By now most people that know my wife and me will ask us, as June approaches, if we’re going to Glastonbury Festival this year. They’ll also ask how excited our little one is about this year’s festival. Because, lucky for some, he hasn’t missed an edition of the festival since he was born. Ok, so there’s been a fallow year and a pandemic during his almost six years on this Earth but that’s by-the-by. When tickets for the 2020 festival went on sale in October 2019, he was inconsolable when we were unable to secure them. We reassured him that there would be another opportunity to try closer to the festival but he was convinced that was the end of the world.
Come March 2020, and he was proven kinda right. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world forever and had a massive impact on the live events industry. The following two editions of Glastonbury Festival were among the casualties. And as live music touring slowly ramped up once more, albeit with events constantly shifting and shuffling due to travel restrictions or one key person or other testing positive, the possibility of returning to Worthy Farm seemed likely. And eventually, the 2022 edition seemed like the most promising to take place. So when the ticket resale took place in March, we were there with a mission-control looking computer setup in a likely futile attempt to secure entry. And we got them! In an unbelievable turn of events, we were finally returning to the magical, mystical world put on by the Eavises.
But once again, when I would mention this to people who perhaps didn’t know us so well, including parents at my son’s new school who we are in the process of building relationships with, they’d often look at us with a worried face of surprise. “Really?” or “I’d, put that part of my life in the past and didn’t think I’d ever go back” was the general response. And it’s at that point I’d dust off my previous coverage of taking my son to Glastonbury and point them at it. Low and behold, many simply weren’t aware of just how large and unique Glastonbury is. They weren’t aware of the exclusive Kids areas, the Theatre & Circus madness, Cinemas or simply the fact that kids can actually enjoy live music as much as adults and that kids are both expected and welcomed. So, of course, returning to Glastonbury with a now 5 & 1/2-year-old, I felt it was time for an update on what it’s really like to take a child to Glastonbury.
The journey begins in earnest this year at around 3:30am on Wednesday morning. Yes, Wednesday. And this is a full hour and a half later than we’d started in previous years, rookie error. The journey from South West London to Somerset is a breeze however, not even the usual queues as we slow and pass by StoneHenge. We’re being directed into the site, across fields and to our parking spot by 7am. We’ve unloaded enough of our car into our little man’s Tuff Terrain wagon for a first run to the site and are in the queue to get into the festival by the time gates open at 8am.
We are, however, a good field and a half away from where we joined the queue back in 2019. But it’s a rather warm sunny day and the mood is jovial as everyone is equally as excited either for their first festival, or to return for the first time in three years. The heat is no joke though and WaterAid volunteers walk the queue offering water top ups to all.
By the time we get through the queue and to the Cockmill Meadows family camping area (which is a fair few hours later), setting off those 90 minutes later than before has made the difference and we finally find a pitch to the very top end of the field, which sits on a non-trivial incline. We’re not close to the path, which will mean having to lift our son’s wagon over people’s tents each time we leave and return to our tent. But what turns out to be worse is that we’re camped right under some power lines – there are pylons running across the festival site. There’s a constant, disconcerting buzz and, as we discover later, there’s an unnatural amount of constant static we feel off each other and our plastic tent. I would highly recommend not camping under the powerlines if at all possible!
But once the tent is up, it’s time to go explore the festival site on what is, one of the best days to do it. There’s no pressure of missing a music or other act as we take our time wandering and becoming re-familiarised with the site. The famous red and white striped helter skelter seems to be missing from the Fields of Avalon. We try not to point this out to the little one, as this was his favourite thing to do last time. Thankfully we discover it has simply moved up to near Glastonbury-on-Sea, above The Park later that evening. Phew!
My wife is convinced she recognises a chap sitting in the shade near us, and goes over to chat with him. My son is shy and won’t have his picture taken with who we discover is CBBC TV presenter Andy Day, there with his family but also to perform all weekend in the Kidzfield Big Top with his band Andy and the Odd Socks. My son seems to then spot Andy in the crowd of 200,000+ throughout the weekend, wherever we seem to land!
