Mud. Mushrooms. Men on stilts. Mad mantronics breathing fire… it’s safe to say there’s nowhere like Glastonbury. Those who saw the Julien Temple film of the festival when it came out earlier this year probably watched it with a weird and awkwardly visceral feeling of nostalgia. Old memories are evoked, smiles creep on to our faces and a muddy spliff is raised to Michael and family. While the film, and now this accompanying CD, fill the void, they remind us how great the gathering is but also turn the knife that we’re not there right now, in a city-sized field, dirty, messed up and having the time of our lives.
Both CDs start with the feet-squelching ‘Mud For It’, which is exactly that, followed on CD1 by a recital of that bastion of Englishness, ‘Jerusalem’, and on the second by ‘It’s Sunday Morning’, on which a reveller admits: “The gear’s gone, gone for good. Oh no, I’ve still got some mushrooms.”
However, depriving us of the sights of the show spoils some of the fun. And while the film itself tries to tackle Thatcherism, riots and the cultural history surrounding the Eavis family’s 35 years of running the show, as well as their hospitality towards the travellers beaten away from Stonehenge, there’s no room for that here.
Of course the other reason for our annual 96-hour bender is the music, and the sets themselves are awesome. Primal Scream’s all-sirens-blazing ‘Swastika Eyes’ captures the communal (licensed) rave-up euphoria perfectly and makes their regression to comedy rock all the more depressing. It’s followed by The Bravery’s set-ending ‘Fearless’, who feature on the film with a butt-naked Dirt swinging his balls round the stage and launching into the drumkit. Faithless bring more pill-popping, coffee-table trance with ‘We Come 1’, addressing “Glastonberreeee” at the start as so many do, aware this is no normal occasion. Orbital, Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers add more euphoria in the oddly dance-dominated playlist, with whistles and crowd cheers and claps at just the right sound level, helping to bring things to leyline-co-ordinated multiple climaxes. You see, while many lament the festival’s increasingly corporate strategies, it brings its benefits. These sound desks are not manned by stoned hippies any more, but trained pros.
Classic pop abounds, Babyshambles, Scissor Sisters, who dedicate ‘Laura’ to their first lady, and Pulp seem to have kidnapped Hayseed Dixie’s fiddler for ‘Common People’. The inclusion of David Gray is hopefully a cheeky slice of irony. Another means of inclusion here is flattery. Coldplay’s entry features Chris Martin gushing “Michael Eavis and Worthy Farm… the best festival in history.”
Curiously, it’s almost exclusively from the last decade. What of Happy Mondays in ’90 or The Smiths in ’84? Bob Marley (1970), Alice Coltrane (1970) and Clint Eastwood & General Saint (1983) are the sole representatives of the show pre-1994. At least the film itself cuts in ’70s footage with the more modern tracks. There is, however, the token world act (what do you mean which ‘Oualahila Ar Tesninam’ track? The one by Tinariwen, of course.)
This is everything you’d expect: quirky, funny, quaint and infectious, packaged with a mock newspaper in recycled, bleach-free card, with 25 per cent going to charity. However, if I made a Glasto compilation, I’d do it another way. If you made one, the selection would no doubt be vastly different. Therein lies the problem; everyone’s weekend is unforgettable, unrepeatable, exciting and traumatic for myriad reasons. To distil the communal experience into two CDs is an impossible task, one the organisers should have shelved in favour of bringing us the experience itself again this year.