The KLF at Glastonbury

This came up after a conversation which was obviously online in these Covid times. Back in 1993 we lived in different times. The Cold War was over, and former Soviet states had been falling all over Eastern Europe which had become a fluid mess of countries turning towards democracy while at the same time some were wrapped in in ages-old ethnic conflict. Meanwhile Isreal and Palestine were still locked together in conflict, but at the same time everything felt possible in a very strange, and new time for everyone.

Step up Bill Drummond and Jimmy Caulty of The KLF who by 1993 had taken the astonishing step of disbanding and deleting their entire catalogue. In summer 1993 they’d taken to turning up at raves and festivals with the most famous incident being at Glastonbury in 1993. They asked Michael Eavis if they could play their single, K Cera Cera (released as The K Foundation) across the site to ‘promote peace’ but the issue was at this time Eavis wasn’t a fan of Rave Culture or dance, so dance and rave across the Glastonbury Festival site was supposedly ‘banned’ but people set up sound systems across site with the Joe Bananas one probably the most famous.

Caulty and Drummond’s plan was to play the song across site using these sound systems and it came to pass the song was played much to the annoyance of Michael Eavis and the bemusement of peope waking up to hear something quite bizarre. Sadly there was no peace in the Middle East but for those who heard it were party to on of the KLF’s famous stunts.

What I thought of Lost in Vagueness

There’s an increasingly rich stream of crowdfunded documentaries about often incredibly niche subjects, but with stories that need to be told. Lost in Vagueness is on the whole, one of those films though it isn’t without flaws which often come from such crowdfunded projects but Sophia Ollins creates a film worthy to be added to the small genre of films about Glastonbury Festival.

The film tells the story of Roy Gurvitz who arguably saved Glastonbury in the early 2000’s as the festival was crossing over from the anarachic free for all of the previous years, to the more organised 21st Century juggernaut we know of today. To understand what Gurvitz did it’s best ot understand what Glastonbury was at the end of the century.It was breaking into the mainstream thanks mainly to the BBC and Guardian hitching themselves to the festival as festivals became not just a thing for young folk, but of alll ages which to be fair had been something Glastonbury had done.

In 2000, the first year Gurvitz ran his section fo the festival called Lost Vagueness, the festival nearly fell apart. Tens of thousands of people got over the fence, crime was rife and infrastructure in parts of the site collapsed. The festival took a year off in 2001 to work out what the hell to do as they’d never get a licence if something wasn’t done, so the Superfence came in which kept out people so well that in 2002 and 2003 the site felt, well, empty compared to the past. There came a problem that tickets were not selling out which seems insane in a time when it’s a fight to get even in a queue online for a ticket.

So Gurvitz was given free rule to do what he liked and he did. A big chunk of festival goers clicked onto what he was doing which mixed burlesque, performance art, dance, live music and general insanity. I first went into Lost Vagueness in 2002 spending a night of debauchery which led to a very fragile Sunday, but what he’d done is capture all the lunacy you’d get across the site into one area and let some brilliantly creative people run riot. And so the area grew in reputation outwith the festival itself as Lost Vagueness started organising their own events, as well as working for large companies and organisations. Effectively in a few years it became a large company worth millions.

Gurvitz himself came out of the Traveller scene of the 80’s after leaving home at a young age like so many Travellers did. To have him where he was seemed unnatural, and indeed looking at the film seeing Gurvitz turn into an abusive boss demanding jobs be done just loooks painful. Perhaps if Gurvitz had delegated more and become a person who inspired then perhaps things wouldn’t have ended so badly as they did in 2007. That year’s festival was a wet and windy one which is hardly unusual but word from Lost Vagueness wasn’t great. Normally you could get in on the Thursday and walk around but we tried and couldn’t get in. The reason being Gurvitz was threatening to pull out of the entire festival and although this didn’t happen, and in fact I ended up having another great time there, the end of Lost Vagueness was happening all around us.

Ollins tells us the story of Lost Vagueness, and of Gurvitz’s family life which was less than happy which lead to him not seeing his family for 20 years when they tracked him down via an internet search. Where the film works is this history of Gurvitz and how he changed not just Glastonbury but a large part of British culture, but where it fails is it meanders at times, for example what exactly is Gurvitz doing now which is only skimmed over here. A bit more about hos family would have a bit more of an arc, but these are minor issues of what is a fine addition to the small numbers of Glastonbury films.

