Complain all you like but Glastonbury has delivered the goods again

There’s yet to be a Glastonbury line-up that hasn’t provoked a chorus of naysaying. Refrains like ‘looks rubbish. I wouldn’t go’ and ‘not like it used to be’ are de rigueur. Dismissing the headliners as ‘crap this year’ rivals football as the nation’s favourite sport. Yet there’s something to be said for trusting the Glastonbury bookers: check out, say, the lower-tier bands on the 1994 poster and see how many greats they discovered before they were famous – Radiohead, Pulp, Oasis… Nowhere else in the world could hand written signs for toilets induce a Proustian yearning to return Glastonbury’s prestige and legendary ‘vibe’ are now such that the festival is

The true valour needed to go on pilgrimage in Britain

Every summer solstice, thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to greet the longest day of the year. Judging from the druids in the crowd, you might think this tradition dates back to pagan Britain. In fact, it was started in 1974 by members of a hippy commune who decided to host a free festival among the stones. The Pope, the Dalai Lama and John Lennon were invited, along with a handful of British Airways hostesses. These ‘interactions between ancient and modern faith’ fascinate the travel writer Oliver Smith. On This Holy Island is a journey across Britain, telling the story of a dozen pilgrim destinations and the spiritual seekers drawn

Glastonbury has become the new Last Night of the Proms

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

How to enjoy Glastonbury from your sofa

More than 200,000 people have schlepped down the ley lines for another year of ‘Glasto’. It’s tempting to deride these people: they’ll stink, they’re anchorless hedonists, they’re blue-haired hippies. However, they’ve got tickets to Glastonbury and I haven’t, so they win.  Actually going to the festival, however, is a minority experience. More of us will be watching it on TV. And whether you dig the Glastonbury vibe or not, there’s plenty of good music for all across this weekend.  The most important thing to remember, though, is to watch as little of the coverage as possible. It’s fluff. For three whole days, everything is ‘fantastic’, everyone will ‘bring it’ and

Did Jesus visit Cornwall?

I remember the ephemera at the back of St Barnabas. The church stands in Oxford’s suburb of Jericho, near the University Press. It had proper church clutter: stumps of candles, dogeared pamphlets and reminders of long gone diocesan initiatives. St Barnabas – a beautiful Italianate monstrosity, plonked by the high Victorians, with their classic tact, amid a cluster of crabby little houses, once slums but now worth millions – is good at collecting this stuff. In the sacristy is a vestment made from the coronation hangings of Tsar Nicholas II, smuggled out of Petrograd at the revolution; now the double-headed eagle peeps through the incense, delighting porters, dons and motor

Glastonbury has become a singalong event for OAPs

‘Well, it’s just not Glastonbury, is it?’ said my daughter aggressively, when told that our yurt featured an actual bed, wardrobe with hangers and electric points, and hot showers just around the corner. Our excuse was this was my and my partner’s first Glastonbury and we had a combined age of 125. ‘Anyway, why are you there?’ she said. ‘These are not your people, these are my people.’ Not from what I could see. With headliners such as Diana Ross, the Pet Shop Boys and Sir Paul McCartney, Glastonbury today is more a singalong event for people born in the 1950s (my husband) or 1960s (me) than anyone within shouting

Long live the rock dinosaurs!

When the Oldie changed ‘leadership’ a few years back I swooped on the new editor, young Harry Mount, like a seagull on a chip. ‘The one thing your great organ is missing is a pop critic!’ I lectured him. The average age of the reader was level-pegging with the pensioners in the rock’n’roll hall of fame: Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Bryan Ferry… it was a marriage made in mag heaven. ‘Papa’s not a rolling stone anymore,’ I continued. ‘He’s a grandpa, he’s a great-grandfather’ (Sir Mick became one in 2014). Harry went a bit quiet – he’d had a traumatic experience with a Jimi

Zelensky’s peculiar Glastonbury appearance

Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t quite make it onto the Glastonbury line-up posters. Perhaps Michael Eavis, the owner of ever-so Worthy Farm, had last-minute difficulties with the Ukrainian President’s booking agent. No matter. An eight-foot-high image of President Zelensky’s face graced the Pyramid Stage on Friday, right before ageing indie rockers The Libertines belted out their two-decades-old bangers. ‘Time for Heroes’, but not before festival-goers had enjoyed a brief set by Europe’s very own hero. You’d be forgiven for thinking the shtick’s getting a bit tired – but at least Pete Doherty can just about hold a tune. ‘Glastonbury is the greatest concentration of freedom these days,’ Zelensky told the festival. And

What happens to rockers who don’t die young?

What do the following individuals have in common: a political activist from Suffolk; a chartered psychologist from Oxfordshire, who enjoys playing golf at weekends; a funeral celebrant from Liverpool; the Birmingham-based chairperson of the Ladder Association Training Committee (‘When it’s right to use a ladder, use the ladder, and get trained to use it safely’); a pop star from LA? The answer is that all of them were pop stars, with the obvious exception of the pop star from LA who still is one. But even Robbie Williams used to be bigger. In Exit Stage Left Nick Duerden sketches the afterlives of two dozen former or current musicians – ‘afterlife’

Henry VIII’s windfall from the monasteries was shockingly short-term

In 1536 there were 850 monastic houses in England and Wales; just four years later they were all gone. The romantic remains of many of them still grace our landscape, Shakespeare’s ‘bare ruin’d choirs’ receiving more visitors today than the living communities did half a millennium ago. Now these visitors are primarily tourists and heritage lovers; then they were pilgrims, travellers, businessmen and, of course, those who toiled spiritually as servants of the Church, some more conscientiously than others. Monasteries were huge physically, commercially and spiritually; ‘they were never only scenery,’ declares James Clark in his new book: ‘Their profile defined not only a locality but sometimes a whole region.’

Floods you with fascinating facts: Trees A Crowd reviewed

Listening to Trees A Crowd, a podcast exploring the ‘56(ish) native trees of the British Isles’, solved one of childhood’s great mysteries for me. Why, when you plant a pip from one type of apple, does it grow into a completely different type of apple tree? The answer — one kind of apple tree will typically cross-pollinate with another variety to pass on a different set of genes — is less interesting than the next bit. Which is that if you do plant, say, a Braeburn seed, and it takes, you’re likely to end up with crab apples. The reason, as explained on the podcast, is that the wild crab

Corbyn’s Glastonbury blunder

Jeremy Corbyn is gone but at least we still have the memories. His son Tommy Corbyn shared one earlier from happier times, when Corbyn led the Labour party. Corbyn junior said watching his dad on stage at the festival was ‘one of the proudest moments of my life’: After Jeremy had finished speaking, he said, ‘one of the Glastonbury staff tapped me on the shoulder and said “you know he just got a bigger crowd than Rihanna’.  It was a touching moment, but Mr S spotted a problem. Rihanna has never played Glastonbury. Oh dear. Well, we’ll always have the memories…

The festivalisation of TV

The Glastonbury festival has undergone a series of metamorphoses in the 31 years since I first attended as a 15-year-old fence hopper (as, indeed, have I, thank heavens). One of the most significant changes, to pillage Gil Scott-Heron’s famous prophecy, is that the evolution has been televised. Back in 1989, if your boots weren’t on the ground — often a quagmire, though not that year — you missed out on all the fun. This has not been the case for aeons. Television coverage of Glastonbury began on Channel 4 in 1994, switching to the BBC three years later. In recent times, the Beeb has sent its staff in numbers comparable