As pointed out in my last blog about Glastonbury, 1996 was a fallow year which meant no Glastonbury, but I still went to T in the Park, Phoenix Festival, the dreadful V Festival and Reading, More of this another time, but the festival scene had changed in 1996 from a lively underground culture to something becoming more mainstream, and the truly awful V Festival being testimony to the corporate nature of this new world. It does have to be pointed out that the televised coverage by Channel 4 of Glastonbury played a huge part in this, but the idea that the festival was becoming more mainstream had been slowly growing throughout the 90’s so the blame can’t be slapped on the door of television but the warm, dry years of 1994 and 1995 had sold Glastonbury as a holiday destination like Ibiza so for hundreds of thousands of people it became somewhere not to go because of the lifestyle, but because it was suddenly fashionable with a section of society who’d never seen festivals as an option before.
Also, Britain was changing in 1997 with the long serving Tory government slowly dying waiting to be replaced by the younger more energetic Labour Party under Tony Blair. We all hadn’t seen through Blair or Labour yet so there was a sense of wonderful optimism and celebration going into 1997 as an election was coming and we knew the country was changing.
For 1997’s festival I decided to buy a ticket. This was to be the first year I’d done so, and this meant phoning a ticketline to buy my ticket. This I thought would be dead easy. It wasn’t. In fact it took me most of the night as tickets went on sale at I think 10pm on a Thursday night, so I got on the phone line with my mate’s credit card in hand and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited…………..
The problem was that Glastonbury had become so popular that demand had outstripped supply & this clogged up phonelines and with the organisation not used to this demand, it simply collapsed. Luckily though I got a ticket at around 2am and promptly went to grab a few hours kip before getting up for work four hours later.
That was at the start of the year. No bands were announced but Radiohead were rumoured, and OK Computer had just come out so the band were huge, but Glastonbury was never about the lineup. It was all about the experience.
Winter turned eventually into spring, and that slowly turned into summer which meant FESTIVAL TIME!!! A group of my friends had also got tickets and as we all drank or worked for the Pump & Tap, one of Leicester’s finest pubs which is no longer there sadly.
Anyhow, what was going to be a number of people boiled down to four of us. There was myself obviously, Alex who was assistant manager of the Pump and also from just down the road from Worthy Farm where his parents still lived, Anka who was German and one of the barstaff, and Zeb who was a hippy but he had the transport which was to be a four wheel drive bright red sports car. Just the sort of wildly conspicuous thing you take to a festival!
We’d formulated a plan which was to go down on the Wednesday as none of us apart from Alex had done so before, and for Zeb it was his first one while Anka and myself were grizzled veterans.
Now this is where I point out that none of us apart from Zeb had bothered to take note of the weather forecasts which were looking fairly wet, but it’d rained in previous years when I was there and had dried out very quickly but I packed a bright yellow raincoat which I used at work and my best walking boots.
The plan was to meet at the Pump early on Wednesday afternoon, so I packed my bag and walked to the Pump carrying my bag, rucksack and sleeping bag to the carpark of the pub to wake up Alex, who lived in the Pump. There we sat drinking a few beers waiting for Anka and Zeb to turn up.
By now, the weather was grim. It was cold and rainy for the middle of June, but there were patches of blue sky and sun which was enough to be going on. Zeb eventually turned up around 1ish. He’d had a problem with his bright red sports car so had to take another even more extravagant bright red sports car. Shortly afterwards Anka turned up and decided to spring upon us the fact she’d bought a case of Hobec, which was a Dutch beer like Grolsch and just as heavy when there’s 16 bottles in a case. The plan had been to buy beer at the Sainsbury’s on the way down to keep weight down in the car.
Anyhow, we eventually got going mid to late afternoon after spending a few hours quietly getting drunk in the Pump and hit the road out of Leicester. Only to be stopped by a motorcycle policeman warning us about speeding. The bright red sports car stood out, but as it was left-hand drive the copper pulled up to where I was sitting in what he thought was the drivers side, but was the passenger seat. That probably saved us from being nicked as the copper looked in the car, and realised he had four crusty hippies going to Glastonbury and didn’t want the hassle.
So with a warning under our belt we drove safely out of Leicester and on our way to Glastonbury. In the rain. In the torrential rain. Spirits were still high though as we’d heard on the radio that although the site itself was wet, it wasn’t that bad, so we drove down having the sort of fun and banter one does on the way to festivals until we hit the big Sainbury’s in Glastonbury itself and stocked up on beer.
