Yes, we‘ve kind of shut up shop. But we have some pre-hiatus commitments to honour, and Drowned in Sound is off to Worthy Farm again this year for arguably the world’s biggest festival. Rather than just preview the big acts (you know who The Killers are, right?) we thought that we would do a list of ten things to do that capture the holistic spirit of the festival for you to discover if you are going for the first time, or for those who have been before and just want to spread their wings a little further.
First, though, a playlist, to get you in ‘the mood’
When the headline acts finish at Glastonbury, the party is only just beginning. For many people, the late night entertainment in the South-East ‘Naughty Corner’ is their actual highlight of the festival. And with good reason – the sheer number of extraordinary venues for clubbing with a unique visual and experiential twist is beyond compare. However, one of my favourite late night areas is a little Fifties-themed bar and diner located in The Unfairground, just as you come into the late night area. It’s a place you can step away from the festival and dance all night to early rock and roll classics, alongside excellent sets from live blues, R&B and rock and roll bands. This year’s line-up includes the terrific Son of Dave, New York Brass Band and Pronghorn. It may be one of the smaller late-night areas but it’s one not to be forgotten, which is the reason I make sure I visit it at least once a year.
On the other hand, if you want the truly huge and awe-inspiring late night experience at Glastonbury, there are few things to beat Block9. Set amongst a gigantic post-apocalyptic cityscape with trains embedded in buildings and gouts of flame bursting out everywhere, you can find the fantastic NYC Downlow with brilliant disco-inflected sets from the likes of Prosumer, The Black Madonna and Erick Morello. It’s easy to get lost for a whole evening here, then to come out only to be staggered again by the sheer visual drama of the venue. Seriously, even if you don’t come to stay for the music you simply have to see Block9, especially given that this year they are doing an interactive visual artwork based on post-truth and the ‘fake news’ era.
Right at the top of the whole festival – past The Park stage and up a treacherous hill (which has claimed many in the mud, including myself) is one of Glastonbury’s true hidden gems – The Crow’s Nest. Run by those lovely chaps from Heavenly Records, this tiny venue sits at the highest point of the whole festival, affording tremendous views across the whole site and arguably the best point to get the sheer scale of the whole festival. Not only that, but there is a cracking little bar there and the venue plays host to a series of secret gigs throughout the whole weekend. Rumours are usually flying about but the actual line-up doesn’t get announced until the day itself, and even then there is usually a tantalising ‘special guests’ mentioned on there.
Slightly further down the hill, just at the top of the Park Stage is one of the hardest places to locate in the actual festival. My advice is to look for the rabbit, though the actual entrance to the venue only opens at night and at an undetermined time. Queues can be long to get in, but once you have scampered – Alice in Wonderland-style – through a tunnel, you find yourself in a surreal, psychedelic environment where costumed characters serve you gin from teapots and DJs and live bands keep you entertained. It takes a specific effort to track it down and get in (and if you don’t at first succeed; try, try, try again is my tip!) but once there, you have an experience like no other.
Once I have unpacked my tent and sorted out my temporary home for the weekend, my first port of call is the Brothers Cider bar by the West Holts stage. I don’t know why, but it’s just a tradition I have. But there is something magical about that first drink of the festival being some damn strong and damn sweet pear cider as the flags flicker in the breeze and the hum of humanity and the chatters of excitement start to build. Even better is having the chance to hear some glorious world music and hip-hop on the West Holts stage over the weekend – possibly my favourite overall stage at the festival. Headliners this year include Jon Hopkins, Wu Tang Clan and Janelle Monae (who played one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen on this stage in 2011) but also keep an eye out for the excellent Mauskovic Dance Band, Hollie Cook. The Turbans, Lizzo, Slowthai and Jeff Goldblum.
Yes, THAT Jeff Goldblum!
