Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

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Is Rock Music Dying? Answers on a Comment at the End of this Post…

As you get older it is natural to feel nostalgic at times. For me, music will often provide a prompt for it, so the news that rock music is beginning to disappear from the listings on our iconic summer festivals makes me a little despondent, while also reinforcing the sensation of ageing.
Once upon a time an award ceremony such as The Brits would have been compelling viewing; would have been packed with enthralling acts and a must-see event. Nowadays, if I’ve heard of any of the artists I’d be hard pushed to know what genre they purveyed, still less come up with a song title.
I accept that rapping is a skilled, cutting-edge, universally popular style of music. I am just unable to find anything to enjoy about listening to it. There also seems to be a veritable explosion of confident, young girls plying their songs, using the internet to publicise themselves, singing in [to me] identical, jerky, husky tones. Until the appalling massacre at the Manchester Arena in May 2017 I’d never heard of the singer Ariana Grande and I’ll admit to being amazed she had such a huge following. This is what happens as you age; you get out of the loop.
Some time during the last twenty years large swathes of popular music got hijacked by music moguls and star-makers. This imbues any creativity with a cynical, contrived quality, which is not to say that some talented individuals have not gained success from this route but that flooding the market with cloned and honed hopefuls does nothing for the music market.
History shows that often, when musical trends become tired and tedious a new, innovative, anarchic style will emerge to attract both fans and appalled detractors. This happened during the seventies when glam rock had run its course and become a parody of itself. In a movement that both shocked and appalled the mainstream and entranced those wanting change Punk arrived, spitting and snarling its grubby, vomit-laden way into pop culture. Now those born-to-shock Sex Pistols numbers like God Save the Queen, Anarchy in the UK and Pretty Vacant have become classics.
Of course devotees of rap music would say the same of their favourite style. And it would be fair [though sad] to say that in the next ten or twenty years, those ageing rock musicians who’ve dominated the stages for the last twenty or so years will [like me] be shuffling off to the immortality of Classic Gold. So maybe it is time to give over the stage to rap artists, grime artists and whatever is due to come next. Just please, please don’t let it be some karaoke-style competition winner from a tedious, Saturday night reality game show. And I’ll respect any genuine attempt at a new musical genre-but don’t expect me to like it, or to have heard of it!

Continuum- [part 2]

The story concludes with Part 2 today, as Maz learns that you cannot move on with your life and expect the old order to stay the same…

There is a roar and as I stretch to see over the heads in front I spot Jacob Rimmer, the band’s vocalist and frontman running on to the stage. He takes the mike from its stand and bounces to the front. ‘Hello Wilchester!’ he calls and is met with a deafening din from the hoards below. I’m grinning with the infection of the thrill as the remainder of them run on to take their places. ‘Are you ready for Continuum?’ he hectors and the response is an ear-splitting bellow.

At this moment Dylan reappears, pushing through, head and shoulders above most of them. He’s cradling three polystyrene boxes like babies in his arms and my relief is about more than chips. He hands us a box each as the first, pulsing drum beats herald the first number, prompting us to grin at each other like idiots then we’re nodding, stamping and hollering along with everyone else in between hot, greasy mouthfuls. I love this. I love the shared adulation, the belonging, the elation of knowing all the songs and joining in companionable singalong. It is all at an end too soon, even with two encores.

As the crowd begins to thin I realise I’d forgotten about Shona but she’s still there, behind us, looking kind of droopy, as if she won a holiday and it was to Skegness. Dylan reaches out and grasps her round the neck, pulling her to him in a clinch. ‘What did you think of THAT then, Shona-lona?’ he bawls, ignoring the woodenness of her response and the tears that are making their way down wet channels on her face.

‘Where’s Mickey?’ Shona hiccups, slumping against Dylan, who has a way of pulling in his chin and frowning when he’s flummoxed, which makes me laugh. Releasing her from the bear hug he shakes his shaggy head. ‘Haven’t seen him.’