Now from there to the festival site it’s only ten minutes drive, but during festival time it’s any amount of time so we decided to take a detour to Alex’s parents to get a cup of tea, some sandwiches and the last proper crap in a proper toilet for nearly a week. We spent some time here as they live in a lovely house, and the sun was out so we sat and chilled before deciding ‘right, better get going’. By this time it was early evening and we were all hyped and we wanted set up before dark. We left Alex at his parents as he didn’t have a ticket but as his parents lived in the catchment area for free tickets they’d arranged for one to head his way but not til the morning, but we’d agreed to set his tent up and carry his stuff to where we were camping after meeting him at a set time at the Stone Circle the next day. These were the days before mobiles so we had to use brains and trust back then…..
On the way into the carpark we decided to camp in front of the main stage as it really is quiet an impressive place to camp for a newbie as you see the main throng of the festival, plus lots of bands we wanted to see were playing there. The problem was that the carparks are a nightmare to get through, plus you end up miles from the front then you have a hike as you can see…
This is where we realised we had all of Alex’s stuff, our own and Anka’s case of Hobec. On a dry day the walk would have been a pain, but it was a bit muddy plus it was starting to get dark, so we trooped on and found a good spot in front of the main stage, setting up the tents and going back for the beer. By the time we were finished it was dark, and both Zeb and myself were knackered as we had to carry that bloody crate…
But we were at Glastonbury. Ok, it was nearly dark, a bit colder than you’d want for the end of June and bit muddy in places but it was otherwise fine. Nothing a jumper, a good pair of boots and a few beers wouldn’t solve and with that attitude the three of us went off for a wander into the site as it got dark.
I think we must have spent a few hours just taking everything in, before deciding around 3am to go back to our tents and get some sleep as we wanted to spend the Thursday having a good look around the site before everyone turned up on the Thursday evening and the festival kicked into full gear. Just after 3 I remember nodding off with the sound of a few raindrops hitting my tent..
I woke up around dawn as I felt the river that was now flowing under my tent. At some point in the last three hours a storm had started and the rain was now so heavy that it was starting to come through into my tent so I got as dressed as I could, and started trying to mop up the water and plug the gaps in my tent which I somehow managed to do but it was now very, very cold and very, very wet. Around 7am I stuck my head out of the tent to see a very dismal looking Anka sitting in her tent looking grim and we sat there looking at the rain falling and falling while the lovely green of the site was quickly turning into brown.
Eventually Zeb emerged and it turned out that he’d also struggled with the rain overnight but it’d stopped raining which gave us time to patch up tents and get dressed in an attempt to stay warm and to get ready to walk up to the Stone Circle to meet Alex later that morning. With the attitude of ‘fuck it, it’s Glastonbury’ we walked into the heart of the site to quickly discover it was now a brown running sludge…..
Also, the soil of Worthy Farm is clay based, so it’s also amazingly sticky, so it was also a sucking mud which meant you had to quickly develop a walk where you spent as little time with your full foot on the ground as possible which meant trying to glide as quickly as possible. This mainly meant falling on your arse.
It started raining again by the time we got to the Green Fields. Very heavy rain. Thankfully we found a large tea/food tent and took shelter in there along with a number of other souls who also looked equally pissed off but we were warm, and had tea and were having a good chat with people which was fun. Then around 11ish, someone came in the tent and said ‘it’s snowing!!’. This got everyone off their chairs to look outside not to see snow, but a light sleet. In June. It was sleeting in June at Glastonbury. It was bloody grim, no matter how much of a optimistic edge we were putting on things.
By this time though we had to meet Alex, so that meant going out in the mud , sleet and rain. We got up the Stone Circle, in the rain and thankfully met Alex pretty much straight away though unfortunately this meant struggling all the way back to where we’d camped.
The rest of Thursday was taken up with staying warm, grabbing some food and diving into the first few bands in the Green Fields but because of the weather the site wasn’t as full as expected as people had either put off coming down til Friday morning, or as we discovered, didn’t come down at all. We even bumped into a few people from Leicester, while I bumped into people from Bristol as we sat watching some punk band on the Thursday night but the rumours were starting to fly that the second stage, The Other Stage as it was now called, was sinking and that the festival itself was under risk of cancellation. With that hanging over our heads we decided to drink more, head back to our tents, drink some more and then get an hour or two of sleep before getting up early for Echo and the Bunnymen and the Seahorses the next day.
