Glastonbury Festival should be splashed all over our TV screens live from Worthy Farm right about now, unless you were to be one of the 200,000 odd down on site, soaking up the existential experience offered by the many lands that make up the festival as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Many of us should have been soaking up the lovely June sunshine, enjoying the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Diana Ross, Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift take ownership of the festival’s famous Pyramid Stage and many more appearing across the 100+ stages over the three full days of music.
Alas, the world went sideways in 2020 and Glastonbury Festival was simply one of the many casualties of COVID-19. Just as the festival and the BBC celebrate the past years of amazing and career-defining sets from a selection of the incredible acts from its 50-year history, we at RockShot Magazine are also looking back at the past few editions, drawing out our highlights from what is always a ridiculously fun experience. I would also like to throw out a massive thank you to Sarah and the whole of the Glastonbury Press Team who always make us photographers feel welcome while managing access in and out of the biggest stages on Earth hosting the biggest acts in the world. It’s a tough gig and you guys are amazing!
It’s hard for me to believe that 2015 was my very first Glastonbury Festival. As a music lover and concert photographer, I can’t imagine a summer without Glasto now. It was the year Florence + the Machine stepped up to become Pyramid Stage headliners following Dave Grohl’s leg-breaking incident in Sweden forcing Foo Fighters to pull out of their first-ever Glastonbury. Kanye West played a controversial set on Saturday night before The Who closed proceedings on Sunday. Indiana’s sunny Sonic Stage slot was a real treat.
The Acoustic stage welcomed British Country music duo The Shires, playing songs from their debut record Brave and welcoming friend and Nashville TV show star Sam Palladio to join them.
Of course newbie rock darlings Wolf Alice made a splash, tearing apart the Williams Green tent on Thursday night before frontwoman Ellie Rowsell famously crowd-surfed her Park Stage crowd.
Lianne La Havas’s sweet voice was as beautiful as ever in the John Peel tent and Motörhead played their last Glastonbury before frontman Lemmy sadly passed away just a few months later. But it was Lionel Richie’s fabulous ‘Legends’ slot on the Pyramid on a sunny Sunday afternoon that seemed to define that year for many.
2016 brought its own struggles. It was described by festival founder Michael Eavis as the muddiest ever Glastonbury. Watching stock footage of years past with rivers of mud, that statement might be a stretch! It was also the year of the Brexit vote, an event that took place over the festival days. The mood in line for the long drop loos and coffee stands was sombre as news quickly spread across Worthy Farm of Britain’s “decision” – at 51.9% to 48.1% – to leave the EU. A poll of festival-goers resulted in 83% firmly in the Remain camp. The ‘Brexit’ EU referendum’s outcome went on to feature heavily during the festival with the majority of stars clearly devastated with the result.
The 2016 edition was just as memorable for its headline acts including Muse, the ever potty-mouthed Adele, and the return of Coldplay as for the range of acts preceding them across the stages including the fabulous Band Of Horses, Bear’s Den and Shura.
Ward Thomas brought their home-grown Country tunes to the Acoustic tent while Dua Lipa – yet to release her chart-smashing self-title album – owned the John Peel. Wolf Alice were back at it, now upgraded to the Pyramid Stage – emblazoned with a Ziggy Stardust-ear lightning bolt, under David Bowie’s eye, following the loss of the legend earlier that year.
Aside from wading through the various viscosities of mud, an Avalon Tent outing from the brilliant Larkin Poe was the real standout set of the weekend for me. A special thanks to Kate at Toast Press for pointing me in their direction.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Coldplay knows how to win a crowd, and when it’s closing night at Glastonbury Festival, that’s exactly what’s required. The Chris Martin-led quartet brought all the goods to Worthy Farm, from the hits and the colour-changing ‘Xylobands’ for the entire crowd, to a tribute to the tragically lost band Viola Beach and even a special guest slots from Bee Gee Barry Gibb and one from Michael Eavis himself.
2017 delivered the set that had been promised back in 2015 – Foo Fighters finally stormed the Pyramid Stage for what was truly epic set. You can read the full review of that set over here. The festival brought only a sprinkle of rain after a super-heated welcome day and my wife and I brought along our 8-month old. But that’s a whole story in itself which you can read in full over here.
The festival brought its usual eclectic mix of acts. If you ventured to the wonderful fields of Avalon, you might have been lucky enough to catch the brilliant Lissie followed by Hollywood legend Kiefer Sutherland up close and personal in the tiny untelevised tent. Although one couldn’t help but notice the scramble of people making a dash to the John Peel for a secret set from Las Vegas rockers The Killers.
