This year was my seventh!
I was chauffeur-driven from Bath Coach Station to the site -- the 12:00 Badgerline bus had only one passenger, me! A little disorientating to be taken to the new bus dropoff right by Gate 1, the mile or more walk down the lane from the old bus stop always provided heightened anticipation especially after you'd passed the Christian Orange Juice stall and more and more of the canvas city gradually hove into view. This year though the spectacle was upon me much more suddenly.
There were more early arrivals than ever this year, myself being one of them as I had never made it as early as the Wednesday before. I had always considered my camping spot of choice since 1995 (a secluded small Green Field at the end of the old railway track) to be well off the beaten path, but by 4 pm in the afternoon it was easily more tentfilled than it had been at 4 pm Thursday the year before. And if I'd arrived on the Friday, as in 1995, I'd have been hard pushed to find a space at all. Guess why that was, readers!
Isn't it satisfying though, chilling by your pitched tent with your first beer, watching others arrive and do the work that you've already got over and done with?
The wandering starts as early as possible. The most eyecatching encampments include yurts, benders constructed from sticks and canvas, vans as props for tarpaulins, multicoloured blankets and flags -- photopportunities galore. Lots of familiar landmarks in the Green Fields, not least Manic Organic, the Lunched Out Lizards Chai Tent, and a welcome return for the Tiny Teas Tent which was for sale last year and which I feared would not make a reappearance. And, venturing further Babylon-wards, I don't know whether the Cider Bus was open on the Wednesday last year but the unexpectedly early availability of 6.5% scrumpy this time was a big bonus.
Weather-worrier that I am, the warm sunshine of Wednesday afternoon wasn't particularly reassuring because I'd overdosed on bad forecasts. Thursday was my epic ten mile wander day and the first of two downpours of the festival chose to happen on Thursday afternoon while I was naked in the Green Fields. In the sauna complex that is, sitting in a wigwam by a bonfire drying out with a bunch of other naked and clean hippies and hippyesses, watching the waves of rain pour off the edge of the canvas. Boots and waterproofs time! A good thing any remaining stresses and tensions had just been sweated out of and rinsed off me really. A timely "beat the rain" smoke break helped as well, so much so that by the time I wrapped up and braved the elements again it had almost stopped. But there was a fair bit of mud about by now, worsened a little later by a second downpour, no doubt a laughably small swamp level compared to 1998 (scarred indelibly on my mud-averse memory) but it was the anticipation of ever deteriorating conditions that was really worrying. Bloody cold too, I was not to know that the improvement thereafter would be relentless.
The boarders party on Thursday night was damp but a fine old wasted time was had by all. Strange, but fascinating too, to meet all these Internet acquaintances and put names and voices to faces (message writing styles were a misleading portent in some cases!) and moose, the earlier Cider certainly helped break the ice didn't it?
Not even Friday yet and the Festival hadn't officially started, but I loved that traditionally nameless band in a small Green Fields tent on Thursday night (can't even remember where, now, it was after a party after all!)
SUNSHINE RETURNS on Friday morning, what a welcome joy, and that was to dominate the rest of Glastonbury, the mud was drying up quickly by mid morning. After an all too brief morning wander in the Green Crafts area with Sal (arrived from Paris shortly before, very sleep deprived after a night on Salisbury station!), the ale tent in the Acoustic Tent field was the objective. This was the best Beer Tent on site. The much rumoured but never found secret real ale tent of festivals past (did it ever exist?) has now gone overground and the blackboard menu of local authentic ales had me standing reading it in eager anticipation for at least one minute.
Sal had decided beer was less important than sleep (questionable!) but Spencer arrived and after a very leisurely beer off we went to find food and music. Pilton Pasta on the way provided a cheap and tasty beer absorber, I don't mind giving a little plug to them cos they're local, and you can't knock raising money for disadvantaged kids now can you, especially when you gorge yourself on good food to help. So it wasn't until 4 pm Friday that I saw my first band, Headmix Collective on the Avalon Stage.They are classic dance-provokers, well known on the festival circuit, and were in superb form, everyone was going crazy.
