Julie Burchill

Glastonbury sums up everything there is to hate about rock music

Glastonbury sums up everything there is to hate about rock music
Glastonbury Music Festival (Credit: Getty images)
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‘Glasto’ – the diminutive makes me shiver with distaste; like ‘Peely’ – as his fans affectionately called the late DJ John Peel, schoolgirl-admirer and all-round creep – it sums up everything I don’t like about rock music. I’m reminded of my years as a teenage reporter at the New Musical Express, coming home from some rancid punk club having pretended to enjoy the Drones lurking or the Lurkers droning, and dancing around my room to the Isley Brothers until the sweet soul music chased the awful white racket away.

When Lenny Henry pointed out how pale-faced Glasto is, I wrote that this was because black people are less inclined to blow hundreds of pounds for the pleasure of using fetid toilet facilities between bouts of glazed staring at a stage so far away that it might be Billie Eilish but could just as easily be Billy Bob Thornton. In short, the sort of soppy eternal student who has more Mummy than sense. 

A ticket alone costs £280. If you want to stay in a ‘Tipi’ tent (‘Tipi dwelling is an incredible and elemental experience, but not a luxury one, so whilst the Tipis include a waterproof groundsheet, inner lining and rain catcher, you will need to bring your own bedding, mats, and any other necessary creature comforts’) that’ll relieve you of a cool thousand. If that’s not enough to reassure you that some pigs are more equal than others, the Tenthouse Suite hotel offers guests use of the restaurant, bar, spa and pool and costs an eye-watering £24,000 for the five days of the festival. Even the hangers-on of the monarchy go to Glasto now – Princess Beatrice wearing an £700 shirt-dress and her usual expression of slack-jawed incomprehension.

The politics of Woke are easily absorbed by the uber-privileged, having in common the beliefs that the proles are horrid and must be managed. Never seen so many white people in one place, as Jon Snow might have put it – there were more black people on the stage than in the audience, tellingly paid to be there rather than having paid to be there. Watching the gurning crowds, I recalled the Glasto of 2016, when the reaction to Freedom Morn – Brexit – was sour, to say the least. 'The chavs have won, mate,’ one cut-glass Glastonbury raver was reported as saying in the Sunday Times. ‘Both of our kids voted, and their attitude is they should have had two votes, and older people should have had one,’ said another Remnant. ‘I haven’t heard one person who was happy with the result,’ said a fashion student from Birmingham. 

Michael and Emily Eavis – the father/daughter pair who own Glastonbury – urged the 180,000 ticket holders to register ahead for a postal or proxy vote because there would be no voting facilities at the festival site. Despite this, it’s hilarious to think Glasto might have swung the vote even slightly as Remoaners woke up on the morning of June 23 knowing they’d forgotten something but then put it down to leaving a third of their brains in the ‘Healing Field’ after overdoing it on the mushrooms. Glasto appears to be like childbirth in that way – you have to take a lot of drugs to withstand the horror and to make you willing to try it again.

Though I don’t like festivals in general because of their subterranean standards of hygiene, Glasto is more irritating than all others because of its political pretensions. Its symbiotic relationship with the similarly Palestine-pandering, Brexit-hating BBC is a notable one, to the extent that it appears to be the foremost annual works outing; before Covid they sent a whopping 300 staff there, more than they did to the World Cup. I daresay it’ll have been roughly the same this year, after which these parasites will go back to piously detailing the poverty of those who have to choose between ‘eating and heating’ while blithely ignoring the burden the TV licence puts on the poorest – between ‘looking and cooking’ perhaps. 

Even the sympathetic Barbara Ellen, covering the BBC coverage, wrote in the Observer: ‘The occasional waft of smug cultural gentrification everywhere is to be expected of Glastonbury’ but she might as easily be talking about the BBC itself. Emily Eavis spoke of Glastonbury as a ‘pilgrimage’ and Woke is the new religion of these smelly disciples, albeit with all the bad bits (sanctimonious) and none of the good bits (joy). And right on cue, here comes Greta Thunberg!

What about the music? With such a vast roster of acts, of course some of them were great; Self-Esteem, Wet Leg, Roisin Murphy, Metronomy, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss duetting. Billie Eilish has a gorgeous voice and she really knows how to work a crowd – almost like a mindful little Freddie Mercury at times – but the songs get same after a bit; plink-plunk, dirge-dirge. At 20, she was the youngest performer; at 80, Sir Paul McCartney was the oldest, and sounded like a bloke refusing to get off the karaoke stage at closing time until he’d done his Beatles medley.

For me, two images of Glastonbury will last. The rubbish left behind which even though I haven’t seen this year’s yet was, before Covid, shocking; it took 1,300 volunteers three weeks and around £780,000 to clear up around 5,000 tents, 6,500 sleeping bags, 400 gazebos and 54 tonnes of cans and plastic bottles. What sort of half-witted hypocrites applaud Greta Thunberg but don’t bother to pick up their trash? 

The second was President Zelenskyy’s appeal to the crowd; looking like a roadie, this humble hero spoke poignantly: ‘We in Ukraine would also like to live the life as we used to and enjoy freedom and this wonderful summer, but we cannot do that because the most terrible has happened – Russia has stolen our peace. But we will not let war break us. That is why I turn to you for support. Glastonbury is the greatest concentration of freedom and I ask you to share this feeling with everyone whose freedom is under attack.’

Regarding the mess left in their vast playpen by this monstrous regiment of Peter Pans, ingesting laughing gas while Kyiv burns, it was hard not to compare the softness of our society with the strength of the Ukrainians and wonder if we would withstand the invasion of a superpower in the same way. Still, never mind – you can always pop into the Peace Garden where ‘your spirit will calm’ as you approach the ‘Sacred Space’ in the ‘spiritual centre of the event’: there you will find ‘a tribute to Mother Earth with its beautiful flowers and seating areas…A great meeting place to relax and chill with seating amongst the flower beds. The large seat of contemplation with its Chamomile arm rests allows you to do just that, as you sit back and gaze out over the event.’ Take that, Putin!