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October - November 2008
GLASTONBURY - A FESTIVAL OF MUSIC, MIRTH AND (MOST IMPORTANTLY) MUD!!
by Super Jolly
Super Jolly gives India Link International the inside track on her experience at Glastonbury
The day I had been waiting for almost two years finally arrived. I had three laptops in front of me with fifteen screens on autopilot, each constantly being refreshed, and two mobile phones on redial. After 51 minutes, although it felt like eternity with my heart beat increasing by a second, I jumped off my chair and danced with joy. I had at last a ticket to the world greatest music festival – Glastonbury 2007. Hooray!
I rushed to break the news to my mum. Thrilled with the result, I hugged her telling her that I had got a ticket for Glastonbury. My mum’s response was hilarious; reminding me of Goodness Gracious Me and the Kumars at No. 42. Perhaps it was typical of a protective mum’s reaction. She thundered that Glastonbury is not for Asians. “Surely not for Asian girls. Strictly not for my daughter. It will be raining and muddy. There will be drugs and crime of all sorts. Mum knows best, you are not going and that is final.”
It took me sometime to convince her that it is a family festival and not some drug fuelled jamboree for weirdoes, and reminded her that I am 30 and she had brought me up responsibly. Finally, mum relented and we smiled together in a shared triumph.
The now legendary Glastonbury Festival is around the summer solstice – expected to be the driest and brightest period of the year. It is the largest green field music and performing arts festival in the world. The festival is located in 900 acres within the picturesque Vale of Avalon in Somerset. The event imbibes symbolism, mythology and religious traditions dating back hundreds of years. Due to its tremendous worldwide popularity, the thousands of wannabe festival goers are denied entry – Glastonbury presents them with the façade of a virtually impenetrable fortress guarded by a 10 feet high wall.
At its inception in 1970, Glastonbury festival was almost a non-event; even at a just £1 a ticket a mere 1,000 festival goers turned up. Glastonbury was the brainchild of Michael Eavis – a gentleman and a farmer – who was influenced by the ethics of the hippy culture and the flower power of the sixties. Considering it almost stalled before it started, the rise of the festival had been nothing but extraordinary. Attendance rose to 177,000 in 2007, with many failing to get the much coveted tickets, and Glastonbury taking the mantle of the largest green field festival in the world.
Glastonbury attracts people with amazing diversity from all over the world who are privileged to watch amongst others well known personalities and groups like Shirley Bassey, Bjork, The Who and Chase n’ Dave at a single unique venue over five days. As well as contemporary music, the festival also features dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and many other arts. This year 700 acts were scheduled to perform on over 80 stages offering something for everyone to enjoy.
Once my mum had given me her nod of approval, I started getting my gear together, the basic necessities – a sleeping bag, mat, flash light and other bits and pieces. Unlike mum, my dad’s reaction was one of elation and true encouragement. He felt proud that I had inherited his adventurous persona. He dusted his old cricket bat and asked me to keep in the tent, just in case….! He dashed to the shops and brought a small tent, a tiny shovel to dig a hole in the ground and some chemicals lecturing me that you will have your own personal latrine and you will not have to queue. I was dumbfounded. Surely he couldn’t be serious. Nevertheless I thanked my dad for his concern and consigned his offerings to a black hole in the cellar never to be seen again.
On Wednesday 20 June, I entered the huge tented city heavily laden by all the things that I thought I’d need for my six days adventure. It was like travelling to another country – heavily policed with 30,000 marshals, yet with relaxed laws and rules allowing everyone to have a wild time in their own way.
At the entrance I was horrified to see a map of the grounds with crosses on the camping areas that were already full, about 80 per cent had already gone and the festival-proper did not actually start for another two days. After numerous calls and texts I found my friends who had arrived a few hours earlier, they were all buzzing with excitement as they had secured a prized camping area, with some space for my tent as well, on high ground overlooking the main stage – the importance of which will become apparent later.
During my time at the festival I had some truly magical moments. The highlight was my waving at Dame Shirley Bassey resplendent in her diamond studded wellies and her waving back at me – or so it seemed!
I was fortunate enough to attend a wedding where the majority of the rain soaked guests dressed up in party frocks and wellies. The wedding was held at the Chapel (a converted barn) and easily housed all 100 guests. The minister performed a gospel like ceremony on a stage which resembled a boxing ring, complete with choir and a huge wedding cake. After the wedding we all went outside in the pouring rain for the obligatory wedding photographs to be taken. With the bride’s hair caked in mud, we toasted the happy couple with Brothers Strawberry Cider, the traditional drink of Glastonbury festival.
Despite the diversity of Glastonbury I feel it was missing a special touch - Asian performers. There was an Asian band playing on one of the outer stages but there were no famous Bollywood pop group, comedy act or universally acclaimed traditional Indian dancers. A festival without Bhangra or Kathakali is a let-down for the revellers. I hope we can redress this imbalance in the near future.
With 5 continuous days of rain, several thousand gallons of mud, I was thankful that my oft-festival going friends had bagged such a fantastic camp site – it must have been one of a handful of areas that remained relatively mud-free due to its locale.
The fun of the festival was compounded by the numerous times I took a tumble in the mud bath; with perpetually up to my knees in mud, I relied on my friends to extricate me from my sticky predicament. With high spirits and weary joints we wandered from stage to stage, unperturbed by the rain, in brightly coloured raincoats and umbrellas smeared in mud.
My research into the origin of festivals and found that they are as old as mankind. At one time, they were the reminders of our heritage and fostered cultural cohesion. More recently, globalisation and increased prosperity have radically altered our outlook – we are participating in festivals globally, not just linked to our community, religion, country of origin or adoption. The next festivals on my list are: Rio Carnival (Brazil), Pushkar Camel Fair (India) and Festival of the Desert (Mali). I will share my experience with the readers as and when these happen.
Fortunately, the wet and wild experience of Glastonbury 2007 was not repeated in 2008. It was, in comparison, a gloriously dry affair with brief interludes of summer showers.
I hope my brief foray into the world of Glastonbury has whetted your appetite for festivals around the world that provide joy and entertainment to so many. Hopefully, you too will have your eyes opened to this new world extravaganza.