We were well in the mood now and absolutely up for more music. Not much wandering later, Moby was on the Other Stage and this turned out to be the surprise hit for me of the festival, I only had a vague awareness of his material before, but he proved to be an entertainer par excellence, lots of variety and virtuoisty (the man can play instruments people!) and I was hooked enough to abandon my original intention of checking Eat Static in the Dance Tent -- I stayed for the full Moby set. Someone launched a firecracker into the front of stage area towards the end and a photographer was injured, but being quite far away we were oblivious to what happened, we just thought at the time it was part of the stage show.
The Chemical Brothers didn't really know how to stage a show, or not for the vastnesses of the Pyramid Stage field anyway. The crowd was huge, but only those nearest to the stage had sufficient volume. The lighting effects were impressive enough but the sounds simply weren't loud enough, and gradually my attention was wandering. Not sufficiently alertly though to go off to the Glade and check Zion Train, a far superior dance act, my only real cursing of the festival was on discovering later that I'd missed that opportunity. In fact there were several top Glade acts I wanted to find, such as System 7, that each time clashed with other attractions. A loss to be rectified at a future festival.
I visited one of the campervan fields for a morning "coffee" with moose and Dave (thanks chaps!). Followed a while later by another Glastonbury coffee break (= pint and a smoke) with Spencer, then we checked Asian Dub Foundation on the Main Stage, but didn't find ourselves all that grabbed by them, possibly they'd have made more of an impact with a set later in the day, perhaps also we were too far away from them. The hot sunshine, proximity of the Cider Bus, and our first sighting of that vast inflatable dragon were distractions against which A.D.F. didn't really compete. A wander (via a food stop) back to the ale tent seemed like the best idea for the time being, this allowed me to catch a bit of It's Jo and Danny in the Acoustic Tent, their cover of 'Fake Plastic Trees' didn't impress me as much as Show of Hands' cover of the same Radiohead classic a few years ago at another festival.
Spotting the weird characters in the Circus Fields is one of the best Glastonbury spectator sports, I was soaked by the water cannon of an eight foot space alien, and no doubt the miserable gits campaigning against smiling would have been suitably unamused. I got showed a yellow card by the referee for no earthly reason (shades of the Manor -- its always the ref.'s fault!). The parachute game people were also back this year, and the tea ladies, and was that a multiple-armed Shiva? ... actually I could have spent all day peoplewatching out there.
But Nucleus Roots not far away on the Avalon Stage were a tempting attraction, I'd seen them headline Strawberry Fair a few weeks before and they were even better this time, the Green Fields crowd just loved their dub riddims! Our plan was to hang around for Rolf, while chilling in the sunshine we encountered an old Cambridge mate (I always bump into him by chance at festivals). He had just got back from Nepal and had decided that Glastonbury (even on his tenth visit) was that much more weird and exotic. What can I say about Rolf? except that he's a class entertainer and not a single person in that Avalon tent was not utterly bowled over! Even Nick Harper, excellent though he is, was a bit of an anticlimax after that.
between Leftfield and Morcheeba was a tough dilemma (Travis didn't even
enter into it!). After some beer fuelled agonising, we decided that Morcheeba
were more suited to the mellow festival mood and that Leftfield might
be that bit too intense, besides the Jazz Stage was nearer!
That decision was not regretted, Morcheeba were superb : I'd not seen them live before, and they pulled out all the stops. Skye was impressed by the size of the audience and the audience was impressed by her singing and that the band were happy to dip extensively into the Big Calm archive for the recognition factor, but the new stuff sounded pretty good too. Stopped too soon!
Earlier lethargy now dispelled, it was time to hit Travellers Field E2 for some serious raving -- six hours of it almost! Spencer had bailed out to go and kip in the car, but I was determined to check as many sound systems as possible. There was plenty of choice, but the one with the anti-aircraft searchlights pointed skywards, and with the big bonfire outside, was the best for me. Morning dawned, shadows revealed themselves to be the best variety of wrecked and colourful buses and trucks that this lover of old vehicles could want, and people were still partying, showing no signs of stopping. No edgy vibes either, the travellers seemed a far friendlier bunch than a few of the dodgier mainstream festival goers. Its good that the earlier grief that some of the travellers gave Michael Eavis a decade ago appears to have been dispelled, at least partly -- their field was considerably bigger than the one they were given last year.
