“Epic, hard work, bruising!” From the Rolling Stones to Portishead, with plenty in between - the brilliance of the Glastonbury Festival

Glastonbury's world-famous Pyramid Stage. Below: The Rolling Stones wowed revellers.
Glastonbury's world-famous Pyramid Stage. Below: The Rolling Stones wowed revellers.

The Glastonbury Festival is an event like no other - a mind-boggling concoction of music, madness, circus and cabaret. This weekend, Standard guest writer Pete Brooksbank experienced it for the very first time. Here he shares his thoughts on mud, sweat and beers...

It takes just 15 minutes after parking up at Worthy Farm for a suspiciously talkative regular to complain that the Glastonbury Festival isn’t what it once was.

The Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones.

“The atmosphere is rubbish this year,” the bloke says, gesturing towards a group of posh students loading a trolley with boxes of pinot grigio.

We are still in the car park. The gates aren’t due to open for another seven hours.

Despite his complaints, the guy is determined to get the party started, purchasing laughing gas off an apologetic novice who isn’t quite sure if three balloons for a fiver is a fair price, before delving into his van to offer me a free sample of pure MDMA.

I thought I was supposed to pay for that kind of thing, but apparently normal rules don’t apply at Glastonbury.

Glastonbury.

Glastonbury.

Peering at the amount of the stuff he’s holding I conclude it’s a custodial sentence waiting to happen. I politely decline and wish him luck getting it past security.

After the two hour long queues on Wednesday morning, we return to the car for a second run. His van is missing. I suspect he got chucked out.

I finally made it to Glastonbury, a festival I’ve wanted to visit ever since watching Orbital play Chime there in 1994 on Channel 4. The wind turbines are gone now, but past visitors are unanimous in their opinion that no festival on earth can possibly prepare you for the place.

I’m sceptical, having been to Europe’s second biggest festival – Roskilde – as well as other big events in the UK and abroad, but after staggering through the gates and seeing first hand the scale of the site I have to concede they are right. It’s massive. And I really mean massive.

After pitching up, Wednesday is a mooching day – a day to try and make sense of the place without the distractions of bands.

We camp a short walk from Silver Hayes, the new dance area. This in itself is the size of many small festivals.

The further we venture into the guts of Worthy Farm, the more the astonishing scale of Glastonbury becomes evident.

By the time we have reached The Unfairground, Block 9 and Shangri-La, things are ridiculous.

They’ve built entire towns. There are pubs, clubs, rum shacks, cocktail bars. Huge buildings tower above you, shattered tube trains embedded in the walls.

It’s gobsmacking, bewildering. You begin to wonder if the £210 you’ve paid is enough to cover the expense of building the place.

Then you realise it’s Wednesday and, despite the crowds, there’s still another 70,000 people, and £14.7m in ticket sales, arriving tomorrow. How will they all fit in? They do. Somehow they do.

Up on the hill over The Park, looking down on the immense site, you begin to realise you will never get around it all in three days. No chance.

This leads to an ever-present nagging feeling that no matter what you’re doing, there is something better happening elsewhere.

This applies to the food you eat as much as the music. You tuck into Moroccan food fretting that perhaps it was worth the extra half hour queuing for Lebanese. You watch a storming set by a favourite band wondering if you’re missing a secret set by Status Quo.

Whole areas will go untouched. Hundreds of bands will go unseen. This is the reality of Glastonbury.

On Thursday, the music starts and there are people walking around dressed as whoopee cushions.

I recommend popping to see Nottingham’s Six by Seven on the Glade/Spirit of 71 stage out of a sense of regional loyalty.

They’re not that famous. I’m expecting a small tent with six chin-strokers supping real ales.

In fact it’s a gigantic stage plonked in some woods, and by the time we get there it’s already rammed with inebriated revellers with glow sticks stuck in their ears.

This will be a recurring theme for the weekend.

Friday kicks off with Haim on the Pyramid Stage. One of them nearly faints. They make weird faces. That’s about as exciting as it gets.

Enter Shikari on the Other Stage are a different proposition. With this lot, you get tunes AND an education.

“Use your own mind, before someone uses it for you!” yells Rou Reynolds, before launching round the stage like a politically charged ping-pong ball.

You’d think the preaching would get a bit tedious, but they are great.

Tame Impala, as much as I love them, are sadly not great, certainly not worth leaving Miles Kane (with Alex Turner guest starring) early for.

Zane Lowe on the BBC Introducing Stage soon perks people up before Portishead headline back on the Other Stage.

“They’d better not play any Third,” someone grumbles as the band take to the stage and immediately launch into the opening track from Third.

You can’t please everyone. Never mind: the set is majestically broody, atmospheric and all the other stuff you know Portishead are good at, although the ever shy Beth Gibbons still doesn’t seem convinced.

“I hope it was alright,” she says, before everyone swivels eyes right to watch the spectacular fire-spitting arachnid of Arcadia light up the night sky with a storming set by RAM Records maestro Andy C.

Saturday passes by in a blur. MS MR bore everyone before playing the song everyone knows off the radio.

From there, getting to the Pyramid Stage to see Ben Howard takes time and patience – the crowds are incredible and the walkways uncomfortably overcrowded - but it’s worth it, if only to lie in the sun for a bit.

Howard can’t stop smiling and everyone feels happy for him as he seems like a nice bloke.

We then struggle over to Pussy Parlure to see London collective Clean Bandit turn in – for me, at least – the set of the weekend, peppered with hopelessly addictive tunes.

They are surely destined for a bigger stage.

The Rolling Stones are next. I don’t know much about the Stones, but everyone feels obliged to go see them because, well, they’re the Stones.

They play a couple of tunes I actually thought were by The Doors, which is a bit embarrassing.

Still, Sir Mick looks dapper and there’s a giant bird on fire on top of the stage. Bands always sound better when they set fire to things.

We head back to Arcadia as rumours sweep the site that Daft Punk are playing after Fatboy Slim. Except it’s not Daft Punk at all, but Chase & Status. The crowd is still huge.

Sunday’s biggest cheer is reserved for Tom Odell. Not that we actually get to see him – the John Peel stage is full.

Still, we stick around to listen.

“I just found out my album is number one,” he says. Cue the cheer, a perfect riposte to the NME’s petty, point-scoring 0/10 album review.

Pretty harsh. I’d have given it a four.

We try and see Public Service Broadcasting at Williams Green. It’s rammed.

We listen outside, but squeeze in to catch the thrilling single Spitfire.

We catch some Smashing Pumpkins, and some of the XX before spending the rest of the night dancing first to Sub Focus in Sonic and then in Wow! to someone we’ve never heard of and will probably never see again.

By now my knees hurt. I’m covered in what I think is a tan but later turns out to be a film of dirt. I’m spent.

Before we know it, it’s time to pack up and leave.

It takes eight hours to get home and reflect on what we’ve experienced.

It’s hard to sum up. It’s epic. It’s hard work. It’s bruising. It’s Glastonbury.

It’s unique. And we didn’t even make it to West Holts.

Time to relax? Nope. Turns out I can’t get the car park sticker off my windscreen.

Anyone got a number for Michael Eavis? We need to have words.