When I thought about how to write this blog post I contemplated dividing it into days as there was literally so much to talk about…but on reflection, 4×12 hr night shifts plus massive sleep deprivation has meant all the days have merged into one in my memory! And so, here is my 130 hour day at Glastonbury…
Journey down started early – like 5am early. Taxi to Piccadilly drove past a long line of festival goers all waiting for the epic 8 hr bus journey down to Somerset…sack that. Instead the only public transport I had to endure was 90 minutes of train to Derby where I had managed to get a lift from. So the three of us set off from Derby in the car – we got about ten minutes down the road and spied a Maccy D’s, Sausage and Egg McMuffin thank you very much. After our wholesome breakfast we actually did get on the road and in no time at all we were about 5 miles out and 2 hours away. Yup you read that right…5 miles in 2 hours. I love queue’s. So we sat with thousands of others talking boys, celebs and bands and got chatting to the locals who bombarded us with requests to buy flagons of the funkiest looking cider I have ever seen. I’ll pass on the rocket fuel thanks.
After a couple of hours in the queue we finally made it to the staff entrance and followed a jeep of hot security guards to our campsite. Our camp was located just outside of the festival fence next to the dairy farm and a couple of minutes walk from the dance village. I was delighted to see a port-a-cabin with an actual toilet and sink with mirror less than 10 paces away from our pitch, as well as proper showers and somewhere to charge our phones – for someone who cannot live without her Blackberry, this was a mighty good thing. So then it was time to put up our tents…I had taken a chance and made a last minute pop up purchase and wow what a buy! I had no idea what to expect or how quickly it would go up, so I practically knocked out a passing security guard when I unzipped the bag and my tent leaped out in a matter of seconds! I sat there smugly unpacking my rucksack while the other girls wrestled with their tent for the next 40 minutes…
Registering for our shifts was a bit of a shock – instead of getting the 3x 12hr day shifts all in the same area that we’d been promised by our lecturer, we got told there was only night shifts left, we’d have to do 4 of them, and we were all getting split up! To top things off they only had XXXL uniforms left, so the buff security guards who got there early got to wear body hugging Mediums and we got what may as well have been a bright orange polo dress. I was not happy.
We got the Wednesday night off and weren’t due to work until 8pm on the Thursday evening, so we went for a look round the festival site and got chatting to some of the security guards. As you can probably imagine there was a high percentage of men in our camp – specifically buff men with shaved heads, tattoos and a cheeky swagger. I’m not gonna lie, as 3 single ladies, we had a pretty good view. Now this would not normally be my type at all, I usually avoid chavs like the plague, however I can’t deny there was some damn good torsos walking around! It was just better when they kept their mouths closed.
Anyway, perving aside, we spent the majority of Thursday walking around the festival site, checking out the different areas and sampling some of the overpriced food on offer (my personal favourite was a Belgian waffle covered in nutella and bananas – worth every one of the 500 pennies!) Thursday evening came round quickly and we made our way to the food tent for our dinner. At this point, I really did feel like I was in the army. They had long wooden tables stamped with black writing on the ends, all set out in rows with starving men shovelling platefuls of food into their oversized gobs. We queued up and got our standard chicken curry and sat discussing where our first night shift may take us.
And so we set off to our posts – I was with 3 other people from our group of Derby Uni students so at least there was some familiar faces, or so I thought. As soon as we got to the ‘blue zone’ a.k.a. family camping area/ acoustic + cinema tent we all got split up! I got stationed guarding the kids crew camping field with the most sinfully boring security guard I’ve ever met. I was there for 7 hours. By 3am there were clearly no kids running around, and there was nothing for us to do except listen to the security radio and wish we’d been put in one of the other areas of the site where there was actually something besides sitting on our arse and trying not to fall asleep to do. At this point, my supervisor thankfully decided it was time for me to do something different, so for the next 2-3 hours I went on patrol with some of the lads. This consisted of weaving our way through the sea of tents near the Pyramid stage looking for ‘suspicious’ behaviour, unzipped tents, discarded baggage etc. Amongst other things, we managed to stumble across a rucksack full of Class A’s, 5 guys without wristbands, 3 scousers who’d been thieving and a bunch of jumped up southerners who thought it’d be a good idea to chuck wood pallets on a fire surrounded by tents. After half an hour spent standing around ‘supporting’ the police making an arrest, I was literally shaking from the cold and could no longer feel my feet. It was light by this point and there was a few revellers still milling around and making their way back to their freezing cold tents.
