Getting up to make the long drive from Liverpool to Glastonbury two Wednesdays ago, I knew the country may have changed substantially on my return trip subject to the referendum result.
It is difficult to write about my experience at Worthy Farm without also writing about the vote for Brexit.
Traipsing to the compost loo and clutching a packet of baby wipes on the Friday morning, I heard snatches of conversations from the tents I walked past: all of them were about the vote. Cameron’s resignation, Boris’s potential premiership, the general horror of it all.
Our tent spent the morning getting ready and discussing how we felt. All of us had voted to remain in the EU by post weeks beforehand.
Occasionally someone would mention a band name and a stage time and we were reminded we had a festival to go and see. The promise of live music buoyed up glimmers of joy against the roiling ocean of dread which crashed and bashed beyond the festival’s walls.
We stood in the rain awaiting James who opened the Other Stage on Friday afternoon. The band played the songs and Tim Booth thrashed about, in a juddering, shaman-like frenzy. His limbs agitated by some ecstatic wish for stimulation. Before they finish Jim Glennie mentions the elephant in the field: Brexit. His response to the vote to leave? A casual “Fuck ‘em” met with cheers from a damp and slightly hungover audience.
Bat for Lashes (Sunday at John Peel tent) is a delight. Natasha Khan does a set of new material mixed with older fan favourites. The new songs come from a concept album in which the protagonist, a bride to be, is informed on arriving at the church that her beloved has been killed in a car crash. The future she envisaged for them both needs to be rethought. It is beautiful and prescient.
PJ Harvey (Sunday at the Other Stage) enters to a marching band before delivering a moving set. In the middle of it she stops to read John Donne’s poem No Man is an island which receives rapturous applause from a bedraggled and diminished crowd.
Låpsley (Sunday at John Peel) lulls her crowd to something resembling serenity and quips when she finishes “Any hot Europeans who are single, hit me up. Let’s get married.”
Foals (Friday at Pyramid) rouse the crowd out of complacency in their pre-headline slot for Muse. It is as booming as one would expect. Frontman Stannis thrashes his body, feral and brutal against his guitar. The lyrics to Spanish Sahara have never sounded more ominous and relevant – “Forget the horror here/ Forget the horror here/ Leave it all down here”
Muse, on straight after Foals, deliver a bombastic, cock rocking set of undulating guitars and heavy bass lines, Matt Belamy’s falsetto arcing back forth and forth across it all. It’s an awesome spectacle and the crowd adore it; and yet there is some level of it that I seem unable to access.
Despite braying, in the run up to the festival, that I would not be watching “the headliners” I find myself at the Pyramid on Saturday (again) for Adele. After opening with Hello she begins a set stacked with hits, interspersed with much squawking and stage chatter: I love her instantly. Is she a living saint? Quite possibly.
The stand out act, for me, was Christine & the Queens (Friday at Other Stage). Christine (real name Héloïse Letissier) and her band execute a set that manages to be moving in terms of its poignancy and its ability to get people dancing. When the heavens open to pour a multitude of sins on the crowd, Christine cries “Do you want to fight me rain? Is that what you want?”. She doesn’t just sing the songs; instead she and the Queens give a full on performance. Finding flowers on the stage she compares them to singers she admires – a giant sunflower is Beyonce, a lily is Rhianna and a stem with no blooms is the singer herself (an analogy with which I disagree entirely). She nails it. After they leave the stage I reflect on how cool the French are and get a bit sad when I think about future trips to France that require me to go through the “All other passports” queue in airports. How unremittingly grim.
The last act I see is LCD Soundsystem who close the Other Stage on Sunday night. I will be berated when I get home by my mother for missing Coldplay. James Murphy and his troop deliver an excellent set to an adoring crowd. Flares, animated jaw lines and the odd poncho compile the back drop to the close of my festival. It was a great experience, it always is. And yet…
In the car on the way home, my boyfriend sleeps in the back and I keep the driver, a mutual friend, company. He voted leave and I ask him why. He gives his reasons as immigration control and sovereignty. He also expresses concern about the political and economic firestorm which appears to have been created in the aftermath of the vote. He says that the one thing to remember is that the electorate is never wrong and to question them or insist on a second referendum is foolish and potentially undemocratic. I reluctantly find myself agreeing with him.
After all – if remain had won – would I agree that the leavers were granted a second referendum? No matter how much I disagree with the results I defer to the system that produced it – that’s democracy.
In the week that follows the Leave campaign begins to disintegrate. Boris Johnson removes his hat from the ring of the Tory Leadership vacuum created by David Cameron’s resignation. The £350 million figure touted by Leave to be spent on the NHS is retracted.
Some who voted leave express regret. Cracks begin to appear. Incidents of racial and ethnic abuse spike. Think piece after think piece is published in the media. Britain shakes and quivers. The aftershocks of the vote are still felt as I type this article two weeks later. They will be felt for generations to come. And when the dust finally settles what will remain?
Glastonbury and other events like it serve as inoculations against a world that is ever more divided, ever more mean and ever more cruel. Yes – as a liberal, left leaning, Guardian reading, yoghurt knitting queer with a predilection for one too many Madonna records – I would write a sentence like that and believe it. Yes – I would vote to remain in the EU if we were given the impossible second referendum. And yes – I think what the Leave campaign, and those responsible for running it, have done is tantamount to fraud.
The social and political flesh of the country has been mutilated. I am sure I am not the only one who feels apprehensive about the scorched landscape that is Britain in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
However I also think this is a chance to rally. To get angry. To demand our Government, in whatever form, broker a firm and workable deal for our exit from the EU – if that is the course which is decided upon. If the deal is unworkable or would damage our country further – we must shout so loud that those who did vote leave will take notice. We must not allow it to happen. We must convince people of the dangerous waters that this country is currently adrift in.
The divides opened up by the vote its aftermath are multiform and varied. So many people are so angry. Instead of insults and hatred, which will only serve to weaken the connections we share we must begin to build and begin to maintain. We must work together.
If someone voted leave they voted leave for a reason and it’s the reason which requires interrogation. Talk to people. Understand why they made the decision that they did and then investigate how they can be convinced otherwise.
Don’t call them stupid. Don’t tell them that they “don’t get it” or that they have made a “mistake”. If you do that then you’re no better than the gloating Farage or the supercilious Gove – shouting someone down without engaging or understanding them. That politics of fear and unmitigated deception is to be avoided at all costs.
If you’re going to direct your anger anywhere it should be toward the people behind the Leave campaign. Direct your anger at the media who perpetuated half truths and outright falsehoods.
Answer the lies with the truth. Drive the truth home with a conversation. Listen more than you talk.
Remember the words of murdered MP, Jo Cox: “We have far more in common than that which divides us”.