Down by the Water-A short tale of Glastonbury 1995

Glastonbury 1995 is still one of my favourite festivals I’ve ever been to not to mention it’s a probable defining moment in my life. As I’ve written before, it’s simply a time when everything seemed to come together perfectly, and musically 1995 was a watershed in the UK. This was the year of Britpop though not the horrible consumerist version that came after that first wave of diverse British acts such as Teenage Fanclub, Radiohead, Blur, Oasis and PJ Harvey. After June 95 every chancer in the music scene thought they could rip off a few Kinks songs and hey presto, they’d be in the charts.

But 95 was still diverse. It was still fresh and one of the act that stood head and shoulders above many of the others was PJ Harvey. Harvey simply tore apart every single perception of a female artist in the early 90’s. She also was a fantastic performer, something I was aware of from the first time I saw her play at Nottingham Poly in 1993 to the Saturday afternoon of the Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury in 1995.

From the minute I realised Harvey was playing the Saturday she was one of the acts I could not miss. Standing in the packed crowd near the front of the stage it was clear I wasn’t the only one, and as myself and my mate Joe tried to open a bottle of wine, there was a clear level of anticipation before she came out. When she did appear in a skintight pink catsuit the sound of people’s jaws dropping was audible above the first chord of the guitar of her band.

To this day it’s one of the best festival sets I’ve ever seen, and her performance of Down by the Water is one of the best performances of a song I’ve seen. Here it is in all it’s pink catsuit glory….

Maybe I’m Amazed?-The Tale of Glastonbury 2004

2004 was a defining year for Glastonbury and for myself after the hot sunny year of 2003. It was the year when Glastonbury firmly and seriously entered the mainstream as a ‘national event’ along with the likes of Wimbledon, and became somewhere that the megastars who’d previously turned their noses up at playing in a field in Somerset suddenly realised they could access a younger crowd in a cheap and highly effective way. In 2004 that megastar was Paul McCartney, but I’m getting ahead of myself….

Glastonbury 2004 was the linking year between the post-Superfence years when the festival was still finding out what it’d become, to the current years when BBC, Guardian and media and cultural coverage is wall-to-wall for the week or so not to mention the run-up to the festival became a mainstream news story. This was also the year when for me I decided to not go to the festival myself as I had in previous years, but with Nat, my ex-girlfriend and a friend Laura from a Glastonbury Forum along with her brother and his mates.

So the festival started with Nat and myself setting out from Bristol on the bus on a pretty damp, overcast not to mention, windy Wednesday in some state of excitement. This lasted til just after Shepton Mallet when the driver stalled the bus going up a hill and promptly told everyone that they had to walk the last few miles to the site as there was too much mud, and water on the roads. This meant everyone on the bus had their weekend dampened by lugging their stuff through the village of Pilton, in the rain and wind and that was to just get to the festival site. There was more walking ahead of us when we got there!

By the time Nat and myself finally got to the site entrance we must have looked an utter mess as the stewards offered to help us carry our bags for a bit, which helped but the plan was to get to Big Ground early, set up, and save space for Laura and her crowd but by the time we got to main arena by the Pyramid we were knackered having walked around what ended up being some eight miles with full rucksacks, tents, sleeping bags and of course, beer. making an executive decision I decided we should just camp just off to the right of the Pyramid Stage by one of the electricity pylons and near the yellow and green beer tent in the picture below.

We managed to somehow put our tents up in something resembling a storm without rain, and I’d managed to speak to Laura to tell her where she should head, but seeing as they were now stuck in a very, very long queue This allowed us to crack open our first beers as the weather sort of improved to being just grey and miserable and by the time Laura’s crowd turned up and found us the weather was nearly sunny. With everyone together this meant Nat and myself went for a wander with this being her first Glastonbury.

