'Get stuck in' – Billy Bragg rallies Glastonbury in Brexit aftermath
Damon Albarn, Novelist and James among those voicing anger onstage as audiences deal with poll news – and heavy rain
“That’s it, I think we should declare Glastonbury an independent nation state.” As word of the referendum results slowly rippled across the festival campsite on Friday morning, bleary-eyed campers grappled both with hangovers and the realisation that they were unzipping their tents to a UK changed forever. And for the many of the 180,000 ticket-holders who were firmly in the remain camp, talk soon jokingly turned to “Glexit”.
A noticeably sombre mood gripped Worthy Farm as the first acts of the festival took to the stage under darkening clouds. The 50-piece Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, accompanied by Damon Albarn, Blur frontman and founder of Africa Express project, opened the Other Stage. Albarn did not mince his words as he spoke of his anger at the referendum results.
“I have a heavy heart today,” he said to the gathered crowds. “Democracy has failed us. Democracy has failed us because it was ill informed. And I want all of you to know that when we all leave here, we can change that decision. It is possible.”
It was a strangely uplifting performance, as the audience were reminded there are places in the world worse to be even than a broken Britain.
“It’s really emotional. It suddenly brings it all to the front of your mind how united we should be, when you consider what these people from Syria are going through,” said Tanya Chesworth.
“That made my Glastonbury. It’s brought unity after what we have woken up to,” said Mitch Pendered, who lives in Switzerland but comes from Devon and voted remain.
The political mood also gripped other stages. As Novelist, the grime artist, took to the stage he started up a rousing chant of “Fuck David Cameron”, while the guitarist from rock band James told the crowd: “It is with incredible sadness that we stand here today, unified in sadness that our country has turned on people. Fuck them!”
“It’s like Yugoslavia without the bombs, a country disintegrating,” said Robert Smith from Swindon.
Spirits were also not lifted by the weather, which by midday had turned to torrential rain and did little to improve the treacherously muddy conditions underfoot.
The Other Stage was almost an hour late opening and logistical difficulties meant the controversial women-only Sisterhood stage, which was due to host various female-led performances and even a twerking workshop, was still not open on Friday.
The seismic referendum aftermath also led to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pulling out of his appearance at the Left Field tent on Sunday, with a spokesperson saying he was focusing on “momentous” results.
Nonetheless, Corbyn’s continued popularity with young voters was reaffirmed as mere mention of his name in the tent prompted a huge cheer.
And while many festivalgoers tried to focus their efforts on forgetting politics for the rest of the weekend, throwing themselves into watching acts such as Skepta, Sigur Rós and headliners M Speaking before his performance, Glastonbury stalwart Billy Bragg offered a call to arms to the young generation, the majority of whom voted to stay in the EU. Admitting he had not voted when he first got the vote in 1979, Bragg said now was not the time for political apathy.
“My guess is there’s a lot of young people who woke up this morning thinking, there’s absolutely no way this country would be so stupid to vote us out,” he said. “You probably thought there’s no point in going to the polling station, I’ll let someone else do that. I’m not here to condemn them, after I made the mistake I got stuck into the fight. So now it’s your job to get stuck in.”
His message was echoed by Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norfolk South, who called for “progressives” to rebuild, be resolute and help him make the world know that “the England Nigel Farage represents is not the UK I want to be part of”.use, Left Field remained a hive of heated political discussion.