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  1. Politics
9 July 2015

Tracey Thorn’s Glastonbury highlights: Mary J Blige, Kanye – and not having to be there

I performed twice at Glastonbury, crippled by stage fright, poor sound, chilly weather and an overwhelming desire to be anywhere else. Luckily, you can now join in via the telly.

By Tracey Thorn

It’s while we’re getting the tent out of the garage in preparation for our daughter’s departure to Latitude and Reading that Ben throws me something of a curve ball. “Shall we go to a festival this summer?” he asks. “The End of the Road looks good.” I’d thought that after 34 years together he knew me better than this, but for the sake of diplomacy I decide to play along. “Who’s on?” I ask politely. “Oh, loads of good people – Sufjan Stevens, Tame Impala, War on Drugs, Future Islands, Laura Marling . . .”

At this point he turns and sees the look on my face and realises the game is up. Not because I wouldn’t want to see the bands he’s listed – I would – but because it’s a festival. Tents. Rain. Sleeping on the cold, hard ground. Come on, Ben, this is me we’re talking about.

I’m not going to write an anti-festival rant, not least because I take no pride in my stance, and feel more envy than disdain for those whose devil-may-care happy-go-luckiness enables them to find joy amid the crowds, mud and endless standing up. When my daughter went off to Latitude last year I worried about her all weekend, then was a bit envious when she arrived home from the torrential thunderstorms, shattered and dirty in micro shorts and a pink Stetson, bursting into tears at the kitchen table because she already missed being there so much.

Basically, festivals provoke in me the entirely teenage sensation of FOMO. I get a pang from realising that others are having fun where I would experience only misery, and I feel the fault must be mine. And I have so little experience on which to base my opinion. There was a day at Knebworth in 1978 when I managed to be both bored and humiliated. I’d gone with some local dope-smoking Genesis fans (don’t ask), and when one of them handed me a can of Lilt I said no thanks and passed it back, noticing a second too late the joint poking out of a small hole in the bottom of the can and the smoke curling out of the top, proving at a stroke that I didn’t know what drugs looked like and was an idiot.

Festivals weren’t cool back then, so I didn’t go to another one until 1995, when I performed twice at Glastonbury, failing to absorb any of the vibes or euphoria, being crippled instead by stage fright, poor sound, chilly weather and an overwhelming desire to be anywhere else.

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Luckily, you can now join in via the telly, and this year I’m watching Glastonbury with my feet quite literally up, the post-exercise ice pack on my knee only adding to my youthful sense of joie de vivre. My highlights are Mary J Blige and Jessie Ware, and the moment when Pharrell brings some children up on the stage – sweet British children, in Boden wellies, with daisy garlands, clapping on the on-beat. Father John Misty leaves me in two minds, as I find myself wishing again that his lovely voice wasn’t undermined by a sort of preening narcissism and supercilious lyrics.

Finally I gear myself up for Kanye West, hyped to near hysteria by the BBC introduction. I’m braced for disaster, prepared to be underwhelmed, but in fact his performance is absorbing. Watching Kanye and watching my Twitter timeline watching him, I see the most unlikely people liking him, and much muting and blocking of those who disagree. There are strong passions at play here.

If there’s a shtick that most performers indulge in – obligatory crowd-surfing, Hello Glastonberrying – Kanye’s having none of it. He’s insular and isolated; there’s no sign of the entourage he reportedly brought with him in 30 vehicles – not even a band on stage. He seems to embody the inevitable loneliness of the “greatest living rock star”.

There are blips and glitches, the show fractures and stutters. Appearing high above the crowd at the top of a huge crane, he looks vulnerable as much as all-powerful, harnessed and holding on tight to the railings. At that moment, I’m not sure that Kanye is having as much festival fun as he’s supposed to. It’s quite a relief.

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