While there were obviously much more pressing issues in the world, Glastonbury haven’t really had the best of luck in celebrating their 50th anniversary. In 2020 they were one of the first festivals to cancel (donating their barn full of hand sanitiser and other medical supplies already purchased to the NHS in the process – as you’d expect a festival this charity conscious to do!) due to how early they start to build the site, but no one could have expected that they’d be in the same boat in 2021, finally getting to celebrate their 50th this weekend. Baring in mind the vast majority of people streaming through the gates on Wednesday bought their tickets in mid-2019, and have held on to them for this long, there’s a sense of almost relief that it’s finally happening.
Wednesday and Thursday have always been slightly odd days. On Wednesday there’s practically no music advertised in advance and you sort of have to just wonder around and see what’s happening (or look out for chalk boards at the smaller stages listing what’s on for the rest of the day) but that’s largely what the day is about; this festival site is huge, walking between the furthest stage on the West to the furthest on the East can easily take over an hour and you’ll pass a good 20 or so stages enroute, some obvious, some hidden, some open all day, some that come alive at night. The only musician I manage to see on Wednesday is Beans On Toast, playing the Bandstand. It’s a chance encounter really, noticing his name on the board as I walk past (it’s not one he’s advertised and it’s certainly not on the clashfinder). He put on a great set, dedicating a song about Bristol music scene legend Big Jeff to Jeff, who is currently in intensive care after a house fire earlier this month, which recieves incredible applause from the audience. The only real issue is that the volume of the bandstand, for the size of the crowd that’s gathered, isn’t really loud enough and it’s harder to make out his excellent lyricism from the edges. Still, an unexpected but excellent first live act to get things going.
On Wednesday night the only place to be is up the hill, ahead of the firework display and the burning of the wooden phoenix. I think this kind of area, near the stone circle, is one of those things that distinguishes Glastonbury from most other festivals. As you walk up the hill you’re greeted by another festival goer who has a serving trolley infront of them, selling vodka jelly and vegan pâté – what other festival would allow that. As the sun sets a bright precession leads it’s way to the top of the hill, with fire jugglers performing infront of the phoenix. Admittedly it takes a while for it to get dark enough to light the fireworks and some people start getting a bit impatient, some people leaving, some people getting increasingly drunk. I enjoy the contrast in the crowd; where I’m stood there are two people on my left with candles in a prayer position on their knees in the minutes before the phoenix was set alight, to my right a man repeatedly screams “burn the bird!” The fireworks are, as you’d expect, stunning and the burning of the phoenix is quite cathartic, a return to the fun of the festival.
Thursday starts in a similar way. There’s a bit more going on in the circus and theatre areas, the slightly more out their acts. There’s a pair of people on a huge see-saw mounted to the top of a taxi, taking turns to perform various tricks while the other person holds the seesaw steady. There’s a man doing yoga with a touch of magic, spinning multiple crystal balls on his head, doing some weird levitating thing with another ball, while moving himself into all kinds of contorted positions. There are quite a few street performers too, the men on bikes on stilts were particularly strange, in the best possible way.
William’s Green has a tendency to put on secret sets that could (and often do) play the pyramid stage, subsequently it tends to end up being the busiest place on site by mid-afternoon. This year is no different, access to the area is temporarily blocked off as the crowd spills out of the tent and back to the path. As I arrive the festival owner, Michael Eavis, is on stage performing with his band – I can’t even see the guy over the crowds but it sounded pretty good from outside, plus a rapturous applause from the ridiculous sized crowd. Following his set is one of the worst kept secrets of the weekend, Bastille. While their performance has been common knowledge (to most, sorry to the group trying to get in to see Red Hot Chilli Peppers…) what I wasn’t expecting was a collaboration with the Old Dirty Brasstards, themselves due to play a few hours later. I’ll admit I don’t really know Bastille’s music outside of ‘the hits’ but, backed by a large brass section, they sound really good. There’s no shortage of massive singalongs during a relatively short set, front man Dan at one point jumping down to join the crowd, slightly easier at William’s Green than on the pyramid!
A bit of a walk over to Shangri-la with every intention of seeing Nova Twins, it’s good to see the night time corner is lively for a Thursday night, The Common’s Temple stage absolutely heaving with people jumping everywhere. Due to getting the two stages mixed up, I end up at the wrong stage, catching the end of Sportsbanger’s rave, where they’ve invited NHS staff who also DJ to perform. It’s a set of, as the name suggests, banger after banger, the crowd at the Gas Tower going crazy for every single minute of their set. After a while I realise I’m in the wrong place so sneak off to the Truth stage to catch Nova Twins. I last saw Nova Twins supporting a friend’s band over at the Old Blue Last and, even then, you could tell they were going to be big – the amount of press and industry people who turned up for their set and then left was pretty noticeable. They’ve come a long way since then, their sound is absolutely massive. Their set on the Truth stage had a load of technical issues but, that aside, they sounded incredible. The guitar parts are brilliant and the bass sound is perfect – at times causing my entire body to shake, at other times a nasty fuzz sound. Glorious. Brilliant songwriting too, delivered with the ferocity it deserves. They can only keep getting bigger with tracks like these.