Thursday 2 July 2015

everything louder than everything else....

So, I've had a few days back in the real world and a little bit of time to reflect on last week at Glastonbury.  I could probably go on about this for hours, but I'll settle instead for picking out a few obvious highlights:

The Dalai Lama – there were rumours that he was going to appear, but – for obvious reasons – no clear timetable. We were sitting around the tipi on Sunday morning when I got a push message from the Glastonbury app saying that he would be appearing in the King’s Meadow at 10:45. Could we be bothered to get up and out and across to the next field in the next twenty minutes? For the Dalai Lama? Yeah, go on then. He was great. It turns out that, as well as being the leader-in-exile of Tibet, he’s also pleasingly human and has a wonderful, earthy chuckle. He likes nine hours sleep and gets up at 3am to meditate for 5 hours. What does he meditate about? Oh, all sorts of things… although he did confess that he had a bit of a problem with his mind wandering. You and me both, old son! He’s 80 years old this week too, so we sang him Happy Birthday. He turned up again later on, during Patti Smith’s (brilliant) set on the Pyramid that afternoon. I think seeing Patti Smith conduct the crowd in a mass singalong of Happy Birthday as the Dalai Lama blew out the candles and cut his birthday cake onstage might be the most Glastonbury moment ever.

Lionel Richie – As soon as it was announced that he was performing (and he was the first act to confirm), I knew that I was going to be there. There were probably 120,000 people crammed into the Pyramid arena – easily the biggest single crowd of the festival – to watch the great man work his magic. It’s not just that he has the songs (“Easy”, “Hello”, “Brick House”, “Say You, Say Me”, “Dancing on the Ceiling” etc. etc), it’s the lifetime of stagecraft. We were putty in his hands. There were lots of Lionel t-shirts and flags in the crowd, and I saw when I looked at iTunes when I got home that he’s also a trending search on iTunes too. Sounds like everyone’s happy. He was brilliant. A proper legend.

Cider Bus Thursday – It’s becoming a welcome tradition that I meet up with a couple of old school friends at the cider bus on Thursday afternoon. I’ve known both of them for at least thirty years now, and it’s brilliant to catch up. One of them I see all the time, but the other I see much less frequently and we’ve got so much shared history that it’s great to drink atomically strong Somerset cider and to shoot the breeze. James had a very different festival to me: he’s a journalist and is able to blag his way to various after-shows. He’s got pictures with Florence off of the Machine and Mark Ronson. All well and good, but he didn’t get a picture with Lekiddo, the lord of the lobsters, did he?

Lekiddo, the Lord of the Lobsters – The early-adopters in my gang were all over this last year, so I was a little late coming to the party…. But oh my goodness. He’s almost impossible to describe: something like a children’s entertainer, only not really for children and with some insanely catchy songs with accompanying dance moves. I saw him up at the Rabbit Hole on Thursday evening, and there were about twenty people in the crowd dressed up as lobsters. He’s utterly irresistible. The Guardian were there that night too, and they gave him a five star review. He plays all over the festival, and we saw him again on Saturday at the Summerhouse stage. Brilliant all over again. Do yourself a favour and join the pinchy pinchy kiss kiss people.

Billy Bragg - an annual appointment for me, but an especially good moment this year was when Billy paused in the middle of his Friday night headline slot at the Leftfield tent to talk about the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage in the USA. We’re a right-on kind of a crowd, so of course we cheered that to the rafters. Billy then played “Sexuality” and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I spent a little bit more time at the Leftfield this year. No Tony Benn, sadly…. But I did see a couple of the daily “radical roundups”, the second of which saw Billy doing a Q&A session with Frank Turner, with them performing songs together. I was vaguely familiar with Frank Turner, but he was great fun… a real highlight was when he and Bragg got up and played “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” together. Superb. Of all the artists I saw at the festival, it's Frank Turner's albums that I've downloaded when I got home.

Oli’s Halloumi Cones – You don’t normally associate the immediate side of the main stage with quality catering. Even at Glastonbury, where the food is generally excellent, this is the territory of the brown vans selling dubious burgers. Not so much, any more. These Halloumi cones are pretty famous, and I had one for breakfast on Saturday morning after watching the Unthanks (I was stood right behind Mark Radcliffe in the crowd, and he talked pretty much all the way though!). Ah. Breakfast of champions: deep-fried cheese with some delightfully minty salad. I could practically feel the health going in. Shout out too for the Jerk Chicken, rice and peas I had by the Leftfield and the proper beef stew with dumplings that I had down by John Peel. Mmmmm. Only one pie this year, mind you. Must try harder next time.