Wednesday night saw us get very, very drunk which meant arguments, horrible drunken behaviour and the next morning some sheepish apologies from all concerned. Thursday however saw the sun come out blazing as the site was baked after the previous day’s rain and wind. The site was boiling hot, which meant a nice wander round the site some sensible drinking and generally having a nicer day then the previous day but by now we’d both had legs like Olympic runners so we were bounding around like drunken gazelles.

Unbeknown to us. it was around this time that Laura had used a wetwipe to clean her face and suffered a massive allergic reaction to it so when we got back to the site and nobody was around we assumed everyone was off wandering, but in fact they were sorting themselves out at the medical tent. When we did speak to Laura, the poor girl was so fed up she spent the time in her tent trying to get better ASAP.

Effectively this meant Nat and myself just got on with it, so on Friday we got up early and planned the day ahead. I’d grown a load of mushrooms in my flat (it was still legal back then) for our own use, and they’d turned a lovely shade of blue, so we popped a few of them into our tea and set out for the events of Friday….

The lineup on Friday was good, but Oasis were headlining the Pyramid and this was to us, laughable but before we got there there were some great bands including the still astonishing Chicks on Speed, and for myself, PJ Harvey. It was while waiting for PJ Harvey to come on that I saw some young student types asking each other who she was!? This was probably a sign of where the festival was going-people coming just to be ticking it off as something they do along with the gap year in India.

Anyhow, Friday was fun, hot, but huge fun and by now we were mildly stoned/tripping by the time Oasis cranked themselves onstage on that hot summer’s night but dear me, as soon as Liam opened his mouth they were utter shite. At this point I realised that Nat and myself were laughing loudly and pointing at the stage and laughing at the band much to the annoyance of those sad souls who were fooling themselves that they were watching something actually good. Dear me, they were appalling from the ten or so minutes we suffered.

We took the opportunity to go for a wander and find some more mushrooms, which we did. This meant ending up in the comedy tent tripping our tits off laughing at anything on stage before ending up in the Stone Circle for a sunrise before heading back to our tents for a bit of kip….

I woke up around 9am to the sound of rain hammering against my tent. It’s been raining for a few hours at least and it was wet, cold and utterly miserable. I got up, checked on Nat, and went to get us some tea. Laura was awake and still suffering while the rest of her crowd apparently were still utterly hammered from the previous day hence the snoring from their tents.

I sat with Nat watching the rain fall and the mud form. There hadn’t been a really muddy festival since 1998, but this was a miserable day which put the plan to have a jolly time at Scissor Sisters a bit less cheery as it’s hard to be camp and jolly in a cold wet drizzle. Still, they managed to put on a great show and seeing as we were camped near the Pyramid it wasn’t a huge walk there and back so seeing as the Lost Prophets (let’s draw a line under that band) were on next, we decided to get back to our tents, get some of our remaining mushrooms and head to the comedy tent where we spent the rest of the day.

Come the evening we wandered back to our tents to get some beers, change (the cold rain had changed to just a cold drizzle) we had to cut through the massive crowd that had built up for Black Eyed Peas, the Findus Crispy Pancake (it looks alright from the outside but when you bite into it, it’s going to make you sick) of the music scene.

After getting through the crowd and to our tents, we sat and chilled for a bit until Laura (who by now was well enough to go out) and her crowd came back saying that there was no way to get round to the other end of the site as the entire Pyramid arena was full and still filling up for Paul McCartney.

Not being bothered about heading back for more comedy, we decided to sit in the rain and listen/watch McCartney play. Imagine your old uncle playing a set of Paul McCartney songs down the pub and you get an idea of how pish it was, but there were some big fireworks…

This brought an end to Saturday and we got an early night. Sunday saw us wake up cheery and refreshed which considering we’d been rained on, hiked miles carrying tens of pounds of weight, been sunburnt, drunk, stoned and frankly we were knackered but cheery.

