Monday 25 June 2007

it's just a state of mind....

Well, it took about seven hours from when we first got back to the cars, but I'm finally home and have had that long awaited and much needed shower. It started to rain again whilst I was in the Left Field tent watching the mighty Billy Bragg, and I don't think it has stopped raining since. My God it was wet. After the Braggster, I watched the Bootleg Beatles in the Acoustic tent, but then broke cover and spent an extremely soggy hour or so standing in the rain at the Fire and Dance stage watching Bill Bailey.

I listened to the radio on the way home, and I've seen some of the press coverage of the festival now, and naturally the focus has been on the weather. Yes, it was wet. Yes, the site turned into a bog. But you know what? When it really gets down to it, none of that stuff is really all that important. Alright, so everything becomes a little bit harder, but if you've come prepared, then it's never unmanageable and you quickly learn to adjust. When I stood in the rain last night and watched Bill Bailey, I don't think I could have been much wetter or dirtier if I had tried.... but it was alright. When you're already wet, you can't exactly get much wetter, can you?

Still, I'd had quite a lot of cider and shiraz by that point, and I think I may actually have been asleep on my feet at one point.... so perhaps I'm not the best person to ask.

Monday mornings at Glastonbury are melancholy affairs at the best of times, but today was even bleaker and sadder than most. More than twelve hours of solid rain meant that rivers of slime were starting to flow down the site, and packing up your tent was even more of a chore than normal. Perhaps that was why so many people had simply abandoned their tents where they stood, preferring to get off the site as quickly and as painlessly as possible. As we slogged our way down from our campsite to the West car parks, it was a little bit like walking through a ghost town.... some tents still had bed rolls and sleeping bags still inside.

Glastonbury's car parks are famous. In 2002, I went down to my car at about 10:30 in the morning, about half an hour after another friend who was also heading back up to Nottingham. A few hours later, I received a call from this friend telling me that she had got home safe and sound, and how was I doing. I hadn't even got out of the field I had been parked in. I eventually got home at about 23.30, some 13 hours after I had first got to my car. This year didn't seem to be quite so bad, although it is something of a slog when you haven't had much sleep, and I was very grateful that I wasn't doing any driving.

Not everyone was so lucky: about an hour after we got back home, I had a phonecall from one of my friends who had been camping with us, but was heading to Oxford out of the East car parks. They hadn't yet managed to get as far as Stonehenge, and still had some way to go before that shower.

So it goes.

A lot of crap is talked about the Glastonbury Festival, and no one ever seems to want to criticise or to challenge the view that this is the best festival in the world - certainly not the BBC, who are all over the event like a rash. It may well be the best festival in the world, and it's an annual tradition now for Michael Eavis to say that this Festival was definitely the best yet. It might be fantastic, but that doesn't mean that it's perfect. Why could half the crowd not hear the Killers properly? (so I hear - I was at Rodrigo Y Gabriela, where there was some kind of a technical problem that meant that their set was delayed by about 45 minutes and in the end had to be cut short.... how many things can go wrong for an acoustic duo?). I also thought that there were too many people. The site has apparently been expanded to cope with the additional 40,000 or so people the licence now allows, but at key pressure points there were frequently too many people, many of whom appeared to be triumphantly wasted. And anyway, exactly how alternative is the festival now anyway? It seems that every stall now takes credit cards and offers cashback. Even Lost Vagueness is now conscious of being a brand.

Still, I'm not one of those people who is nostalgic for the festival as it used to be in the good old days. I remember the days before the fence, and I can remember the drug dealers hanging around on every bridge. If the festival hadn't adapted, then I'm sure that it wouldn't still exist. The festival has evolved to survive, and I'm sure it will continue to evolve. Besides, the old values of the festival are still there if you know where to look for them. You can head up to the Green Fields and as well as being able to buy things that will blow your head off (and possibly make you want to buy a pixie hat), you can learn about alternative futures, and get involved with campaign groups like Greenpeace and Oxfam. The Left Field too has a special place in my heart. It's quite easy to take the piss out things like this, but I got quite choked up when Billy Bragg was telling us all about the charity Jail Guitar Doors. It's a charity that looks to provide musical instruments to inmates to help them with their self-esteem and to give them an outlet for their frustrations and for their creativity. Braggy was looking to raise a paltry £300 on the night to buy some guitars, we had a whipround and a raffle and raised over £1000, which will be matched by the Fireman's Union. We also had one of the inmates come on and perform for us. He had only been out of jail on probation for four days, and was clearly a little overwhelmed, but he was also really good. You don't exactly get stuff like this at Download or Reading do you?