Geoff – I had quite a few random messages on twitter after the marathon (the MS Trust mentioned me on their feed). One was from a guy called Geoff who also ran as part of the MS team at the London marathon.  It was a nice message, but I didn't reply.  It turns out that Geoff is a superintendent of police in Avon and Somerset and that he was going to be the man in charge of police on the ground at the festival.  What's more, he was really keen to meet up.  You know you're getting old when you're friendly with a senior police officer, eh?  We met up on Saturday evening outside the Beat Hotel after Pharrell and as we were walking down to the John Peel.  Geoff was in full uniform and I was wearing a pink tutu and a zebra hat.  It was Geoff that insisted on the selfie!  He told us that the festival has changed enormously over the years, and back in the bad old days before the fence, there were large areas of the site where they didn't dare send a uniformed officer.  These days, it's a much friendlier place.  The only place they don't send uniformed officers is the stone circle, but there are officers there and they wouldn't hesitate to send in the uniforms if necessary.  He told us that it's a very popular assignment with the police cadets, but they have to be counted both in and out of the site to make sure they haven't lost anybody.  He's a great guy and it was really interesting to meet him and to get a bit of insight into how the festival works.

Tipi – It's not really glamping: all you get is the tipi and a groundsheet and you share the space with five other people.... but the tipi was great.  Part of it was the simple joy of not having to lug a tent into the site or to worry about having herds of people tramping all over your guy ropes and kicking you in the head as they stumbled in the dark.  It was surprisingly roomy and comfortable too, with plenty of room for all of us and our luggage.  We were in a fenced off area, carefully guarded by security (after a spate of robberies a couple of years ago), and sometimes it felt like we were exhibits in a zoo as people walked past outside the fence on the way to the Park or to the Green Fields.  We had some composting toilets (the nicest kind on the site), a shower lorry, a cafe and a camp fire.  It was nice.  I was slightly surprised by the age of our fellow residents.  It's not cheap or easy to rent one of these babies, but everyone seemed surprisingly young.  They also seemed really happy to queue and were most often to be found standing in a huge queue for the showers or for the cafe... both of which baffled me somewhat, because there are plenty of other food outlets a mere stone's throw away in the Park and the showers would be pretty much empty later on in the day... but each to their own, eh?  Live and let live and all that.  The bottom line of the experience is that I would definitely do it again and it made a really pleasant change to be based up at that end of the site in such a nice space.  It didn't leak when it rained and I could stand up inside.  What more could you want?

Suede – The only other time that I have seen Suede live was in 1993 when they headlined the Other Stage at Glastonbury, shortly before the release of their much-hyped debut album.  That's half a lifetime ago, and both of us have seen a lot of water pass under the bridge since then.  Kanye was playing the Pyramid at the same time, but the protests about his booking have baffled me: if you don't want to watch him, there are hundreds of other things to do.  For me, the choice was easy: Suede on the John Peel stage.  To cut a long story short, they were brilliant and by some distance the best band that I saw over the weekend.  They played a mix of the old and new, and they just sounded brilliant.  Boy, have they got some tunes and they've held up really, really well over the years. Brett Anderson looks ridiculously good and seemed determined to throw himself around with the commitment of a much younger man.  If I'm a wiser man now than I was back in 1993, then Suede are also a better band now than they were then.

Alt-J / Everything Everything / Motorhead / Patti Smith / Hot Chip / The Unthanks / The Charlatans / La Roux - a shout-out to some of the other bands that I saw, all of whom I enjoyed greatly. As always with this festival, it wasn't until I got home that I really had a look at the programme and realised how, even though I've been to thirteen of these things now, I still haven't nailed it.  One of these years, if I'm lucky enough to get tickets again, I really should just sack off the main stages and spend my time wandering around taking in the fringes of the festival.  The music is great, and it was good this year to be away from the main stage so much (I didn't see a single Pyramid headliner.  I think I saw them all last year)... but there's still so much to do and so much more to see.  No one can do it all, but I'm not done with this place quite yet.

I wrote an article last year for the MS Trust about attending the Glastonbury Festival with MS.  My conclusion was that you have to be careful to make sure you rest enough and drink enough water, but that this was true for everyone and not just for people with MS.  After all, I said, I might have MS but I do the festival far better now than I did when I first attended in 1993.

I hope I can say the same thing in another 22 years.

Good times.  The best of times.

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