Glastonbury was almost ruined for me by Kylie Minogue. Very selfishly, she started her sunbaked set – in the Sunday afternoon slot reserved for pop legends – while Boy and I were packing up the tent ready to make a quick getaway later that evening. By the time we got to the Pyramid Stage, the crowds were so thick you could barely push your way through to a view of the video screens at the side, let alone the stage itself.
‘Please don’t let her have done my favourite song yet,’ I said to a chap in a shiny red jacket. (I decided to stand near him because he’d said ‘You’re James Delingpole!’ as I stumbled past, in a friendly way, not in a nasty way which is always my fear amid so many greenies). ‘What’s your favourite song?’ ‘The one that goes “La la la. La lalalaa la. La la la. La lalalaa la.”‘
Luckily – (almost a pun there but not quite) – I hadn’t. Moments later, Chris Martin (from Coldplay) came on stage and did an acoustic duet of the lalala song, which was sweet. So too was Kylie’s tearful speech about how this came about: she’d been due to headline Glastonbury in 2005 but had to cancel because of her breast cancer. In her absence, lots of the bands appearing that year, including Coldplay, played Kylie covers in her honour.
Kylie’s a delight, but let’s be honest, most of her back catalogue – especially the early Stock Aitken Waterman stuff (‘I Should Be So Lucky’, ‘Especially For You’ etc) is excruciating. So after the lalala song I quickly (or rather, given the crowds, glacially) had to flee, discovering from a fellow escapee to my chagrin that I’d missed the very best part of her – when Nick Cave had come on and done a beautiful duet with her on her other good song, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’.
In other words I’d missed a Glastonbury Moment: those instances of transcendent perfection – sometimes involving unexpected celebrity duets of classic songs, sometimes serendipitous encounters in some far flung field – which festival goers so love to accumulate, in the manner of gold rings when you’re playing Sonic the Hedgehog.
Still, Boy and I did collect quite a few this year, one of them being our trip to the sauna in the Tipi field next to the Stone Circle. The sauna is in a yurt – obvs. It’s Glasto – and you sit, butt naked, in the semi-darkness, exchanging stories with random characters like Patrick, an Irish blacksmith who lives by a lake in County Mayo with 70 wild horses. There’s a nudie area outside – enclosed, so the mob outside can’t see you – with campfires to dry by and a trampoline on which to bounce. I tried the trampoline which was fun, until I noticed some revellers outside excitedly filming me every time I bounced above the enclosure fence, tackle flying. Probably it’s now on the internet somewhere: my moment of hippy shame.
What people who’ve never been to Glastonbury don’t quite understand is that it’s not really a music festival but a massive performance art event in which everyone – 135,000 – is a participant. Pretentious though this might sound, it’s wonderful when you’re there: you willingly find yourself doing stuff you’d never do normally – sitting in a makeshift hut in the Permaculture fields, say, crafting a necklace out of nettle twine and spider crab – in the company of random strangers on a shared journey of hedonism and friendliness and childlike joy.
When we arrived, for example, we found ourselves pitching our tent next to two Northern Irish girls who clearly hadn’t a clue how to put up theirs. So I did it for them because this is what you do at Glastonbury. Possibly they told their friends about the nice stranger who helped them put up their tent. Possibly not. But it was a small payback for all those random acts of kindness I’ve experienced in the 29 years I’ve been a Glastonbury regular.
Musically, the highlights for me were the Killers’ faultless two hour headline set, various weird stuff I saw in Shangri La at about 3am which I was too far gone to identify, and, possibly best of all because it was so unexpected was Miley Cyrus.
Miley has an unfortunate reputation: the former Disney child star who grew up to became a foul-mouthed, booty-shaking twerker. This has tended to obscure what an extraordinarily powerful talent she is, as she proceeded to demonstrate with a set very thoughtfully crafted both to showcase her incredible versatility – from country to ragga to heavy rock – while appealing to fairweather festival listeners like me who wouldn’t normally dream of going to see a Miley Cyrus gig.
I came to snigger and gawp, but I stayed to worship. Of the 500 or so performances I’ve seen at Glastonbury over the years, this was up with the very best. She did ‘Jolene’ as twangily as her godmother Dolly Parton, Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ with a banshee wail as mighty as Robert Plant’s, ‘Back to Black’ as debauchedly as Amy Winehouse, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ as heavily as Metallica… Then her dad Billy Ray Cyrus came on with rapper Lil Nas X to perform the recent viral number one hit ‘Old Town Road’. You won’t have seen much of this on television, I don’t think. But I do feel sorry for all those of you who missed it.
As for Stormzy, all you will have read in the papers is about the ‘Fuck Boris’ stuff. The truth is though that while there’s an awful lot of greenie/leftie politics around at Glastonbury – eg a painted plywood cutout of a Banksy-style Greta Thunberg above the Greenpeace field with the words ‘What She Said’; a painting of Sir David Attenborough with a halo; ‘debates’ on Brexit where all the speakers think the main aim is to get it cancelled via a Second Referendum; etc – you can let it wash right over your head. Boy, who is not much different from me ideologically, rated it as highly as the Killers who are his favourite band.
People give me a lot of stick for loving Glastonbury. I don’t care. Michael and Emily Eavis have created something really special. I’ve probably had more perfect moments in those Somerset fields than in the rest of my life put together.