Following my participation in the judging of this year's Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition, I felt somewhat obliged to head to the festival. I'd never been to Glastonbury before and the ensuing rain/mud/intense hot weather during my first trip was quite the baptism of fire. Fellow FG writer Kieran also made his way there, and you can read his highlights of Glastonbury 2011, if the following thesis is too much to stomach.
I arrived at the site on Friday, the 151,702nd person to do so, according to my wristband. Many people have told me that they have just as much of a good time on the preceding days of the festival as they do over the weekend - that wasn't much of an option for me as I didn't even have a tent until Thursday afternoon #lastminutedotcom. Plus, unlike most others, I was going to Glastonbury primarily for the bands.
Friday was something of a write-off for mostly rain-related reasons but I still managed to catch a few bands. I'd heard mediocre things about Fleet Foxes' live performance but their set on the Other Stage captured the heart of their recent record, 'Helplessness Blues', our album of the month for May.
I was considerably less successful seeing Radiohead's secret set at The Park stage than Kieran and soon trudged off to see what folk pin-ups Mumford & Sons are like these days - I was impressed, and more importantly, the crowd were impressed - future headliners, I'd say.
Speaking of headliners, I figured I might as well see what U2 could bring to the table. I was pleasantly surprised with their set, which plundered their back catalogue and matched it with fascinating visual effects. Bono's tuneless acapella version of 'Jerusalem' was a terrible mistake however. I did a bit of exploring post-U2 but headed off to the shelter of my tent pretty early on to gear up for the next day.
Friday might have been an orientation day but I really threw myself into Saturday. Quite literally after I fell over twice in the mud after the improving weather simply made the mud even more perilous. In between those moments of strife and self-loathing, I caught a whole host of bands.
The day was bookended by a couple of brilliant performances - Fight Like Apes charmed the John Peel stage with witty banter and a blistering live set despite their noon start and the much-maligned Coldplay triumphed with their anthemic headlining set on the Pyramid stage.
There were several other joyous performances throughout the day but also some disappointing ones - I failed to connect with Yuck, Warpaint and Battles on the John Peel stage, although my relative unfamiliarity with each band's material was certainly a contributing factor. Similarly, a secret acoustic set from Stornoway in the BBC Introducing tent proved lukewarm.
Those bands were far overshadowed by the feverish performances of Vinyl Jacket (BBC Introducing) and Friendly Fires (Other Stage) who both raised the spirits of their respective audiences. The combined appearance of the sun and Those Dancing Days at the Park Stage also proved to be rather uplifting, while Patrick Wolf was something of a revelation at the Oxylers tent - more because of his bizarre and slightly terrified chat between songs though.
No such problem for Chris Martin and his Coldplay gang who arguably delivered the performance of the festival with their string of hits. Despite their (admittedly apologetic) insistence of playing new tracks which stuttered the momentum of the set, even the majority of casual fans will have headed off into the night placated.
I woke up on Sunday morning in a sweat as my tent had metamorphosed overnight into a sauna. Reflective space blankets attached to the outside of your tent are my top tip if you're off to a summer festival at any point ever. I'm incredibly glad that I didn't spend the Sunday evening at Glastonbury - even though I missed Beyonce/Queens Of The Stone Age - Monday turned out to be the hottest day of the year.
Before I left, I fully intended to catch as many bands as humanly possible. I managed about eight full sets. That number might have been higher if The Joy Formidable hadn't caused a delay - but when they finally appeared on the John Peel stage, they provided the most intense performance of the festival and were well worth tipping in our preview. Esben & The Witch had earlier also brought a dark intensity to the Oxylers tent, oddly juxtaposed with the pervasive sunshine.
STREAM: Joy Formidable - Whirring
Foster The People (John Peel) should have triumphed in the sunshine but their set was unremarkable, barring the ludicrously good 'Pumped Up Kicks'. The evergreen Paul Simon, on the other hand, was prospering greatly on the Pyramid stage with one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. I didn't catch much of his set, nor OK Go's (John Peel), but both were more listenable than the falsetto vocals of Everything Everything (John Peel) - better on record than live.
Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip (Oxylers) impressed, which was particularly vital as Pip announced early on in the set that all their fellow UK hip-hop acts at the festival were "shit live". Having not seen any of the other UK hip-hop acts, I neither endorse nor condone that statement. I do however endorse TV On The Radio (Other), who justified their perpetual critical hype and delivered an incredible rendition of 'Staring At The Sun' before finishing with badass cover version of the Ghostbusters theme tune.
STREAM: TV On The Radio - Staring At The Sun
I figured that was a good moment to end my festival. Not quite as magnificent as when I folded down my pop-up tent first time but close. As a first timer, Glastonbury 2011 was certainly a mixed bag. There were many great bands but the weather was afflicting and so were many of the people - for example, pretty much the first punter I spoke to wiped their muddy hands on my jacket. What a complete dick.
There were many nice people too though - shout out to the keyboardist of Those Dancing Days, who I unexpectedly saw help a woman who was stuck in the mud. Another lovely woman even let me know that I'd dropped a £20 note on the floor instead of pocketing it herself. However, it's hard not to focus on the bad eggs considering how much is made of Glastonbury's supposedly untouchable atmosphere.
I imagine I'll be back at Glastonbury at some point, perhaps even when it returns in 2012. The height of my exploration was experiencing an ostrich burger (quite tasty actually) and with so many microcosms to examine across the Glastonbury site, maybe next time I'll lose myself more. Unless I have to trudge through the horribly sticky mud again.
Head over to Glastonburyfestivals.co.uk to find out details for Glastonbury 2013 registration.