Glastonbury 2024: The Complete Review

A close look at this year's mammoth instalment...

To paraphrase a certain Noel Gallagher – who ventures here religious every year – there is only one true festival, and its name is Glastonbury. Once a redoubt for crusties, hippies, freaks, and miscellaneous others, the festival maintains its counter-cultural leanings as it evolves through the 21st century. Trends may come and go, and the people on-site probably don’t resemble legendary 90s eco-warrior Swampy any more, but Glastonbury remains the ur-festival, the font through which all other streams and tributaries owe their H2O. 

It goes without saying, but the Somerset site itself is massive. Gargantuan, even. 2024 is only this reporter’s second year, and it remains a breathtaking experience, almost impossible to truly take in. Impossibly detailed, you find yourself moving from a pop-up pub blasting out dub reggae to an arts installation made from washed up plastic, via a jungle redoubt, a palm-reader, and sundry other entertainments. It’s genuinely dazzling, and makes the epic size of the site feel all the more dwarfing. Best bring some walking shoes, then.

CLASH arrives on-site for Wednesday evening, using the spare time to soak up the site, and enjoy the drone show. A new addition, in truth it felt slightly underwhelming, but the sudden rush of the more familiar fireworks changes all that – there’s just something about that smell which takes us back to childhood.

Thursday finds the gargantuan site coming to life, its limbs, fingers, and tendrils beginning to hold us in their grasp. Venturing to the top of the hill to explore Strummerville – the area named in honour of The Clash legend Joe Strummer – we catch a dulcet set from Tom Bright, before Frank Turner takes the honour of rabble-rouser-in-chief. He’s in his element here – the natural slope of the area lends itself to intimacy, and Frank’s in the mood to fire up the crowd. Closing with a run of fan-pleasing favourites – and some punchy new cuts – it’s an immediate highlight.

The journey through the Worthy Farm site takes us to The Glade, where Bristol beat crew The Nextmen are holding court. Slicing beats together in a style evocative of hip-hop’s golden age, they twist these tropes into something emphatically new – it’s thrilling, and warms the limbs nicely.

Pausing to catch the end of MJ Cole’s masterful set, we head to Lonely Hearts Club where Skream & Benga provide the festival’s first true roadblock, the genial duo uniting once more for a festival set aims to sub-low favourites. Two producers who helped write the dubstep rulebook, they dig into their bags of dubplates and VIPs to unleash weapon after weapon to the delight of the capacity crowd.

Ah yes. Crowds. Crowd-flow on-site was a perennial issue over the weekend, but our first experience of this was waiting for Joy Orbison’s set at LEVELS. Situated next to one of the main entrances from the camp-site this was always going to be a roadblock, but the pace and acceleration of the crowd build-up took us by surprise. Pushed against some bins – with row upon row of fans caught behind us – the situation wasn’t exactly unsafe, but it was definitely unfortunate. With fans dissipating CLASH caught enough of Joy Orbison’s opening flourish before opting to head elsewhere.

The evening ended as all nights of debauchery should: with Fat Dog, of course. The band are one of the most explosive live shows around, and opened their multi-show slate at Glastonbury with epic performance on the top of the heaven. Strummerville positively heaved with bodies as their audio assault began, a withering fusion of bizarre theatre, in-jokes, sleaze-rock, post-rock, and a rollicking burst of saxophone. Stripping the paint from the walls and the grass from the ground, Fat Dog once again re-affirmed why they are one of the most seismic live experiences in UK music right now.

Friday opened to the pitter-patter of light drizzle on our tent, with the weather reports proving to be slightly inaccurate. Is there a more relaxing on-site sound, though?

Perhaps Squeeze would have the answer. The South London pub-rockers are toasting their 50th anniversary, and the band’s hit-laden show was a lively waltz down memory lane. An early highlight, Glastonbury’s dexterity was summarised by a short walk to the Other Stage, where drill figure Headie One was playing. Back on the Pyramid Stage? Mercury nominated soul-pop savant Olivia Dean. The breadth – we admire it.

K-Pop group Seventeen created their own piece of Worthy Farm history, becoming the first group from that genre to play on the iconic Pyramid Stage. It was a finely choreographed set, one that saw Seventeen play to their strengths. Letting each member shine while also acting as a unit, the audience – who certainly didn’t appear to be natural K-Pop stans – were quickly caught in their spell. A point proved, and a moment to savour.

With a majestic Paul Heaton performance ringing in our ears CLASH ventures to West Holts for reformed pop juggernauts Sugababes. Arriving nice and early, the area is already thronging with fans, and it’s filling up at an alarming pace. Caught in the swell, we’re pushed closer to closer, a mammoth army being recruited behind us. With the sun at its highest, it’s not the most comfortable gigging experience we’ve had – there’s little room for a camping chair and a frozen marguerita, as we’ve seen elsewhere on-site. Sugababes are, obviously sublime – those songs remain modern classics, and the lack of chat onstage simply serves to reinforce the enigma. Mutya, Keisha, and Siobhan are pitch-perfect, with ‘Push The Button’ acting as one of the day’s soaring highs.

