Fig. 1: Glastonbury 2019. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images. [Source]

 

 

 

Glastonbury 2020 had no mud, no rain, no twelve-hour traffic tailbacks or the costly clean-up in the aftermath of 200,000 plus festival goers leaving behind Worthy Farm for another year. Glastonbury, like so many events in the global calendar, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, turning it into an ‘enforced fallow year,’[1] with the Eavis family intending to restage its 50th anniversary celebrations upon the festival’s return in 2021.[2]

Fig. 2: The BBC Music at Glastonbury 2020 logo. Source: BBC

There is, however, one place Glastonbury 2020 (or something like it) did happen: on television.  As it has for much of this year, broadcast television formed the lynchpin of the Glastonbury coverage running from Thursday 25 – Monday 29 June 2020, airing on BBC Two and BBC Four, supplemented by radio, BBC Sounds, and a dedicated iPlayer channel for archive performances.[3] Even prior to the pandemic, Glastonbury coverage has typically been discussed in terms of its capacity as a substitute for physically “being there.” In our current climate, this feeling has intensified, imbuing the 2020 coverage with an underlying, though not unspoken sense of loss, with numerous reviewers articulating the ‘bittersweet’ feeling of watching at home.[4]

Echoing other lockdown initiatives created to allow continued engagement with the arts including Royal Albert Home, Glastonbury 2020 contributes to the desire for togetherness, connection, and shared experiences that has characterised lockdown, delivered through media that approximates the liveness of the original event.[5]  In one sense, these initiatives reduce or close down the emotional, physical, and geographical distance instigated by lockdown measures. In another, they return to us earlier times, prior to the outbreak, where our social activities and freedoms were unrestricted. Moreover, our nostalgia for such times acts a salve, providing us with, as John Ellis observed earlier this year, ‘consolatory entertainment.’[6]

Through this lens, the typical function and understanding of the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage, to stand in for “being there” is further amplified.  As such, part of the cultural work performed by the 2020 coverage is to negotiate for multiple forms of loss and lack – the lack of attendance, the lack of an event, and the (seeming) lack of an alternative – offering ways for the audience to connect or reconnect with Glastonbury as a cultural site and symbol.[7] The underlying public service imperatives of the coverage are clear, contributing to wider cultural practices that bind the nation in a time of crisis, while also reasserting its position through a re-presentation of its history, achieved through repurposed Glastonbury footage.

Fig. 3: The team of presenters for BBC Music at Glastonbury 2020. Source: BBC.

BBC Studios’ executive producer Alison Howe underlined the celebratory underpinnings of the coverage, saying that while it would be different, the production team hoped to ‘still bring the magic of Glastonbury Festival to the audience at home.’[8]  Similar language is used throughout the BBC press materials to  communicate the Corporation’s desire to imbue the 2020 coverage with the ‘magic’ or ‘spirit’ of the festival,[9] reflected most obviously in the only live programming element of this year’s coverage, The Glastonbury Experience Live. Positioned at the heart of the coverage, the series of three 90-minute instalments functioned as a curatorial exercise, with familiar presenters including Clara Amfo and Jo Whiley, maintaining continuity with the festival’s roots in radio. The presenting team appeared live from Worthy Farm, sharing ‘highlights from Glastonbury’s musical vaults’[10] interspersed with socially-distanced interviews, exclusive acoustic performances from contemporary artists, and unseen or rare festival footage.[11]

Fig. 4: The Glastonbury Experience 2020: The Lineup. Source: BBC.

The conscious mix of new and old material makes for an affectionate celebration of the festival, that maintain the tone and mood of typical coverage, and its tendency to self-mythologise the socio-cultural significance of Glastonbury and Worthy Farm. However, there remains a simultaneous sense of eulogising, rooted in the awareness that The Glastonbury Experience Live isn’t the same as the festival, because Glastonbury itself isn’t the same either. This feeling is intensified when the presenters discuss the difference of being at Glastonbury this year, drawing directly on their own memories of the festival to describe past experiences. Often, this takes place during direct address to the audience who would’ve also been in attendance, turning the whole series into one extended ‘performance of memory.’[12] Such moments verbalise an uncanniness that pervades the live segments of the programme, illustrated through by the sheer emptiness of the surroundings. Unpopulated by crowds and largely silent, Worthy Farm reads as haunted, with the looming structures of its usual city-like stages standing out like ghostly monuments to a time before the pandemic.

