A short tale from the days of the Reading Festival

It is Reading Festival this weekend, the largest festival to take place in the UK for nearly two years since Covid kicked in. It is of course a shadow of its former self where barring the likes of Stormzy, there’s a barren roll of talent (Liam Gallagher??) on the main stages, though to be fair there’s some decent stuff if you search through the smaller stages.

Back in the day, Reading used to be the big end of summer blow out to the festival season which kicks off properly with Glastonbury, and now lasts from April through to the dog-end of September. See, climate change does have some advantages…

1999 was a pinnacle of sorts. Looking back at it now the lineup seems even better than it did at the time plus at the time I never paid to get in having gotten freebies for everyone, I mean, just look at this lineup!

The only sort of naff day was the Friday, where The Charlatans produced a glacially tedious set which was improved only by people coming running to get mates to see the insane filthy antics Nashville Pussy were doing in one of the smaller tents. That isn’t the story I’m telling though, the one I’m on about is one of the most talked about festival sets in UK history that was watched by far, far fewer people who’ve actually been in a field watching it at the time. I’m talking about Kevin Rowland’s Saturday afternoon slot.

Rowland had just brought out an album of cover versions, My Beauty, for Alan McGee’s Creation label, and it was generally being savaged by the music media though time has been kind to it.I can’t remember why, but Rowland was offered a 15 minute slot after Pavement but before The Divine Comedy so it seemed a nice fit for Rowland to play before a band with obvious Dexy’s influences, and also Rowland hadn’t played live in at least a decade so interest was high. I’d spent most of the morning and early afternoon in the arena since the ear-bursting glory of Atari Teenage Riot, but decided to nip back to the tents to changes clothes (it was by now a glorious summer day, as was all the weekend) grab some food and the rest of the crew for the late afternoon onwards.

We were camped in the field the furthest from the arena which was a trek and a half as you’re talking about the field on the far right of this picture. In years prior I’d camped relatively close to the arena so this year I was pretty remote which ended up being fine as this year was the first year of kids starting fires and generally being cunts on the Sunday night which ended up becoming a big thing in the decade afterwards.

Aerial shots of Reading Festival - Berkshire Live

So we marched through the fields on a boiling hot day, and got into the arena as Pavement were closing their set. The others weren’t bothered with Rowland, but I wanted to see it out of interest but I have to admit to seeing if there was going to be a disaster playing out on stage in front of 80,000 people. Anyhow, I grabbed myself a cold beer just as Rowland came on stage to perform You’ll Never Walk Alone (I think) first. I wondered why there were some boos and laughter, then I turned round and saw what was going on up on the stage.

Rowland was in a dress with two ‘exotic’ dancers turning out heartfelt cover versions of songs many in the audeince neither knew or cared about, especially on day two of a festival where people by now were in full festival mode and drunk. To say it was a garish sight was an understatement but I’d seen more garish on a UK festival stage in the previous decades, but this set would have went down a blinder had it say, been on a stage in the Green Fields of Glastonbury a few months earlier. However it wasn’t the repulsive sight the tabloids claimed it was, nor did it go down as badly as the music press said it did but it was a bizarre set at a festival not known for it’s tolerance of anything which wasn’t guitar based music. A crossdressing 80’s icon turning out covers pushed that to the limit, though not to the scale of Daphne and Celeste the following year.

Sadly the aftermath broke Rowland who took years to come back from that 15 minute set and much of that can be laid at the feet of those journalists drooling to lay into a celebrity but he wasn’t even the worst act on the main bill that weekend. That was the Red Hot Chili Peppers who are shite, and probably somewhere in another reality turning out 15 minute bass solos but that’s another story for another time…

Glastonbury in the 21st century

The BBC’s second documentary about Glastonbury this year was another one which was very good, and it makes me wish they’d let people loose on the archive to discuss more than the usual ‘Coldplay and mud’ narrative of say, a Jo Whiley film would do. This one though was narrated by Dizzee Rascal and again gave a different perspective to a festival which essentially gentrified from 2000 to 2010.

