Life should always be exactly like this
Glastonbury Festival 2008.
Two Lightyears gigs, glorious sunshine, a shedload of bands, more strawberry cider than you can shake a stick at and a breathtaking sunset over the Stone Circle.
What a weekend. Here are my June 2008 Glastonbury Memoirs…
The sun is shining. I am at Glastonbury Festival, the greatest musical extravaganza in the world. I am drinking hot spiced cider. George is strumming a guitar next to me. I have literally never been this content.
Slightly taken aback by the unexpectedly clement weather, we have assembled with some mates and a couple of guitars just down the hill from Glasto’s legendary cider bus and are singing songs in the sunshine. The main music programme doesn’t start until later tonight so people are hungry for entertainment. Groups of festival-goers stop intermittently as they pass, sit down next to us, listen to a couple of tunes, share some hot cider and then go on their merry way. Life should always be exactly like this.
Our first gig is tonight at 9pm, which leaves us a couple of hours to kill. We head up to the Stone Circle, the oldest and most spiritual corner of the festival, and watch an 8 year-old kid back-flipping off the 10-foot stones. Incredible. The entertainment doesn’t stop there though. Shortly afterwards, the “Green Police” appear dressed in comical green pantomime outfits and chase some dude all the way round the field for peeing in a bush (bad for the environment, you see), blowing whistles and caterwauling. After this, the actual police turn up and arrest somebody for dealing narcotics. This isn’t quite as funny but nevertheless it attracts a lot of attention and, as you can imagine, a huge amount of booing from the assembled crowds.
Afternoon gives way to evening and we decamp to the Green Futures Field for our gig. The Green Fuse Stage is windmill-powered and run by the wonderful folks who gave us our first ever slot at Glastonbury back in 2005. Predictably, just after we arrive at the stage, the heavens open.
Whilst we’re setting up the rain is getting heavier and heavier to the point at which it actually begins leaking through the tent. A miniature torrent is cascading downwards onto the stage. Dave (who runs Green Fuse) appears with a washing-up bowl and positions it cunningly underneath the gradually-increasing waterfall. Crisis averted. Until the bowl fills up, of course. Perhaps we’ll just have to play our last few songs really really quickly to avoid being engulfed by the tsunami.
The tent isn’t exactly heaving when we start playing but it fills up pretty swiftly during our opening numbers The Last Night and Fine, the latter of which we turn into a dark, extended jam. We’ve all had a fair amount of whisky by this stage of the evening and that always puts you in the mood for dark, extended jams. It was pretty rocking actually, judging from the video footage we got back from the gig. After Fine we ratchet things up a couple of notches with Beat Alive, This House and one of the new songs, Good Time Back, which I’m pleased to say gets a great reaction from the crowd.
After chucking in another couple of downbeat numbers, Miles Away and Home For The Weekend, as well as venturing out into the audience for an unplugged performance of Gimme Some, we finish up-tempo on Banana Republic and Emily. We are called back on for an encore and, as we’re about to launch into a song, requests start coming in from the audience for You Are Wrong. I think these are coming from people who saw us at the festival back in 2005, because we pretty much haven’t played the song since then! Anyhow, being game for anything, we knock out a hearty rendition of You Are Wrong and end with a frenzied Blue Suede Shoes, which has the whole tent up and dancing. George bounds off the stage and joins the dancers, strumming his guitar and pogoing about like a loon.
Most of what happened after the gig remains a blur. We ventured out in the lashing rain in the direction of the Left Field tent, where the Levellers were playing. On the way I seem to remember stopping at a Mexican food stall and serenading the workers as they assembled our burritos. Then, at some indeterminate point on the way to the gig, I became separated from the crowd and my phone completely packed up. I was lost. Like a soggy child. Fortunately there’s always something happening at Glastonbury and so, whilst the others were enthusiastically moshing in front of the Levellers, I was soaking up some sumptious jazz in the Jazz Lounge. Nice.
The most significant implication of having been split up from the guys was that I missed George falling over in the mud. Twice. Which I think is a terrible shame.
Friday begins with our friends Royworld (who we played with last year at the Clapham Grand) opening the John Peel Stage. Purveyors of Keane-esque, radio-friendly rock and rather fine waistcoats, their latest single Dust is currently all over the radio. Canadian Patrick Watson is up next and absolutely blows my mind. Well worth checking out.
We catch the bulk of Vampire Weekend‘s set before the tremendous Ben Folds, one of my idols, hits the Other Stage. We’re all in massively high spirits by this point and it’s starting to look like it’s not gonna rain again, which is tremendous news. Ben plays a combination of stuff from his last few solo albums and even chucks in Kate, a glorious slice of summer pop from the Ben Folds Five days.
