Strict Machine-A short tale of Glastonbury 2004

Glastonbury Festival 2004 was a transitional festival as it moved from the old style pre-festival years to the couple of years as it found it’s feet after the fence to the festival of today. It was also one of the last years where the festival was still chaotic as opposed to the well oiled machine it’s become in the last decade.

The festival itself wasn’t a classic year musically as it lurched from the bloated cokehead bullshit Dadrock of Oasis to the burnt out cokehead funk of James Brown to the warbling totally non-cokehead Joss Stone, and err, Lost Prophets, it really didn’t shine on the main stages that year. Add the intensely changeable weather from the wet and windy storms of the Wednesday to the boiling hot sun of the Thursday and Friday, and the torrential rain of the Saturday and the showers of the Sunday it was a real mess of a festival.

But in the muddy or dusty piles of shite there were little gems that year. One such gem was Goldfrapp who were enjoying the height of their fame and success thanks to the Black Cherry album and the glam inspired song Strict Machine. Playing the Other Stage on a balmy Friday night I don’t think anyone watching Goldfrapp’s performance failed to have their groin stirred by the frankly carnal show on stage that evening.

Best of all was the performance of Strict Machine which made horses tails look sexy…

So Kanye West is playing Glastonbury……

Top pop arsehole Kanye West is headlining the Saturday night at the Pyramid Stage at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and this is caused people to kick off and write petitions about how West shouldn’t play, is crap and brings the festival into some sort of disrepute, or that it’s commercialising the festival.

Now I’ve been going to Glastonbury since 1992. In that time I’ve seen some utter shite on the main stages, fuck, I even endured Coldplay one year while on drugs, but I’d never see a massive tool like West because Glastonbury only has something like 20 different stages and I’d not know what to do! The fact is that like the protests against Metallica and Jay Z, there’s a snobbery on display that populist mainstream music hasn’t a place on the main stage, yet here’s a wee secret, populist mainstream music has been on the main stages at Glastonbury since the very beginning. The only thing that’s changed is the quality (for me) has seriously declined but I’m sure people will find something to do if they don’t want to endure Kanye twiddle around on stage.

There’s also a touch of almost racist snobbishness on display. It’s essentially arseholes complaining about an arsehole and there’s a paradox of arseholes as to which ones are the most offensively annoying.

I’ve blogged quite extensively about Glastonbury over the years and I’ve commented a lot on the festival’s commercialisation so I think I know what I’m saying when I say that the festival commercialised a long time ago, at least on the main stages. Coldplay are a commercial band. The Verve are, so are Blur, so is Bruce Springsteen, and on and on. Michael Eavis isn’t going to stick on Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts on a Saturday night at the Pyramid as TV audiences aren’t going to watch and he needs the money from the BBC to help fund the festival. If that means shite like West gets booked then fine, but for fuck’s sake, there’s going to be something else to do.

I’m not going this year as I take a year out in order to sort out my relocation back to Glasgow, but had I been going I’d simply call him an arsehole and probably end up in the Avalon field, up the Stone Circle, by the Jazz Stage or chilling round a fire with mates. Really, it’s not that bloody hard to avoid someone like West, so don’t complain about it. Don’t like it, don’t go.

But he is an arsehole’s arsehole….

Pale Blue Horizons- The San Diego Comic Con

Video

 

It’s the San Diego Comic Con this week, which if you’re a comic person like myself is the Glastonbury Festival of comics as long as you ignore Angoulême of course.It’s the nirvana for comics fans and over the last 15 years or so has moved from being mainly comics focused to ‘popular arts’, which essentially seems to mean they’ve dumped comics out the back in favour of films, telly, games, and any old tat.

Sadly this is the nature of such things as I was predicting that at the last UKCAC in 1998 that the only way for comic conventions to expand was to look into other related genres, or even open the field of comics up in a way that’s certainly not been done in this country, but that’s aside the point & a blog for the very near future.

I’ve never been to Comic Con, and at this rate I probably won’t in the foreseeable future. Til I somehow do, I live vicariously through the Twitter feed of friends there, or though films such as the one I’ve posted the trailer of above, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, which was released the other year. It’s a film worth watching as it captures some of the stress & fun of being a retailer, not to mention other aspects including being a budding artist. Now back in the late 80’s I used to see people’s portfolios at conventions due to me working for Trident Comics and on the whole, 95% of them were utter rubbish. It was that 5% we’d constantly look for, but it was letting people down in such a way that they’d not kill themselves as people were like the Skip chap in the film and they really did think they were the Next Big Thing. It was hard, but I’ve seen editors from DC or 2000AD be completely brutal, and I think that’s the best way to do it but in a constructive way.