Getting back out, however, proves to be enormously difficult. To stem the flow organisers shut off the gangways, effectively sealing us in. As we wait for fans in front of us to be allowed to leave, it creates a hellishly slow pace that causes us to rapidly re-write our plans, the sun beating down upon us.

Just as we had begun to fear that the Glastonbury magic was starting to dissipate the crowds open up, and CLASH is able to venture back to the Pyramid Stage in time for some water, and a quick breather. The sun is starting to set a little, while road crew and guitar techs are setting up the kit for LCD Soundsystem. A special band, with a special catalogue, their set instantly transforms our mood – joyous, majestic, worthy of any superlative you care to throw at it, the band show just how imperious they truly are. A stunning version of ‘All My Friends’ strips away any nostalgia you have for the song and lets it breathe anew, providing Glastonbury with a truly Everest-like peak.

Breathless, we’re left to wait the arrival of Dua Lipa. Some doubts had been expressed online about the pop queen’s headline slot, with some citing the lukewarm verdicts offered to recent album ‘Radical Optimism’. Opting to lean in on those club vibes proves to be a masterstroke, however; the lights, impeccable sound, and fresh elements allow her to soar, delivering a truly great Glastonbury set.

Sure, she’s a little over-rehearsed – we’d rather that than ill-prepared, and it illustrates how much this means to her. Dua Lipa leaves nothing to chance, flourishing onstage in the process; a duet with Kevin Parker is a sweet moment, while a surging ‘Be The One’ provides a point of unity for the mammoth crowd. It’s a deserved triumph.

Saturday proves to be a scorcher, and it afrobeat kingpin Femi Kuti to open up the Pyramid Stage. Loosening those limbs, the scorching horns of his multi-faceted group build on that great Fela Kuti and Tony Allen lineage, while also adding something new. A remarkable experience.

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit are on terrific form at the Park Stage, the excellent band uniting behind his voice to create something truly special; bound by duty, however, CLASH returns to the Pyramid Stage to witness a faltering Cyndi Lauper. Aided by the crowd to surge through some of her biggest hits, it was a performance of varying degrees of success.

Now, don’t get us wrong: Keane aren’t cool, they aren’t hip, they aren’t cutting edge. What they do have, however, is a great vocalist, and some ace songs – there’s a lot here that we had forgotten. Absolutely charming onstage, Keane reaffirm their national treasure status, and provide some perfect mid-afternoon thrills. Perhaps we should just stop worrying about our street cred…?

Another divine vocalist – the wonderful Tems – is on the Other Stage, and she displays effortless control to win the crowd over. The area is packed for the arrival of The Last Dinner Party, one of the year’s most-tipped – and most-divisive – phenomena. We love ‘em, however, and it’s hard to believe debut album ‘Prelude To Ecstasy’ has only been out for a few months – they’ve grown to truly inhabit this space, exhibiting theatrical energy hard-wired to fill stadiums.

CLASH wanders over to Woodsies, where a secret set is being mentioned. Kasabian choose to preview incoming album ‘Happenings’ at their home-from-home, and it’s a wild, blistering, energy-packed set that feels lithe, cut-down, and unfettered. We’re with the crowds outside the tent, but the atmosphere is the same – feverish, and wild.

Over on the Pyramid Stage we make room for returning songwriter Michael Kiwanuka. In spite of his Mercury, there’s something understated – almost underrated – about his music, and we urge others to catch him. It’s an emphatic highlight of the festival – donning a robe emblazoned with the word ‘MEANING’ he moves through his catalogue, reminding us all of his undaunted talents. There’s new material, too, while that peerless voice retains its lustre.

Little Simz has risen to face every challenge she’s been issued, but the rapper looks coy, almost shy when emerging to witness the size of the crowd waiting for her at the Pyramid Stage. We needn’t worry, however – this is a stunning set, a reminder of how far she’s travelled, and how far she can continue to rise. A career-spanning performance that firmly underlines her gifts, it’s a truly remarkable set. Jack Penate’s appearance on guitar may have set indie Twitter on fire, but in truth there’s only one star. Oh, and there’s a new song in there, too – truly the gift that keeps on giving.

After such rap fire and lyrical finesse Coldplay were always going to appear slightly, well, vanilla. Memorably lambasted on Peep Show as essentially being the equivalent of the Nazis, the band have always had their haters. The group’s Achille’s heel is also their strength – it’s precisely this universality which has allowed them to triumph and persevere, completing record-breaking tour after record-breaking tour.

It’s a well-oiled machine, then, which greeted the colossal Glastonbury crowd. Opening with ‘Yellow’ is a masterstroke, and ‘Higher Power’ is ecstatic. Throwing ‘Clocks’ in relatively early is also a genius move, a reminder that deep – deep – down we’ve all got a space in our hearts for Coldplay.

With the crowd on their side Coldplay were able to experiment, and experiment they did. Stepping aside for Laura Mvula (and choir) was a curious choice it has to be said, but performing their BTS collaboration made perfect sense following Seventeen’s aperitif. Chris Martin’s exhortations did begin to grate after a while, his lack of irony soaring over our heads. The choice of encore felt a little lacklustre, too – cute deep cuts and newies, but little room for crowd-pleasers. A mixed bag, with incredible peaks but perhaps not enough cut-through to their older material.