It was also an early start as the English National Opera were doing some Wagner on the Pyramid which ended up being more fun than expected. It also seemed oddly apt considering the mess of the previous few days. After this, we went for a spot of lunch before more comedy tent antics, some beer and no mushrooms, just tea. It was all really quite a sensible Sunday at Glastonbury and in fact a perfectly nice day apart from the sunshine and showers….

Sunday is an odd day at festivals as I’ve said in the past. It’s a time when people want to go out in a blaze of glory but they know that the trip home is the next day and the party is coming to an end. This was exactly the feeling as we stood there waiting for Muse to come on the Pyramid at the end of the Sunday night. Now I don’t mind Muse but they’re a storming live band as Nat had convinced me a few years earlier at Reading Festival. They put on a great set, and we headed back fairly chirpy to our tents to grab a few hours kip before a planned early start to get back to Bristol reasonably early.

The early start didn’t quite happen, but Laura and her crowd left before us. We said our farewells, and finished packing up before taking the long walk up the hill to the onsite bus station and the wait for the bus back to Bristol. The sun had come out, and things were fairly quiet but we were shattered which made us grateful the bus was there waiting for us as we turned up. We trudged upstairs, got a seat and eventually the bus pulled out of Glastonbury Festival to make the trip back to Bristol. At this point Nat became miserable and pointed out how the hell people could take this comedown from the festival which is a good point. That comedown on the Monday on the way home from even a year like 2004 which was a rollercoaster year at best was immense but by the time we got into Bristol bus station, jumped in a taxi back to my flat with a stop by the shops to grab some food/snacks and walked in to a very happy cat who was pleased to see us both, things were better. Everything’s better with a happy cat in your lap.

2004 was a rollercoaster. It was a transition from the previous two years which still kind of felt like the old festival to what it is now which is a cultural juggernaut, but stripped of much of the anarchy of the past. 2005 was to set the pattern for all my Glastonbury Festival’s to date.

2005 was also the year of the Great Flood. Next time I’ll tell the story of that.

I Wanna Live Like Common People-Glastonbury 1995

I’ve already outlined the tale of Glastonbury 1993 and how that affected me, so let’s go diving right into 1995’s festival after a quick outline of the horrible failure that was Glastonbury 1994.

The plan for 1994 was to share a stall with the Deadline crowd, which meant Comics and CD’s (who I was still associated with even though I’d moved back to Leicester from Bristol) would share the space, so we’d put up the basic capital and they’d give us a load of creators doing stuff at at the festival. This would ideally have seen people like Jamie Hewlett  drawing Tank Girl  at the festival and all manner of frankly mental ideas while we sold comics and we all made loads of money as Deadline had a great mix of comics and music.

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Unfortunately what happened was that the Tank Girl film happened which meant everyone related to Deadline and Jamie Hewlett especially got a mountain of cash which he spent on an ice-cream van. The idea went quickly down the bog, and I was stuck with a week to go before the festival and no ticket, so like 1992, I managed to blag in using the cunning technique of walking right through the main gates behind a Channel 4 truck as it was the first year the festival was televised to a national audience.

Like 1992, I don’t remember much. I dropped a pill in Leicester and came up on Saturday. Everything else was blurry, and I had to leave very early on the Sunday to get back to Leicester to work. A pattern however had been set with me having one shite year, then a great year so I left 94’s festival hoping for 95 to be great.

I should point out that at this point the festival was changing from the messy rabble of disorganisation it’d been since 1970 to a more modern version, but these years are the last of the real festival as it was and the start of the more commercial tourist years we see today. That isn’t to say Glastonbury now is crap, it’s not, but it’s lost a part of it’s soul but more about this some other time…..

Anyhow, 1995’s festival is coming up and The Stone Roses are headlining on the Saturday night. Britpop is everywhere, and yet again I don’t have a ticket. At this point I’m sharing a house in Leicester with a lad Joe who I’d met down the pub as you do which brings me to the evening we were sitting in another pub talking about Glastonbury a few weeks before with his girlfriend Denise (who I’d tried chatting up before Joe pulled her, but he used cunning tactics to deflect me elsewhere. Bastard!!).

