The year 2000. My second Glastonbury festival, aged 21.
My friend Vini came with me this year, and we got the train down from Manchester to Somerset. All of the other years I’ve been to the festival, from 1999 to 2007, I’ve driven. It was just the two of us heading down this year, but we were set to meet up with friends in the same area of the site we had camped the prior year.
The trip down to the South West was quite quiet as we were travelling down on the Wednesday morning, as the music and the festival doesn’t really kick off until the Friday morning. The only bit of the journey that slowed us down was a small queue at the Castle Cary station to wait for the shuttle bus to the festival grounds. It didn’t matter; the sun was out in force.
We got to the campgrounds and met up with my friends from University, Robbie and Natalie, and various other people they’d travelled with. We pitched our tents by the perimeter fence, between the Other Stage field and the Dance Tent field. I seem to remember the year 2000 as being one of the last years before they started to curb down on campfires, so Thursday night found us stocking up on firewood.
2000 was the also the last year before the dreaded security fence went up, so it was probably the last Glastonbury with any ounce of anarchy in it. From the following year, it all got a bit safer, a bit more middle-class, a bit more Radio 2.
People started breaking into the festival on the Wednesday night. There was still a fence at this point – but it was still quite easy to get over, and wasn’t anywhere near the height of the megafence that went up by the time of the next festival two years later (2001 was a ‘fallow’ year for the festival).
By the Thursday night, the fence had been damaged near where our tents were pitched, and people were starting to spill into the grounds. By the time we woke up on the Friday morning, the fence had been completely breached, pushed aside, and people were just walking in. The security staff had given up trying to stop them, it was just too hard. The organisers sold 100,000 tickets, but it’s estimated that a further 150,000 entered without tickets.
As a result of the increased numbers, the infrastructure of the festival started to break down. Toilets and litter started to build up, and lawlessness was in the air. At one point, as Vini and I queued up at a food truck, two gypsy teenagers got into a fight next to us. Well, I say fight, it was more like one aggressive gypsy was battering another gypsy, who wasn’t keen on being battered.
Vini’s tent got broken into at one point, and Natalie woke up to an intruder in the middle of the night. We would laugh at this whenever she brought it up in subsequent years – ‘Do you remember that year I woke up and this guy was on top of me going through my stuff?’ – and I’d jokingly apologise.
I saw lots of great bands that year, as I did every other year at Glastonbury: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Bluetones, Dark Star, Muse, Idlewild, the Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, the Wailers, Live, Death In Vegas, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay, Robert Plant’s band Prior Of Brion, and many, many others. Vini swears to this day that we saw one-time James Bond George Lazenby there, introducing Ladysmith Black Mambazo on stage, but I don’t remember that at all. It sounds like the makings of a fever dream.
By the time Sunday night rolls around at Glastonbury, I’ve usually had enough. Festival fatigue kicks in, sometimes with disastrous consequences – and I hate to think about the time I chose to miss Muse headline in 2004. In 2000 though, I was excited to see Bowie play; energy levels were high. This was the first time he had played the festival since its second year in 1971, so it felt like the festival and the artist were somehow coming full circle.
At that time, I wasn’t too much of a Bowie fan. I adored Hunky Dory and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. But aside from a couple of other singles, I could take or leave everything else. I had heard that his live shows could be quite abstract affairs too, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. His last tour had been in 1997, promoting Earthling, but apart from a 50th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in that same year, he had only sporadically playing the hits throughout the decade.
Surely he wouldn’t do a greatest hits set on his return to Glastonbury. Would he?
He walked onto stage to the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind from 1976’s Station To Station –starting a lifelong love affair with that song for me. So far, so deep-cut. He looked beautiful, with a long elfin coat and flowing blonde hair.
Then he played China Girl and Changes. Was this just an attempt to get the audience onside before he started playing Tin Machine b-sides?
Another Station To Station track was up next – Stay. The second of three Station To Station tracks played, with the title track being the third. This was undoubtedly to showcase the guitar playing of Earl Slick who had played on that album and was among the band at Worthy Farm that night. Perhaps this was the start of the setlist slipping into the esoteric?
Life On Mars?, Absolute Beginners, Ashes To Ashes and Golden Years left little doubt that Bowie was in fact doing a greatest hits set. Amazing.
Vini and I had been performing a cover of Ziggy Stardust in our band at the time, and while I thought it was unlikely Bowie would play the song, Vini was hopeful. “Nah,” I said. “He doesn’t do it anymore.” He hadn’t played it regularly in his set since 1990, although the excellent www.setlist.fm shows that he had played the song in a warm-up show in New York, nine days prior to Glastonbury.
Bowie finished the main set with Under Pressure, but despite all the big hits I was hearing, I was still sure I wouldn’t be hearing my favourite song of his. The band left the stage, and returned five minutes later for the encore. “It’s gonna be Ziggy Stardust!” Vini proclaimed. And BLLLLLLAAAAAAANNNNNNNGGG – it was!
Hands shooting up in the air, hugging, huge grins. Wow. We were ecstatic.
Since Bowie’s passing in 2016, the Glastonbury set has taken on an almost mythic status. It was a watershed moment for the festival and its presence on the BBC. From that year, it became almost expected for the big headlining slot to be broadcast live on television (even the decision to show the Bowie set ruffled a few feathers at the Beeb).
I would never see Bowie in concert again. His heart attack on stage in 2004 led to a change in priorities, and big tours were taken off the agenda. I’m so glad I saw him when I did. It turned me into a Bowie fan, and I started to go back and listen to the albums I hadn’t heard before. There isn’t a period of Bowie’s career I don’t love now. He’s the ultimate artist with something for everybody.
Hidden Gem: Wild Is The Wind