The next day came and the site didn’t look much better. It’d stopped raining heavily halfway through Thursday but the temperature was still in the mid teens when it should have been in the low to mid 20’s for the time of year. It basically felt like early April. It was bleak and the site was now a swamp though the area in front of the main stage wasn’t too bad, the area in front of The Other Stage was virtually impossible though some bands did play early on that Friday, the stage was closed quickly as it was made secure which meant closing the stage from around 11am til late afternoon, so we wandered around most of the afternoon and ended up taking shelter in the comedy tent.
No here’s the thing about Glastonbury; you can always find refuge in the comedy tent but in muddy or sunny years there’s no room. We managed to get a space by the front and stay as dry as possible til the early evening when it was all about getting ready for the Prodigy.
Only problem was the weather was fucking things up still. It wasn’t raining but it was windy and everything was damp so while we were standing in the mud in front of the main stage waiting for them to come on, we were slowly sinking into the mud and we ended up having to pull a few people around us out of the mud. Thankfully the Prodigy put out an amazing set but as we trudged through the mud back into the site the weekend was taking on the feeling of a Dunkirk retreat but we headed off for the Friday night/Saturday morning of fun and games and ended up eventually sitting in the fairly dry Stone Circle watching the site and noticing the steam slowly rising from the site as we fooled ourselves it was drying out but really it was people drying out.
The next morning saw something akin to a sunny day! the mud had actually started drying out so it was now like walking through glue as it wasn’t warm enough to dry the site out completely. The Saturday is a bit of a blur for me, as by now I was suffering through having not much sleep for three days and drinking far too much so I remember going to see a band who’d played at the Pump & Tap a few weeks earlier and then making an exit back to my tent to get some sleep.
After a few hours sleep, I woke up fresh, well as fresh as you can get at these things and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the now empty Hobec crate (see, it served a use after all) watching the main stage but by no those of us who had stuck the festival so far were hitting a survivalist streak in that it was a case of the elements or the festival winning and we wanted the festival to win.
As the evening started to sink in it was a case of who to see; Primal Scream or Radiohead? Now I remember seeing Primal Scream, but I also have memories of seeing Radiohead. I simply can’t remember but whoever I saw they were great!!!
By the time Sunday rolled round we’d all started feeling, well, a bit healthy. Walking through the mud built up legs and burnt off calories. We’d all eaten pretty well (which is something you can do if you’re willing to walk around at Glastonbury) and we’d hit the last day now so used to dealing with the mud we felt one with the green, or the brown in this case.
Now Sunday’s at festivals are often sad things, but there was a massive element of uncertainty as Stevie Winwood’s truck couldn’t get onsite so dismal Indie chancers Kula Shaker ended up playing twice that weekend proving they were shite twice.
Ash were the last band I wanted to see, but then I remembered to struggle to see Daft Punk who I only heard from a distance as the dance tent was surrounded in a ring of mud.
And that was about that. We all came back together for one last sit round the campfire before grabbing a fairly early night in the hope that getting up early would mean missing the crowds which is a hard thing to do when everyone wants to leave to get changed and clean ASAP.
Monday morning saw a pretty quick packing up, and a pretty quick trek back to the car now there was four of us and we didn’t have to lug a crate of beer back, and the empty crate had been nicked anyhow.
We quickly managed to get loaded up and offsite pretty quickly, and once we were on the motorway we started to feel some part of reality come seeping back in. We stopped at the services but because Zeb didn’t want muddy boots everywhere we were all in stocking or bare feet which proved quite a sight in the services.
The weekend gave us one last sting as on the last leg home it rained. Torrential heavy rain for an hour all the way home to Leicester. As we dropped Alex back at the Pump, the rain was still falling and as I was dropped home the rain was still coming down. Even as I lay down to get a bit of sleep in bed, the rain still fell and Glastonbury 97 started to pass into something akin to legend.
The reason the 97 festival is important in establishing the myth of Glastonbury is because the television coverage somehow managed to convey the fact that although the festival was muddy, wet and mainly cold, it was still bloody good fun. It showed a different type of fun from the sunny antics of 94 & 95 plus now it was on the BBC it felt more part of an establishment as opposed to the then risky Channel 4.
1997 was the real turning point. People saw the community spirit. People saw the Radiohead set and the experience people were having. They saw all this and they wanted part of it. Only problem was that many only wanted to be voyeurs rather than participants which meant changing the festival, but before we get to that stage we have to go through the last of the pre-millennium festivals.
Next up is Glastonbury 1998 and one of the worst experiences of my life….