‘We’ll give him twenty minutes then we’ll need to get the train,’ I tell them, ignoring the girl’s stricken expression. ‘You can wait, Shona if you want but I’m not missing the train home because of him.’

We’re picking up the chip boxes and collecting our belongings when he reappears, loping towards us, an inane grin hovering around his lips. As he reaches us he folds his gangly frame down on to the ground and motions us to do the same. He stretches out his long legs and leans back on his hands, revealing a ribbon of smooth, tanned stomach in the gap of his between his T-shirt and jeans. His head rolls back and he sighs. ‘Man…’ he slurs, ‘man…. Shona has knelt on the grass beside him but Dylan and I stare down, rucksacks on our backs and still holding the chip boxes.

Mickey’s unfocused eyes fix on Shona. ‘That was some fantastic shit, man’ and as she kisses him he rolls backwards on to the grass pulling her to him. She’s smiling like she won the lottery.

‘Come on, let’s go’ I say to Dylan. He gestures towards Mickey, who is uttering senseless chuckles where he lies with Shona draped over him like an exotic quilt.

‘We can’t leave him like this, Maz.’

‘He’s got Shona to look after him. I don’t want to miss the train!’

Dylan hands me his chip box, stoops and grabs Mickey by an elbow, dragging him up, shouting, ‘What did you take, Mick?’ He’s a big guy, Dylan, as tall as Mickey but with a beefy frame. He puts an arm around Mickey’s waist. Shona’s hanging off the other side as if she’s welded to him.

We make slow progress towards the station, surrounded by thousands of homeward bound fans which makes me wonder if we’ll even get on a train let alone get home but Dylan manages to drag Mickey all the way to the station, up the stairs, on to the platform and at last on to the train where we sink down in a heap by the exit doors.

 

 

It’s nearly Christmas. From my seat on the coach I’m gazing out at the drab towns as it travels southwards. I’m wondering if my choice of St Andrews was a deliberate ploy to get as much distance as possible between my home town and uni. This is my first visit home since I left in September and I’m hoping to help the time to slip away by catching up with friends but my messages and texts to Dylan have not been answered so I suppose he’s been as caught up in university life as I have. I don’t call my parents as often as I should, although the few times I’ve spoken to Mum she’s had no news of any of them-Dylan, Mickey or Shona. The Continuum gig seems a lifetime ago now.

I’ve left it late to do any Christmas shopping so I struggle up on my first morning at home and walk down into town, where the familiar streets look smaller to me and a little tired; some of the High Street businesses have disappeared or been replaced by charity shops but at least it’s warmer here than in Scotland.

I’m browsing in the fair trade shop when I think I see Shona. I say ‘think’ because to begin with it’s just the back of her, the signature white hair hanging down like a waterfall but when she turns I get a shock. Her shape has transformed and she has the substantial swell of pregnancy. Before I’ve time to move she’s spotted me and she’s making her way around the display to reach me.

‘Maz! It’s great to see you!’ As she leans forward to air-kiss me I’ve an uncomfortable sense of the proximity of her bump, as yet unmentioned. ‘You’re looking,’ I hesitate ‘-well’. She steps back and circles her protruding stomach with her forearms, her eyes dancing with excitement.

‘I’m having a baby in March.’

‘Congratulations’, I murmur, ‘Is it…?’

She breaks in. ‘It’s Mickey’s.’

I’m nodding but I can’t look her in the eye. ‘And are you and Mickey…?’

She laughs. ‘No, Maz I’m not with Mickey any more. But my baby will have a dad. We’re living with my Mum at the moment but we’re going to get a flat as soon as we’ve got enough money for a deposit.’

I’m struggling to understand. This is Mickey’s baby but he won’t be the father.

‘You met someone when you were pregnant?’ She shakes her head, chuckling.