I decided I wasn’t missing out and spent the night trying to convince them that not only would I be able to get us in for nothing, or next to nothing, but it’d be a piece of piss and we should do it! This was easier said than done as I didn’t have a clue how to do it as I was blagging it, but I needed a lift down so spent the next fortnight trying to talk them into it.

Then a week before the festival, The Stone Roses pulled out and were replaced by Pulp, who was all of our favourite band at the time and a plan was hatched. We’d go down after I finished work on the Thursday night, but as I was working in a nightclub called Mosquito Coast at the time, this meant leaving at around 2 or 3am. We didn’t have a tent either, but thankfully a friend Roz came through with a loan of hers,

We were sorted apart from the fact I knew Denise didn’t fancy it, and Joe was a flaky bastard at the best of times so the plan was doomed to failure.

Thursday came. I worked my shift, and bought a case or two of beers waiting for Joe and Denise to pull up outside. As 2.30am passed I thought ‘they’re not doing this are they?’, so I sat there looking glum with my bag all packed up ready to go then one of the doorstaff Rich, came in telling me there were two people in a car outside waiting for me who were Joe and Denise in her battered old motor. As I grabbed Rich to help me quickly load up the car with booze, I remembered (adrenaline kept me going)  that I’d smashed my right hand loading up the cellar that day with barrels of beers. In fact I’d smashed it amazingly badly, and my little finger and ring finger were utterly useless so I got some industrial tape and made a very dodgy splint with the help of Roz who had trained as a nurse.

So making sure we had beer, and Roz who was going to chuck us her tent on the way out of Leicester we were off. We dropped Roz home, grabbed her tent and Joe, Denise and myself sped off on a boiling hot summer’s night/morning to Glastonbury with only a few cases of beer, some changes of clothing, a tent and some Class A drugs taped to my leg as you do of course…

There was also a Best of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers tape, which we played all the way down. In fact I remember the sun coming up just as we passed Coventry singing My Ship Is Coming In very loudly with Joe and Denise as we were all massive Scott Walker fans and it helped hide the fact I had no bloody idea how to get in and I’d just sneaked some speed up my nose in order to stay awake as by now I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours while Joe and Denise had slept a bit before coming down.

I decided the best thing to do would be to cut through Bristol. I have no idea why as it’d have been easier to go straight down the M5, but I had this mad idea it’d be quicker so we promptly got into Bristol very early in the morning before getting lost on Park Street, and finally getting on the right road down.

As we got nearer the festival it dawned on me I’d better start working a way out to get in, but I still didn’t have a clue. I was utterly blagging it but I was sure my ship would eventually come in but as we got to the main entrance to the site itself we all shat ourselves and instead of turning left to go in, we drove straight on. And on, And on. Until we ended up in Glastonbury itself at what must have been around 5 or 6am.

And here we sat for a few minutes trying to work out a plan. This plan involved going to a supermarket to buy more beer and vodka, neck it and build up some Dutch Courage before getting back in the car and heading back to the festival site. It was at this point I realised I was still in my work clothes, so promptly changed in the middle of the street giving early morning commuters an eyeful before jumping in the car and heading back….

Which is when we got lost. Not slightly lost, but ending up in Cheddar type of lost. It’d also changed from a boiling hot day into heavy torrential rain which meant we couldn’t see the roads, and my navigation skills were rubbish by this point as I was wearing down. Somehow I managed to get us to Wells after working out I’d directed us in one huge loop when we came out of Glastonbury, so we decided to find the nearest petrol station, fill up, get directions and if it was still pissing it down by the time we got to the festival site, fuck the weekend off and just go back to Leicester as by now the three of us were pretty fed up with each other and my cunning plan wasn’t working.

