Last week Glastonbury Festival made its triumphant return after an arduously long hiatus. Despite waiting more than two years to return to the fields of Worthy Farm, stepping in through the gates felt like no time had passed at all. It was a festival that promised a sense of unity (or as Crowded House frontman Neil Finn put it: “a rewilding of the people”) as well as a spade of new record-making moments. From the youngest-ever headliner (Billie Eilish) to the oldest (Sir Paul McCartney) it was a 50th anniversary festival which further stamped its reputation as the best in the world.
With the gates officially opening on Wednesday the first two days were an opportunity for the 200,000+ people to find their spot on the farm and – for any lucky first-timers – get acquainted with the myriad of spaces peppered across the farm. From the John Peel Stage to Arcadia, Shangri-La to West Holts, there was endless ground to cover and experiences that catered for absolutely everyone.
Friday kicked off with British rock institution The Libertines who managed to pull one of the largest crowds for an early act on the Other Stage. Frontman Pete Doherty – almost unrecognisable in his grey, knee-length hoodie – opened the set with a tribute to the people of Ukraine and featured a special video message from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky himself. In his message Zelenskiy implored the Glastonbury crowd to “spread the truth” about the war and to take this moment to come together in solidarity for the Ukrainian people. It was a message that reverberated across the entire festival and manifested in many ways – from on-stage protests by the artists themselves, to flags depicting Zelenskiy encircled by love hearts.
Protest has always been at the heart of the festival’s message, so it was no surprise that – alongside the plea for Ukraine – there was also palpable anger at the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade. Commentary on America’s increasingly broken democracy made its way into almost every performance – from Billie Eilish to Olivia Rodrigo, Kendrick Lamar to Self Esteem. And while Glastonbury is always the perfect place to share a communal sense of concern, you know that there will always be space to feel immense joy and hope.
Over on the Pyramid Stage, hope was personified by Ziggy Marley through a perfect mix of reggae and funk. Throughout his hour-long set he dabbled in the iconic songs of his late father, Bob Marley – including Get Up, Stand Up and Is This Love – and veered effortlessly into songs of his own. It was a moment to take stock, and listen attentively to lyrics reminding us that progress is possible.
New Zealand rock legends Crowded House took to the Pyramid Stage later on the Friday when the sun beamed from behind a grey sky. Frontman Neil Finn took a moment to soak in the image of the thousands of people in front of them, before expressing their gratitude and encouraging everyone to “sing into the hills”. They performed classic after classic, with voices bellowing around the stage – most notably to Weather With You and Don’t Dream It’s Over. With a cute cameo appearance from Finn’s grandson Buddy, it was a humbling experience.
This year the festival featured a prolific number of guitar-based rock acts. Wolf Alice brought their fusion of punk, indie and ballad to the Pyramid Stage in bombastic fashion. With clear emotion on their faces – not least because they almost didn’t make it – the Mercury Prize winning band were totally engrossing. Front woman Ellie Rowsell seemingly juxtaposing her strong and gritty vocals, with a beautiful white satin dress.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss slightly shifted the mood, bringing with them a beautiful mix of folk, country and rock – Plant clearly emotional when hitting his high-pitched Zeppelin-style notes, exclaiming “I can’t believe I still have it, even now”. And then it was all about Sam Fender – the rising star who had to pull out of his 2019 Glastonbury appearance making up for it in spades on The Pyramid Stage.
On the West Holts stage, Bonobo caught the last of the sun, playing a vibrant and euphoric set to signal the end of day one. It was poetically cast – with the sun intermittently peering through the clouds, only to set during songs Otomo and Kerala.
Billie Eilish started in dramatic fashion. A deep red light soaked the stage before hints of white slowly unveiled an Eilish-shaped silhouette rising from the floor beneath. It was at this moment that the screaming crowd became simply deafening, often toppling her near-whispered vocals. With a minimalist stage, there’s no doubt that this performance is all about Billie and nothing else. The capacity crowd revelled in her many hit tracks including Therefore I Am and Bad Guy. Importantly this moment was a perfect opportunity for Eilish to proclaim her own disdain for the Roe v Wade decision, proclaiming the day as “a really dark day for women”.
Over on the Other Stage were British modern legends, Foals. There’s no doubt that the band are in their true element at Glastonbury. The energy is as infectious as it is raucous. Most of all, it’s an addiction like no other. You can hear fans audibly proclaim their love for Foals, challenging each other with lyrical quizzes and adding yet another show to their double-figured lists. Opening with Wake Me Up off their week-old album Life is Yours and progressing through favourites My Number, What Went Down and Two Steps, Twice the show came complete with confetti bombs, flares, mosh pits and two close encounters with front man Yannis Philippakis at the barrier.
Throughout Saturday and Sunday Glasto-revellers had the opportunity to see everything – the stunningly inspiring Self Esteem, the softly-spoken teen sensation Olivia Rodrigo (joined briefly by Lily Allen), the affectionately humble Glass Animals, proud pop icons Years and Years, Mercury Music Prize and Academy Award-nominated Celeste, as well as the wickedly fun Skunk Anansie.