Kneecap, though, are all about cut-through. The walk over to the South East Corner finds us being drawn to the bright lights of eternal debauchery, a dance of the damned replete with pyrotechnics, sweating bodies, and incredible lighting. The West Belfast group take to the Peace Stage with a point to prove, and deliver one of the weekend’s true highlights. Focussing on material from their debut album, it somehow feels more urgent, more impassioned, more dramatic live, the unhinged energy bringing out different dimensions of the work. Don’t believe us? Well just ask Noel Gallagher and Matt Smith, who were stood five feet away from us grinning at every single word. A righteous end to the night.

Sunday is traditionally the day of rest, so CLASH permits itself a visit to the Healing Fields to breathe a little. Essentially a festival-within-a-festival, it’s a space to have a Rune reading completed, all while learning to make your own wool, while inhaling large quantities of sage. Easily mocked, it’s also totally entrancing. Who doesn’t like wool? And who doesn’t feign the smallest intrigue at their future path? It’s the beating hippie heart of Worthy Farm and we’re totally hear for it.

Limerick favourites Kingfishr hit Avalon Stage for a brisk early lunchtime set, and display their ample charms to the fullest. Strident indie-folk with choruses that feel as though you’ve known them for eternity, their eager stage craft and complete enthusiasm makes for a vivid Sunday treat – go see ‘em, they’re going to be massive.

Strolling past West Holts for Jalen Ngonda we’re pleased to see that word is well and truly out on the American-born, UK-based soul artist. Signed to Daptone, his crisp sound pilfers from the old while surging towards the new, overhauling familiar forms to create something personal. It’s all about that voice, however – he’s got the crowd hanging on to every note, and it’s an incredible experience.

Shania Twain takes hold of this year’s customary Legends slot on the Pyramid Stage, and attracts a crowd worthy of a headliner. Humbled by the experience, she’s all showbiz pizzaz onstage, but endlessly endearing – camp as hell, she fits together her epic hits with some rustic hoedown favourites to transform Worthy Farm into a spit ‘n’ sawdust country bar. Closing with – what else? – ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’ it gets a ‘yeehaww!’ from the festival masses.

With England vs Slovakia kicking off CLASH opts to take a final walk around the site, passing by a crowd of football fans on the fringe of the campsite just beyond San Remo (the petrol station turned rave dugout). Whatever could it be? As it transpires, Louis Tomlinson has smuggled a television on site, and is allowing whoever is passing by to sit and watch the football with him. It’s all doom and gloom for the first 85 minutes into a Jude Bellingham masterclass gets the crowd on their feet – the winner provokes bedlam. Being Scottish, however, we’re queuing for an ostrich burger. Football? What football?

As it happens, by-passing the main music arenas is a masterstroke. Avril Lavigne’s Other Stage set is a roadblock, leaving Janelle Monae’s Pyramid Stage masterclass being beamed to a half-empty field. It feels a little optimistic, even cruel, to place these artists in direct competition – Avril is a much bigger name, musically speaking, and has the benefit of nostalgia. It’s another crowd crush that emphasises the need for realistic thinking; Avril may not be fashionable, but there’s no doubting the size of audience she commands.

Kim Gordon rips it up at Woodsies, the noise rock doyen delivering a masterclass in seismic vibrations. Refusing to encounter her past, the set focusses virtually entirely on new album ‘The Collective’, the band adding muscle and heft to her work. It’s a brilliant set, and hands-down one of the best things we saw all weekend – a true legend, at the top of her game.

Eclectic to the last, Glastonbury closed its 2024 encounter with a flurry of peaks – a rave-leaning set from Romy, an excellent excursion from James Blake, and a fast ‘n’ furious electro demolition from the rejuvenated Justice, whose leather jackets and sharp sonics are a match for any rock group. On the Pyramid Stage it’s left to SZA to add the final kiss to 2024’s letter from Worthy Farm, but in truth there’s a sense of disconnect. For her part, SZA doesn’t do much to elevate this beyond a tour stop – there’s no real special guests, no unique moment. Glastonbury chose a brave booking, using their platform to spotlight someone who might not ordinarily get this chance. How often, truly, do R&B singers get a space at the top of the booking here? Glastonbury chose to roll the dice, but it didn’t quite coalesce into the moment festival’s require to peak.

Much of the focus on social media this weekend has zero’d in on booking choices, timing misfires, and the size of the crowd on-site. It’s true that each of these areas need to be looked into, but you can also understand why some feeling defensive – hostile, even – to criticism of Glastonbury. It is, as the saying often has it, a magical space – it’s always felt welcoming, always felt positive, always felt safe. Perhaps it’s the ley-lines, perhaps it’s those counter-cultural legacies, or perhaps it’s just human instinct at being surrounded by all those lives and personalities, but Glastonbury remains an inspiration. Perhaps Noel Gallagher is right – there really only is one festival, and the rest are echoes.

Words: Robin Murray
Pictures: Anna Barclay, Haruki, @Eljaybriss

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