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Glasto: heaven ’17

The sun shone, the breeze blew, and everything went pretty much as well as could be expected at this year's festival

29 June, 2017 — By Dan Kuper

After last year’s mud, this year’s Glastonbury proved a spectacular success

WRITING a review of Glastonbury is a bit like writing a review of, say, London.

There’s so much going on in every corner and direction that it could take a lifetime to see everything, and another to try and put it in perspective.

A year after a Brexit and mud apocalypse combined to make a lot of people question the festival’s existence, or at least their part in it, the sun shone, the breeze blew, hope arrived in the form of Jeremy Corbyn, who came to address the crowd at the Pyramid stage, and everything went pretty much as well as it could be expected.

Camden boys Reggae Roast played a storming set in the Shangrila field on Friday night, their wide crew of MCs blessing the mic in fantastic style. On the main stages, the standout for me was probably London rapping supergroup Boy Better Know, who brought the rudeboy ruckus to close the Other stage on Sunday night.

Other highlights included the incomparable Kate Tempest, and ska-stars The Beat, who after 40 years are still clinically superb, and always worth checking.

Politician-speech choppers Cassette Boy did their brilliant thing on Sunday afternoon, although they seem to have developed a slightly worrying obsession with Gregg Wallace.

I ticked off a bucket list entry when I got to see US punk legends the Dead Kennedys play California Uber Alles – they were lacking for their original frontman, Jello Biafra, but I’m not going to tell anyone that.

Reggae legend Toots and the Maytals turned up at Shangrila’s Truth stage after missing their gig on the West Holts stage on Saturday, although feedback plagued their set and Toots himself seemed out of sorts.

After the bands finish, it’s to the fields of the south-east corner, where the parties go on all night. It was the tenth anniversary of the Block 9 crew, who each year erect a absurdly detailed reconstruction of a New York warehouse club. To celebrate they got the undisputed kings of New York house, Masters At Work, to play the Sunday night set to a packed, sauna-sweaty rave of trannys, muscle marys and assorted freaks till past four in the morning.

I bumped into King’s Cross’s own Mr Tedz, drag star and latterly quiz master at the King Charles I, who told me he credits Block 9 for making a vast contribution to the UK gay scene, giving it a mainstream platform, empowering and inspiring young gay guys, and giving a huge boost and protective space for a vast phalanx of performers. How different from when he was the sole drag act at festivals 10 years ago, he said, and they often felt the need to give him a security guard detail.

The biggest development on recent years was in the Common field, where the Aztec temple – which has previously always looked slightly shonky next to the extraordinary set-building of Block 9 – this year looked absolutely spectacular.

The Common’s Steve Bedlam, whose original sound system was a mainstay of the free-party rave scene of the early 90s and who nowadays supplies the best sound rigs around the festival, went one further this year by getting in a set of specially built Jericho speakers. Made by Danley, a firm that makes speakers for use as military weapons, each box weighs 200kg and takes six men to carry – and the sound blew away everything else for miles around. Cor-bins, we were calling them, in honour of Jez.

However, for me, in the end, the soul of Glastonbury is away from the stages, the dust and the crowds, and up in the green fields, especially in the beautiful healing fields. There the gardens, installations, quiet spaces and artwork are, although understated, as beautiful and extraordinary as any of the sets Block 9, Shangrila or anyone else in the festival build.

Processions of costumed musicians pass around, leading ceremonies for the earth and the sky, and the whole thing is a protected idyll that, unlike so much of Glastonbury, seems to be truly sustainable. No matter how the festival itself grows, adapts and changes, there’s a corner of a Somerset field that will be for ever Eden.


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