A Glastonbury adventure with Led Zeppelin, Lana del Rey, drug dealers – and my son

It is as good as it used to be. Even if I have to be a bit more responsible now

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

‘Charlie. E. Powder,’ said the friendly, helpful man working his way through the crowd during the mindblowing Friday-night headline set by the American dubstep DJ Skrillex. I looked wistfully at his man-bag of chemical  enhancers. Skrillex was good. Maybe the best electronic act I’ve seen in 24 years of Glastonburies. (‘Slivers of mutant dancehall, booty house, Daft Punk arpeggios and big pop choruses, all mangled into oblivion with his signature sub-bass wobbles,’ as the Guardian’s critic so rightly put it.) But imagine just how much more trippy that Transformers light show would look if…‘Dad?’ said Boy, next to me. ‘I’m really tired. Can we go soon?’

Yes. There comes a time in every father’s life where he has to put away youthful irresponsibility and pass on the baton to the next generation. Even if it does mean missing the apparently incredible bit at the end where Skrillex’s console spectacularly transformed itself from a sort of dinosaur spaceship into a ginormous metallic mask, the like of which Dad will probably never see again before he dies. Grrr!

Still, there are definitely compensations when you take your progeny to Glastonbury. Like seeing this glorious, magical stretch of Somerset heaven through a fresh pair of eyes, amassing a new collection of shared perfect festival moments, then ranking them later in order of total amazingness over a mug of chai or a woodfired pizza in the Green Fields as you shelter from the rain and survey the waterproofed freaks as they trudge past like human condoms.

Robert Plant and his new band doing five — count ’em — Led Zeppelin tracks. That would have come pretty high, not least because Plant is generally so stingy with his older back catalogue. He considers himself a world musician these days and, if he does do an old Led Zep number, it tends to be so buried in gamelans and ouds and djembes and Moroccan strings you scarcely recognise the original. But this being Glasto, he made a generous exception. Not so generous that he would do ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (as if!). But he did close with a blistering ‘Rock and Roll’ and the guitars on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ were so crunchy and satisfying it could almost have been 1969 again.

Headliners on the Saturday were Metallica. We went to see a few songs mainly out of duty — just so we could say we’d seen the first-ever Glasto appearance by a heavy metal band — but they rocked so majestically hard it was quite impossible not to stay rooted to the muddy ground in we-are-not-worthy awe. They will have made a lot of new fans that night.

Lana Del Rey was a bit of a disappointment. I love her first album, but on stage she just looked awkward and had no real rapport with the crowd. Unlike Lily Allen, who was sassy, lovable and a great laugh, with her jaunty singalong version of ‘Fuck You!’ specially dedicated to Fifa’s Sepp Blatter and her naughty references to the ‘camel toe’ all too visible beneath her fuschia knickers.

But you’ll have seen all this stuff on television. Dolly Parton too, I expect, whom we missed but was no doubt as wonderful as they say. What you never get to see on the box, though, are the weird sideshows and random bits of performance art and kookily obscure gigs in the smaller tents, which are really what make Glastonbury Glastonbury.

The Smyths, for example. What a perfect start to a Sunday morning: a tribute band from Bristol with a singer who looks and dances and sings and mopes just like the young Morrissey, but in a cheery, uplifting way, with a great band that does all your favourite Smiths tracks straight-off-the-record. (Which is a lot more than The Smiths would do if they ever deigned to reform.)

And Dreadzone. I saw their Glastonbury debut 20 years ago — one of my all-time-favourite sets — and here they were playing in The Glade, strong as ever. They’re the quintessential festival band: jaunty, skanking, sample-laden, booming, hypnotic dub, which is so impossible not to dance to that even if you’re an embarrassing Dad you’re granted special leave by your offspring to do your Dad dance because everyone else around you is too.

Finally, our most special of festival finds: Twin Headed Wolf — an away-with-the-fairies, twin-sister folk duo from Ireland. We caught the end of one of their sets, quite by chance, and were so entranced we made a point of catching them at their next mini-gig an hour later. They’re a bit like David Cameron’s favourite Scandi-folkies First Aid Kit, only kookier (think Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter), more intense and with even more ethereally lovely harmonies.

God, I love Glastonbury. People who say it isn’t as good as it used to be are talking out of their hat.

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Show comments
  • dado_trunking

    I lurv fossil fuels too, lad – I just don’t burn as much as you do.

  • Kitty MLB

    We have relatives near Glastonbury, dear James. Never get stuck in a traffic with Students and men in the late summer of their years wearing hunter wellies and getting
    quite drunk around the car. Especially if you have a little yellow classic car. Oh and
    during the morning they will all climb Glastonbury Tor in search of King Arthur as I
    have said elsewhere.
    But now it seems to be very posh with ex girlfriends of Prince Harry. I wonder if
    Gwinnie turned up this year after spitting with Chris.
    And who are Skrillex ?
    Visited when a student but classical music and jazz are more suited to this fragrant
    creature. Mind you whilst at university, there was a..Oh I am not telling you..

    • pablo58

      Oh, do tell kitty. And I don’t know who ‘Skrillex are either, but I think I got the Gwinnie/ Chris reference. ‘Gwinnie’s the most tedious woman in the world, and ‘Chris’ sings in the most tedious band in the world, is that right? (if it’s the Gwinnie and Chris I’m thinking of it is).

    • Tahitiholiday

      Skrillex is apparently one man. James has an obsession with him. God knows why.

      • Kitty MLB

        Ah bless, Maybe James always had a secret dream
        to be a rock star. Although I’m not too sure this
        Skrillex sounds up to much..and I assume the women are not too keen.He almost sounds as if
        he’s a vampire.

  • Tahitiholiday

    Christ, James, can you write about music EVER without writing about the man whose name is the cross between a ballpoint pen and a toxic crab???!

  • ohforheavensake

    Dear me, James. When you’re not in rant mode, your prose just dies on the screen. Is this the kind of writing that got you that English degree?