It’s hot out there, we’re being threatened with the third super-heated Glastonbury Festival in a row. There are ice-creams to be eaten, shade to be found and we even find folks providing a free water spray cooling service. Marvellous. We escape to the Green Crafts area, where there are both shade and fabulous activities to take part in. “Bob” (one of the plethora of nicknames I randomly use for my son) is more than engaged in mosaic-making, and tiles up a beautiful butterfly.
And then it’s time to explore some more. Not all the areas are quite ready for visitors yet, so a brief tour around the Unfairground lands us at a bar with an eclectically-decorated London Underground train carriage. We enjoy a beer in the shade as Bob kicks off about something or other. It’s not going to be smiles and fun all the time, he is 5 after all! But all is well after we discover some relaxing hammocks to chill out in.
We face the dreaded return trip to the car before it gets too late to pick up the rest of our stuff before we head over to The Park area with what seems like the rest of the Wednesday-arrival contingent. It’s absolutely heaving in the area above The Park where the masses have flocked to in order to take their picture by the famous Glastonbury sign and watch the sun set. A huge cheer rings out as the orange sun finally dips beyond the horizon, lights now illuminating the iconic Glastonbury Ribbon Tower.
And then it’s time for the fireworks and ritual burning of multiple phoenixes across the site to officially kick off the festival.
Thursdays are always great at Glastonbury. With music kicking off later in the day, it’s another opportunity to wander the festival site, but this time with the Theatre & Circus areas full of life and strange and wonderful characters. The Kidzfield finally opens and the little one is in heaven.
The day kicks off for us, however, with a delicious coffee and witnessing Power Ballad Yoga at the Greenpeace Stage. Ok, so there’s less yoga and more power ballads going on, but the masses descend and get stuck right in.
Right next door sits the Green Kids area, a second kids-exclusive area featuring a massive ship-themed climbing frame as well as loads of crafts tents. There’s just too much to do and coming here will become a constant theme for our festival.
But via the now-bustling Theatre & Circus area, it’s the Kidzfield we’re after. The good old-fashioned hand-cranked rides are like an old friend. Fun and interesting characters roam freely and there are tents for just about every kind of activity you can imagine, from face-painting and actual painting to learning instruments and riding unicycles! We try it all over the course of the weekend.
There’s even a Kidzfield Helter Skelter, but this one allows no adults and requires children to be of a certain height to ride. Which our little one is, of course, not. The operator takes pity on him, seeing the tears about to begin flowing and offers to take him for a ride, which results in excited smiles. Thank you kind sir!
Is it that time already? Can the music be kicking off? Why, it’s only my favourite Spice Girl playing some tunes on her decks over at the Williams Green area. Mel C makes her set fun, getting the crowd bouncing as she mixes up Spice Girls songs with Nirvana and more still. I run in none other than Blossoms frontman Tom Ogden watching her set and he politely agrees to have his picture taken before regretting it immediately as every photographer in the area pounces on him to catch a shot of him posing with a can of Stella. Classy. I thank him and apologise for the pouncing, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Ogden goes on to invite Mel C out for a song during his band’s set on The Other Stage the next day.
None other than festival-founder Michael Eavis plays the tiny Williams Green stage next, bringing his band out for a few old crooner covers, the crowd swaying along with the man who is ultimately the reason we’re all there. Good times.
And then it’s time for the Dan Smith-led Bastille to take over the Williams Green stage, bringing brass-instrument ensemble Old Dirty Brasstards along for the ride. Technical hitches means they start a good half hour late, something Elvana frontman Paul Kell whose Elvis-fronted Nirvana covers band follows them can’t be too happy about, sweating in his pink Elvis-styled jumpsuit. But by now, I’m back with the family scoping out a late dinner.
