teepee field where weekend warriors with cash to burn rent out teepees and share the field with half forgotten tribes of hippie idealists who live in a real teepee village in semi mythical mid Wales where the hippies retreated to when their dreams of a better world were dashed by the brutal reality of, er, reality.

The fact that they are still there is some sort of victory.

The day is a blur of bands reviewed elsewhere on the site and marked out by the lunatic weather which veers from fierce sun to a wild storm that conks out the electrics on the whole site.

I spend the night bumping into faces emerging from the gloom, faces I’ve not seen for years distorted by the bacchanalian joyride of living on the counter culture. We talk of life and death and friends who still eek out a living on the never ever. I watch Toy deal out a great set at the Crows Nest- my new favourite venue at the festival – a temporary shack bar on top of the highest point in the festival where the twinkling lights of the temporary city glow in the distance and the hum of joy rises into the night air from the quarter of a million revellers still trying to plug into the electric magic of music.

As I descended the hill and past the sleeping tankard bearing lunatic drunks I bump into a old school traveller and we talk of goth culture, the travellers, the battle of the bean field, the Levellers and New Model Army as we brush up on the history of all this festival stuff. He talks of the great festival circuit stretching out way beyond the Glastonbury fences and the DIY culture- the mini cottage industry caked in the endless mud of British county fields. A cottage industry that is now run by the travellers past and the international circuit of the former bus dwellers who turned their lives into an art form and monuments of dread art and travel and live in places as far flung as Australia and Spain in a 24/7 V sign to the fat controllers who wanted to make slaves of us all.

We attempt to enter the hobbit bar in the Permaculture field- a stone building built for year round use- it looks like a warm hole and you expect joyous bare footed hobbits to emerge from the mist singing their Tolkein verses in the smokey fug but it’s closing as the sun rises in the distance. The city that never sleeps is yawning but there are still sparks and embers of action to be had…

As the dawn rises we drink tea in one of the many mini bars dotted around the hillside slopes as yet another ska punk band takes the stage to a tent full of dancing lunatics. We wonder why there is no proper punk stage and why that culture is generally edited out of this particular festival that accommodates most types of music but its only a small point. As the sun sneaks out for dawn with its typically English wan light I shuffle back to my tent to battle the lumpy hard ground and the sneaking damp for a few hours sleep with a backdrop of muffled techno thumping and shrieks of delight from too stoned to care pisser passer byes in the freak distance.

Day one is over roll on the next batch of storms…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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