Notes on Glastonbury from a first-time attendee:

1. It’s a cliché, but Glastonbury really is vast. It’s scale is impossible to comprehend as a newcomer, even if you’re braced for it. It’s nearly a quarter of the entire population of Sheffield in a 1.4-square mile area. Like a permanent conurbation, the inhabitants almost instantly create their own desire paths, cut-throughs, improvised urban spaces and, in the case of the festival’s innumerable raves, their own temporary autonomous zones. Unlike other big festivals, the lack of any separation between the campsite and the festival’s ‘arena’ enhances the sense of instant community ownership of the space and its possibilities for transformation.

2. Glastonbury doesn’t fit the pattern of any other festival you’ve been to. It is, of course, a behemoth, with a Pyramid Stage viewing area that could comfortably fit the entirety of, say, Bearded Theory within it. Despite the mammoth scale of the operation and the jaw-dropping line-ups, you can turn a corner from 5,000 people watching Charlie XCX and you’re suddenly in the Greenpeace encampment, or the Healing Fields, or the Green Futures area. It’s as if you’ve stepped through a portal into Peace in the Park, or a New Age traveller’s fair of the mid 1970s. There’ll be someone quietly making a wicker bee or conducting a Pagan wedding to a crowd of fifteen stoners. It is somehow both massive and professional, yet simultaneously home-grown and grassroots.

3. Glastonbury is unapologetically left-wing, with ideas of social and environmental justice permeating every aspect of the festival, from its booking policy and its set decoration to its support for Greenpeace, CND and Water Aid. There are no Tory singer-songwriters, libertarian stand-ups or panel discussions with Melanie Phillips. The Right don’t get a look in, and despite grumbles about echo chambers and leftist bubbles in the Tory press, that has to be a good thing. Bar the occasional social enterprise or radical bookshop, the rest of the country’s institutions espouse the values of the Right constantly, every day of the year. Mind you, I’m still sceptical of a sign I saw claiming that homeopathy could cure my hangover.

4. There is enough dance music now. Every other stage is pumping out house, techno or nu-disco. 24/7. How much more of this stuff do we need to hear, or for that matter, to produce? Seeing Jackmaster playing ‘The Vamp’ locked inside a 50-tonne metal spider with flames firing out the top of it may have been the moment the scene jumped the shark for me. Having said that, Nile Rodgers is nothing short of a living god who walks among us, and Midland dropping ‘Love Is A Stranger’ by Eurythmics in NYC Downlow was one of the most joyous moments of the festival.

5. After a turbulent year politically, I found myself continually drawn towards sincerity over winking irony or self-aware kitsch. I’d been trying to articulate this train of thought all weekend and then, in a moment of serendipity, I heard Robin Ince expressing the exact same sentiment on Sunday afternoon at the Free University of Glastonbury. The first band scheduled on the festival’s Thursday night were, oddly enough, Birmingham grindcore veterans Napalm Death, who were visibly surprised and moved by the enormous audience who trekked down to Shangri-La to see them. I’m no metalhead, and the band must have known that 90% of the sun-kissed audience were watching with wry amusement, but their belief in their craft, their excellent musicianship and their entirely earnest between-song political proclamations won the crowd over and proved one of the weekend’s highlights. Vocalist Barney Greenway would announce that the next song was about respecting minorities, or about slum landlords, or about veganism, before launching into an incomprehensible racket seemingly identical to the previous one, yet entirely genuine. You can’t get more direct than: “This next one is called ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’”

The first band scheduled on the festival’s Thursday night were, oddly enough, Birmingham grindcore veterans Napalm Death, who were visibly surprised and moved by the enormous audience who trekked down to Shangri-La to see them. I’m no metalhead, and the band must have known that 90% of the sun-kissed audience were watching with wry amusement, but their belief in their craft, their excellent musicianship and their entirely earnest between-song political proclamations won the crowd over and proved one of the weekend’s highlights. Vocalist Barney Greenway would announce that the next song was about respecting minorities, or about slum landlords, or about veganism, before launching into an incomprehensible racket seemingly identical to the previous one, yet entirely genuine. You can’t get more direct than: “This next one is called ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’”

————

SOUNDWAVES

A new bar has opened in Kelham Island which will double as a music venue. The Old Workshop on Hicks Street, round the corner from Yellow Arch Studios, will be hosting local label Black Beacon Sound on Saturday 22 July. The line-up includes Yak, Grevious Angel and Afternaut among others, and the off-Tramlines event will be free.

Hot on the tails of a star-studded launch party, Hope Works have announced that the inaugural No Bounds Festival will take place on the weekend of 13-15 October in Sheffield. Names announced so far include Jeff Mills, DJ Stingray, Ikonika and Terre Thaemlitz, better known as DJ Sprinkles.

Theatre Delicatessen has found a new home at the former Mothercare store on St Marys Gate. The theatre and events venue, who recently hosted the Migration Matters Festival, are being forced to leave the former Woolworths on Matilda Street so that it can be redeveloped.

Under The Stars, the Sheffield club night created by and for people with learning difficulties, has turned ten. Hosted at The Leadmill around five times a year, the night was created by Ruth Parrott in 2007. The Under The Stars group also run music and drama workshops which have seen protégé bands go on to perform at Tramlines.

Sam Gregory