‘No-no one new. I’m with Dylan, Maz. He wants to take on me and the baby, too. He doesn’t care that it’s Mickey’s. He got a job at the DIY store and they might be making him a department manager. You must come round and say hello!’

 

 

Back home in my bedroom I put on my headphones and listen to ‘Every Life’, my favourite Continuum album. Sitting on the edge of my bed, listening to Jacob Rimmer screaming out the lyrics the tears stream down my face. Dylan. Big hearted Dylan. No wonder he didn’t reply to my messages and texts. All this term I’d thought he was at uni and he never even started. I’ve lost him and with him my old life, my home life, my formative life.

Christmas comes and goes. I go through the motions with my family, the traditional, familiar routines a soothing background to the mourning I feel. Much as I love my family I realise I’m looking forward to getting back to St Andrews now, to throwing myself into the new term.

At last I’m on the coach, pulling northwards, the January skies leaden and a fitting backdrop for the grey cities we pass and the dreary mood I need to leave behind. I listen to music, read a course book and at some point I sleep. It is late when we pull into the bus station. I stand to pull my rucksack from the rack, shuffle down the aisle to the front and down the steps into Scotland. There is a fine drizzle falling so I lift my face and let the soft mist bathe it, tasting the wet smoky air and I’m smiling. Soon I’ll be back in halls. There’ll be news, gossip, coffee, doors open, laughter, music blaring. This is my new life and I love it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Celebration of Summer Music Shabangs-

So in honour of our very own, homegrown music festival, The Christchurch Music Festival, this week’s post is part one of a festival-inspired story, in which I’ve plumbed the depths of my early festival and concert going experiences. The story concludes with part 2, next weekend…

Continuum

                We are waiting. Mickey elbows Dylan and stumbles to his feet, mumbling something incoherent. I glance at Shona. She is wearing her habitual expression of puppy dog longing. ‘Take me!’ it says.

Dylan shrugs before shambling off after Mickey. He calls over his shoulder, ‘I’ll bring us back some chips’, then he’s gone, plunged into the throng that’s gathered for this year’s headliners ‘Continuum’, whose gear is just being set up.

Shona looks at me pink faced. She leans forward and grips my arm. ‘Maz-has Dylan said anything about Mickey and me?’

I don’t want this. I don’t want another ‘does Mickey care about me?’ discussion.

On stage, the roadies are threading cables around the platform and repositioning parts of drum kit. I take a bottle of sun lotion from my bag and unscrew the top, squirt a little on to my finger, inhaling the coconut smell as I spread it over my forearms. I offer the bottle to her. ‘You should cover up, Shona,’ I warn her, ‘the sun is stronger than you think.’

With her fair skin and white blond hair she could burn in a rainstorm, but she shakes her head. ‘Tell me’, she pleads. ‘What’s Mickey said about me?’

I’m scanning the surrounding crowd now for Dylan’s large, reassuring bulk to reappear with the chips and it’s getting tricky keeping this space with standing, jostling fans closing in around us. How will Dylan and Mickey find us? The ‘Metallica’ T-shirt they tied to Shona’s umbrella as a marker is submerged and in a moment I’m going to surrender to claustrophobia so I get to my feet like everyone else. I lean down to her.

‘Can we talk about this later, Shona? We need to pick our stuff up and get ready for Continuum. If we hold up the umbrella the boys will see it.’

Shona didn’t come for Continuum. On the train she’d played no part in the argument about which of their two albums was better or whether the new bass player was any good. She hadn’t joined in with any of the songs and had admitted to not owning any of the band’s music. Shona is here because of Mickey. Mickey is barely aware of her existence.

She is up at last and I can pull the rug up, roll it and stuff it in my bag. I turn to her. ‘Look!’ I shout, ‘the announcer is on stage. They must be ready to come on! Where have those boys got to?’ I squeeze the T-shirt clad umbrella under my arm and stand on tiptoes, straining to see above the mass of bodies.

‘Maz’ she persists. ‘What do you think I should do?’

