This year, Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts turned 40 with what ended up being a ridiculously hot weekend of music, performance and general chaos. Thankfully, I was sent down to the site for my second year running for AFP (and my ninth actual Glasto).

Heading down as early as I could on Wednesday, I arrived in time to meet up with Getty colleague Ian Gavan, quickly throw my tent up and get ready to shoot the final England qualification match of the World Cup on the Pyramid stage screens. Those of you who follow this blog will know by now that when it comes to football, I can confidently say that I’m not your man. In this situation, it proved to be a help though, as while everyone else was having difficulty tearing their eyes from the screen to shoot the audience reactions, I could happily get on with working, blissfully disinterested in proceedings on the televised pitch.

As is the tradition, the first day and evening was taken up with shooting the obligatory arrival shots, tent-building pictures and “before” pictures of the site. With the addition of the football match, this usually quiet day was quite manic, with only a brief respite over a pint of Pimms in Lulu’s cafe before heading out on night patrol with Ian and AP photographer Joel Ryan.

Thursday also proved to be far more active than usual with a visit by Prince Charles. Knowing that he was coming but not really knowing what he’d be doing or where, it just became a war of attrition as we all waited and waited at various sites around the festival for him to turn up. In the end, it proved to be a long wait for not much as he visited a few stalls and charity areas before heading off.

With Friday came the first official performer of the weekend, Australian artist and musician Rolf Harris. As is the way with Glastonbury, the most eclectic selection of artists can perform for the crowds and as long as they enjoy themselves, the audience will too, no matter how bizarre the culture clash is. With Rolf having just turned 80 and Glasto turning 40, it was a great start to the weekend.

Separated by a few hours, Snoop Dogg took to the main stage with what I can only describe as prolapse-inspiring bass on his third track. Having set up the audience’s expectations of how the set would sound in the first two tracks, the low-end of “Gangsta Luv” caused every photographer in the pit to vibrate themselves into a pool of photojuice. When shooting Rolf earlier on, I’d rolled my eyes when told that Health and Safety rules would mean that I had to wear ear protection for every performer. Thank you, H&S. I would have been carrying my inner ear home in a bag if I hadn’t been plugged up for that set.

While the Daily Star had already splashed with news that Kylie was set to perform with Scissor Sisters on the Pyramid Stage on Saturday, Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood made a very hush-hush appearance on one of the smaller stages. Having headlined the Pyramid stage a few years ago, it was great to hear their music in a far more stripped-down form in front of a few hundred ecstatic fans.

Friday night’s headline act was Gorillaz and early rumours suggested that every song would feature a special guest and due to this, photographers would be able to shoot the whole show. As is often the way, the hype couldn’t live up to cold reality and we found ourselves shooting a very uninspiring set of three songs with no guests before being escorted back out of the pit. Seeing how things were going, I dashed to the Other Stage before the third song was over to catch the ever-colourful Flaming Lips. It could not have been more of a change. From a dark, moody stage of stylised performers to arriving into the photo pit to see The Flaming Lips front-man Wayne Coyne personally helping out with the sound-check. With a nod to the other band members, the show began with the usual subtlety…

Saturday saw Shakira take to the main stage and caused palpitations among the men (and probably a considerable amount of women) with her stage routine. That girl can move. The problem was that we all knew that the next act on the Pyramid Stage was to be Scissor Sisters with the rumoured appearance by Kylie. As it would be her first ever appearance at Glastonbury having had to cancel her previous appearance due to her recent illness, it was sure to be big news.

Knowing that the band would only allow the photographers in the pit for the first three tracks of the set, it was clear that she wouldn’t be on-stage during this time so we all headed into the crowd with our long lenses and stepladders. The key here is to make sure you stand in front of a pleasant looking bunch with your steps as you can then get them onside by offering them the chance to stand on your stepladder for the duration of the show until the moment arrives that you need them. That way everyone wins! Sure enough, Kylie appeared during the penultimate song and all across the crowd, photographers popped into view with long lenses like an invasion of journalistic meercats.

The day was rounded off by a wonderful piece of arrogance by the Pyramid headliners, Muse. With minutes to go before the show, we were informed that only certain photographers would be allowed in. This is usually a bad sign as only the entertainment agencies get a look-in. However, it was refreshing to see my name on the list. However, we were then told that we had to sign a contract. A quick read revealed that if we signed, we’d be graciously allowed to use the images we took for our own portfolios and exhibitions BUT all copyright and ownership of every image that we took during the performance would be transferred to Muse and their management forever. They then claimed that any violation of this would cause irreparable damage to the band. Who’d have thought such a ‘powerful’ band could be so easily broken? Add to this a final clause stating that our “snapshots” could not be used for any front covers, their contract managed to convince me that they clearly have some issues with inflated self-importance so I took great pleasure in crossing my own name from their list and was joined by AP and a couple of national newspapers. What a waste of time.