The last couple of hours of my shift were spent walking around our area patrolling and generally trying to pass time before we could go to sleep. By half 7, I was past being tired. Our relief came and we made our way across the site back to camp. The sun was already shining bright and our layers of jackets were shed. The thought of now going back to bed and sleeping in a tent that may as well of been a furnace was really not an attractive prospect. Approximately two hours of constant sweating later, I could literally not stand being in my tent any longer and got up and had a shower. It was 30 degrees outside and I had another gruelling night shift to look forward to later on that evening. The one plus point however, was that it was the first and best day of bands. Today we had such delights as Two Door Cinema Club, Bombay Bicycle Club, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Dizzee Rascal, The Courteeners and Vampire Weekend amongst others. We set off towards the other stage and managed to catch a fairly decent set by The Courteeners – Liam Fray was clearly massively sun stroked however and it unfortunately affected their performance. Not Nineteen Forever was probably my favourite and definitely the biggest crowd pleaser.
I don’t know whether it was lack of sleep, the heat or a combination of the both, but after walking around the site for about an hour I was absolutely nackered. All the bands I had wanted to see were decreasing heavily down my priority list and all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. That’s the thing about glasto…no matter how much you plan beforehand and if like me colour co-ordinate and highlight every single band you want to see down to the hour, when you actually get there, seeing bands just becomes less of a priority and you just go with the flow. The site is literally so big, that treking from one stage to another can take up to about 30 minutes and despite previously not being able to live without seeing ‘that’ band live…when it involves a mission, you just can’t be arsed. I personally find this really frustrating.
And so, after seeing only one band on Friday we made our way back to the camp to try and get a lie down before our next shift started. Half 7 came around really quickly and another 12 hour mauler was upon us. And then the best thing ever happened. We got told we were being moved to the John Peel Stage for the evening! *cue celebratory dance*. Having seen next to no bands in the day, the prospect of being in one of the best tents all night was pretty damn good. We arrived at the tent and straight away got thrown in at the deep end…or should I say the pit. Three of us were put at each end of the stage guarding the VIP section and making sure no-one went into the pit lane and my friend Emma got put in the actual pit in front of the stage!
We got there in the middle of the Black Keys set and from what I could hear of it through my earplugs they sounded amazing. They’re what I call proper rock and roll. And there was certainly a lot of drugs and sex thrown in there too. The crowd was loving them; heads nodding, lips pursed, bodies thrashing. Next on stage was Groove Armada – having never seen them live and not knowing a lot of their stuff I was looking forward to seeing them play. And wow did they play! The lead singer wore this crazy metallic, sparkly suit and writhed around on stage like we all do in our bedrooms when we think no-one’s looking. I was pleasantly surprised at how many of their songs I did actually recognise and loved it when they belted out a bit of Superstylin’. There were relatively few crowd surfers for this and the pit staff were mainly just handing out water to the dehydrated punters. Groove Armada finished their set around midnight and the crowd slowly made their way out into the night.
The rest of my shift was spent back up in the Blue Zone guarding the kids play area – this was a really strange part of the site, it was set up like a circus kind of feel with a big pink castle, loads of paintings, a sandpit and loads of other weird and colourful structures. I’m sure in the day it’d be an amazing place to let the kids loose, but as we were guarding it from about 1-6am in the pitch black, it just seemed really sinister. Kind of like one of those films where a killer’s let loose in a circus ground with freaky clowns and a hall of mirrors. The rest of the evening is kind of a blur of shivering to death, drinking red bull to stay awake and laughing at drunken idiots walking past.
