Review: Glastonwick Festival ★★★★★
Glastonwick, a radical, non-branded, incredibly reasonably-priced festival in the heart of the beautiful South Downs returns. Make a note in your diary to come here for the first weekend in June 2024 to find your new favourite bands.
Let us put something on your To Do List for next year – Glastonwick, a 26-year-old festival that reminds you how things used to be, without being stuck in the past. Why did we all travel to fields (or, in this case, a barn) and dance about in the first place? To connect, to discover new music, to share ideas and look to the future, fuelled by strange ales. We never wanted to come away thinking ‘ever got the feeling you’ve been cheated’ and that someone, somewhere (here’s looking at you, ticketmaster) is taking the lion’s share.
Here, there are no bag checks because you’re trusted not to behave like an idiot (so don’t mess it up), no obvious fences because they’re not needed, no visible sponsorship, no branding beyond an ever-changing logo for the festival itself – and a musical style that stems from its programmer, Attila the Stockbroker, aka John Baine, punk poet, songwriter and performer. Please note the word ‘programmer’. If, despite your love for music and beer and all things holy, the word ‘curates’ makes you cringe when applied to anything other than museums, this is the festival for you.
A vintage bus runs regularly to take festival-goers from various ports of call along the route from Brighton to Coombes Farm, one of the most beautiful spots on the South Downs. The varied beer selection is carefully selected (still not curated) by Alex Hall – at the barn door you buy a sheet of tokens you can exchange for whatever takes your fancy.
The line-up favours punk, ska, poetry, ancient instruments re-discovered, political ranting, and all crossovers in between. Where else could you see (The Legendary) Crucible, a school band reunion from 1976, featuring Chris Payne – who went on to become a member of Gary Numan’s band, and co-write Visage’s ‘Fade to Gray’ – playing a crumhorn? There’s got to be a PhD on music history to be written in that act alone.
When a festival’s been around for this long there will be in-jokes between performers and returning favourites to enjoy – rock’s greatest self-proclaimed failure John Ottway makes a characteristically entertaining and energetic appearance most years – but there’s a focus to seek out new, diverse bands, with a gender balance of acts on stage at near parity in 2023.
In addition to the aforementioned Ottway, returnee highlights include Captain Hotknives, with his tales of rescued laboratory beagles fighting an unfortunate nicotine addiction, gravity-defying cats, and racist jungle animals – the latter providing the best punchline in musical comedy. Blyth Power blow the crowd away with epic, multi-layered lyrical songs, and punk-cabaret-garage band Asbo Derek take well-aimed sardonic swipes at the gentrified hippie generation.
Among the bands new to Glastonwick, the Fossilheads – described on the bill as climate change meets Brecht – include a sing-a-long anthem about greenwashing, managing to get across complex ideas across with musically accomplished humour. Bee and Jackrabbit, a duo armed only with cello and guitar, is the kind of group that stops you in your tracks, your new favourite band that you can’t easily describe – which means they’re onto something – with powerful songs taking the best from folk and rock that already sound like they’re classics.
Millie Manders and the Shut Up combine punk and ska and passionate, soaring choruses just right for dancing and singing along to as a perfect close to the festival. Be sure to check out their online shop, where every penny from their Pride band t-shirts goes to the charity gendered intelligence.
But there are many, many more to mention. So next year get on the bus, pick up your beer tokens, and join the Glastonwick massive to continue the mayhem. If you don’t like it, curate me. In the words of Attila the Stockbroker, ‘Long live the sheep barn!’
Lucy is a scriptwriter and producer in theatre and film – find out more about her work here – and a researcher who enjoys getting out from behind the desk to find new things to do and sometimes review.