Glastonbury 2023 reviewed: the extremely unofficial festival awards ceremony

Mark Muldoon
7 min readJun 27, 2023
Elton John on the Pyramid stage. Photo: me

The Worthys are back: the made-up award ceremony that celebrates all that was great — or at least noteworthy — from another five days of peaceful anarchy down on Somerset’s premier dairy farm/pop concert venue. It’s been eight years since the non-illustrious awards were first staged — and they’re now on their fourth online publication. Let’s have a nice read of who the extremely lucky winners are this year, shall we?

Best set: Elton John

As is the way nowadays, speculation about surprise guests dominates ‘the conversation’ in the build-up to Elton John’s headline set.

It means that pretty much the only problem with the performance is one of marketing. With it previously having been confirmed that there would be four special guests, and, well, this being his last ever UK show, people’s expectations were always going to be pitched extremely high.

All the speculation however — either online or on-site — did seem to miss Elton’s long-standing and brilliant commitment to supporting emerging musicians. He’s now recorded over 370 editions of his radio show on Apple Music’s Beats 1, which is firmly focused on showcasing his favourite new artists he’s discovered.

Whilst some will have been let down, then, by his choice of guests, I struggle to think of two artists more deserving of breaking through into huge mainstream stardom than Gabriels and Rina Sawayama (the latter also on raucous, fantastic form during her own set the previous night). Elton’s third ‘up-and-coming’ guest Stephen Sanchez should consider himself significantly luckier to not just perform, but even get to do his own song.

It’s worth also noting how — In our section of the crowd — nobody looked over 40. Given how bananas ticket prices were for the rest of this tour, it’s good that a broader range of music fans got the opportunity to see this show.

The performance also marks the first time additional screens have been installed either side of the Pyramid stage. Can these become permanent fixtures please? They aid immersion for people who can’t see the stage (either because of flags or because they’re too short). You also only need to look at the impressive staging they now have at, say, Reading & Leeds or Coachella to sense that Glastonbury’s fixed Pyramid staging has started to fall behind the pack a bit. This helps redress that quibble a little.

Back to Elton. Did he pull out all the stops he could’ve done for this performance? Perhaps not. But a substantial number of stops are pulled. I have no qualms about the show’s stop-pulling rate. It certainly felt like a special night. Some acts really have to put in a lot of effort to achieve a five-star Glastonbury headline set (Coldplay brought out Barry Gibb and gave every audience member their own light-up wristband) There’s a sense that Elton doesn’t even have to try all that hard to achieve the same.

Some friends hanging out at Glastonbury. Photo: me

Most passable headline set: Arctic Monkeys

It seemed to become a bit of a trend on-site to criticise Arctic Monkeys’ headline set.

It’s fair to say plenty of people in the audience just wanted them to play their first album — occasionally literally shouting out for it. This is unfair on the substantial number of classic songs they’ve put out since then (despite a noticeable lack of them on their most recent two LPs).

It means for much of the show there’s a restlessness to much of the audience. Mirrorball is greeted by a level of applause below what an audience would give out of basic politeness.

If the show alienated plenty of people — one person near us literally said “this headline set is even more arrogant than Kanye’s” — I personally found myself submitting to the lounge-rock themes of the show and enjoying myself, though the age-old rule of Pyramid stage headline shows holds true: if you want to enter the history books as one of the classic Glastonbury sets, Worthy Farm wants to hear the hits. This won’t be considered one of the all-time classics.

The Levels — brand new stage at Glastonbury 2023. Photo: me

Most improved telecommunications infrastructure: Glastonbury festival

I’m aware I’m not supposed to crave phone reception at a festival. I’m supposed to enjoy a weekend unplugged from my devices, being present in the moment, embracing spontaneity, making new friends etc. But god, it was nice to actually be able to text friends who were at the festival, meet up with them, have a pint and see a band together.

That never really seemed possible for the last few years, as last year my phone stopped getting reception around 3pm and wouldn’t start working again until about 2am. Clearly EE — who used to be responsible for all this — never had a particularly good strategy for how to deal with a temporary city of 220,000 popping up for a few days a year. For most people I know, the situation was vastly improved this year.