Saturday day passed by fairly uneventfully, we caught ten minutes of The National’s set on the Other Stage before swiftly making an exit due to their severe lack of talent to perform live. What a disappointment. I managed to get a couple more hours kip in the afternoon before our shift again that evening. I was really looking forward to our stint in the John Peel tent that evening, being a huge fan of The XX I was extremely excited at the thought of seeing them live. We arrived at the tent just in time for the start of The Foals set – they were epic live. You could tell the band themselves were loving every second, the lead singer jumped off the stage and started to climb up one of the huge poles supporting the roof of the tent – he climbed about ten metres up then dived off into the crowd. From a fan’s perspective, this was probably really exciting and made the performance, from a security perspective, it was an absolute nightmare. He was getting clawed to death by the crowd, chucked around everywhere, mic tangled up around people’s necks and t shirt ripped off. Our team had to drag him back out of by his neck and fight off the adoring crowd. He emerged with gashes all down his chest looking slightly disorientated with a big grin on his face. What a clever boy.
After they finished their set we all took 5 minutes outside to regroup and assess injuries; my boss however, made a b-line for backstage with a furious look on his face. Even rock stars get told off sometimes. With the VIP section full to the brim, and the nation’s press out in force, The XX took to the stage. My mandatory earplugs had been ditched for this set, I wanted to hear every last xylophone drop tingle in my eardrums. I’m not sure whether it was just because of the nature of their music, but I was really disappointed with them live. The crowd became uncharacteristically subdued after the first couple of songs and the VIP’s left hastily. As live performances go, it was by no means the worst I’ve seen at all, but I had such high expectations of them that I guess they were bound to disappoint. It just didn’t sound quite right – a lot of the synthesised noises were off, some parts were extremely quiet and certain layers that stand out on the album just weren’t as prominent live, which ultimately made the songs sound sparse and disjointed at times. The best parts of their set were when they weren’t playing their own songs – they sampled ATB’s 9pm (Till I Come) mid way through one song which really got the crowd going and were also joined on stage by Florence Welch at one point for a version of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’. This was a really good remix and Florence’s stage presence and performance was excellent as usual. I always struggle with the dilemma of seeing a band you love live and being really disappointed with them – I think on this occasion I’m just going to have to look to one side and accept the flaw like a wife with a cheating husband, some bands are just meant for the studio.
The headliner for that evening was Jamie T and his band of dedicated followers were out in force – there were more people that came over the top crowd surfing during his set than for all the other sets combined that day. And I could see why; he really engaged the crowd and got them involved in his set. He moved around the stage a lot and stood on top of the monitor speakers on numerous occasions so he could be closer to his admiring crowd. Having never seen him live before and knowing only a couple of his songs, I was pleasantly surprised at how good he was. The crowd obviously adored him – they were crushed up against the front barrier screaming every single word at the top of their voices. His set came to an end and we ushered out the crowd to the sound of crushing beer cans. At this point I was physically exhausted and could feel myself seriously wavering. We had to guard the sides of the tent for half an hour whilst the stage crew packed up and I could barely stand without supporting myself on one of the tent poles. I was just so tired. The lack of sleep and night shifts had really caught up on me and the thought of doing another 7 hours of my shift was just too much to bear. So I bailed. On reflection I did feel bad for leaving but I had to think of myself for once and I knew I couldn’t have carried on without fainting if I’d stayed. So I reported ill to my supervisor and he drove me back to the campsite. I slept in my thermal jacket that night and had the best sleep I’d had since I’d got there – a whole 6 hours!
