I had meant to write a dispassionate account of this year’s Glastonbury, really I had. But I’m afraid my plans were ruined by a chance encounter on the final day with my old friend Michael Eavis — the distinctively bearded dairy farmer who founded it 45 years ago.
Rather sweetly he has got it into his head — long story — that I once helped him save the festival. Gosh, I hope this is true because it would annoy so many people: suck on that, all you Guardian readers, you lefty stand-ups, you Greenpeace activists. Every time you go to Glasto from now on you must offer a silent prayer of thanks to the Prince of Darkness himself.
‘You coming to see The Who tonight?’ said Eavis. Usually, I like to leave early to avoid the traffic. But then I realised that he was inviting us to join the Eavis inner sanctum in the wings of the Pyramid stage as the closing act played. Boy shot me a look that said, ‘Blow this one and you are dead, Dad.’ Hastily I began to backtrack.
To be honest, apart from a cracking headline set from Florence and the Machine, the previous two days had been disappointing. Kanye West on Saturday had been a complete waste of space — chest-thumping basslines, sweary-shouty verbiage, but none of the musical richness or subtlety or fine production you get on his records. And we’d been quite short on ‘Glasto moments’ — those random incidents of charming and delightful weirdness in which the festival abounds, usually on the outer fringes of the site.
But after that magical encounter with Eavis everything was transformed. On the main stage, a hoarse but heroically determined Patti Smith introduced her special guest the Dalai Lama. After we’d all sung him ‘Happy Birthday’ (his 80th), he blessed us with some words of wisdom. It was almost self-parodically hippyish but it was lovely.
Lovelier still was the sight of a portly, balding, very middle-aged man being adored in the sunshine by a surprisingly vast audience for his deep growling vocals, sung to Killers-esque melodies, and his endearing Dad-dancing. His act, Future Islands, has become a cult sensation. ‘Thank you, God, for giving us hope,’ said the fat fortysomething jigging next to me.
In the Glade, a Balkan outfit called Dubioza Kolektiv — wasp-coloured T-shirts, terrible haircuts — were pumping out insanely irresistible ska-punk. On a stage so small it doesn’t even have a name, a superbly proficient bass-keyboards-drums trio were nonchalantly playing jazz so mesmerising you had to stay even if, like me, you hate jazz.
Over chai by a woodfire in the Permaculture zone, we chatted with a heavily bearded man who looked like the smack addict down-and-out he till quite recently was. Turned out he’d sold me my first E in 1988. He also had a theory as to why the Germans halted before Dunkirk so fascinating that I’m saving it for another column.
Then came The Who. I used to scoff at people who say they’re the best live act in the rock history. Not any more. There we were in the wings just behind them grinning at one another like we’d all won the golden ticket. I’m not sure Boy and I will ever come down from that cloud. Eavis told me that for some reason it had been his best Glastonbury ever. Mine, too, and I feel so privileged to have shared it with him. He’s 80 this year and has brought more intense joy to more people than almost any Englishman alive. Time, surely, to pay the great man his due: arise, Sir Michael Eavis.