It’s a film worth watching because the tone is overwhelmingly positive, which does means there’s not too much in the way of discussion of the negatives, but that’s not the point as it’s supposed to be a celebration. The one thing that comes out of it is how different British and American cons are, or at least, were as our cons are moving more towards the American model with is a plus and minus all at the same time as our cons have always had this wonderfully anarchic feel about them, and that isn’t referring to the organisation of them but the feel and ethics of them. Anyhow, I wish everyone well & hope they have fun because that’s what these things should be: fun!

I’ll be following this year’s Con online and wishing I was there. I probably won’t be there next year but never say never……

 

Find me on a pale horizon-The Rise and Fall of Festival Culture in the UK-part one

As those who do follow this blog might know I’ve been doing a series of blogs about my experiences at the Glastonbury Festival from 1992 onwards, but there’s a bit of a larger story to tell in regards festival culture in the UK.

There’s been festivals of some shape or form in the UK since the 1950’s. You can study the history of the growth of festival culture by looking at the excellent site, The Archive, which details festivals from 1960-1990, or searching out the splendid Festivals Britannia documentary that BBC Four broadcast a few years ago. It’s really the story of my perception of what happened to festival culture from the late 80’s onwards that I’m on about.

As I’ve outlined in the past, I grew up in a very working class part of Glasgow which didn’t mean I was ignorant of festivals as I knew they existed thanks to reading the NME from an early age, but that was mainly things like Reading Festival when it was going through it’s Jurassic phase. I only really learned about the wider world of festivals after reading an article about Glastonbury in an edition of the NME from 1985.

nmeliveaid

I was intrigued by the sounds of Glastonbury and the idea of a load of people sitting in a field somewhere listening to music and generally getting together. Not that was an alien concept to me back in Glasgow in the mid-80’s as sitting around Kelvingrove Park was a pastime, plus the odd open air gig used to happen in Glasgow so I’d had a tease but nothing anywhere near the full experience.

It wasn’t until I moved to Leicester in 1988 and drifted gently into various scenes in both Leicester and London that I started to dive into the whole festival culture. Leicester was, oddly enough, where I experienced my first full one day festival with the Abbey Park Festival which was a one day event normally held in August in Leicester featuring frankly a selection of some pretty naff bands, but I enjoyed the whole ambiance of the day and it was fun most of all.

Most of 1988 and 1989 was spent splitting my time between London and Leicester which was easily done thanks to my job, and being a young man with more money than sense I took great advantage of the delights and pleasures of London at a time when rave music was not only at it’s peak but it was colliding with other cultures such as the traveller and punk culture which is where it caught me. I used to finish work on a Friday and rather head back to Leicester, head into London to see gigs, or hang around various pubs in Camden or Kentish Town. I’d stay overnight wherever I could, so a floor, a bed or when there was a comic mart the next day, I’d find a cheapish hotel round Holburn and spend the previous night in Soho after being at the Astoria til the wee hours.

Then in 1990 I decided to take the plunge and go to that year’s Reading Festival, which had seen itself make the dinosaurs which used to play there extinct and started showcasing bright new talent from both sides of the Atlantic. I didn’t end up going, but I did start going to various free festivals on my increasing trips to the South West of England, and I’d stumble across groups of ravers in London pubs who’d drag me to a field somewhere in Hertfordshire.

When I left my job and became rooted in Leicester I fell out of that lifestyle, but festival culture was still attractive to me because it was very much still an underground and alternative thing to do, plus the free festivals were fun, but had a huge element of danger to them thanks to the somewhat dubious people often involved with them, not to mention the gangsters who’d follow them around selling drugs. Most of the time though the free festivals of the early 90’s were fun affairs which sometimes seemed never to have an end as they’d go on and on and on….

There was also a beginning and end to the summer with Glastonbury kicking it off with this huge life affirming party to welcome the summer months and Reading ending it with this dirty, filthy party in a field next to a railway line.

By 1992 or so the amounts of festivals had started to grow partly due to the response to the Castlemorton festival which saw the government start to crack down on free festivals, which meant all these people who were going to festivals wanted to go somewhere and there were decreasing amounts of places willing to host them. By the time the Criminal Justice Bill became law the amount of free festivals were dropping to single figures, and the days of the illegal rave were numbered. This meant big business saw a market and a chance to repackage what was an alternative and underground culture for a mainstream, so by 1993 you had the Phoenix Festival rear it’s head in what was the first attempt to introduce a new major festival to the calender to challenge (the 1996 lineup is to this day the best of any festival of any kind I’ve ever been to) Glastonbury and Reading.