The next morning I woke up feeling a lot better and slightly more refreshed than the previous day, so got up early and had some breakfast with everyone coming back off the night shift. In the afternoon we made our way down to the football field with thousands of others to watch the England game. The atmosphere was amazing – everyone in their festival gear gathered around the screen cheering the team on and basking in the sunshine. The first half of the game was full of excitement and we all lived each second of it together – then came the second half. After the third goal people started to leave and after the fourth, well it may as well have been the end of the match. When the full time whistle blew, there was probably about half the people there than at the start and a lot of sullen looking faces. We made our way back to the campsite and grabbed some dinner before heading out for our final shift of the weekend. There was a sense of relief in camp, after five days of slumming it on little to no sleep, everyone was definitely ready for home. And this was the final slog.
My last shift started and ended in the John Peel tent. We caught the last 20 minutes of Broken Social Scene’s set who totally smashed it – they definitely have their set song structure and genre and very much stick to it, but they are damn good at what they do. I was really impressed with what I saw of them. Next on stage was Julian Casablancas a.k.a. ‘that guy’ from The Strokes and my boss wanted me in the pits for it. I stood there trying to look like I wasn’t massively intimidated by the hundreds of faces now staring on at me – despite being excited by the prospect of being right there in the action at the front of the stage, it was bloody scary! Julian got the most press attention out of anyone I’d seen since I’d been there and for what seemed like an age, they all filed in with their cameras at the ready. The attention was not a coincidence – he was extremely impressive live. Despite having my back facing him for most the set, I could see his passion reflected in the faces of the admiring onlookers. He came down to the pits on numerous occasions and interacted with the crowd, holding their hands and singing his heart out. I made a mental note to definitely download him album when I got home.
The final band of the night was Ash and we’d been warned at the start of our shift that we were expecting a lot of crowd surfers and attention from VIP’s, including the whole of Muse coming to watch. The reality was actually quite understated – there was probably about 2/3 surfers for the whole set. Ash were fairly good live; everyone knows their classic’s like Burn Baby Burn and Shining Light so they obviously went down well with the crowd. The tent was only half full though, anyone on at the same time as Stevie Wonder was going to struggle with numbers though I guess. After the last band finished we helped clear the tent and then had to patrol the outsides until the end of our shift whilst the staging crew dismantled most of the equipment. It got to about 4am and our supervisor let us go early. We made our way back up to the campsite taking in the silent disco in the Dance field on our way – everywhere was a lot quieter that night, we’d already seen hundreds of people leaving with their rucksacks whilst on shift and there was a noticeable subdued atmosphere across the site.
Monday morning arrived and we just wanted to get the hell out of there. It had been such a rollercoaster of emotion and experience over our time there – we were all physically and mentally exhausted. My smugness in putting up my tent was not relived in trying to put it down – it took 3 security guards and 2 stewards to get the thing in the bag. It got to about 10am and we were all packed and ready to go, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the staff exit. We were anticipating massive queues to get out and were very pleasantly surprised to see none at all! I still don’t really understand this as we left at prime time but definitely not going to complain. It only seemed fair that we ended our journey the way it started, so when we saw a MacDonald’s on the side of the road at 10.27 we zoomed round to the drive through in lightening speed for another wholesome treat.
However many hours of motorway driving later we made it back to Derby – I said my goodbyes to the other two girls and got on the train back to Manchester. By this point I hadn’t had a shower in 3 days, I’d had about 12 hours sleep since the Wednesday and had worked 40 hours in the last 4 days. I was ruined. I rocked into Manchester Piccadilly at about 5pm and must have looked like a complete zombie. I got home about 40 minutes later and just collapsed in my bed – I didn’t wake up until the following morning.
I woke up the next day and felt really sad – despite the horrific night shifts, unbearable heat and complete lack of sleep, I actually really missed Glastonbury. I’d met some really great people and due to the awful conditions, actually bonded with them more than I normally would have done. The two girls I went down with especially, Emma and Adele – a big thanks goes out to them. They made the experience what it was and gave me some really funny memories and good times to take back with me. After the first night shift we all got asked whether we’d do it again, and I was absolutely adamant I never would. Ask me now, and I think you’d get a different answer. That’s the thing about Glastonbury…despite it kicking your ass at times and draining the life out of ya, you can’t help but wanna go back the following year…
Roll on Glasto 2011!