Though the sheer amount of music makes your head spin at Glastonbury (and there is never enough time to see everything you want) there are occasionally moments where you need to take a couple of hours out to recover your senses and reset your compass. And one of my favourite places to do this is at the Pilton Palais Cinema Tent. Located up at the north-east corner of the site Near Pedestrian Gate C, it is a rough-and-ready tent (no chairs, bring your own) but it continually plays both new and classic films throughout the festival starting from the Wednesday. Impressively, they tend to have films still currently out at the cinema including this year where they have Dexter Fletcher’s magnificent Rocketman, as well as going beyond that with a unique preview of Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and a Bohemian Rhapsody singalong. Also on this year are Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Pulp Fiction, Run Lola Run and Avengers: Endgame. Watch out for special guests introducing the films too – one of my most magical Glastonbury moments was having Studio Ghibli’s incandescent My Neighbour Totoro introduced in 2016 by Tilda Swinton. If you need a break from the madness, this is the place to go…
…or maybe here instead? Located over the railway track and up towards the south-east of the site is a stunning area that encapsulates the origins of the festival as a meeting for travellers and hippies. Set over two fields are a series of craft workshops with such things as blacksmithery, woodwork, basket weaving, arts and crafts and jewellery making that allow you to take part in traditional crafts and to learn about trades handed down through generations. Cross over into the next field and you will find areas for meditation, yoga workshops, massage tents, tepees and a strong focus on themes of environmentalism and caring for the planet. It has a stunning sense of calm and quiet about it to the point where you can almost forget that the biggest festival in the world is going on around you, but it is wonderful for clearing the head and soul after a heavy night on the cider. Also make the time to visit the Stone Circle adjacent to it, but don’t expect any peace there – it is a raucous gathering for drummers, party-goers and the chemically charged over the whole weekend, but the sight of it is worth seeing at least once over the weekend.
Ok, Glastonbury is often muddy. And though there are showers at the Kidz Field and the Greenpeace stage, they can have long queues. So most of the time, you just accept that… let’s just say, you won’t be at your freshest over the weekend. Big deal, we’re all in the same boat. But if you do want something a little different or if you cannot go another day without being clean – body and soul – then the Lost Horizon Sauna is one of the most unique experiences you can have at the festival. Located at the top of the tepee field, it is an oasis of calm and tranquillity where you can shower, have a sauna and plunge pool and relax in a jacuzzi whilst drinking herbal tea and smoothies, all to the sound of acoustic acts. It is an additional cost of £15 per person and it can be a trek if you are on the other side of the site, but it is something you will never forget and a couple of hours that leave you feeling like a completely different person. Plus, the general ethos is that clothes=bad there, so you find everyone wandering around in the nude generally. And being naked whilst looking down at the festival below brings you that bit closer to the original hippie energy of its earliest days.
The Greenpeace area is located just to the left of the rail track as you head towards the South East corner and often I’ve taken a detour and ended up staying all night. The reason is that the Greenpeace stage is one of the best places in the festival to spend the evening. By day they have countless excellent displays and talks on preserving the planet, often with enormous animatronic figures of whales and polar bears, as well as a skatepark and some of the best food in the festival. By night, the place comes alive with DJs and special guests. Those announced to play there in 2019 include Norman Jay, Oh My God! It’s the Church, Crazy P, Rob Da Bank, She Drew the Gun, Boy Azooga and Elvana – Elvis Fronted Nirvana (who really have to be seen to be believed). But also watch out for special guest late-night DJ sets. Thom Yorke has rocked up there in the past and in 2017, Jarvis Cocker played one of the most memorable DJ sets I’ve ever seen, including making the whole place go utterly ballistic when he dropped ‘Stayin’ Alive’. Day and night, it’s the beating heart of the twin-faces of environmental activism and music that underpins the whole ethos of the festival.
Ok. I know that the stock response to anyone moaning about the headline names on the Glastonbury line-up is ‘but there is so much more to see than just the main stage’ but there really is nothing on earth like a proper Pyramid Stage gig that truly catches fire. The sheer scale of the crowds, the knowledge that you are being watched across the globe and the absolute sense of camaraderie is something that you really have to experience at least once during the festival. From Jay Z slaying the doubters in 2008, to the raw brilliance of Neil Young and the transcendent spiritual experience that was Blur’s astonishing set in 2009, to Stevie Wonder in 2010, Arcade Fire in 2014 and Radiohead in 2017, The Pyramid Stage has given some of the finest headline shows of my time going to festivals. And you don’t have to see a headliner there to get the magic – I can think of Scissor Sisters and Shakira in 2009, B.B. King in 2011, Elvis Costello in 2013, The Libertines, Burt Bacharach and Patti Smith in 2015 and being utterly magnificent during the daytime. And that’s without the famous “Legends” slot which frequently brings one of the biggest crowds of the weekend – Tom Jones with the hits in 2009, Dolly Parton owning it in 2014, Lionel Richie impeccably bringing the sun in 2015 and Barry Gibb and Chic bringing a tremendous party in 2017. However much you might prefer the music on the other stages, try to get to at least one Pyramid Stage show over the weekend to experience the unique spell that a show on that scale can bring.
Photo by Gary Wolstenholme