Happy 50th birthday Glastonbury

Fifty years ago today a farmer in Somerset had an idea to raise a bit of extra cash by putting on one of those pop festivals which were popular at the time on his farm. The Kinks were booked to headline but they pulled out to be replaced by some up and coming band called T-Rex. A few thousand people turned up at the first event to enjoy free milk and hog roast. Over the years tens of thousands more have said they were at the first festival in the same way the first Sex Pistols gig at the 100 Club seems to have 20k people there, but that first festival set everything off. For Michael Eavis it took him nearly a decade to embrace the festival on his terms which he’s shaped into what it is today.

 

50 years later the festival is a juggernaut which has been in my life now for nearly 30 years, and even though it is essentially postponed due to Covid-19 I see it remaining part of my life, but it all started humbly 50 years ago with free milk and Glam Rock…

And oh, assuming next year’s festival goes ahead there’s another 50th anniversary which can be celebrated so lets hope we can do that next summer.

35 years of Live Aid

Today, 35 years ago Live Aid happened featuring two huge open-air concerts in London and Philadelphia and global hunger was wiped out overnight making the world an almost utopia. Except it didn’t. So let’s be blunt from the off; as an event to help people Live Aid’s reach was limited, and although aid did get to people, it also got in the hands of warlords who bought guns and other weapons who then proceeded to murder tens of thousands of people. Bob Geldof’s successor to Live Aid, Live 8, ended up siding with Western governments allowing them a shield to back off doing anything real to wipe out Third World debt.

Of course, people giving money in 1985 didn’t know this. I bought a copy of Do They Know its Christmas? like millions of others thinking my few quid that I’d spent on a frankly shite record (which has long, long been sold off) would actually do something. I’d dabbled with the idea of getting a ticket and going down with some friends but I bluntly, shat myself about going down to London myself, spending a day in Wembley, then heading back to Victoria in the wee hours to wait for the bus back. A few years later I wouldn’t have blinked about it, but it is a regret as we had people who’d come into the shop I worked in who could have easily gotten tickets.

In those pre-internet days knowledge that Live Aid was not doing what it set out to do was in circulation, though hard to get but journalists were at least aware on both sides of the Atlantic there were problems. The problem was the narrative was written in stone. Bob Geldof was a saint, and his free-market vision of aid relief might involve giving millions direct to a butcher but let’s skim over that so we can feel good after all, it’s better to be kind than pick Geldof and Live Aid apart because they did help people?

And here we are 35 years later still being fed the same narrative. Yet for all my moral outrage at what Live Aid, and especially Geldof, is actually responsible for, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Live Aid concert itself as possibly one of those moments which helped shape the next 35 years for me in selling me the idea of large open-air festivals such as Glastonbury.

liveaid

As for me on that day, I remember having to pop into work to help deal with a delivery but managed to get away so I was home by midday to watch the start of it which then saw me stuck in front of the TV for the next 14 hours or so. I witnessed poor Adam Ant single-handedly destroy his career to Queen dragging theirs out of the gutter. Watching it back today little of it stands up musically, nor do many of these acts know how to play to a crowd of 100k. Queen was one of those exceptions as was David Bowie who was going through his megastar phase before making the horrible mistake which was his career from 86 to the early 90s. I still shudder at Tin Machine which reminds me I must tell my Tin Machine story one day…

But that day was about spectacle, not to mention the actual technical marvel of putting the thing on, and the BBC showing it to the UK in those early days of satellites. A lot of what was done that day pushed technology on so that just a few years later satellite TV became a thing and you’d see dishes go up on the sides of houses of the few who could afford it back then.  It was amazing to see things flit from the UK to US and back again. Who cares that many of the performances were poor, it was the spectacle which mattered and looking at the continuity back then it’s clear that was how it was affecting people who were there.

Of course there were some things which did happen. Most of the acts saw their careers either blow up like U2 or Madonna or come back from the dead like Queen and Status Quo. Others saw careers prolonged for a year or two longer than they should have been with Adam Ant being an exception.  Live Aid also saw how music changed for the latter half of the 80s so that these big acts dominated to the point where chart music stagnated. No wonder the breakthrough of rave and Indie music in 89 was lapped up as we’d struggled with that post Live Aid bubble.