If you are so inclined and like to get up early, you can volunteer to join the Recycling Crew at Glastonbury Festival. These incredible folks perform the thankless task of spreading out across the festival site bright and early each morning and clearing it of the detritus left by revellers the previous night. They do it with a smile as everyone else sleeps and the stage areas that will be heaving in just a few short hours lay empty. Thank you!
For Bob, this morning isn’t about crafts or rides or even Andy. It’s about Glastonbury Festival’s Pilton Palais cinema holding one of the first UK screenings of the new Illumination film Minions: The Rise of Gru. Thankfully, the Palais is just past the family camping field we’re situated in, so we get up, have a bite and a coffee before having photos taken with various Minions. There’s some great free merch going as we wait in line with other families to watch the film.
I say “we”, but this is where my wife and son stay while I hot-foot it over to The Other Stage to catch the first big band of the festival play a main stage. It’s only the Pete Doherty and Carl Barât-fronted Libertines! The group coming out after a message by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing attendees of Glastonbury Festival directly to take action and support the defence of his country from Russian aggressors.
Legendary reggae pioneer Bob Marley’s son Ziggy Marley opens Glastonbury’s famous Pyramid Stage next, banging out his father’s hits which have the crowd moving along from the get-go.
It’s all go at the Kidzfield however, there are puppet shows and pirates before Andy and the Oddsocks arrive for today’s performance. My son is front and centre, making friends with other Andy-adorers as Mr. Day and his band put on a rousing performance.
This “clash” has meant that I’ve missed Rufus Wainwright on the Pyramid and Blossoms (feat. Mel C) on The Other. But I leave my family to it in order to catch one of my all time favourite bands, Kiwi legends Crowded House. All the hits are present and accounted for as frontman Neil Finn, now in his 64th year, finds a longer guitar lead to make use of the hero-runway in place at the Pyramid Stage for tonight’s headliner.
24 hours before this moment, it was unclear whether or not Mercury Prize-winning London rock outfit Wolf Alice would still be stranded on the West Coast of the U.S. or playing the Pyramid Stage. Thankfully for us, they’ve made it (with barely an hour to spare) and are clearly beyond delighted with that outcome as they wade through a cross-section of their three enormous records.
Now’s the time to go and find my family again, right? I’m stood two people away from the barrier at Glastonbury’s biggest stage with an evening of incredible music ahead of me and two cameras dangling from me but …. I should go, I need to go …. my wife is going to be pissed! I’m having a marvellous time, I’ve got chatting to some great folks around me. Karen is an Oxfam volunteer from Cornwall, working early shifts on the gates, catching the evening music and not getting any sleep. Aldan is from a small town in Devon and is also a live music photographer, although not today. He may have taken some of the shots that follow, it’s unclear which are his and which are mine. Phone signal is spotty and I’m not going anywhere. Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant is next!
The crowd here is mixed, but steering towards the younger end of the spectrum, and the following two acts explain why. Quickly-rising star Sam Fender takes over the Pyramid next, the glee in his face at finally playing at Glastonbury is resplendent, after his first attempt in 2019 was aborted due to illness and every subsequent attempt thwarted due to the pandemic. He brings flames and guitar-driven hits. He brings humility, graciousness and sincere gratefulness for his bandmates, who he introduces by name and explains how they are his friends that he has grown up with.
I feel bad to be here as Sam Fender is the one act my son has made a point about seeing. We have been singing Saturday together in preparation for this hour for months. So I sing it, but wish he were here with me, equally knowing there’s no way he could be right here, and right here is where I need to be to get the shot. I find out later that he and my wife were in fact watching Mr. Fender’s set, and he was singing along at the top of his lungs. He’d even called out Saturday as the next song from Sam’s opening teaser chord progression before most in this field had recognised the hit single. Good lad.
Surely now it’s time to leave, right? I’m thirsty, tired, and I should go spend some time with my family. Karen resolves one of these issues by producing a can of diet coke and offers it to me apologising that she doesn’t have any rum to accompany it. Really? Are people this nice? So it’s settled, I’m staying for the next act, but only for 15 minutes. Who am I kidding? It’s only the youngest headliner in Glastonbury history – Billie Eilish.
