England’s summer festival season is something of a rite of passage for many a youngster and undergrad from that side of the pond, while older types and families are quick to seize the opportunity to break from reality by delving into a surrealist maze of quirky stores, interesting eateries and carnivalesque enjoyment. But these massive five-day get-togethers are more than just a respite from the world; they host some of the biggest music acts from the UK and abroad, attracting crowds from right across the globe, who come to see their favorite musicians, comics and artistic figures do their thing.
But, whether you come here to spy out worldly music acts, or simply to sip an English cider in the sun (or rain), with such a broad range of festivals on the menu between late May and early September, there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone.
Famed throughout the world as Britain’s answer to the totemic Woodstock, today Somerset’s Glastonbury festival is a melting pot of hard rockers, New Age hippies and alt hipsters, with a diverse and varied line-up to match. Past headliners range from towering names like Bruce Springsteen and the iconic Rolling Stones, to defining cult figures like David Bowie, while there’s a seemingly endless stream of other music tents and smaller shindigs to explore. Shed your expectations at the door with this one though, because no matter what you’ve heard, there’s little that can prepare you for the eccentricities that abound on Pilton Farm.
Each year great swathes of trendy youngsters and energetic school leavers descend on the the peaceful fields of Little John's Farm in Reading. They come to celebrate of England’s largest summer festivals, one which has long been a backbone of the country’s alternative and rock music scenes. Away from the colossal main stage, the famous NME tent and Lock Up present the best of British hard rock, while the popular BBC introducing stage showcases raw new talent from right across the music world.
The big names of British comedy, the underdogs of UK art and the vogue of English indie music converge on the greens of Henham Park in Suffolk every year to do their thing. Hailed as England’s premier all-around arts bonanza, Latitude has gone from strength to strength since it first arrived in 2006; expanding from a small gathering of just 15,000, to over 35,000 people a year today. In many ways the thinking man’s Reading, Latitude is alive with poetry readings, stand up acts and quirky art projects that are guaranteed to enthral.
The protégée of BBC Radio 1 luminary Rob da Bank, this curious conglomeration of multi-colored tents and surrealist circus big tops has shouldered its way to the forefront of the English festival circuit. It now hosts more than 40,000 people a year, who flock to the unassuming Isle of Wight, just off the south coast. Here, they enjoy a flurry of environmentally-friendly, home-grown food stores, quirky fancy dress days and a host of second-hand vintage shopping outlets, not to mention some seriously top-name acts (think Kraftwerk and the Pet Shop Boys).
This festival-gone-viral has spread from a small underground dance enclave in Liverpool to some seriously far-flung corners of the globe. It’s now held in Buenos Aires, Moscow and Prague to name but a few, while Cheshire’s Daresbury is still hailed as the home of the great celebration. The music policy is unashamedly dance and trance from beginning to end, so would-be visitors should be sure to don the rave paint and pull out the glow stick en masse.