I want to swat her like an irritating fly now and I’m mad at Mickey for leaving her with me. ‘What do you mean, ‘do’? Just enjoy the band, Shona, like everyone else. It’s what we came for.’

But she is not to be distracted. ‘You and Dylan,’ she says, her voice raised to a plaintive squeak above the burgeoning excitement of the fans, ‘You’re so good together. I want that for Mickey and me. I want us to be a proper couple like you are.’

I turn to her. ‘Shona, Dylan and I aren’t a ‘couple’. We’re just mates hanging out until we go to uni. We get on ok, that’s all.’

She stumbles a bit, jostled by fans behind her and turns to throw them a furious look. ‘All I want is Mickey. I want him to marry me.’

I stare at her. How can she be so deluded?

‘Continuum’ concludes next week. Check into ‘Anecdotage’ to finish reading the story.

Festival Time

Weather or not [and more often inclement]-it’s festival season. They’ve become bigger and more elaborate over the last fifty years. As a teenager I escaped the parental gaze and attended plenty of concerts, some of which were outside, notably Pink Floyd in Hyde Park on a blazing hot day, July 1970. I was seventeen. The concert, like other Hyde Park gigs, was free.

The mother of all music festivals, Woodstock had been in 1969. It held an alluring, magical quality for us then; we who would never have the option to attend packing instead into the cinema to worship our heroes-Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Ten Years After and the rest.

Festivals began to be a feature of the summer. The Isle of Wight, Glastonbury and Reading became fixtures and were supplemented by a rash of music events as time progressed.

Now it seems there is a festival on somewhere every week during the summer months but the free and easy ethos of the sixties is long past. Most of the larger, well known events carry an eye-watering ticket price, often with facilities to match, for those prepared to pay. Glastonbury offers luxury yurts with en-suites, although those with a thirty pound, pop-up tent are still welcome. There are multiple stages offering a range of entertainments, food from every culture, handy stalls flogging much needed wellies and waterproof capes.

Last weekend we were once again running our own, local, modest music festival on a green stretch by the River Stour. The festival has run for twenty five years, charging a small sum for entry and donating any profits to charity. The performers play free, the staff are unpaid volunteers; but the festival is under threat from council regulations and spiralling costs. Sadly, security has had to be put into place to keep real music lovers, festival goers and families just wanting a happy day out safe from gate-crashers, those wanting to bring their own alcohol rather than using the festival beer tent and other party poopers. They are few but still not welcome.

In addition to all of this, we volunteers are almost all getting on in years. Putting up fencing, constructing a stage, fetching and carrying, bin emptying and litter picking late into the night takes a toll-especially on Husband, who has the added anxiety of responsibility for administrative matters. As a lowly ticket seller and general helper my duties are less imperative, but the role can be varied. This year I undertook tasks ranging from repairing plastic swords [purchased from a toy stall] to retrieving a pair of stray dogs that threatened to run wild inside the compound. Then there are arrogant young men who strut past the ticket booth with a nonchalant swagger and have to be called back, large families who flock in, people for whom complaint is a lifetime goal-especially when it comes to forking out £5 for a day’s music!

But in a quiet moment, when the sun shines and we pause to survey the arena where groups of festival goers are lounging on picnic blankets, children playing, a swarm around the beer tent and a full marquee it feels like a great thing to do.

 

The Tale of a Festival

The hedonistic, gargantuan, explosion that is the festival season is well underway. Here in the UK we have just had the mother of all festivals in the form of Glastonbury, to the excited trilling of some and the grumpy grumbles of the ‘not-like-it-used-to-bes’.

No, festivals, and indeed live music concerts are like anything else, not what they used to be. This is generally taken to be a bad thing but is not necessarily always so.