2000 was the year where every single part of the site was rammed by Friday afternoon. By Saturday afternoon parts of the site were uncomfortably overcrowded, especially main paths to and from the Pyramid to the Other Stage. By Sunday it was genuinely dangerous in areas as by now there must have been 300-500k people onsite as the fence in large sections were down, plus you had all the day visitors from the local area. not to mention David Bowie attracted huge interest. As I’ve said on many a blog about this time, getting in the festival in these days was easy so a perfect storm created this situation and there’s no way Eavis could continue. Which meant after a fallow year the festival returned with the Superfence.

There was no getting over this fence, at least not in the numbers of past years which meant in 2002 the site went the opposite way to 2000 and the place was quiet in places. You could walk round the site easily with no traffic jams. In fact it was a wee bit too empty. 2003 saw an increase in numbers as Eavis was finding his feet in this new era where the festival wasn’t quite gentrified but that was the path the festival was on. This was both good and bad in that crime decreased along with the crushes but part of the sould of the festival went with it. True, some of it has returned and is present in many of the areas but Babylon (the main stage area) is mainly for the folk now who pitch up for the weekend and never venture further than that.

Which isn’t to say there’s not great acts on the Pyramid Stage I’ve seen acts ranging from Leonard Cohen to Stevie Wonder to errr, Rolf Harris there.

By 2010 the festival had changed. A dry sunny year washed away the memories of a number of wet years, especially 2005 where Michael Eavis contemplated cancelling the festival due to the enormous amount of rain dropped on the site on the Friday morning.

Once we hit the 2010s the festival had settled down to a pattern which was one of slow expansion as Eavis would rent out neighbouring farms to expand the site, so what was once a gate in say, 2008, was part of a new camping area by 2013. Simply put the site now is huge compared to 2000 and it is entirely possible to never make an area during a festival as it is now (I think) way too big however if it wasn’t so large in size the chances of getting in decrease, so lets take the trade off.

Where the festival goes from here depends very much on Michael and Emily Eavis. When Michael’s wife Jean died in 1999 the general feeling was that 2000 would be the last one, It wasn’t of course, but as Michael is 85 the thought of what happens when there is no Michael is one many folk have been having for years. The general feeling is that Emily takes over full control though the vultures have been circling round the festival since the 90s when RIchard Branson was trying to buy into it. My feeling is it remains with Emily and the team which has grown up over the years as stopping it or selling it off would be the wrong thing to do as so many people have worked to make it what it is now which is a crucial part of the British cultural calender.

Hopefully next year the festival returns. Hopefully I grab a ticket in resales in the spring but the world would be a poorer place without Glastonbury, and frankly, I’m done with watching the festival on TV. So hopefully see you all in a field in Somerset next June, pandemics permitting…

Glastonbury in the 90s

The BBC broadcast a documentary about Glastonbury in the 1990s last night, and instead of the usual shite about Britpop (which was essentially Jo Whiley’s show the other day) it was a pretty decent history of the decade which did change the festival forever. Also having Skin from Skunk Anansie present it gave a different viewpoint which the BBC’s coverage dearly needs as their coverage is growing increasingly staid and dull.

But this was a lovely wee walk down memory lane and indeed, the 90s which I guess is increasingly like the 1960s were to Baby Boomers in that it was a decade full of change and promise and fuck me, if it wasn’t exciting living through it all, good and bad. For Glastonbury this was transforming from an underground event in 1990 to something not quite establishment by 1999 but that was the path it was on.

I’ve written comprehensively about the festival during the 1990s (just search for the blogs and you’ll find all of them, but there is a lot) as my first year was the drug fuelled mess of 92, which was when the festival was still very much an amatuer event where anyone who wanted to could get in, if they were willing to put the effort in which meant going over or under the fence, or as I did in 93 just walk in with tickets sold to me for a tenner by the security who were also in on the deal. You’d walk into the site not knowing what the next few days will bring and although Glastonbury is still like that, it has lost much of the random insanity you’d find just stumbling around in the dark. For example in 1995 I got lost finding my tent one night, and ended up going into someone else’s tent which ended up in a seriously messy night but I could never find her tent again.