Sticking around the main stages you’d have caught the fabulous Lorde killing it at the tender age of just 20, Radiohead headlining the third Glastonbury of their careers and Run The Jewels tearing up the Pyramid.
But the eclectic mix of Glasto kept giving. Katy Perry’s Pyramid set followed by one from The National before Foo Fighters took over the famous stage, giving thanks to Florence Welch before banging a hit-filled set laden with Queen tributes and promising to play all night long.
Other highlights came from Lianne La Havas, Future Islands, The Pretenders, Charli XCX and Los Angeles sisters Haim.
And while 2018 was a furlough year, to allow the dairy farm to recover from festival madness, 2019 gave in spades. First of all, it was easily the sunniest and hottest Glastonbury Festival in recent memory. The tabloids raged about water shortages while those actually on the farm got on with the business of enjoying a truly fantastic festival.
The Vaccines opened up proceedings on The Other Stage while it was Sheryl Crow’s Pyramid set that had festival-goers soaking up the sun.
Denverites The Lumineers played a barnstorming set as the sun moved over to the Other Stage before West Midlands rockers The Charlatans took over from Snow Patrol, who unfortunately had to withdraw from the festival.
The festival itself opened up a new area over near the Park: Glastonbury-on-sea. The traditional British seaside fixture coming to life, as things only can at Glastonbury.
I may have missed Stormzy’s incredible set headlining the Pyramid, but the dulcet tones of Michael Kiwanuka went down a treat as he closed the Park Stage on Friday.
Secret sets are one of the highlights of Glastonbury, and Saturday was sensational with an early morning fly-by from the Red Arrows followed swiftly by a set from New Yorkers Vampire Weekend on the Park Stage – the same stage to be at later that afternoon for a blistering set from Foals.
The eclectic mix of Glasto continued with Country star Carrie Underwood pulling in a massive Pyramid Stage crowd while Maggie Rogers did the same over on the Other Stage.
Jade Bird filled out the wonderful Avalon Tent before Janet Jackson stormed the Pyramid ahead of former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher who brought all the attitude he’s famous for alongside a hit-filled set of solo and Oasis material. But it was The Killers who owned the night, playing a career-spanning headline set with special guests Johnny Marr and The Pet Shop Boys making surprise appearances.
Things didn’t slow down as Sunday rolled around with Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum bringing his Mildred Snitzer Orchestra and jazz piano skills to the West Holts Stage before Japanese rock outfit Babymetal threw down the gauntlet over on the Other.
17-year-old Billie Eilish made her Glastonbury debut on the Other Stage following an upgrade from her John Peel slot given her massive popularity while Miley Cyrus stormed through her pop and Country hits over on the Pyramid.
1980’s hitmakers Bananarama attracted a huge crowd to the Avalon stage for some fantastic moments before rockers The Cure brought a huge set to close out the Pyramid and French pop-pioneer Héloïse Letissier – AKA Christine And The Queens – took things to the next level over on the Other.
Glastonbury Festival is about so much more than just the music across the various stages. The food to be found is unlike any other festival if you make the effort to seek out the true delights. The Bangra Bus’ Indian delights and Anna Mae’s fabulously delicious Mac & Cheese remain some of my favourites.
The Kidzfield is a true wonderland for the little ones, and my little one certainly made the most of it! You can read all about his adventure over here. There really is something for everyone at Glastonbury, from the relaxed and chilled to the hyper and bizarre, the festival truly delivers a different experience for everyone who goes.
Speaking to BBC Music, festival organiser Emily Eavis said of the cancelled 2020 edition, “Having to cancel was quite gutting. But the first year back after what we’ve been through will be the most amazing party.” And what a party it will be! “Because we’re rolling two festivals together, we’ve got a hell of a lot of surprises that we were planning for the 50th and I think we’re going to try and get those things going for next year,” she told BBC 6 Music. Fingers crossed the festival goes ahead as planned in 2021!
Those who managed to secure the right to buy a ticket by putting down a deposit last October have automatically had their spots carried over into 2021, meaning that the demand for any remaining tickets will be out of this world. For anyone wishing to try – best of luck! In the meantime, head on over to iPlayer to catch the 2020 virtual Glastonbury Festival being put on by the BBC including some of the incredible sets captured on film over the years including some of those mentioned in this article.
Words and photography by Kalpesh Patel at Glastonbury Festivals 2015-2019.