This weekend I was at the festival for the first time in almost a decade. I'd been worried both at leaving behind technology and at how I'd cope with tents (especially if it rained). While I did have a bit of trouble with the weather, and I missed some of the communication that IRC and email affords, it was actually a good weekend. Here's the distilled version of my weekend.
Sigur Ros. Two hours before this I'd been discussing the weekend, and what I'd liked, and whether I'd bother coming again. Then I saw this, and it blew me away. Despite sound problems with the first song (there were a couple of squalls of feedback) the eight-odd band players (including a string quartet) soldiered on, and it rapidly developed into a wonderful, passionate performance. As the rain gently fell in the sunset light, they moved on from the quieter tracks to those with (shock) drums, and ended in the only guitar smashing I saw all week. Band of the weekend, no question.
Goldfrapp, at the New Tent. That stage wasn't there at all when I last attended, but it had some damn good acts on. Because of the Radiohead effect, I was able to get right at the front, which I think added to the appeal. Alison Goldfrapp has really taken a much more obviously sexual pose to go with the new album, dressed in a quasi-military almost fetish outfit, but the best bit was hearing her really sing; those operatic bits on record really are her, with no manipulation. Shame the violinist was wearing a gold lame shellsuit, though.
Lost Vagueness. Sitting in the too-warm sun watching middle-rank indie bands usually annoys me, so I wander. And you see some pretty good stuff. There's the usual bunch of hippies up at the south of the site, of course, and this is the first time I've been there while Lost Vagueness field has been running. Apparently it's at its best at night, but I did see a bit of a wedding at the Chapel of Love and Loathe, and the swing/jazz lessons at the Ballroom were almost tempting enough to get even me to dance, although the capoeira folk were too good to be emulated.
Circus and poetry. The outdoor circus stage had some great acts (the Australian water-skiing acrobats (in a paddling pool), the near-naked chainsaw juggler, the juggler who delighted in insulting the kids) and there were also wonderful people wandering around (the guy selling 'hot tarts', in leapoardskin, poledancing against signs; the copper-coloured stilt insect people who liked trying to steal water bottles from, well, me). Then there was Luke Wright, a nicely bitter poet with a pop-culture streak who returned from last year. It's this sort of thing that sets Glastonbury apart from all the other festivals.
Some other good bands. I enjoyed the festival-closing set by Doves on the Other Stage, which had good projections and ended with a surprisingly techno number. Primal Scream were also good on Friday night, although the crowd liked all the songs I didn't (Rocks, Jailbird, Moving on Up) and I was happier with the ones they seemed less keen on (Swastika Eyes). The Chemical Brothers DJ set had nice four-to-the-floor beats and the odd bit of squelchy acid, so I could dance happily to it. Damien Rice was pleasant enough to listen to on Sunday afternoon.
The sponsorship. It was nice to be able to buy the Guardian cheaply, and to get a poncho from Orange so I didn't get soaked on Sunday, but it also still grates a little.
Mobile phone usage. It's nice to be able to get in touch with people to meet up, but it can also lead to people trailing each other round the site; can't you plan in advance any more? Shouldn't you just enjoy the gig rather than sending messages to your friends, too? (The Observer's Glastonbury special had a good article, but it seems not to be on the web.) People were seen using picture phones in the wild too. Can a Glastonbury moblog be far away?
The Darkness. Comedy metal is a fairly good way to start a festival, I suppose, but I'll not be buying the album; I don't think the joke would translate. See also Electric Six, who came across as stodgy and monotonous apart from the two singles. Gay Bar was a fairly fun singalong, though.
Röyksopp. They were nothing special, sadly. Bounding up and down while slapping on a synthdrum doesn't make a good show, and none of the tracks seemed to go anywhere special.
Radiohead. Controversial, I know, but having wandered back from Goldfrapp I was stuck at the back, and it just sounded muddy. I'm sure people who were nearer enjoyed it greatly, but I was happier wandering through the lovely path by the cinema stage to the dance tent for the Chemical Brothers. In fact, the Pyramid Stage seemed to suck the entire site clean, which is a little sad, really.
All the poi. I'm sure it's very fun to do, and some people were very good at it, but then I'm wary of anything that fashionable. I failed to see any fire poi, though, and that was probably much more impressive.
Our choice of camp. Good: flushing toilets. Bad: near the sewage lagoon (so it both smelt bad and had a steady run of tractors through the night). Good: convinient for the Pyramid. Bad: a long way from most other things. Still, it was nice to all get a nice circle of tents together.
Being unprepared for rain. During the otherwise good Inspiral Carpets set on Friday morning a band of rain passed over the site, soaking my tshirt and shoes and cooling me to the point of shivering. Thankfully it stopped after a couple of hours and I had sturdy shoes, and my jacket was enough for the rest of afternoon.
Leaving. First Great Western could do with laying on more special trains than one every two hours or so. The fact that we queued for ninety minutes only to get a seat in the aisle has not given me warm happy thoughts about the company.
In all, though, I'm pretty pleased with the weekend, and I even picked up a tan and a 'dapper' hat without too much sunburn. I'll definitely think about going next year, now I've broken the habit of not attending.