The first year was frankly a disaster with security extinguishing campfires and getting people to turn off soundsystems which for those of us used to free festivals was a bit of a shock, also there was not enough water standpipes and toilets. It never really recovered from that first year as it gained a reputation after this, but it was where the campsite cry of ‘BOLLOCKS’ originated which hung around festivals up til the early 21st century. It did peak with the 1996 festival though more of how that failed in many ways in the next part of this series of blogs.

phoenixfestival1996

Phoenix never really brought in the mainstream punter, but rather the Glastonbury/Reading veteran & the person who couldn’t get their free festival hit any more.  Attracting the mainstream would mean a change in the mainstream itself, which is exactly what happened when Britpop broke which meant the mainstream wanted to see bands like Blur or Oasis or Pulp and they played lots of festivals, so the mainstream slowly started feeding into festival culture. It wasn’t until 94 or 95 that people started seeing festivals as something to do rather than a Spanish holiday or a trip anywhere else. The fact you now had festivals organised by beer companies (Reading was only sponsored by Carlsberg Tetley) like T in the Park and also by large mega-companies like Virgin with the execrable V Festival.

And that sets up quite nicely my experiences at all the festivals I went to that wasn’t Reading or Glastonbury in the 90’s. This gives you a little bit of background as to what was happening and in the next part I’ll outline the exploitation of festival culture by the corporations and how it all went horribly wrong.

 

The Great Glasgow Comic Shop Wars- 25 years and one day later…..

Yesterday I wrote a blog. It seems to have been quite the kerfuffle, but as you can see from reading it there’s good reasons to as even I find it quite amazingly angry, bitter & and twisted some 24 hours later. However I stand by every single bit of it but this is a last word (for now) about that particular chapter now that Andy Hope has revealed he’s writing Fantomex for Marvel Comics.

Image

I know Andy is doing interviews and kindly Tweeted yesterday’s blog on his Twitter account which is why I imagine yesterday’s blog had more hits than anything else I’ve ever blogged about, including my Glastonbury blogs. So this is to say thanks to Andy, and I hope that when people stumble across this blog they go back and read my little biography/history lesson.

Just to make it easy here’s the links to each part.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Epilogue

For those people coming to this fresh, yes, there are huge chunks probably missing but I didn’t feel that served the story I was trying to tell. I am going to do a history of Neptune Distribution (I’ve made a start but trying to read my handwriting from 25 years ago was a task then) but my main priority for the summer is writing about Glastonbury and festivals in general as anyone with even a passing knowledge of this blog will have sussed out how much of my heart lies there these days. Not to say comics are dumped, but sitting in a field in the sun with like minded good people beats sitting in sweaty comic shops, warehouses or offices full of marketing people talking about comics.

Though in saying that there has to be a way to combine both & oddly enough I’m working on that….

In closing, I’ll be rounding off my history of my experiences of Glastonbury, tackling a few more blogs about my experiences of other festivals and then I’m going to do a big juicy history of Neptune Distribution with all the sex and violence intact…

The Great Glasgow Comic Shop Wars-25 years later……

In parts three and four of my rough history of Glasgow’s comic shops, comic distribution, and chunks of my life between the ages of 21 to 26 or so, I went into detail about those times but a few recent events, not to mention some of the reactions to those blogs, have prompted me to do a little follow up to clear a few things up.

It should be needless to say that you really need to go read the other blogs before coming back to read this.

Firstly my ire and spite was not aimed at anyone working there (outside of the majority of directors/management involved with the situation at the time) past or present. Yes, I do think some people tried to not get involved but there were also people who should have known better and I’m sure those people know who they were so I’ll say nothing else apart from point out that taking a moral stand involves having a spinal column and a sense of right and wrong.

Secondly, I was trying to put a few things straight as the history of British comics tends to ignore, or at best vaguely allude, to the corporatism of what Forbidden Planet did, and how it changed comics retailing in this country by making their shops the Starbucks of comic shops, not to mention having shops trying to follow in their wake rather than follow their own independent path.

Thirdly, it was to point out the sheer bastardry of how people acted at the time. As I said, when I was working for Neptune we did get behind AKA Books and Comics and we did stir things up on a massive scale, but I make no apologies for my actions, nor anyone at AKA because frankly we weren’t the ones who abused friendships and acted underhandedly.