35 years later the legacy of that day beyond the memories people have of it as a glorious spectacle is complex. Geldof has clearly profited in terms of relevance since then as in 1985 his 15 minutes of fame was well and truly up, but his move into international politics is going to either make him a saint or hang like a set of chains depending on how you’ve informed yourself. Most people though see him, and Live Aid/8 (I remember Geldof appearing at Glastonbury in 2005 being welcomed uncritically on the main stages, but elsewhere you’d be able to find opposing voices to what he was doing, not to mention that both concerts are lacking in black acts) are purely noble causes and not the complex mess it really is.

Still, musically if you’re an act looking to play a big festival you can do worse than using Live Aid as a guide as to how to do it. Queen and U2 are your guides.

 

Glastonbury Festival from 1982

YouTube’s algorithm again does the work I seem unable to and has unearthed this clip from the 1982 festival featuring the music of Jean Philipe Rykiel and the vastly underrated Talisman. However, their performances aren’t the highlight for me at least. For me, it’s the very early footage of the site including the earliest colour ariel footage of the festival once it started being a more or less annual event.

From what I can gather it’s from one of two films, Glastonbury Festival or Glastonbury Pilgrimage. Neither of these I’d heard about before consulting the excellent resource over at UK Rock Festivals and their informative page on the 1982 festival so these are films I’ll have to search out. There’s no map I can find of the 1982 festival online, but from all accounts the 1983 festival was pretty much the same map so here that is.

glasto1982

To show you how large the festival is now, here’s a 2019 site map.

glasto20191982’s festival would vanish into a very small part of the site as it is, and rumour was the site would have expanded further this year had it taken place. Back in 1982 though you could drive onto site, whereas these days barring a few exceptions, you have to prepare yourself for a very long walk.

Here’s the video. It is a wonderful bit of archive. Enjoy.

ThjereFestival Glastonbury Pilgrimage ” and “Glastonbury Festival

The great flood of Glastonbury Festival 2005

Back in 2005 the Glastonbury Festival that year started out nice, dry and warm. Sure, some rain was forecast for the Friday but it’d be not that bad? Nah, it nearly ended up with the festival being called off and 150,000 people being evacuated though to where I don’t know. I assume the Bath and West Showground.

This is a video showing the creeping horror of what happened at the bottom of Pennards Hill that day. We were in the field next to it awaiting the floods to come but thankfully they didn’t or we’d suffered what these poor sods did.

The good news is after this Micahel Eavis spent hundreds of thousands of pounds installing drainage across the site, though areas were missed as we’d find out when the festival returned after a fallow year in 2007.

So sit back and enjoy a piece of found footage horror…

 

The early days of the Glastonbury Festival

One of the many, many things to have come out of the lack of a Glastonbury Festival this year, and touch wood, only this year, is a look at the history of the festival and no I don’t mean the BBC’s rather cursory look back at the last 25 years of the festival. Although the weekend’s coverage by the BBC was good, and the broadcast of David Bowie’s set from 2000 was one of 2000’s few highlights, there was one name missing from the programming which was that of the late Jean Eavis, Michael’s wife.

The first few years I went in the 90’s Jean was as much a figurehead of the festival as Michael, and she’d be there on the site making sure fences were repaired slowly so tens of thousands of kids like myself could get in. Michael in recent years admitted they calculated for a certain few thousand on top of those buying tickets getting in as they knew these kids would bring something to the festival that, bluntly, has been lost in the age of the superfence which is the anarchic spontaneity of people trying to pay for their weekend by creating whatever entertainment they can for people.

And those people ranged from hippies or crusties, or indeed any folk who’d fell through the cracks of Tory Britain in the 80’s and early 90’s. All the lost, all the misfits were welcomed and they played with the wealthier students and other folks who came to the festival with no problems.  Well, more or less no problem. Even by the time I first started going in the early 90’s parts of the site were places to avoid at night but more on that another time.

So I’ve been looking at what footage exists of that first quarter-century of the festival is online and most of it is fragments of a festival that doesn’t exist anymore, but the spirit of that festival still resides in the Green Fields and some of the people that attend who don’t see Glastonbury as just a big gig in a field.

The main thing that does get me is the growth of the festival. Fields that lay empty in 1990 are now. I remember long walks to get from where the bus from Bristol used to drop you to the site, but now that’s all within the walls of the festival as the site grows each year.