Fig. 5: The Glastonbury Experience: A collage created by Leanne Weston. Image source: BBC.

Glastonbury’s 2020 brings the festival back into the home, but also takes us back in time, whereby, as Younghusband notes, the audience, whether they attended in person or watched at home, can also ‘relive those times.’[13] Younghusband’s use of the word ‘re-live’ is significant, particularly in relation to understanding the complexity of re-experiencing archive footage in new contexts, and the impact this has on our memories of the original event, whether viewed in person or on television.

Time, as Mary Anne Doane has observed, is the ‘major category of television.’[14] We can experience time in television, whether within the bounds of its scheduled flow or the time-shifted experiences afforded to us by streaming, video-on-demand platforms, and other home viewing formats. We can also experience time on television, as time spent or time wasted – signified by the advancement of a progress bar – altering us to what Daniel Chamberlain calls ‘temporal conspicuity,’ or the hyperawareness of time passing.[15] As William Uricchio’s notion of television as time machine suggests, we can also experience time through television. It can fast-forward, propelling us to an imagined future or instead, rewind to take us back to the familiarity and security of the past. Expanding upon Foucauldian notions of heterochronia, or worlds within worlds, Uricchio argues television has a specific kind of temporality, which in turn allows ‘viewers to experience a distinctive kind of time and possibly even notion of history.’[16] Within this model, Uricchio also considers the effects of latency and/or temporal displacement on our viewing experiences, finding they exist on many levels within a programme’s ‘textual logic.’[17] When we (re)engage with something like the archival Glastonbury sets of Oasis or Coldplay for example, this means that they can be viewed both out of time in their new context, while still remaining in time, still bound to the original context they existed in for the viewer.

Temporal displacement occurs during the re-experience of any archival material, but music programming maintains a particular and complex relationship with memory and nostalgia.  As Mickey Vallee’s writing on music and nostalgia highlights, music allows the listener ‘access to the affects associated with the bygone,’[18] maintaining a ‘cultural alignment with nostalgia because either can be approached from pure memory.’[19]  However, the actual purity of those memories can of course be called into question and complicated by the ways in which we encounter and engage with archival material. How, when and where we do this, and what ‘nostalgic frames’[20] they are placed within has the potential to create the conditions for what Arjun Appadurai calls ‘nostalgia without memory’[21] or false nostalgia for something never experienced.[22]

Fig. 6: Archive sets by David Bowie and Amy Winehouse were part of The Glastonbury Experience. Collage created by Leanne Weston. Image source: BBC.

In its re-use of performance footage, Glastonbury 2020 facilitates various kinds of textual re-encounters with the past. First, in its ability to reunite us with younger selves, both as viewers and artists, re-experiencing performances in a familiar, yet different context, aided by their nostalgic reframing as a “return.” This was memorably documented on Instagram by singer Adele, when she shared images of herself in her living room, rewatching her 2016 headline set on the Pyramid Stage, wearing the very same dress from the original event. Both versions of her are visible within the image, holding past and present in tension, with her performance (and by extension her music) bridging the gap between them. Second, is another kind of return: a resurrection. Through repeat broadcasts and best of compilations, the television time machine created by the Glastonbury 2020 brings back the dead for one night only. Once more, the uncanniness of the experience resurfaces, taking on an even greater auratic and affective dimension. These qualities are particularly evident when watching the archival performances of David Bowie and Amy Winehouse. Despite knowledge of their passing and the nostalgic frame through which they’re presented, Bowie and Winehouse are returned to us in a manner that doesn’t signify pastness, but rather presence, vitality. For an hour or two, they’re alive once more.[23]  These sets perhaps more than any other embody the “out of time” quality that Uricchio describes. Bowie and Winehouse exist somewhere other, someplace other, and some time other, and yet, are forever fixed at the age we view them at (or mentally recall them as).


