Crawling through the Mud: Nerm’s Glastonbury Tales
Shiva Soundsystem founder kicks off the first in a series of columns
David Bowie saved my life. Well, fresh from my first heartbreak and at a hazy festival weekend, at least.
It was a simpler time. When the festival was for the ”˜freak’. Travellers, punks, hippies, indie-kids, wasters, music fanatics and outcasts all gathered together for a few days to get lost against the elements. The norms of society were thrown to the wind and a loose, anarchic utopia reigned supreme.
Under the cover of darkness, my old band mates from Charged, from my electro-punk band days, and I simply walked in. The less than locked-down means of access meant that the crowd had swollen to ten times its official capacity. I soon accidentally lost my partners-in-crime and spent the dishevelled, hazy weekend of dust and sunshine bumping into long-lost friends and making what Tyler Durden would call “single-serving friends.”
Stumbling around with no money, my bleeding heart barely pieced together, I survived on bartering, generosity, vibes and, of course, being on a parallel dimension entirely for David Bowie’s two-hour long headline set (the electronic act, “Leftfield” also deserve an honourable mention here).
This was my first experience at Glastonbury Festival in 2000. Bowie hadn’t played the festival since the unveiling of the now legendary “Pyramid Stage” in 1971. From its humble roots, Glastonbury Festival went on to become one of the largest most credible music festivals in Europe.
The free-wheeling chaos of the place was bought to a close with a partnership with festival and venue behemoth ”˜Mean Fiddler’ -Â first with a fallow year followed by enhanced ticketing, tighter security and the erection of a “Super Fence” in 2002.
Glastonbury is still a tent pole in an industry awash with inspired upstarts, misfired attempts and brands borrowing from the festival model and not quite getting it. Some have made a shit load of money.
This is the about point where you’d expect me to go on about how “it’s just not the same anymore,” “the scene’s changed,” “Kanye West shouldn’t be headlining Glastonbury” and “bloody identikit hipsters.” But no. I think that the lure of the accessible is the perfect gateway drug to new, unexplored, musical experiences – which is what Glastonbury is all about.
Over the years, from playing with Charged to DJing there with Shiva Soundsystem to reporting from the festival and hosting stages with the BBC, the exploratory nature of Glastonbury has never changed.
I’ve crawled through a rabbit hole at 4am and ended up in (literally) an underground cafe with more claustrophobic clamour and gone through a different hole, which opened up into a double-decker London Bus. Complete with a hot tub. And let’s not get into the 11am trek from the tub to go and watch Shakin’ Stevens.
I’ve made my way back to the artists camp site at 8am with my brother-in-arms D-Code and seen the whole festival shut down only to be greeted by Pavan and the rest of the Foreign Beggars stumbling the other way and Prash and his band Engine Earz coming up another path. Random familial convergences are surprisingly common.
Pentagram flying halfway across the world to play a 10-minute set was hilarious. Thankfully, Randolph has made it back out with Monica as Shaa’ir and Func a few times since. I remember Tapan from Midival Punditz deliberately missing his vehicle (and subsequent flights) because The Who was playing.
And the solo stumbling around such a huge site continues to throw up some incredible discoveries. Secret sets by massive DJs, temporary supergroups formed on far flung small stages in a forest, rockstars sharing a beer around a muddy but somehow still lit fire as the sun comes up. Once, I ended up on the aforementioned Pyramid Stage flanked by two musicians who I was a massive fan of. I didn’t remember this until a week later back in London.
Next week, Glastonbury will open its doors with a revamped grounds and new stages. The torch has been passed on from the founder of the festival Micheal Eavis, to his daughter Emily and everything seems to be geared to the next generation of festival goers. As such, going to a festival is now no longer just for the ”˜freaks’ but as widespread an experience as going to the cinema. But the heart of Glastonbury remains the same. Don’t care about the likes of Beyonce or Kanye on the Pyramid Stage? Don’t worry – Bjork will keep the balance as her usual Goddess-self on the Other Stage. Go explore.