I especially love the grainy old Super 8 footage. There’s something instantly nostalgic, even romantic, about it.

Looking at the 1986 footage it really is remarkable how it’s grown. Back then the site is basically what is now the main area for the Pyramid, plus what’s now the kids’ field. Everything over the old train tracks was more or less untouched waiting for future years to descend upon it.

By 1995 the first age of the festival was over. Now longer aligned with CND and such a direct political cause the festival moved to something more inclusive which has transformed into an event where Tory MP’s are seen mingling with millionaire footballers and those kids who would have something to add to the festival are locked out. 1995 is my favourite year of those early years I went as the entire site was bursting with creativity. I miss the sound systems everywhere mainly as Michael has no love for dance or electronic music so would try to keep that out but he eventually had to change.

Rave culture may have been something Eavis struggled with, but it transformed Glastonbury into what it is now just as the fence changed it, the television coverage changed it and even Covid-19 will affect the festival in some shape or form in the years ahead.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first Glastonbury Fayre (1970 was the Pilton Pop Festival), so in many ways, this is the festival kicking off properly after 1970’s dry run. Hopefully I’ll be there next year to celebrate, and remember what came before us to get us to where we are today.

I’d give anything to be at Glastonbury Festival

This week should have been the 50th anniversary of the Glastonbury Festival, but instead, everyone is locked down thanks to Covid-19 and watching what the BBC are showing (which is all the big headliners so mainly Coldplay or Adele) or scouring YouTube for footage which isn’t just focused around the main stage and Babylon. Instead of 200,000 or so people on site there’s the Eavis family obviously, the few people who live on the farm all year long, and a small BBC crew so the site looks like this.

glasto2020

It’s a very melancholy sight, A few trucks, a few vans, a tent, and the bare skeleton of the Pyramid Stage.

What the weekend has shown is how much a part of my, and thousands of other people’s lives, the festival is. After all I’ve nearly been going for 30 years, so more than half my life has involved Glastonbury in some shape or form, and I’ve made sacrifices over the years to go there. Even now I’m disabled and not especially well I want nothing more than to be in a field with mates watching bands, or soaking it all up at the cider bus or as it is Sunday afternoon, I’d probably be watching the act on the ‘Legends’ slot before getting ready for the final night and the grim return to reality on Monday.

Had things not went the way it did regarding the stroke and cancer over the last few years, my plan was to move to the general area. I’d already done some checking things out in Glastonbury regarding work and somewhere to live, but that all went south thanks to illness, then Brexit made it harder and now Covid makes it even more unlikely so I’m here in Glasgow wishing souls existed so I could sell it to whatever Devil is out there so I can solve all problems overnight and ensure Glastonbury returns next year.

Because here’s the thing; I’m not sure we’ll be able to go back to what it was like before the virus, at least without accepting we have to live with an increased death rate. There’s a wee voice at the back of my head saying 2021 won’t be able to happen as remember, we’re only seven months into this pandemic and we’re finding out Covid as we’re going along. We might have drugs that help but the chances of a safe, working vaccine in 12 months looks unlikely and although I remain optimistic, there’s a realism which is beginning to sink in.

I hope I’m wrong because I want nothing more than to spend a week on Worthy Farm be it by Faustian deal or otherwise. I hope this time next year I’m working out how to make the final day last as long as possible and that maybe, perhaps someday everything awful is gone and I might even go back to my plan of spending the rest of my life in the area.

Til then it’s the BBC and YouTube. Hopefully though I’ll see some of you on a farm in Somerset next year…

Return to Glastonbury 1999

The end of the millennium was a strange time. The 90’s had been relatively stable since the end of the Cold War, minus the odd bit of genocide and war and we were all looking forward to the 21st century as after all, it could only be a next stage in the evolution of humankind?

Sadly, this was not to be the case but there was a shiny new optimism in 1999, Y2K panic aside of course. That year’s Glastonbury Festival is something I’ve written in detail about previously, was a bit of a mixture as in 1999, Britpop had breathed its last though bands still vainly plugged on for that last big hit, and although Big Beat was a thing music and youth culture was a bit over the place in these pre mass internet days. So the festival’s lineup that year felt like that with no major strand of music one could pull out of it.

