Glastonbury Festival

Danny Carr sees Glastonbury celebrate its 40th birthday

If there were any lingering doubts whether Glastonbury is now as assuredly part of the summer "season" as Royal Ascot or Wimbledon, these were answered a day before the official opening of the festival when none other than Prince Charles was seen navigating the Green Fields area (described by the organisers as the "soul of the festival"). At the same time, his mother was enjoying herself on another grassy surface, in London SW19.

Glastonbury has evolved hugely since it was first held, in 1970. The first festival was attended by a mere 1,500 fans and entry, which also included a free glass of milk, cost a solitary pound. These days, specially designed mobile phone applications and access to social networking sites such as Twitter are as essential parts of the festival-goer's kit as sunblock and wellington boots. They are needed in order to keep in touch with life on Worthy Farm, and up to date with innumerable impromptu secret sets. Cocktail bars, pop-up restaurants, niche clubs and new late-nighentertainment areas have also enhanced the rather grubby Glastonbury experience.

The festival opened on Friday morning, somewhat improbably, with Rolf Harris as the first to benefit from an appreciative crowd buoyed by World Cup-induced optimism and glorious sunshine. He was not the only pensioner to feature: there was the 69-year-old Bristolian grandmother and DJ Mamy Rock who mixed dance records as the Stranglers belted out "Peaches" next door.

Over in the Park, meanwhile, Radiohead's Thom Yorke played a surprise set accompanied by his fellow band member Jonny Greenwood and introduced by the owner of Worthy Farm and founder of Glastonbury, Michael Eavis. They rattled through fan favourites such as "Pyramid Song", "Idioteque" and a rousing rendition of "Karma Police", the refrain of which lingered in the air as crowds gathered for the first headline act of the festival.

Despite an impressive array of guests, Damon Albarn's Gorillaz struggled to re-create the atmosphere of Blur's triumphant show on the same stage last year. Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Mark E Smith and Shaun Ryder all featured, as did the band's permanent members and the ex-Clash duo of Paul Simonon and Mick Jones. But only Snoop Dogg, fresh from a successful performance on the Pyramid Stage, really clicked with his hosts.

Muse fared much better the following night, however, helped by a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set. Their vocalist, Matt Bellamy, handled an enormous crowd masterfully, before being joined onstage by the Edge for an encore of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name". Indeed, U2 fans were well catered for this year, as they were also able to worship at a "Temple of the Blessed Bono" - its walls adorned with
murals and effigies of the Irish band's eponymous lead singer.

On Sunday, proceedings on the various stages were inevitably somewhat overshadowed by England's sudden-death World Cup match against Germany. Thousands of fans watched the game in two specially designated areas, as well as in pubs and on makeshift screens across the site. Fittingly, perhaps, it fell to that great bard of Englishness, Ray Davies of the Kinks, to try to raise the spirits of the disappointed masses after the game.

In addition to the usual conversational staples - the weather and the condition of the toilets - Glastonbury can always be relied on to provide quirky alternatives to the big names performing on the main stages. This year, for instance, Billy Bragg curated the programme in the Leftfield tent, one of the highlights of which was Lembit Öpik, the former Lib Dem MP and erstwhile paramour of a Cheeky Girl, performing a stand-up comedy set and revealing his intention to run for Mayor of London.

Performances in the theatre and circus fields included a travelling insect troupe and two men who did little more than push a wardrobe around while dressed in unseasonable Dickensian garb. I was also served tea by three young women made up to look like old crones, complete with varicose veins, and saw the poet and comedian John Hegley playing his ukulele with an audience member's flip-flop.

Stevie Wonder closed the festival on the Pyramid stage on the Sunday evening - appropriately enough, with a rendition of his 1981 hit "Happy Birthday".

This article first appeared in the 05 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The cult of the generals