A lot of comics journalism tends to veer on the side of being nice enough to stay on the right side of all concerned, but seeing as I’m not a journalist, nor working in comics I don’t need to bother with that so you read my side of what happened. If you don’t like it and think I’m a cunt then you’re not the only person who thinks that of me. At least I didn’t betray my morals, or my friendships.

The latest round in this was also fired by me old mucker Andrew Hope on his Twitter account who posted this Tweet as he’s now working for Marvel Comics on something quite huge, though someone has to revamp the Human Fly…

Image

But joking aside, you can see how that even though Andy’s not lived in the UK for over 20 years and hasn’t been involved in comics, or the Glasgow comic scene in that time, the whole thing still leaves a scar though I’m chuffed about Andy’s AKA hashtag which is a nice reminder of where his heart still lies.

It’s because of Andy and a few things I learned at this years Glastonbury in among the fun and joy that prompted this addendum to my earlier series of blogs. I’m glad the response to those blogs was so positive from the right people back in Glasgow, and I hope some people who think I’m stirring things just choke.

I know this all seems bitter, bad tempered and spiteful when for most of my writing I’ve tried to throw in a bit of humour, but I thought I’d make things clear that some wounds don’t heal, and you should never forget or forgive if the other side don’t care about such things and anyhow, my time for doing that was years ago so this is a deep scar that’s not going away.

So I wish Andy well. He didn’t need to reach out to FP Glasgow, but he did and for that he’s probably better than me, but now this piece of catharsis is finally out my system I hope to improve and become a better rounded unit.

Nah, not really. I’ll let this thing fester in me for years because I know I could have, and should have done more not to mention I should have went home more often. Not that it might have made things better but I feel that some people didn’t get the support they should have, even at funerals.

I hope to draw a line under this chapter with this as I’ve got other things to deal with, plus I’d rather write in a lighter tone, but right now I’m seriously considering selling everything to live in a field somewhere (seriously) and with Andy’s Tweet this gave me an excuse to blurt this out & relieve a wee  bit of stress.

Here’s a picture though of a cat to make everyone laugh…

Image

Death, gore and violence-An update….

I haven’t done what I said I’d do in my last update as real life has dragged me down, plus a trip to Cardiff last weekend to discuss the next stage of the Cunning Plan left me broken and hungover but it’s coming along well. I will do the Glasgow Comic Art Convention blog next if only to finish it and release it in the wild.

I intend to do another few Glastonbury blogs before this year’s festival, or at least get the timeline up to the year 2000 so I can make a huge moan about the gentrification of the festival and make myself seem edgy and stuff. I also want to do a couple of very personal ones which may, or may not be as open as they could be depending upon how I feel and how explicit I want to make them. No, it’s not going to be Confessions of a Former Comic Book Dealer, though that’s an idea in itself, but it’s a bit Glasgow related so we’ll see how the mood takes me….

This week has been mainly made up of working, sleeping and watching V/H/S 2 which is obviously a sequel to V/H/S, an anthology horror film I really liked apart from one segment which was rubbish, but with the first one it was the first segment, Amateur Night which stood out a mile just for the sheer insanity of it all.

VHS - Lily Dark

 

The sequel isn’t frankly anywhere near as good. The first segment owes an awful lot to films like The Hand, but relies far too much on basic jump scares including at least two or three which seem lifted directly from the excellent Ghostwatch including using this scare several times..

pipes

 

The second segment is a fun little thing about a man’s first and last day as a zombie, and the final segment is a load of fun featuring aliens and lots of scary jumps. It’s all pretty ok and ordinary.

That is of course missing out the third segment, Safe Haven, from the the film. This part is made by the same people who did the frankly mental The Raid and if you’ve seen that then you get an idea that Safe Haven might not be a quiet bit of horror.

safehaven

It’s not. It’s also the only one that uses the found footage/mockumentary format to another level and shows there’s some serious legs in the format if a filmmaker puts their mind to it. At this point it’s unfair to say anything else because you need to see this as unaware as possible because when it kicks into gear after about ten minutes of set-up it doesn’t relent with one extreme image following another and then another and then another….

It batters you into submission while it invites you in on the joke without insulting the audience as parts of the first segment does. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen an anthology horror film and wanted a segment to be much, much longer if only to see how much further they could push the horror, not to mention the very, very dark comedy running throughout the segment.