Satisfied that we’ve had enough main stage action for the day, we head off in the direction of Shangri-La for some alternative sources of fun. Now. Here’s the thing about Glastonbury that, if you’ve never been before, is quite important to grasp – this isn’t just a music festival. It’s a lifestyle. You could go the entire weekend without seeing a single second of live music and still have the time of your life. Every last corner of the creative spectrum is represented somewhere on site. Circus, cabaret, club culture, theatre, comedy, crafts, spiritual healing – you name it, it’s here. In Shangri-La we grab a round of ciders and hit the Tilted Disco, a night-club on a 25 degree slant with upside-down furniture on the ceiling. We spend some time hanging out in a 50s diner made from the fusilage of an old plane and then head over to the Left Field to meet our new friends from Youth Music.
Youth Music, which supports music-making projects for young people across the UK, has been running a competition called Build A Band, giving five teenagers from various parts of the country the opportunity to form a band and perform on the Left Field Stage on Sunday in front of an audience of thousands. Here’s the catch though – they met for the first time yesterday and have to write, arrange and rehearse the song in less than 72 hours. Rock and roll. Youth Music have asked us to come and meet the competition winners and bestow our worldly wisdom upon them – although, to be honest, they seem pretty sorted about the whole thing. We chat to them about stage performance, overcoming nerves, working together as a team, that sort of thing. The interview is filmed for the Orange Festival website – watch this space for a link to the footage.
Next stop – the Green Futures Field for our second gig of the festival. The Small World Stage is as eco-friendly as Green Fuse, being solar-powered and run by a mysterious chap named Pony, a man with the dream of living life as “a permanent festival”. Small World has been a well-loved fixture at Glastonbury for as long as anyone can remember and this is our second appearance here.
If last night was your whisky-fuelled, dancing in the crowd, pounding the piano keys kind of experience, this evening’s show is more of a apple and cinnamon tea-fuelled, serenading the audience, tinkling the ivories kind of gig. It’s nearly 11pm and everybody seems pretty chilled out. In answer to this we keep things on the down-low at first, playing (if I remember correctly) Home For The Weekend, Fine and Miles Away in the early part of the set. New tune Put The Gun Down makes its debut appearance (heavily improvised!) along with Good Time Back. I’m pretty sure we played Lovecats as well, although it’s difficult to say for sure – we were making things up as we went along. Sleepless, This House Will Burn and Emily all made it into the final half of the show and we left the stage to appreciative applause. Make sure you check out the video footage from both our Glasto gigs, featured as part of our Glastonbury Video Blog (coming soon).
After the show, Friday turns into a bit of an all-nighter. Quick stop for a round of Chai tea, a couple of shots of Black Sambuca from a generous stranger, then up to the Stone Circle for bongos, didgeridoos and fire jugglers until 6am.
With the “working” part of the festival out of the way for us (*snigger*), we were free to really let loose. And, let me tell you, the amount of fun we had on Saturday and Sunday must surely be illegal. The weather was phenomenal and I think I hardly went longer than 7 minutes without dancing. Here are the highlights:
– belting out Weather With You at the Crowded House gig with 20,000 other people, bathed in incredible sunshine.
– playing frisbee with strangers in the Dance Village whilst Atrak dropped some horribly fat beats inside the dance tent.
– moshing to the incredible MGMT at the Park Stage… Electric Feel and Time To Pretend are without the doubt the anthems of the summer.
– getting down to Shlomo and the world’s first beatboxing choir, the Vocal Orchestra.
– headbanging to Kissmet‘s unlikely but absolutely kicking brand of Punjabi Heavy Metal.
– witnessing Jay-Z rock the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night and make music history – the first rapper ever to headline Glastonbury. Noel Gallagher has once again proved himself to be a complete arse by openly rubbishing the idea in the press and Jay responded by opening his set with Wonderwall. What a legend.
– John Mayer‘s soulful Pyramid set on Saturday afternoon. After he’d finished, a guy next to me commented: “It’s a shame he didn’t play anything from the first album but, then again, I guess a man who has bedded both Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston can pretty much do what he wants”.
– adding our wishes to The Wish Tree in the Greenfields. One small child had written “I wish for world peace all over the world and also no wars anywhere and also I wish for a pony”.
Seriously, I could go on and on.
Sunday evening ended in the best way possible – with sunset over the Stone Circle, accompanied by the moving strains of the bagpipes from high up on Pennard Hill. There must have been a good few hundred people up there with us and everyone gave the sun a round of applause as it disappeared behind the Mendip Hills. Magic.
We drove through the night on Sunday and made it back to London at around 4.30am, tired but happy. I managed a few hours sleep before being woken up by my mobile phone. I answered, croakily, and was a little taken aback to discover I was live on BBC Radio Berkshire – “So Chris, tell us about The Lightyears’ Glastonbury experience…”. “Well,” I replied, “it goes a little something like this…”.
n.b. read the BBC Berkshire article in full here