The first Glastonbury festival [known then as the Pilton festival] was held in 1970, although festivals had begun to take place on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere before this. In the USA there had already been Woodstock, which set the bar for festivals to follow, was turned into a feature-length movie and passed quickly into legendary status. Watching the film was the nearest we British teenagers were going to get to a Woodstock experience although not all of it was riveting. I remember the thrill of Ten Years After but Sly and the Family Stone must have been somewhat less enthralling because I did actually drift off during that bit.

As the third and last child of the family I was cut some slack during my teenage years and able to do pretty much as I liked. My then BF was a grammar school attendee and a choirboy, attributes which must have assuaged any fears for my safety and morals my mother had. This meant I was able to attend live music events and indulge in the inevitable, obligatory experiences they provided, legal or otherwise, with impunity.

As much as anything, festival or concert going enables those who’ve been there to analyse, relate and share years after the event. Hence ‘I saw The Stones at Hyde Park’ or ‘I saw Dylan at the Isle of Wight’ bestows a kind of status on the sharer of this information. Knowing this, merchandisers can make loadsa money from flogging commemorative T-shirts bearing details of the festival and most importantly, the date. This says of the wearer ‘I was there’.

This weekend, the first in July is the date of our own, local, modest music festival. During the last few years Husband has taken on an organising role, provoking much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair as the date approaches. The regulations, risk assessments and fire documents, which become more demanding each year have at last been completed. The fencing, stage and marquee are all up. I prepare to step into my, more meagre role-that of selling tickets at the gate or picking up litter. The proceeds, such as they are go to local charities, the bands giving their performances free, the crowd gathered from the immediate community. It is anxiety-inducing and exhausting-no less for the fact that we stagers are increasingly old-stagers-but remains fascinating and fun. As they stream through the gate dressed in their ‘festival’ finery, children, dogs, wheelchair grannies, minders, partners and friends in tow it is like watching a smiling carnival procession, and all with one aim-to enjoy a weekend of music in the summer sunshine…

You’re never too old for Rock and Roll

                One of the many aspects of ageing that intrigues me is what I will be listening to [always providing I am able to hear anything] when I am installed in my care or nursing home as a result of having been firmly placed there by my sprogs. They will have done this following lengthy and frequent exhortation by me and having researched widely [I hope!].

                I imagine that such ‘entertainment’ provided by institutions for the elderly consists, if it is adequate, of some kind of sing-along sessions, as well as gentle exercise to music? What, then, will that music be? Because it would have to be derived from popular songs of the inmates’ era, would it not? And what will the songs be?

                Well certainly not ‘Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover’, or ‘Pack up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag’. These belong to a bygone era. No, the popular music we babyboomers will be jigging in our orthopaedic chairs to will have to consist of hit parade favourites or sixties underground classics or punk. How about sing-along-a ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles, or Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, or The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’?

                I like to think there is less of a generation gap in musical tastes as there used to be when I was a teenager, though I fear I am deluded, since I would be at a loss right now to be able to name any tune in the charts today.

Festivals, however are attended by a wide age range, and of course, especially this year, frequently feature vintage bands such as The Rolling Stones headlining act at Glastonbury, pilloried by that most erudite rag, The Daily Mail, with the headline ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Yes, Mailites, the Stones are oldish. They are all pushing seventy. They are wrinkly and craggy looking. Some [Keith] are too arthritic to play their instrument. But here’s a thing-a vast number of people of all ages loved it, including me. Why? Well for me it is generational. They are of my era, playing the songs that define my youth [mostly written by Keith, who merited his place on the stage for having produced such classics as ‘Gimme Shelter’ whether he played or not. The Stones, geriatric though they may be, can play on into their wheelchair years as far as I’m concerned.

And as our little, local music festival draws to a close today I look around at the substantial audience and see revellers of all ages from days old, to old and infirm and from all walks of life, sharing and enjoying the same music and best of all, the acts live on stage. So maybe in real music, unmanufactured by the likes of Simon Cowell etc there is no generation gap after all? And I can look forward to afternoon tea, Bingo and ‘I can’t get no Satisfaction’ when I wind up in sunset hotel.