Basically, it’s the redeeming feature in an average film and makes an average film a bloody good one and I use the word ‘bloody’ quite literally. It’s a quite remarkable section in the film but not one to watch if you’re a pregnant woman, or at all squeamish…

 

And with that quickie review, it’s off to an early night as work beckons and I need sleep to dream of the future…….

It’s the End of the World As We Know it-Glastonbury 1998

Last Glastonbury blog I spoke about 1997’s muddy year and how it was actually a fun experience. 1998 was far from a fun experience. Yes, the excitement months before was there, and the stress and hassle getting a ticket was there, the build up was there, and the anticipation was there but it couldn’t possibly be as wet or muddy as 1997 could it?

The group going down from Leicester this time was different. I wasn’t really getting on with some of the crowd Zeb wanted to go down with so I declined his offer to go down with him, and decided to go with my mate Chris who was also part of the whole Leicester Pump and Tap crew.

He wanted to bring two of his friends which was fine, but I was the only person who had a ticket so a plan was cooked up. Chris had a couple of Showsec jackets from when he worked for them, so he’d use that to blag people in, and seeing as we were going down on the Thursday, we’d turn up when it was getting busy so it’d work a treat!

Problem was by the time we got there on Thursday the decent weather we’d seen up in Leicester was gone and it was wet and windy, but not too muddy and the forecast wasn’t that bad. Before we worried all about that we had to get Chris and his mates in so he tried the Showsec blag, and promptly failed horribly just falling short of being nicked. This kicked in the back up plan-find the Scousers!

Here comes another thing about the pre-millennial Glastonbury’s in that anyone could get in if they found the right place in the fence, or spotted the right people so armed with this we found a couple of Scousers who promptly managed to get the other three in for a tenner each. Once we were in it was at this point that Chris broke it to the rest of us he didn’t have a tent, but he did bring a tarpaulin, some sticks, rope and a hammer. This was also the first year I camped in Pennard Hill just before it became the In Place to be in the post-millennium years thanks to festival forums.

Once we found a good, sloping pitch, we set up near another Scouser who helped Chris build his tent. In fact it was a pretty amazing bit of construction which would stand as long as it didn’t get hit by a storm and that couldn’t happen two years in a row and anyhow, it was a lovely warm, bright Thursday night as Chris and myself let his friends go off by themselves and do boyfriend and girlfriend stuff while Chris and me just wandered around having a chat and getting to know each other as although we worked for the same company and were mates, we didn’t really know each other. This was a great bit of male bonding and enormous fun as we drunk ourselves into a happy state over the evening and as we headed back we discovered another load of Scousers camped next to us who invited us both round their campfire for banter and drinks. I went to sleep that night relaxed and happy, a state I’d not be in again til Sunday evening….

The reason being is that during the night it started raining. Not just light summer rain, but cold, heavy torrential rain that made the ground everywhere liquid and as there wasn’t any drainage the ground looked like this.

GlastonburyMud1998

The water wasn’t going anywhere and as the site was a giant bowl it meant the water was making the stages a giant puddle so we tried to have fun on the Friday. We really did but we lost Chris, one of his friends fainted and his girlfriend had to take him back to the tent, so I was stuck in the pouring rain to meet Zeb  and go and watch the England game as the World Cup was on.

The game was to be shown in the cinema field which was then one of the highest points on site and is now where the bus station is. It also gives you an amazing view of the valleys and the Mendips themselves.so as the game started (England versus Columbia) Zeb and myself along with the thousands of others in the field saw the huge black clouds rolling over the Mendips. These huge black clouds contained all the rain in the world and were about to dump it on the festival for the next four or five hours, but for the 90 minutes of the game every single person in that festival out in the open was drenched. You can see the aftermath of this 90 minute drenching in this Foo Fighters footage as they were playing at the same time.

We managed to survive but were drenched through however I was intent that if I went back to the tent I’d miss a good spot for Portishead and I wanted desperately to see them. Sadly not only were they nearly an hour late but it’d started raining heavily again, and did so for the next few hours to such a degree that water was seeping through my waterproof coat.

As Portishead finished all i wanted to do was go back to my tent and sleep. Problem was I was now cold, tired and confused so I couldn’t find my tent no matter how hard I tried so my brain somehow told me to get a warm drink and calm down. I remember sitting in a tent with a dozen or so other lost souls just looking like we’d survived the Somme as there was a palatable air of shock as this wasn’t weather the festival had ever had to such a severe degree. Even the old hands were shocked by it.

