Thursday, 11 July 2013

That Crazy Festival Atmosphere

At some point in the future, I would like to go to the Glastonbury Festival again. 

This is surprising, in a way, because out of the two previous experiences I've had of the festival, both were just... Awful, in their own little ways. 

It's easy to focus on the negative. If you were to do so about this blog, you could focus on the fact that this article should have been written at least a week ago. Or on the fact that there wasn't a Sundown Six last week, again. Choosy readers choose more regular blogs, I'm sure. 

But with Glastonbury, it's the two ends of the spectrum colliding that makes things so difficult. 

At one end, it's a sun-drenched (hopefully!) weekend in the countryside with thousands of like-minded people, lots of different fields and stages and lots of experiences to be had, plus all the big name bands, the different kinds of food and drink and, if you're into it, the illegal substances. 

In theory, it's what might be called by an academic an experience of 'sanctioned transgression' - i.e. you can do what you want, within limits. Want to sit in your tent all day taking mushrooms and drinking supermarket own-brand beer? Go for it. Drink too much and fall asleep in the main field, then wake up with half your body lobster-red and a hangover? Treat yourself! 

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, the only rule is, basically, don't burn the locals - have a great time, as long as it doesn't impact on anyone else's great time. 

And isn't that a lovely idea? 

The first time I went to the festival was with a Parental Unit, back in... Wait, I'll actually have to go and check the T-shirt. Okay, it was apparently in 1999. The line-up - t-shirt, again - reads like a mildly schizophrenic who's who of the Britpop-is-crumbling era, as in half the bands on there are those that I now listen to for historical value rather than, say, actually enjoying them. Whistler, for instance - Acoustic Stage, fourth from bottom - had two albums and a three year career. 

The impossibly-named Donal Lunny's Coolfin were something that I didn't even notice at the time. There's this witchy mix of bands who survived and bands who didn't - but hey, nobody really misses Kula Shaker, at least not with a decent rifle - but it all kind of plays into the joke that anything sounds like a band Steve Lamacq would announce tonight at the Dublin castle, £7 before 9 pm, £8 after. 

I'm struggling to remember actually seeing any bands at the festival. I know it was fourteen years ago, and I have some photos somewhere, but as for actual proper memories of the festival, I remember buying the t-shirt and getting some graphic novels on the cheap from one of the book stalls. Those, I still have.

Other than that, sunny, annoyed at having to be around parental unit when, at the time, I just wanted to drink alcohol and look at girls I'd never have the courage to speak to, and maybe see Faithless in the Dance Tent. And Fatboy Slim, maybe. (I'd actually end up seeing the Fatboy Slim vs. Armand Van Helden DJ 'battle' later the same year at Brixton Academy, and I wish I still had the Date With Destiny t-shirt from that. Not that it would fit, in any way shape or form). 

In all seriousness, though, I'm struggling to think what bands I actually saw at 1999. Fun Lovin' Criminals, surely. Skunk Anansie, maybe. The Corrs, let's hope not. There was probably John Otway. The less said about that, the better; it probably involved a ladder. Years of therapy haven't quite sorted that out. 

Before this degenerates into why can't I remember seeing BAND NAME HERE, though, what I can remember about the '99 Festival devolves to: 

- Sunburn
- Long walks
- Overpriced food
- ... Bands
- Tents. 

This says less for the quality of the festival than for the quality of my memory, I'm sure. 

The second time I went to the festival was in 2004. I am reliably informed of this by googling Oasis at Glastonbury and picking the result that sounds right. 

This is a shame, because Oasis at Glastonbury in 2004 were problematic. I can only speak for how I found it - and that's a different story that we'll get to, shortly - but there was an over-abundance of swagger and an under-abundance of actually seeming like they wanted to be there. It seemed a little sad, in a way, because Oasis - at their prime, rib-smacking bombastic ego greatness - were difficult to compare to anything else around at the time. Hell, I'd even take The Importance Of Being Idle as an interesting late-game exhibition, especially given that Britpop had exploded - and then imploded, arguably causing more damage - a good review even now. 