Somehow, after that and about two hours sleep back in my tent, I managed an 8:30 am shower, many thanks Greenpeace! More morning sleep up in the sacred space, does anyone know what the heavily promoted Cakes A La Space, ("cakes with added space") might be ;-) ? For some unrelated reason, further down the main drag, I was argued into buying some "hand-made-by-hippies" hippy tat off a tatty blanket by the most argumentative hippy I've ever met, I suppose I've always wanted a woven striped ciggy lighter pouch plus handpainted clipper.
Time to meet Spencer at my regular Acoustic Field local again, and we were also well overdue some rambling irrelevancy with a mad Welsh acrobat. Her conviction (its obvious really) was that Avalon Valley leylines were being used regularly for navigation by space craft, the more rambling nonsense she came out with the more entertaining it was.
Rival entertaining nonsense from Otway and Attila, they never fail to double you up --- lots of the old classics popped up including Trainspotter Rap ("MC Trainspotter and his Platform Two Live Crew") and You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (English by Otway, simultaneously translated into German by Attila) and they lose nothing from the annual repetition. Did Attila do "Doggy on a string" though, complete with Strawberry Fair and other festival references? We missed his first couple of songs, but he must not be allowed to exclude that Glasto-specific classic!
Memory loss (short or long term? What the hell!) forces me to spool forward three hours to another classic set, Horace Andy's on the Jazz Stage. Like most people I got interested via Massive Attack and was half expecting at least one of Horace's Bristol mates to show, that didn't happen but the man is a Jamaican legend and on the strength of his Glastonbury performance deservedly so. Just right for a hot lazy and Skylarking summer Sunday evening.
But come on own up people, how many of you thought the Happy Mondays were worth the time of night? Too many drugs even by Shaun standards! There's only so far the rest of the band can cover for your ineptitude and calling one of them a twat in public is poor reward for their efforts. It was crap spelt the Alastair Campbell way -- that's C-R-A-P! One of the very few festival lowlights, sad really given what might have been.
A beautiful sunset helped to erase that painful experience. Another dilemma next though, which for most folks including Spencer was not a dilemma at all -- Bowie or Gong? Avalon Stage-wards it was for me, the Green Fields are my Glastonbury home, and I didn't regret that despite the odd thought along the lines of "Gong -- they're late -- I could be hearing 'Space Oddity' right now!' Everybody tells me that Bowie was the business, but Gong didn't disappoint when they finally appeared, Flying Teapot, Pothead Pixies, all the seventies classics and what an end of festival performance. You had to be there really.
Afterwards I wandered for hours around the Green Fields, Headmix Collective again in the Greenpeace tent (they really are superb you know!) and an unknown, nameless trancey dancey tent near the leafy dragon ... don't bother naming the candisate for outright winner of the most spaced out moment of the festival! Raving in the Green Fields, one of many but among the best ways to conclude your Glastonbury. Can it be next June immediately please?
You too can avoid that ten hour stuck in a carpark going nowhere hell. Hint : get into your friend's car before 8:30 am at whatever cost -- we were out of the area within twenty minutes.
So there you have my review, you think its long? It could so easily have been twice as. Will I be in a position to write another in 2001, though, or ever again even? After all the positivity above, I have no choice but to finish on a somewhat negative footnote.
Fencejumping, on the scale that it now happens, seriously threatens the entire future of the Festival. Not a single fencejumper has come up with any convincing reason why refusal of future licenses is not a genuine risk. Neither the Fire Brigade (especially) or the local Council are at all happy about the fire and health and safety implications of so much overcrowding in the camping areas, and so many unauthorised people putting so much of a strain on facilities not designed (or licensed) for such huge excess numbers. In the field I was camping in, I felt like a bizarre and quaint anomaly, it was like I was almost the only ticket holding citizen there. And how many of the folks bunking in paid an "agent" to help them in, only for the agent to get in himself later and start robbing tents? Its a crime in itself and more importantly it encourages crime and criminals.
It can't continue like that and I'd rather have a 25 foot fence in future festivals, than no festival at all. Don't argue. There is no alternative, unfortunately.
William of Walworth
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