One happy by-product of the huge crowds was that it meant that I increasingly stayed away from the main stages and sought my entertainment elsewhere. I didn't watch The Killers, but I did get to see John Fogerty play a fantastic set on Jazz World (how could I have forgotten that he wrote "Rocking All Over The World"? What a way to finish your set). I gave the Kaiser Chiefs and the Who a wide berth and was rewarded by great sets by Billy Bragg and the Bootleg Beatles. I was a little sorry to miss the Marley brothers performing "Exodus" on the Pyramid Stage, but I got to see Tony Benn's sunday sermon and to see the brilliant Mark Thomas performing. I didn't make it down to the Circus or to the Theatre, but I stayed further away from the Main stages than I ever have before, and I finally made it down to the John Peel stage! I couldn't entirely escape the crowds of course, and sometimes this meant that you got glimpses of some of the more unpleasant aspects of human behaviour. At one point on Saturday night, I saw a man lying in the mud. He was clearly in a really bad way, and was barely moving, although he was being attended to by a steward. A concerned passer-by had collared the steward and brought him over to the casualty who was by now surrounded by a small group of lads who were standing around him and laughing. The Good Samaritan looked up at the lads as the steward bent over the guy in the mud.
"Is this guy with you?"
All of the lads just shook their heads. Hell no, they were just here to laugh at the idiot in the mud. Unbelievable. Another man's suffering as another of the festival's entertainments.

Nothing about that scene was remotely funny, and when I read this afternoon that a 26 year old man had died at the Festival as a result of a suspected drugs overdose, I couldn't help but think of that poor guy in the mud being laughed at.

Perhaps it was him.


Blogging the festival was quite an interesting experience too. I would have posted more often, but the phone I was given by the BBC only had a numeric keypad, so it was a bit of a pain to write more than a few lines at a time. I was also hampered a bit by the fact that the phone seems to use up a lot of power and that one of the two batteries I had been given to use appeared to be duff.... although this did lead me to the Green Fields where some hippies in a wooden caravan with a cat flap offered to charge my phone up using solar power. It took them a little while, but they got there in the end, God love'em. I also didn't want to spend all of my time blogging and not actually enjoying the festival for myself. Anyway, the link on the BBC site is here (all that talk of RSS feeds, and in the end they do it the old-fashioned way with a direct link!)

What a great festival though. There is simply nowhere else in the world that I would rather have been for the last few days. I will say that I'm very pleased to be able to sleep in my own bed tonight, but going to work tomorrow is going to be a very nasty shock to the system indeed.

Here's to the Glastonbury Festival. It's not perfect, but it's still bloody marvellous - even when it's muddy.

See you in 2008.


  1. "What a great festival though. There is simply nowhere else in the world that I would rather have been for the last few days. I will say that I'm very pleased to be able to sleep in my own bed tonight, but going to work tomorrow is going to be a very nasty shock to the system indeed." Amen to that.

    Conditions like that only really get me down first thing in the morning (when you have to put on filthy trousers and boots) and last thing at night (when you end up drunkenly smearing mud down the inside of the tent and then remember you need to take your contacts out). The rest of the time it's actually pretty easy to cope with - you just get drunk and remind yourself that there's so much great stuff going on all the time.

    That said, queuing in the pouring rain for an hour and a half today for the shuttle bus to the station wasn't an experience I'd like to repeat - hypothermia couldn't have been very far away...

    I don't agree about the numbers, actually. You're certainly not the only person to complain about the size of the crowds, but I didn't think it was too much of a problem - the Other Stage was actually very quiet at times (for Editors, for instance, immediately before the headliners on Saturday). In 2000 it was significantly worse (with an estimated 200,000 on site due to fence-jumping). That said, I too largely avoided the Main Stage (I only went there for the first time yesterday) and it was very busy there, and I'd agree that the capacity can't be increased much more without a corresponding increase in the size of the site.

  2. My one regret about being high maintenance is that I miss out on the whole festival thing. I watched a lot of the BBC coverage and it looked fab, despite the weather.

  3. Er...I'll read this whole thing some other time when I am not at work. In the meantime, welcome home!