And that’s the glory of Glastonbury. You can meet a complete stranger then have the night of your lives and never see or hear from them again, or they end up being friends for life. A lot of what made Glastonbury great in the 90s was these moments, especially around Joe Bananas which sold blankets mainly (I still have a few, including one I bought in 1992 when I was sleeping under the stars each night) but also ran a soundsystem as back then Michael Eavis despised rave culture seeing it tied in with drugs and gangsters. Of course this was the tabloid view at the time and Eavis was convinced by 1995 to set up a dance tent but before then it was down to places like Joe Bananas to provide the big late night entertainment.

Mathew Clayton on Twitter: "Joe Bananas Blanket Stall. Pre naughty corner  anyone wanting to carry on the party had to do it outside this stall that  sold rizlas, wellies and blankets… https://t.co/PzONxO6dlO"

Even after the dance tent started up these late night venues would just spring up much to joy of everyone. I remember in 97 walking by it early one morning (We’d camped out right in front of the Pyramid so it wasn’t too far away) to see some folk clinging on for one last throwing of shapes before their bodies broke on them.

And yes the music did change during the decade. Britpop as it originally was had arrived in 1993 with Suede headinling the NME stage which isn’t to say there were no British acts on display as those years of the early 90s were gloriously diverse with acts from a variety of different genres on display. The TV cameras arrived at a time when Britpop acts were just breaking, and in 95 they became dominant. By 97 we were stuck with crap like Kula Shaker and Dodgy as Britpop faded away though Glastonbury remained a varity of genres on the main stages in those last few years before the ‘festival band’ shat into existence by the likes of Coldplay started infecting lineups but that was to come in the 2000s…

Overall though Glastonbury in the 90s was a series of wonderful weekends spent with wonderful people in a wonderful time when wonderful things were possible. I miss those time massively and would give a soul or two to go back to those times, but life moves on and the festival in the 2000s became something else as I became someone else…

It has been two years since the last Glastonbury Festival and I am a bit lost without it

Two years ago I was in this field.

It was full of people, boiling hot and fun but right no it’s more or less empty, though it will be open soon as a campsite til the autumn but that isn’t quite the same thing as the festival in full flow. Right now on a Thursday I’d have woken up quite early, grabbed a shower plus some food before going back to where ever in the disabled field we were camping (normally low down near the entrance) to see what everyone else is up to, assuming they’re even awake. Thursdays at Glastonbury I enjoy a lot because not much is on the main stages so you can wander around taking the place in because it’ll have been a year, maybe two, since you were last there.

And now it’s been two years with a gap and in 2022 the chances of getting a ticket in the resale next spring is minimal so realistically 2023 will be my next chance and I hate that. Hopefully it won’t be but a large part of what has been my life has been denied for too long and like thousands of others, I can only hope this is the last time we have such a long enforced break.

Til then though I’ll be raking through YouTube for videos, and hoping for a wee bit of luck next spring…

How not to do a Glastonbury Festival livestream

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Thousands upon thousands of people sat down last night to enjoy a wee bit of Glastonbury Festival with a webcast featuring some major acts. This sort of thing has become common during the pandemic with various acts using livestreams as a way to reach out to fans and raise some sort of revenue at a time when there’s been no live concerts since March 2020. As there’s yet another year without a festival this livecast was a replacement.

And it was a complete technical disaster. People were unable to log in with the code give, so much so that 40 minutes into the broadcast people were complaining on social media and seeing as people had organised special nights only to be treated with error messages, so in this respect it did return the Glastonbury experience of trying to buy a ticket. It was a mess which ended up with a free link being given out so people watched it for free having thrown 20 quid down the toilet.

It shouldn’t be like this but mix Glastonbury and anything related to the internet and it fucks up. I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about tickets til April 2022, but nearly a quarter a way into the 21st century it strikes me still the entire festival would be better off selling tickets through ticket shops. As for webcasts maybe next time make sure the system can actually work instead of hoping it will when tens of thousands log on at the same time.

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