 

 

Also the weather played a part. 1997 was muddy but it’d remained dry most of the weekend so was hard work, but still fun. 1998 was just wet, miserable and muddy all weekend, plus the lineup was poor, or acts you looked forward to were shite. It was a terrible year so 1999 was hoped to be dry just so we could have more options than rain and mud.

 

 

Fortunately, it was dry and in fact, on the run-up to the festival it even seemed it could be a ridiculously hot year which it wasn’t. It ended up being a perfect weekend weatherwise. Warm, dry with a wee bit of rain on Saturday to keep the dust down. Getting between stages wasn’t an issue as it was busy, but not rammed as people had clearly been put off coming down without a ticket due to the weather in the previous couple of years.

 

 

I liked 1999’s festival a lot. At the time it felt like a reward for those of us who suffered especialy in 98 which overall, still stands as one of the worst festival I’ve ever been to in 30 years, and the great thing about watching this video footage is just how many great acts played that year. Hole for example were fucking brilliant, and REM still pulled off one of the best headline sets I’ve seen. Watching tens of thousands of people bouncing at the Fun Loving Criminals was awesome in the truest sense of the word, but there was so many dreadful acts milking out a last few rays in the sun.

 

 

So 1999 felt like an end. We’d survived Britpop and the 20th century with a whole fresh new one just six months away, so of course, the festival closed the final one of the millennium with the general averageness of Skunk Anansie.

 

 

Glastonbury 1999 didn’t end with a massive climax, but just sort of faded away. 1999 itself didn’t end with the apocalypse but a lot of hangovers, and maybe a few computers which glitched a bit. 2000 was going to be a great year, and the 21st century was going to be so much more different than the 20th century.

Well, that’s right for sure. I do however miss 1999’s festival. It was fun, and it was a year where the best stuff happened away from the main stages in a lovely disorganised mess and the future looked good. Fast forward two decades and we’re living with far-right lunatics in charge of the UK, and we’re in the middle of a lethal pandemic which has seen me quarantined since March.

Sigh

Bring back 1999…

 

 

Return to Glastonbury 1997

What seems like a long time now back in 2013I wrote a long piece about my time at Glastonbury 1997. Well, there’s always room for more as some videos have cropped up on YouTube of the BBC’s coverage, which was their first year after picking up after Channel 4 who pissed off Michael Eavis who I seem to remember thought were not taking the festival seriously.

 

The thing about 1997 it was the start of the festival forming into what we know it as today so it was slowly becoming more corporate, and the rumours of Richard Branson buying Eavis out to run it post 2000 hung around like a bad smell. However for now it was safe with Michael and Jean Eavis running it. I have to say at this point that for the first 30 years, Jean Eavis was the heart of the festival as knowing that she’d turn a blind eye to collapsing fences or fence jumpers as she wanted the inner city kids to be there to supplement the student kids from wealthier backgrounds.

 

However, the mud which descended upon that year put off the gentrification of Glastonbury did sort the men from the boys. By Thursday afternoon it was horrendous, and to this day I still tell people of the sleet which fell that Thursday afternoon or watching people in tears looking at whatever bit of art which was falling apart or standing there wondering where their tent went. Sadly the conditions meant thieving was rife, so tents were robbed (as I mention we suffered from that) or stolen completely.

On the Friday though it did slowly improve. An early slot for Echo and the Bunnymen saw us sit on what grass there was in front of the main stage, but the Other Stage was a mess with the stage sinking into the quagmire which meant missing Kenickie, but this meant more time to drink. One of the things of this year was although by the Friday afternoon it wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t hot either so it meant your beers were cold.

 

Thing is because of the mud everyone’s thighs were like coiled steel by the Saturday afternoon so we were all bouncing along like wired kangaroos through the mud.

 

Looking back at all these videos just reminds me of how bloody good this year was, and that how through adversity, tens of thousands of us went ‘fuck it’ to make that year a special year. Of course, the TV footage sold it to tens of thousands of people who were normally outwith what was still countercultural, and in years to come this would change the festival to an establishment event.

But even now it is firmly part of the UK’s establishment there’s a part of it which retains the soul of years like 1997.  There’s still people there who are going not because it’s part of the ticksheet of things to do before university and a nice comfy job, and it’s because we can in our own wee ways recapture the great years like 1997.