She might be only 20 years old, but Billie Eilish knows how to own the stage and puts on a blistering, high-energy set that leaves the girls at the barrier in front of me that had camped out all day for this set in tears. Both Eilish and producer-brother Finneas are a force to be reckoned with. Sure, her sentiment at playing this stage seems somewhat disingenuous, particularly in comparison to that of Brits Sam Fender and Wolf Alice earlier. But I was glad to have stuck around for this for sure.
And as I make my way back to the tent, I get a ping from my wife. Not only are they still roaming the site, they’ve had the best time over at party central – Arcadia! The famous flaming Spider has kept Bob entertained to the point of exhaustion and he’s finally fallen asleep in his wagon. So we meet for a drink at the Theatre & Circus bar and catch up about our days, both beaming about what we’ve each experienced.
Saturday is going to be a great day. We’re up, out, move quickly through the Kidzfield, faces are painted fox-style before we’re back over to the Greenpeace area for our new morning ritual.
My wife and I have delicious coffee that requires a good 20 minute queue while the little one takes money, goes to a shop and buys himself cereal and milk! How is this possible? He’s so grown up.
There’s time for an elephant ride on a fabulous mechanical elephant courtesy of Poppy Mosbacher before a variety of crafts are engaged in.
My wife and son are content continuing to be crafty as I disappear for more live music. Camden local Kitty Liv is playing the Greenpeace Stage as I pass, so I stop for a bit to enjoy, one of the great joys of Glastonbury. But it is brass-rock collective Brass Against who are about to destroy the West Holts stage.
The sun is out for a glorious return to Glastonbury for Skin-fronted 1990’s rock-outfit Skunk Anansie, the distinctive front-woman clad in a fluorescent green suit and an inflatable, spiky headdress destroying a theremin before leaping the Other Stage barrier and singing from the crowd. But its times like these I simply hate Glastonbury for offering so many great acts.
This set clashes with at least two others I really want to see, so I depart early to catch the end of the fabulous Laura Veirs’ set over at the Acoustic Stage, the Pacific Northwesterner delivering a gorgeous rendition of the late Elliot Smith’s Between The Bars, one my personal favourite songs of all time.
There is some clay to be turned into something or other next for us via some Coneheads, turn-of-the-century muscle guys and other weird and wonderful curiosities roaming the Theatre & Circus areas.
And then it’s time for my wife’s must-see act of the festival – Celeste. And boy does the American-British singer deliver, appearing on the sun-drenched West Holts stage in a bright white outfit, her hair styled Lisa Simpson-style. One of the great things about the West Holt stage is the signing tent next to the stage, with acts popping down after their set to meet fans and sign records which my wife did as I ran off to photograph Leon Bridges – thanks for the babysitting Auntie Sharmayne!
There is, of course, always time for a lolly (or two!) in this heat, and we have the best lolly place in the world right next to where we’re sitting watching at the West Holts.
Next for us is to try and join the masses to catch a glimpse of Sir Paul McCartney finally playing the headline set he was due to share back in 2020. We eventually make it to the very back of the Pyramid Field, where the camping begins and we are situated where we struggle even to see a screen, let alone the actual Beatle. And this is one of the downsides of doing Glastonbury this way. Where it might be easy enough to catch bands earlier in the day, the big acts can be rather challenging to experience. So while my family stay with some friends, I skulk off to the Park Stage to photograph the enigmatic Jessie Ware.
And as a huge Foo Fighters fan, I immediately get pinged with messages from just about everyone that knows me as Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl joins Paul McCartney on stage. The messages intensify as New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen also comes out on the Pyramid Stage. I can just about make out where the Pyramid is from my spot at The Park. Oh well. I got to finally see the flaming spider thing at Arcadia, tick. Right?
