Alec Marsh

Glastonbury has become the new Last Night of the Proms

The cultural baton has been handed on

  • From Spectator Life
Confetti falls during Elton John's performance on Glastonbury's closing night [Getty Images]

Time was when the pinnacle of the summer’s musical experiences – certainly from a UK television perspective – was the Last Night of the Proms. Preceded by weeks of more staid performances of classical music which most people did not tune in to, the conclusion of the Proms season, which dates back to 1895, was a collective cultural experience. Watched by those at home, as well as the audience of the Royal Albert Hall, it was and remains an effervescent outpouring of costume, flag-waving and patriotic singing – more an example of massed karaoke than a traditional virtuoso performance, particularly during the annual rendition of Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia of British Sea Songs.

The Last Night of the Proms was also culturally powerful – you’ll remember how anti-Brexiters used it as a stage (quite literally) to wave European Union flags after the 2016 referendum, filling the room with them; or how in 2020, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, the BBC, which organises the Proms, was in the headlines for deciding to cancel the annual rendition of ‘Rule, Britannia’, a decision which it reversed.

But now the Last Night of the Proms has been eclipsed – by Glastonbury. With the blanket TV coverage over the five-day event courtesy of our national broadcaster, as well as crowds of bourgeoisie devotees decamping to Worthy Farm in Somerset for an essentially annual vigil – albeit with occasional fallow years which ape the location’s agricultural antecedents – the last night of Glastonbury has become the new Last Night of the Proms.

For a globalised Netflix generations, the cultural space once occupied by the annual, rousing celebration of national pride through classical music at the Royal Albert Hall has been displaced by this altogether different spectacle 

Instead of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance or indeed ‘Rule, Britannia’, sung with falsetto elan by an elite mezzo-soprano with surprising, unfurled Union Jack frills, we had ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘I’m Still Standing’ and ‘Rocket Man’ – all performed by the man in the gold suit, with supporting contributions from the likes of Brandon Flowers of The Killers, who provided the red (that suit) and the white (those teeth), if not the blue.

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