Glastonbury’s reaction to “Brexit”: Coldplay, Billy Bragg, Damon Albarn and Beans on Toast tell it how it is
Mornings at Glastonbury Festival are usually a time for the nursing of sore heads and bleary-eyed preparations for the party in store for the newly dawned day. The hangover that accompanied the morning of 24th June 2016 packed a harder punch than any before it, however, as it brought news that the count was complete after the previous day’s referendum, and that the country was heading for a “Brexit”.
In today’s era of soaring ticket prices and corporate sponsorship, the stereotype of the music festival as the apex of “hippy” peace and love culture is all but dead. Yet Glastonbury has harboured associations with campaigns on the leftist front of the political divide ever since the inaugural festival, which came just one summer after Woodstock, in 1970. It’s no surprise then that organisers Michael and Emily Eavis were firm supporters of the Remain Campaign.
There had been concern among those leading said campaign that the clash of dates might have an impact on the result, but it seems this was not borne out. Knowing that the majority of the 135,000 attendees that they welcomed to this year’s festival would be on site before polls opened on Thursday morning, organisers Michael and Emily Eavis appealed to their guests to arrange proxy and postal votes well in advance of making their way to the farm. It appears that his advice was heeded, as a poll carried out by the Times showed that voter turnout among Glastonbury-goers was higher than the national average of 76%.
Despite the distinct liberal leanings within its perimeter fence, “Pilton”, as the locals know the festival, lies within the rural and staunchly Conservative constituency of Mendip in Somerset. This might go some way to explaining why that same poll from the Times suggested that the result amongst Glastonbury revellers was far from unanimously pro-EU, though with 83% indicating that they had voted to remain, it was clear the trend favoured a massive reversal of the national result – hence the sombre atmosphere that greeted news of the result.
The program at the Leftfield tent, situated on the path connecting Glastonbury’s two marquee performance areas (the Pyramid and Other stages) is curated by folk hero Billy Bragg, who has been fulfilling a remit of “mixing pop and politics” there for over a decade. One significant impact of the referendum result was the cancellation of a planned talk by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who suddenly found himself with rather more pressing engagements. Charged with offering a plan for the future in Corbyn’s place, Bragg called for hope among the disenfranchised youth who had voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Identifying how the vote had at least served to bring the right-wing fascist enemy out “into the light”, he called for all present to do their part, and to “get stuck in” to the fight ahead. His ballad The Few (which quotes Kipling’s The English Flag with its refrain “What do they know of England, who only England know?”) left barely a dry eye in the house.
This hope for the future found echo at the Pyramid stage, where Damon Albarn – former front man of Britpop legends Blur – opened the musical program on Friday morning at the head of the 50-piece Syrian National Orchestra, addressing the issue at hand in uncompromising style. He spoke of his “heavy heart”, telling his audience “Democracy has failed us because it was ill-informed; I want all of you to know that when we all leave here, we can change that decision, it is possible.” The presence of the Syrian musicians behind him served as a reminder that, in spite of the morning’s disappointments, there was still much in Britain to be thankful for, and to protect.
In the field of Avalon, where an enormous blue and yellow sign declared defiantly that proud links to Europe remained unwavering, lo-fi folk troubadour Beans on Toast played to a large and spirited crowd on Saturday afternoon. From the stage, he questioned the whole concept of the referendum, declaring it “f*cking stupid”, and wondered why, as UK citizens, we don’t get a referendum on whether we want to spend “2 billion quid on a nuclear weapon in Trident”, before launching into a rousing rendition of his searingly satirical War on War.
For those at the Pyramid stage, Coldplay rounded off proceedings with their headlining Sunday night performance. While unity was an undoubted theme of a set that included the synchronised pulsing of 100,000 “xyloband” LED wristbands issued to the audience, lead singer Chris Martin seemed reluctant to dwell on the result of the vote. He did however thank fans for braving the mud, rain and “the collapse of the country”, as a precursor to Everglow, bringing the curtain down on the momentous 2016 edition of Glastonbury festival.