By Sunday, I’m totally feeling I’ve missed out on my son’s experiences at Glastonbury. He’s telling me about Hook-a-Duck, an old-school fair game that he won at over near Glastonbury-on-Sea. He’s telling me about the “curly-wurly slide” – AKA Helter Skelter. And so that’s where we head for the morning. After stopping to post a Glastonbury postcard to Nanny & Granddad and a stop in a random secluded wood for some breakfast.
I miss Hook-a-Duck as it’s not open when we go, but we have turns on the Helter Skelter and I enjoy watching him be ‘terrorised’ by a robot horse, which is loose on the pier. There are some penny slots from a century ago, so that’s him hooked.
The hours slip by so ridiculously fast at Glastonbury, and everywhere is so far away from everywhere else that I need to leave a good 45 minutes to make it to The John Peel Stage in time to photograph the ‘TBC’ secret act that’s due on. I have time for a quick drink and sit down for a short while and chat to the three lovely fellas running the John Peel press tent. It turns out they’re old school friends that have been doing this shift for a good few years and that one of the guys lives a stone’s throw from me back in my local London neighbourhood. Catch you in Sainsbury’s sometime he jokes when I leave.
The TBC at the John Peel is George Ezra this year, the Shotgun-hitmaker filling out the tent to the point security needs to start limiting traffic in the area. But it is the dulcet tones of rising American singer-songwriter Clairo that I’m secretly here to catch, her talent so well-recognised that Marcus Mumford has recruited her for his upcoming debut solo record.
But I unfortunately can’t hang around to enjoy her set. I miss my favourite Clairo song Bags as I march determinedly towards the Pyramid field to meet my wife and son to enjoy the Motown legend Diana Ross. But as I march, I get the message that they have returned to the hammocks and will not be making it for Ms. Ross’s set. This is a massive shame for them, but I take the opportunity to dive into the Pyramid crowd to try and grab a few frames. And as I wade through, I pass by photographer after photographer. It turns out that Ms. Ross has not allowed any photographers into the pit and so they’ve all piled into the crowd with ladders and telescopic lenses in order to get the money shot.
As my wife and son head back to the Kidzfield, I finally find my way into the main stage press areas to photograph Bury-hailing rockers Elbow who use the platform of Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage to bring out an 11.5ft puppet of Little Amal, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee representing displaced children. The Guy Garvey-led rockers then close out their set with hit single One Day Like This, joined on stage by the Citizens of the World Refugee Choir.
Press access to the main stages means that I photograph all of this and in-between, I get to photograph Country Music star Kacey Musgraves, the one act today I had committed to seeing. I don’t get to enjoy her whole set unfortunately but these are the trade-offs of being a live music photographer.
New Zealand-based Royals-hitmaker Lorde takes over The Pyramid Stage next and brings her full arena-show production along with her. But this is the last of the live music I will photograph at this year’s festival. With main stage photo pits now closed to photographers for tonight’s headliners, many wrap up early while I go to enjoy the rest of the night with my family.
We take a last wander through the Unfairground, Block9 and Shangri-La as the sun slowly sets. And then it’s time for the act we all want to see – including Bob – Pet Shop Boys. We find a good spot at the back, with good escape and loo access.
And as Neil Tennent appears on stage (Chris Lowe finally appearing 7 songs later), my son asks me “Is this the West End Girls band?”. Yes, it is. Good lad. As one of my childhood favourites is playing, I take my son to grab some pasta and return to our spot. This is chilled out, and we’re finally all enjoying a headliner together.
As we pack up our tent the next day and condense our belongings into as small space-occupancy as possible, we’re all smiling. Sure, our feet are shredded from walking some 35,000 steps per day (so my phone tells me), but it’s been one of the best times of our lives and we pray the ticket gods will be kind to us in October so we might be able to return next year. Bob is not convinced the festival is over and requires a venture into the site to see for himself. The Kidzfield is closed off and he can see teams already at work taking it all apart. But that’s okay, we’ll be back.
Words & photography by Kalpesh Patel at Glastonbury Festival – June 2022