Sunday was a return to the football features as England took on Germany with the target rapidly changing from jubilant supporters to sobbing fans in football shirts. With a happy looking solitary German fan and an England fan throwing his shirt to the ground in disgust, my World Cup features were out of the way for another four years.

After a tip-off from fellow photographer Nick Pickles, I headed up to see Nigerian drummer Tony Allen‘s set in the Park area. Having previously played with Damon Albarn’s project “The Good, The Bad and The Queen”, there was a chance that some surprise guests may turn up but in the end, I just got to hear some fantastic Afro-beat music as the sun began to set.

Nipping back through the crowds to the Pyramid stage, I was greeted with the news that not only were photographers only allowed 60 seconds to shoot Stevie Wonder‘s headline performance but AFP were not on the pre-approved list of agencies anyway. Thankfully, a bit of whining and diplomacy from myself and Reuters photographer Luke MacGregor saw the deal changed and we were allowed in. Despite the strict 60 second rule, we were allowed to shoot his arrival on stage then stay to enjoy his first track before we could shoot again during his second track. It’s one of the few occasions where I’ve had the chance to just relax and listen to the performance of a headline act without working. Definitely a festival highlight.

As Monday arrived, there was just time for a last scout of the site for clean-up shots, before playing a quick round of Velcro darts on a kid’s board left nearby, packing down the tents and heading for the queues. This year, the three hour journey home flew by in only seven and a half. That may sound insane but I’ve suffered FAR worse before. A lesson to those who have yet to visit the festival.

Now as I sit here writing at home and browsing my archive for the right pictures to use, I think I might well take a break from shooting it next year. As I love the festival so much, I’d hate to become bored with covering it, so may have to force myself to miss a year or two. That obviously doesn’t stop me covering Latitude or Bestival though.. ;)

Now head over here to my next blog on the delights of the night when you venture into the world away from the main stage..

20 Responses to “A Worthy cause for celebration”

  1. Great work as always Leon, I really enjoyed your shots from last years event, I saw that The Big Picture blog picked up a few of these this year too. Keep up the enthusiasm

    Posted by Stephen Bunn
  2. Show me thy ways!! SHOW ME THY WAYS!!!!!

    Posted by Akin
  3. Awesome set of pics Leon. and I’ll bet there’s more…

    …I’ll always remember ’95 as the best glasto ever, and I seem to remember a certain AFP Photog rather enjoying it too… ;-)

    Posted by Jim Barter
  4. Wasn’t me mate. That guy had hair.. *cough*

    Posted by tabascokid
  5. LOL @ Akin :-D

    But seriously dude, WICKED work as always!!

    Posted by Michelle
  6. Great, great photos.
    Especially the one with the german fan ;-)

    Posted by Frank
  7. Fabulous photos as ever. I wish someone would pay me to go!

    Posted by Mistersnappy
  8. Leon you have surpassed yourself! Such a stunning collection – not hating you at all for being there for that thom performance ;) x

    Posted by petra
  9. Great work again Leon! Your comments re. Muse and their over-inflated self-importance tally up with the stuff I was hearing about them backstage. I actually watched them from the viewing platform for a while and they did RULE but I believe that Glastonbury has no room for massive egos – its just so spinal tap and quite frankly boring! Look forward to your Bestival photos – hope the weather is just as kind to you there as it was in Avalon xx

    Posted by Carol
  10. Stunning set Leon! Thanks

    Posted by Kate Day
  11. I see what you have did there with the title, because it was sponsoured by greenpeese no? Excellent staff!

    Posted by Mikael
  12. Green Peas actually, but close enough. Get back to your touching up! ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  13. lots of amazing captures here! feel like i just visited a festival ;)

    Posted by minimodi
  14. fabulous blog and shots as ever Mr Neal xx

    Posted by Amy Baxendale
  15. Just got round to having a nose at your Glastonbury set. Just spent the best part of 45mins (at work) checking them all out. LOved them all, like a lot of people have written, really felt immersed in what went on over the couple of days. Top stuff.

    Posted by Si
  16. @Si Cheers, bud! I’m glad the work’s being appreciated!

    Posted by tabascokid
  17. wonderful shots, love them all

    Posted by Krunal

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