If you ever just wanted a break from the music, you could always head to the healing fields, the sacred circle, the craft corner, the cabaret tents or even the climbing wall by the Greenpeace stage. There’s no excuse for boredom. And, as the day ends there’s always an opportunity to set sights on the night ahead, whether crawling to Arcadia for a secret Calvin Harris, Four Tet or Groove Armada DJ set, or to the ‘naughty’ corner at Block 9, Rocket Lounge, Shangri-La and IICON. It’s why Glastonbury is such an institution – rarely does it offer a moment of respite, not least because of the fear you might just miss something special (like a cameo Fat Boy Slim appearance under a tent).
Headlining the Saturday afternoon slot on the Pyramid Stage was Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds who turned out to be a great act to precede Sir Paul McCartney, not least when they veered away from Noel’s solo material to unleash one Oasis classic after another. Little by Little, Wonderwall, and Don’t Look Back in Anger providing a vocal warm up like none other.
And then it was time for 80 year old Sir Paul McCartney. One quarter of the Beatles, and a highly reputable artist in his own right, this is a moment for the Glastonbury record books. While starting relatively slowly, it was the moment he began to open up his Beatles catalogue which really turned up the dial amongst the 100,000+ fans before him. Can’t Buy Me Love, Let it Be, Live and Let Die and Hey Jude took the energy to a whole new level. But he didn’t stop there. Instead bringing on Foo Fighters main man Dave Grohl and guitar-rock legend Bruce Springsteen for a surprise appearance. For many, seeing Grohl alongside McCartney was a moment in itself. It was the first performance since Grohl lost his bandmate and best friend Taylor Hawkins during their South America tour in March. Despite not sharing it in words, you could sense that the two shared a mutual sense of grief – McCartney even played a ‘duet’ with the late John Lennon. “I know it’s not real”, he said “but it is just so special to sing with my friend again”.
Playing for an astounding two hours and 40 minutes (perhaps the longest set at Glastonbury) McCartney still managed to leave more than 30 UK and US number ones off the set list. But there was just one blip in the legend’s performance. Not only was there a sheer absence of women on the stage but a beaming image of Johnny Depp towards the end felt incredibly tone deaf – not least when other artists are condemning the attack on women’s rights at any opportunity. An oversight McCartney’s management seemingly put to a simple ‘lack of time to change it’. Not good enough, really.
And for those wanting to escape the huge throng of people congregating at the Pyramid Stage, the relative calm of The Park Stage was a great option for those wanting to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic Jessie Ware.
From one legend to another, Sunday saw 78-year-old disco icon Diana Ross return to the stage – having just completed another equally iconic performance at the Queen’s jubilee celebrations. Despite a couple of self-proclaimed frustrations that come with age, Ross was entirely capable of rousing the crowd with a combination of Supremes classics and solo tracks. Upside Down alone was enough to have the audience (and security team) dancing.
As is tradition with Glastonbury, there is always a TBA slot on a Sunday afternoon at the Park Stage and this year it was Jack White who took the spot. White’s material weaves in and out of solo tracks such as Fear of the Dawn and Love Interruption right through to the Raconteurs and The White Stripes. His steady mix of blues and rock is a perfect fit for the afternoon sunset, but it is Steady, As She Goes and Seven Nation Army which really kick things into gear. And of course it is then inevitable that the guitar riff for Seven Nation Army is chorused at other performances throughout the day.
Another Glasto tradition is for a future headliner to fill the TBC slot over on the John Peel Stage, and this year that honour went to Shotgun-hitmaker George Ezra. We can’t wait to see where he turns up next year!
As the sun set slowly over Worthy farm, Elbow’s Pyramid Stage set inspired us to do better for displaced children of conflict as they were joined on stage by the Citizens of the World Refugee Choir and a giant 11.5ft puppet of Little Amal, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee representing displaced children.
Texas-based Country Music star Kacey Musgraves rocked her rhinestones over on the Other Stage before 25-year-old Kiwi hitmaker Lorde returned to Glastonbury for what will be one of her defining career highlights.
And while the end of Glastonbury was nigh, headliner Kendrick Lamar is one act many had been patiently waiting for. Lamar’s show is defined by theatre – men in matching suits and women in red chiffon dresses circle him around the stage, his head adorned with a crystal engraved crown of thorns (something Lamar has insisted is “not intended as Messianism but rather a symbol of African American suffering”). Opening with United in Grief from his latest album it is impossible to look away, your eyes drawn around the stage hoping to understand any subliminal messaging in the choreography.
With the music mostly recorded, the entire focus was on Lamar’s vocal performance and there’s a reason he is the only Pulitzer Prize winning rapper in the world. Words expertly flowing from his mouth, filling every musical gap with exceptional pace, rhythm and diction. Ending his superb set with Savior, his dancer’s ran chaotically across the stage before surrounding him as his crown begins pouring with blood – the red stains dripping dramatically on his white shirt and all over his face. Like many others that preceded him, Lamar takes a moment to chime into the women’s rights debate shouting “Godspeed for women’s rights” over and over. And as the music stops, he slams the microphone to the floor and abruptly exits, just like that.
It was a sensational way to end – the messages of protest (on women’s rights and beyond) felt timely and poignant. But there was also joy, hope and humility – a call for unity during a difficult time for many. If ever there was another opportunity for a mic drop, it’s for Michael and Emily Eavis who managed to (yet again) out-do previous years of Glastonbury. Thank you to them, and the many hundreds of volunteers. Here’s to next year.
Live review of Glastonbury Festival 2022 by Lilen Pautasso. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.