Festival Fever

Glasto

The Glastonbury Festival, at Pilton in Somerset, south west England, is the mother of all music festivals-the largest in the world.

I went to it once, in the nineties. Bjork was headlining and Elvis Costello was near the top of the bill. From where I stood, Bjork appeared as a miniature doll in a pink dress about half a mile away, beyond a sea of surging festival-goers. And while I liked much of Bjork’s avant-garde material she was not best suited to the venue. Elvis Costello and the Attractions were thrilling, though, ‘Pump it Up’ throbbing out across the crowd in a stirring morass of sound.

We watch snippets of Glastonbury on TV each year, although more and more of it elicits incomprehension or snorting derision as current tastes in music diverge further from our own. This is a time-honoured process and guaranteed to both irritate and delight the young; the ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ tradition.

But they aren’t what they used to be. The festivals and outdoor music gigs of my youth were attended by the young. I could go and watch the most popular and biggest-selling bands on my Saturday job pay. I got to see Fairport Convention, 10cc, Chicken Shack, Led Zeppelin, John Heisman’s Coliseum, Pink Floyd and very many more iconic musicians and could afford it all [including transport, food and drink] on my meagre toy shop salary of twenty five shillings per Saturday.

The crowds flocking into Glastonbury and all the other festivals of the summer are twenty and thirty somethings or older, middle class and often with their children in tow. The festivals have changed, become more corporate, more mainstream, more media-led. They are gargantuan circuses of food, entertainment and marketing. Am I alone in feeling nostalgia for the crude outdoor setups of my teenage years?

Glastonbury is still a phenomenon, a treasure of the English summer-this year’s event mercifully mud-free. And for 2019, supposedly ‘plastic-free’ too; except that it wasn’t. Photographic images of the mountains of refuse left from the event are testament to the failure of this lofty ambition. Yes-there were water stations [so woefully stretched that campers were unable to use the showers], saving a few plastic water bottles, but the burger vans and bars were clearly not on board with the plan. There is also an issue with tents being left-in a condition rendering them un-recyclable. One cunning Dutch entrepeneur has invented a ‘cardboard’ tent, which may be a solution in the future, although it seems doubtful.

This weekend sees the staging of our town’s own, homegrown, humble music festival, free to attend this year and hopefully funded from stalls and sponsorship. Most of the musicians are local, as are the stalls, the volunteers and the attendees. The weather [which can make or break the event] is set to be fine. The women’s football final does not include our home team [the football having destroyed last year’s attendance]. What can go wrong?

 

 

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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…

Not Just a Machine, Monsieur Corbusier!

                After a tortured, traffic ridden crawl of ten hours from bonny Scotland, where we’d disembarked from the Larne-Stranraer ferry, we arrived back at home-that is to say-the place where we live when we don’t live in our miniature, wheeled home.

                I’d be lying if I said homecomings are no different from the time when I was a proper working person. I no longer get that plummeting sensation as the first working Monday looms; that attempt to cling to every last moment; those delaying tactics at bed time. The return journey from any trip these days provides me with an opportunity to speculate on what may have happened in my absence and what may need to be done in order to mitigate these happenings, and also to appreciate the comforts and conveniences that a house offers.

                We near our street. I experience a frisson of surprise like the Narnia children’s experience of coming back through the wardrobe when I see that nothing has changed. Opening the front door and stepping into the hall feels new. There is a pile of [mostly junk] mail teetering on the hall chair, clamouring for the recycling bin. Of the mail that remains, one is a reminder to renew my car tax, one is a bank statement, one is yet another publishing agent’s rejection of my novel. Lovely.

                Even if it is dark I am always compelled to go first to the garden, where there tends to be good news- and bad. A lot of things have survived or even thrived in my absence [=good]. A lot of things that have thrived are weeds [=bad] and snails [=bad]. The lawn is not waist high [=good]. The lawn consists of weeds, moss, brown patches and ants’ nests [=bad].

                During the three weeks we’ve not been here the doorbell has made use of the time to take one of its intermittent sabbaticals, the carpets have acquired a layer of particles, the windows have taken on a smoked glass look, the fridge is empty of all but a tube of tomato puree, a few wrinkly cloves of garlic and half a jar of marmalade. Next day, after a stuffy and restless night in the luxury [post camper] that is bed, as I launch into laundering the sixteen tons of dirty washing we’ve created, the garden washing line decides, during the pegging of the last load, to make a statement by collapsing.

                But it’s not all bad. The sun is out. I spend my first sockless day for three weeks-[and not just because there are no clean socks in the drawer]. A passable duo at the local pub makes a refreshing, timely change from Irish folk ditties. And there is something to watch on the box…Glastonbury!

                So, as in the immortal lines of Frank Sinatra’s ‘It’s Nice to go Traveling’-it is quite nice to be home. Now, where shall we go next?