What does this mean in terms of how we understand performance and memory, and indeed, how we’ll look back on this period in the future? To borrow from Amy Holdsworth, the television resurrections afforded to us by the Glastonbury 2020 coverage are exemplary of our changed relationship to memory, with nostalgia, and in turn, nostalgic behaviours. Being nostalgic is no longer solely characterised in terms of painful malaise or longing, but rather, an encouraged, active form of engagement with the past, particularly when considered in relation to music and music culture. Technological affordances mean our understanding of heritage and history, and in turn, sense of memory and pastness has changed. This is due to several interrelated cultural and perspectival shifts. First, as Rodney Harrison notes, the ubiquity of heritage itself.[24] Second, the increased recognition for popular music as a form of heritage.[25] Third, the impact of the memory boom and our ‘contemporary fascination with memory.’[26]  This fascination is maintained through technologies (video-on-demand, video sharing platforms) and media forms (repeat broadcasts, classic and archival film and television channels) which, as Andreas Huyssen observes, ‘make ever more memory available to us day by day.’[27]

The increased presence of memory objects, and our consistent re-encountering of them either as clips on YouTube or in full sets as part of the Glastonbury 2020 coverage also means that memories can be overwritten. Through their recontextualisation, our understanding of them as memories is also changed. Alison Landsberg describes this phenomenon as ‘prosthetic memory,’ created by moments we come into contact with media texts, occurring at the ‘interface between a person and a historical narrative about the past, at an experiential site such as a movie theater or museum,’ which allows the viewer to ‘suture’ themselves into history.[28] Rather than generating a false memory, prosthetic memory is socially constructed, and allows for people to share memories while having no other common ground. Reviewing the coverage for The Independent, Ed Cumming recalls the moment where it intersected with his own memories, upon seeing Jimmy Cliff on screen. He writes, ‘the BBC coverage will now be blurred with the actual memory, and cherished.’[29] Cumming’s evocative description coverage as an ‘orgy of reminiscence,’[30] is fitting one, and highlights how the coverage purposefully encourages viewers to call upon and re-engage with their memories.

The centrality of memory to the Glastonbury 2020 experience is most overtly referenced during a montage made by BBC Music. Entitled ‘Would You Do It Again? Amazing Glastonbury Memories,’ running at over nine minutes, the reminiscence-turned-promotional trailer intercuts archive news and performance footage to great effect and great affect, functioning as a celebration and memorialisation of all Glastonbury’s own history. The montage also underlines the significance and the complex interplay of these moments as public, recorded events and how they, as Ed Cumming’s recollections illustrate, can overwrite our own personal, private memories of those events.

Our continuous interactions with media texts, whether contextually framed as they were during the Glastonbury 2020 coverage or re-encountered later in clip form via iPlayer, YouTube, social media or and other avenues signals our changed relationship with memory and pastness. Through these avenues, performances and the artists within them consistently circulate, disappearing and reappearing and over time. They provide us with a way to immersive ourselves in and nostalgically re-engage with the past through a mediated yet impossible kind of Nietzschean eternal return.  As a young Liam Gallagher on the NME stage once sang, ‘You and I are gonna live forever.’

 


Leanne Weston is a PhD candidate and Associate Tutor in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick. Her doctoral research on memory and materiality in music programming forms part of ongoing work in The Centre for Television Histories.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] The festival’s official twitter released a statement from Michael and Emily Eavis to this effect on March 18, 2020. https://twitter.com/glastonbury/status/1240230721060589569

[2] Between 1970 and 1981, the festival was held on an intermittent basis, but since then has become an annual event. Fallow years, held roughly at five-year intervals, are the exception to this, ensuring a break for the organisers and local population while also allowing the land to rest. Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, its previous fallow year was 2018.

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/glastonbury.

[4] Hodgkinson, Will. ‘Glastonbury 2020 Review – Glorious Festival Reprise Was a Bittersweet Sofa Symphony’. The Times, 29 June 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/glastonbury-2020-review-glorious-festival-reprise-was-a-bittersweet-sofa-symphony-t9rqt7xr8.

[5] The eventfulness of this is underlined by their fixed release schedule, broadcast at a particular day, date, and time, remaining available to view for a limited period, as opposed to the instant-on availability that typically characterises the streaming/video-on-demand experience.

[6] Ellis, John. What Do We Need in a Crisis? Broadcast TV! 24 Apr. 2020, https://cstonline.net/what-do-we-need-in-a-crisis-broadcast-tv-by-john-ellis/.