Eventually I composed myself enough to go back looking for my tent, which I found easily enough in the dawn light, but Chris’s tent had been wiped out and he was kipping in mine when I got back. So we squeezed in and all I remember is quickly falling to sleep and hoping it was all a dream.

Sadly it wasn’t. The next morning Chris had got together what he could rescue of his stuff and stuck it in his car while the others looked miserable. I didn’t have any dry clothes. I was wet and miserable, but the sun was out, it was warm and there was signs things might get better so we gave it the day.

However as Chris was now fed up with his friends moaning he tagged with me for the rest of the day. As his own clothes were mainly still soaked Chris was wearing one of the Showsec jackets he brought which meant he suddenly had people paying attention to him. This was the only perk in an otherwise pretty sad day as the pair of us tried to milk something out of the festival.

Unfortunately as the dance tent was full of human waste thanks to someone hitting the wrong switch when they were pumping water out of it, we couldn’t hang around there which meant going to the main stage to see Robbie Williams. We were desperate souls by this point.

And we sat on bin bags watching Robbie we looked at each other and said ‘shall we go home tomorrow’ at virtually the same time. This isn’t to say we didn’t have fun on that Saturday night but the punchline was we went to get something to eat after Blur’s headlining set and both ended up being sick in a bush.

Chris kipped that night in the car, but we’d agreed to see how we felt in the morning and check with the others how they felt.In the morning they felt like going home. Chris wanted to go home. I wanted to see Pulp headlining but I wanted to go home. We packed up and went home.

The irony was as soon as we got onto the motorway the sun came out. In fact it was a lovely warm day that Sunday. We pulled into the service station looking a shocking mess, but we were on dry land and it didn’t feel like the world was slowly ending. The battle for survival was over!

We got back to Leicester early evening, and in fact after I had a bath and got some dry clothes on I headed down the pub to watch the Nigeria game in the World Cup before coming home to watch Pulp’s set from a comfy sofa in a warm and dry living room with my cat purring in my lap.

Which ends the story of Glastonbury 1998. The second muddy year but unlike 97 it rained all weekend which made it miserable, and people generally were miserable but don’t let these people who say ‘ah, but it’s not a real Glastonbury unless it’s muddy and wet’ think they know what they’re on about. They don’t. They’re idiots. The festival is fucking horrible when it’s wet. I can deal with the mud when it’s drying but when everything is constantly liquid it’s impossible to love.

The effect of this though on the TV audience was to help build up the modern mythology of the festival, so you were a ‘true festival goer’ if you stuck the weekend out. That was the narrative on TV and in the press, not to mention the early days of the internet.

1999 had to be better. The last festival before the Millennium. The 30th anniversary was the next year. It was all set up to be a classic and we’ll see how much that actually came to pass…

Swamp Things-Glastonbury 1997

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.

Image

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.

And waited.

And waited.

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…

Glastonburysite

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…..

pic_1997_mud_steve_connor_400

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!!!

I think?!?

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….

An update that comes at you screaming ‘BALTIMORA!’

First some updates:

The UKCAC thing is bloody huge, but it will come at you like a drunk in the street begging for 37p for the bus fare home eventually.

I’m doing another Glastonbury blog, this time I’m skipping 1994 and going right for 1995 but in a stunning example of non-linear storytelling I will recount the 1994 story within the 1995 one in a timey wimey sort of way, and stuff. It’ll be dead clever, honest.

A Cunning Plan has been hatched. If I get backing and funding then the Cunning Plan should happen (hopefully) in the autumn and will involve me not having to work in offices again in my life.I think 13 years of working in offices is more than enough but more on that next month.

I’ve got a handful of stories from the AKA days, including the stories of the marts, some tales of the people who hung out there, the full story from what I remember of the Eisnercon in 1986 and a couple of pieces on Pete Root and John McShane as the former needs a tribute and the latter doesn’t get the respect he deserves.

I’ve also got something where I outline how Glastonbury changed during the 90’s from a loose array of hippies and travelers having fun to the establishment event it is now, not to mention how festival culture in the UK is totally fucked frankly.

I might do something about how Bernard Butler’s Stay is the best song of the 90’s.and how Suede are the most important band the UK produced in the 90’s. Or I might not…

Next up though is in the light of last night’s final episode of this series of Doctor Who and the sorry state of criticism within genre fandom, not to mention the horrible misogyny  nepotism and arse licking that goes on within it.

And oh, BALTIMORA!!

Image