Pop Goes That Lovin’ Feeling

Was it the mud or the line-up or the plethora of new rivals that made it a struggle for Glastonbury Festival to sell all its tickets this year? As a Glasto regular since 1990, I’d suggest none of the above. Personally I think it had to do with the Vibe.

Was it the mud or the line-up or the plethora of new rivals that made it a struggle for Glastonbury Festival to sell all its tickets this year? As a Glasto regular since 1990, I’d suggest none of the above. Personally I think it had to do with the Vibe.

Disbelievers may scoff but the legendary “Glasto Vibe” — enhanced, no doubt, by the numerous ley lines which are said to converge on the dairy farm in Pilton, Somerset where the event has been held on and off since 1970 — is what has always separated this mother of all festivals from its pallid imitations. During last year’s frigid mudfest, however, the Vibe appeared to have gone AWOL.

For me the defining moment came on the Friday night in front of the main stage when, squeezing my way forward through the packed crowd for a better view of the (very overrated) Arctic Monkeys, I met little but curses, obduracy and intense ill will.

Nothing odd about that, you might think. No one likes a queue-barger. But the point is that in 12 or so Glastonburys this had never happened to me before. Not once. Not even in front of bands 10 times better than the Arctic Monkeys with twice as big an audience. At Glastonbury, grumbling about crowd pushers is — or at least was — totally infra dig.

The reason it’s infra dig is because the festival’s special peace-and-love atmosphere encourages an extraordinary degree of empathy among the 130,000 or so revellers. When someone tries to squeeze past you — usually very politely, for such is the Glasto way — you don’t think, “Idiot! Why didn’t they try to get here earlier?” Rather, you think, “That could be me in a few hours’ time.” And such are the ever-changing requirements of a revellers’ day at Glastonbury — food, drinks, loo breaks, cigarette-paper runs, and what have you — it very likely will be.

For first time visitors, more used to the brusqueness, aggression and I-know-my-rights self-centredness of modern city life, this rustic mellowness can initially prove a shock. You’ll sit down for a coffee or a roll-up in the Tiny Tea Tent and immediately your neighbour will strike up a conversation with you as if you were old friends. You’ll have bombed-out strangers asking, “Sorry, mate, would you mind letting me have a swig of your water bottle?” You constantly find yourself catching people’s eyes, and exchanging the same conspiratorial look which says, “Yeah. Great, isn’t it?”

But these traditions can only be kept alive if there is among the crowd a sufficiently high proportion of Glastonbury veterans to show the novices how it’s done. In the old days, this function was largely fulfilled by the vast numbers of (mostly benevolent) regulars who used to get in free by scrambling over the fence. But more recently this has not been possible. Because of dire threats from the local council to withdraw the festival’s licence unless visitor numbers (monitored by helicopter) are kept to a strict limit, fence security is now so ruthlessly tight that the old crowd can’t get in.

At the same time, thanks to relentless, ever-expanding coverage by the BBC, Glastonbury has changed from being a large, semi-private party for the cognoscenti into the most hideously oversubscribed social event in the English summer calendar. Registration and rationing were introduced, making it even less likely that the Glasto veterans who set the tone could get their hands on a ticket.

In many ways, this year’s slow ticket sales — after a run of several years in which they sold out within a day — is the best thing that could have happened to Glastonbury. Regulars who’d given up on the hassle of trying to compete for a ticket will have said to themselves, “All right. Let’s give it one more try, just for old times’ sake.” This year’s Glastonbury will, I predict, be one of the best ever. But then that’s another side-effect of the Glasto vibe: tragically hopeless optimism.

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