[7] Reviewing the coverage for The Spectator, Graeme Thomson describes Glastonbury as being exemplary of the ‘festivalisation’ of television. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-festivalisation-of-tv.

[8] Homewood, Ben. ‘BBC Promises Magic as Glastonbury Broadcast Plans Are Unveiled’. Music Week, 27 May 2020, https://www.musicweek.com/media/read/bbc-promises-magic-as-glastonbury-broadcast-plans-are-unveiled/079903.

[9] BBC Media Centre. ‘The Glastonbury Experience Is Nearly Here’. BBC Media Centre, 26 June 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2020/the-glastonbury-experience.

[10] BBC Media Centre. ‘The Glastonbury Experience – Live’. BBC Media Centre, 27 June 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2020/26/glastonbury-experience-live-ep2.

[11] ITV2 replicated the model of exclusive live performances and archival assets for its recent coverage of the V Festival.

[12] Kuhn, Annette. ‘Memory Texts and Memory Work: Performances of Memory in and with Visual Media’. Memory Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, 4, Oct. 2010, pp. 298–313. https://doi.org/10.1177/1750698010370034.

[13] Paine, Andre. ‘BBC Music’s Jan Younghusband on the “Classic” Glastonbury TV Line-Up’. Music Week, 26 June 2020, https://www.musicweek.com/media/read/bbc-music-s-jan-younghusband-on-the-classic-glastonbury-tv-line-up/080196.

[14] Doane, Mary Ann. ‘Information, Crisis, Catastrophe’. Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism, edited by Patricia Mellencamp, BFI, 1990, p. 222.

[15] Chamberlain, Daniel. ‘Watching Time on Television’. Flow, vol. 6, no. 4, July 2007, http://flowtv.org/2007/07/watching-time-on-television.

[16] Uricchio, William. ‘TV as Time Machine: Television’s Changing Heterochronic Regimes and the Production of History’. Relocating Television: Television in the Digital Context, edited by Jostein Gripsrud, Routledge, 2010, p. 27.

[17] Ibid., p. 31.

[18] Vallee, Mickee. ‘From Disease to Desire: The Afflicted Amalgamation of Music and Nostalgia’. Ecologies of Affect: Placing Nostalgia, Desire and Hope, edited by Rob Shields et al., Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011, p. 89.

[19] Ibid., p. 87.

[20] Holdsworth, Amy. Television, Memory, and Nostalgia, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 97-102; 124-126.

[21] Appadurai, Arjun, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

[22] The co-opting or commodifying of nostalgia is especially clear in the articles on the BBC’s dedicated Glastonbury site, including one on 90s sets to ‘spark pure nostalgia’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3RRFhcXHtlgtXmjj8fR4CX9/5-classic-glastonbury-sets-to-spark-pure-90s-nostalgia.

[23] It’s notable that both sets were broadcast on Sunday, June 28, occupying similar timeslots.  Bowie’s never before seen 2000 headline set was shown on BBC 2, while Winehouse’s appearance in 2007 appeared on BBC Four. This is broadly in keeping with the “mainstream” vs. “alternative” branding of the content shown across both channels during the festival coverage. For instance, during BBC 2 broadcasting The Glastonbury Experience Live, BBC Four showed the compilation performance series Glastonbury: Backstage Acoustics.

[24] Harrison, Rodney. Heritage: Critical Approaches. Routledge, 2013.

[25] Alison Huber discusses this at length in ‘Remembering Popular Music, Documentary Style: Tony Palmer’s History in All You Need Is Love’. Television & New Media, vol. 12, no. 6, 6, Nov. 2011, pp. 513–30. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476411400838.

[26] Holdsworth, Television, Memory, and Nostalgia, p. 2.

[27] Huyssen, Andreas. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 17.

[28] Landsberg, Alison. Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. Columbia University Press, 2004, p. 2.

[29] Cumming, Ed. ‘The Glastonbury Experience 2020 Coverage Was an Orgy of Reminiscence – Review’. The Independent, 28 June 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/glastonbury-2020-bbc-iplayer-festival-performances-pulp-adele-coldplay-a9589846.html.

[30] Ibid.