(Regarding Britpop; I tend to agree with Kieron Gillen in dating the true 'end' of it as the release of Kula Shaker's  Mystical Machine Gun. Then again, I didn't know Kula Shaker released an album in 2010. Is it any wonder pop culture's obsessed with Zombie films at the moment, given that bands just stopped dying at the turn of the century?)

As for (Sir) Paul McCartney, well... It felt bizarre, seeing him on stage. It felt calculated that he knocked out all the less-interesting standards for a while until the BBC announced they had started filming, at which point the fireworks came out and the singalongaheyjude made its' usual appearance. It felt cynical, even though it really probably wasn't. 

The biggest thing for me that year, though, was picking the wrong person to go with. Firstly, it was someone I had a crush on and who had, on and off, been teasing me about this in various ways for a little while. Secondly, I was a replacement for the person she was originally going with - who, I believe, was her partner at the time and then, thanks to the ID restrictions put sensibly in place to avoid ticket touting, I then had to pretend to be in order to get in (this involved presenting a bank statement with his name on, so... No biggie? Kind of? Anyway...) 

Once we were in the festival and set up the tent, we spent some time together, crashed out for the night, and then I didn't see her again for two days

Let's keep this short, because this article is going along and along; in brief, at the time, she was dance, I was indie. She was drugs, I was whiskey. She was, decidedly, not pro-John Otway. She also had a severe aversion to carrying a single tiny key to a single tiny padlock I wanted to put on the tent zip; it was a little bizarre. There was something in the literature that year that said, well, if someone's going to steal your stuff, a padlock's only going to make them think there's something worth stealing - this padlock was tiny. It was the opposite of buying a Ferrari to compensate for other shortcomings; it was the kind of padlock that you could probably pick with a paperclip. It was my one concession to security, it was invisible to the average person walking around it and, shit, if you wanted to, you could just cut into the tent and not worry about it. 

But she wasn't having it. So there you go. 

So I wandered around the festival for those two days, sampling various acts, eating crappy food, trying to avoid the toilets, and getting frustrated at the live acts. I remember Franz Ferdinand and a coming-off-the-high of Run Snow Patrol. I remember doughnuts, because, hey, they're a very binding food when using the facilities isn't a wonderful idea. 

On the Sunday night, we actually managed to occupy nearby spaces long enough to take down the tent and go to the car. She wanted to leave early, because, I'll be honest, she appeared to be coming down extremely hard from either stimulants or, I suspect, ecstasy. If I had been thinking at this point, I might have considered that getting into a car with a tired, emotional drug-bunny coming down as the driver (and I couldn't drive at this point) was a bad idea, but my feet were sore, blistered and bleeding and hey, there was another of her friends hitching back with us, so what could possibly go wrong? 

It was when our driver went to flick a cigarette out the window in the fast lane of the motorway at 104 mph - and I remember that speed very clearly - and the steering wheel veered with her, taking us for a heart-stopping ice-in-your-bowels few seconds onto the gravel track in the centre perilously close to the metal barrier, that I considered that there was the chance I'd made a mistake. 

As I'm writing this now, you can assume I survived - and hey, Turing Test me if you like to make sure - but not for want of trying. After all this, the person I was with dropped me at the arse-end of the Northern Line and asked me to pay for the privilege of travelling with her, slight near-death-experience and all. 

And I paid, because it seemed like the easiest way to get her out of my life at the point. 

I limped onto the train, and called a pair of extremely nice friends in Bow, who put me up for the night. Their charity and kindness was something I still think about warmly, even now. 

The next day, I took the train home - feet wrapped up in bandages and several pairs of socks - and a day later, I was back at my desk job. 

I did keep the wristband on for a few days, though. 

So as you can see, my experiences with the Glastonbury festival has been a mish-mash mix of a melange of experiences. Not all of them were good

And now I'd like to go back. At least once more. Because maybe, just maybe, fourteen years on from the first time I went, per-maybe-haps I might be ready for it. 

Maybe - but let's not go crazy - I might actually have a good time

That's if tickets for next year's festival don't sell out in fourteen point seven seconds, of course. 

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