Festivalgoer at Glastonbury 2023. Photo: me

Funniest musician — Weyes Blood

Stand-up comedy is notoriously underserved at the festival, so it’s always nice when musicians step in and take up the slack a little bit. That’s the case with Weyes Blood. All too aware that her elegant music is fairly low-energy stuff, she introduces her performance dryly stating that “our set is definitely a party set”. Later on, she remarks “I hear this festival has the fiercest mosh of any festival in the world” before launching into another elegant song that is in no way appropriate for moshing. It certainly makes a difference from the usual “wow there’s so many of you! We’re so grateful you came to see us, this means so much to us!” stage patter heard across the rest of the weekend.

The Woodsies area at Glastonbury. Photo: me

Best party: Lil Nas X

The revelry taking place — both on-stage and off-stage — at Lil Nas X is an absolute blast. In this joyful context, even Old Town Road doesn’t sound annoying, and that song is fucking terrible.

If you could accuse some of the very biggest popstars in the world of appropriating LGBT+ culture for financial gain (a very 2023 marketing strategy), you firmly feel as though Lil Nas X could only perform a show in this manner. It’s a great artist to give such a prominent place to on the Pyramid stage.

Elsewhere in party news, there’s N’Famady Kouyate playing to a thrilled crowd of about 200 people in Bread & Roses on the Thursday evening. His primary instrument is the balafon — a traditional West African wooden xylophone. As the winner of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition this year, hopefully he’ll go far. Although Kouyate is the star, the musicianship across his backing band is also something to behold. Here’s a video of him on the BBC coverage, if you fancy it.

The Park stage, Glastonbury 2023. Photo: me

Band that weren’t particularly missed at Glastonbury 2023: The Black Keys

It’s interesting to think back to April, when The Black Keys petulantly vowed never to play the festival again, complaining that they’d received an “insulting” offer for this year’s event.

It’s fairly well established that Glastonbury pays less than comparable festivals — the money is being spent on the vast array of attractions across the rest of the site (not to mention their sizeable charity contributions). Acts, therefore, tend to play the festival for exposure, or just for the love of the event.

I found myself considering this whilst at Skream’s semi-secret rave late on Thursday night (attendees were invited to track down and follow “the magic dinosaur” in order to gain entry). So you know what: here’s a tribute to every single creative who does accept less than the going rate in order to put on something at Glastonbury, just because it’s fun, or creatively interesting. In a world of commercial music events sponsored by American Express and Gopuff, it’s an exceptionally beautiful attitude.

Markets at Glastonbury 2023. Photo: me

Festival with the best 2024 headliners: Glastonbury

I think, this time last year, I was the first journalist to predict Elton John’s headline set. So are you up for a fresh set of headliner guesswork? Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Foo Fighters. Then Spice Girls in the legends slot. Swifto’s tour dates mean she’d have to headlineon the Sunday night, later in the day after the Spice Girls, which opens up the somewhat tantalising prospect of some kind of collaboration. I’ll tell you what, it’s a music festival I’d certainly happily attend.

The end. Photo: me.

16 sets from Glastonbury 2023 ranked from worst to best

No set was less than ‘good’, but still, here’s a full ordering:

16. Arctic Monkeys

15. Say She She

14. Skreamizm secret rave

13. The Murder Capital

12. Carly Rae Jepson

11. Weyes Blood

10. Christine and the Queens

9. Fred Again

8. Foo Fighters

7. The Big Moon

6. Lizzo

5. Slowdive

4. N’Famady Kouyate

3. Lil Nas X

2. Rina Sawayama

  1. Elton John

UK folk can watch Glastonbury sets on the iPlayer. Non-UK folk might want to give BBC Music’s YouTube channel a bash.

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter, where he honestly doesn’t just hate on The Black Keys all day every day.

--

--

Mark Muldoon

Culture journalist and photographer based in sunny East London. Columnist: British Comedy Guide. Read them here: https://linktr.ee/muldooon