For five days a year, there’s a magical city that appears from the mists of Avalon. For that time it surpasses Manila as the most densely populated city on Earth. The city grows out around a gigantic man-made pyramid in the middle and its border is guarded by an impenetrable steel wall 13km long and 4m high. This golden city is so prestigious that some will do anything to be there. However, anyone caught trying to enter without the correct documents is handed over to the police and instantly deported, without a chance to claim asylum.
Its 210,000 population is made up entirely of immigrants from ‘outside’ – 142,000 people who’ve been selected to pay between £340 – £34,500+ to be allowed in, and around 67,000 volunteers, workers, artists and traders to service and entertain the citizens.
Inside the wall, the overwhelmingly white citizens – whilst chewing on tiny £10 ostrich burgers, excluding chips – like to be seen to be talking about socialism, climate change, whilst slurping on diesel-cooled ice creams in the midday sun and inequality – with a late night snack of cheese on toast (£6 for two slices) and a cold pint of brand-affiliated cider (£6.50).
The social divide
Even here, in this fleeting utopia, not everyone is equal. The division of our wider society is apparent for anyone willing to see it. Behind the pyramid, in hospitality, is a block of flushing toilets and hot showers – right next to the Water Aid information booth – and luxury yurts for the god-like musicians, media, invited influencers and celebrities to relax in away from the unwashed public.
The volunteer stewards are camped on top of each other with no personal space as far away from the city centre as possible, meaning they have to travel furthest for the least money to earn their space at the table. If they’re lucky, they get to witness the helicopters of the rich landing nearby.
The disparity of wealth/worth doesn’t end there. If you can afford to properly hate the proles, you can rent a spot at the ultra-exclusive Camp Kerala based high up on the hills above the city. For just £34,500 (or one NHS nurse’s average salary) you and a friend can enjoy a chef-cooked breakfast in bed and a go in the oxygen chamber – Somerset has a known oxygen shortage – before being chauffeured down to the city centre in a brand-new Bentley, whilst wearing your newly purchased Louis Vuitton bucket hat to capture that perfect insta-brag shot in your own private bar behind the Pyramid before being escorted back up the hill to the Elysian Fields of the elite.
Am I Worthy?
Luckily, I get to see all of this hypocrisy because I’m a completely independent satirical songwriter on a 20-year mission to write, record, release and tour a new album every six months. I’ve released 21 albums since 2013. I book my own tours through word of mouth.
Somehow I’ve managed to keep myself firmly on the outside of the music industry, because I’ve seen up close how it treats people. I’ve lost good friends to the bottle, the baggy or the rope because of the impossible pressures it puts on vulnerable young artists to appease and subsidise a group of 6-figured salaried executives who’ve never written a song or played a gig in their lives.
I’ve been to Glastonbury three times since 2017. The first time was as an artist where I was overwhelmed by its lights and noise. The second and third time I went as the PA to my friend Harvey, who has MS and volunteers to help repair the mobility scooters on site. My primary focus is him but I also get the opportunity to explore, observe and play the occasional guerrilla gig whilst I’m there.
I love playing gigs. I love what music does. I love how it connects. I will work just as hard for a living room of people as I will for a festival crowd. I’ve seen with my own eyes how music and jokes can bring together people from all over the spectrums of age, wealth, gender, politics, religion and race. And as musicians I truly believe we have a duty to ensure we play for everyone, without caveat or exclusion.
If we’re only dancing for the money, then we’re only dancing for the monied.
The germ of an idea
When I went in 2022, I was already looking for ideas to write a musical as a challenge to myself for album #21 – and it couldn’t have presented itself more clearly. The division, the hierarchy, the green-washing, the ego, the smugness. Every time I spoke to friends and pointed out the places where The Fantasy and The Reality are smashing into each other I was met with a cult-like defence of ‘It’s so wonderful, isn’t it?!’ and the subject was swiftly changed. (It would’ve been easier and smarter to have written a musical about Scientology, now that I think about it.)
On my last night there I was told that the teams of litter pickers have to pay a deposit (exactly the same amount as a weekend ticket) just to be allowed to pick up the rich kids’ mess, that my jaw dropped and my blood boiled. “I couldn’t even afford to pick up the rubbish!” I yelled! It was then I realised that the humanity, community and soul had been ripped out of the heart of big festivals – and I had a musical to write.
Are You Worthy? – the plot
I wrote the story, songs and the music for Are You Worthy? in a few months. It takes a razor-sharp aim at the gods of my industry. In doing so I’m biting the hand that occasionally feeds me – an act of blasphemy – and I’m extremely proud of it.
The story centres around Glory, a music-loving nurse (played by mezzo-soprano Grace Lovelass) who’s saved up for years to go to Classtonworthy festival – the most prestigious festival in the world. When she’s deemed ‘not worthy’ by the singing Pyramid and the last ticket is assigned to the entitled son of the CEO of Incredible Credit Cards, Glory is given the ‘opportunity’ to be ‘chosen’ as long as she agrees to pick up the litter on site – and maybe there she can sing her songs. She hands over her deposit money in desperation and tries on her hi-viz vest.
Once inside, the food she brought with her is confiscated and she has to navigate the coked-up rich kids, the vain celebrities and the excessive cost of living (whilst the VIPs get everything for free) until she finds herself in debt, stressed, demeaned and angry. Glory falls foul of the all-powerful Pyramid after hitting the headline act, named Whyte Saviour, whilst he sings his new anti-poverty hit Stop Being Poor.
In her defiance, she inspires the other festival goers to tear down the pyramid and build something new, with humanity at its heart.
In the wreckage of the pyramid they discover Sir Merlin Ratt-Morgue, Conservative MP for Rural England, behind the whole scheme. He thanks them for all the millions of pounds and skips off yelling “Down with the arts!”
The cast triumphantly sing a song about never being more than six feet away from a Tory, even at a leftwing-presenting festival out in the countryside. Am I worried I might get in trouble for my blasphemy? No. They can ban me, they can sue me for everything I have (£547, a 2007 Citroën Berlingo, and a beaten up double bass at the time of writing) and it will be worth it to see Big Music for what it has become – a festival of unsustainable vanity. A pyramid scheme.
Note: I need to fundraise for a UK tour of it next year. For £34,500 each I’m happy to run a course to teach the entitled on how to use a bin.
We sold out two nights with Are You Worthy? at The Black Cherry Theatre in Boscombe back in April, and will be performing a stripped down version at The Edinburgh Fringe this year 23-27 August, 4pm, at The Magical Spiegelyurt (Venue 212). Pay what you can.