It was at this point we pulled into Wells in the sheeting rain and saw some poor hitch hiker in his yellow raincoat by the side of the road as we drove in, and I joked ‘bet you he’s working at the festival’ so Denise pulled over and asked him if he wanted a lift, which he did. We asked where he was going, and he said it was the festival so we gave him a lift as he could direct us from Wells to the site.

It was then he sussed we didn’t have tickets and were very, very lost. He then informed us he was one of the heads of security.

Bollocks.

Then he told us he could get us in, and not just get us in the festival but give us free passes, and get the car parked in Michael Eavis’s secure car park by the farmhouse. All he wanted was 30 quid a few lines of speed. A very reasonable price we thought if he was who he said he was and not an axe murderer, and we’d find out soon enough as we were at the festival site.

Lo and behold he pulled out his huge security pass and we sailed past police, security, and in fact everyone as we drove right into the secure car park by the farmhouse, and he did indeed give us three passes but advised us to use them only if needed. We were chuffed. I was chuffed. My blag had worked in spite of itself, so we chucked him some beers as well as the money and speed we’d given him.

It was the least we could do but he wasn’t finished with us yet. He actually helped us take our stuff to one of the campsites in front of the main stage and it was here he left us. The reason being that there’d been some robberies and a few muggings around the site the night before and he wanted to take us somewhere in the middle of it, but safe.

At this point the rain had stopped, the sun was back out and it was beginning to get very, very hot.

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We managed to struggle to put up Roz’s tent. Realised that three people in the tent would be cramped but fuck it. We were in & my blag worked. Even If I didn’t have a clue how it did.

As we set up, we had some young hippie girls give us hash cake, so we offered them vodka which they took and we settled down as we all chatted away about stuff as you do at festivals. You spend lots of time talking about stuff at festivals.

Eventually we realised it was early afternoon and this is where things get hazy and blur into one, which again, is something that happens at festivals, especially good ones. I know we saw The Prodigy. I know I spent a long time in the comedy tent hiding from the sun which had become so strong there was no escape. I was toasted that weekend, utterly broiled in the harsh sun as the site is actually a huge bowl and there’s little shade if you can’t get in a tent, not that you would stay in a tent long as it’d be far too hot to stay in one.

Also, the first day at a festival is always a blur plus I’d been awake for 36 hours and my body was on the verge of collapse, so were Joe and Denise and we crashed fairly early on the first night.

Only problem was three people sleeping in a tent really best for two at a push wasn’t fun, plus we’d spent nearly two days living in each others armpits, so the next morning after a bit of breakfast we decided to go our separate ways for a bit but meet up for PJ Harvey and of course, Pulp.

I wandered round for a bit, bumped into some friends from Bristol and Leicester. Had some cornflakes. Had some cider. Drank lots and lots of water, and slowly cooked in the sun which by now just didn’t care how hot it was. It was out to burn anything and anyone however we managed to get to the Saturday afternoons main even which was PJ Harvey.

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To be exact, PJ Harvey in a pink catsuit. Leaving aside the fact most males in the crowd were having their gob smacked for obvious reasons it was a simply great gig.I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone hold over 60,000 people in their hands as well as she did that afternoon.

After this I went back to the tent with Joe to meet Denise, and get some beers and food in preparation for Pulp. Joe and myself had also made a purchase of some acid from a Yardie after the PJ Harvey set.

This is where I have to make another point that although I say Glastonbury has lost a lot of it’s soul, it’s also lost the gangsters from Bristol, London and Manchester who would not only charge people to jump the fence, or sell drugs but fight over territory on the site. In 92 in my brief first Glastonbury I noticed there were areas off-limits after dark, and even in 95 when things were becoming more organised there were still areas far too dodgy to go in the dark. Of course tent thefts were common which they are still, but they don’t tend to get the mainstream coverage they used to because it doesn’t fit the nice media narrative that it’s a nice Guardian reading middle class jolly in a field, because middle class kids can’t possibly be thieving wee bastards.

Anyhow, back to the dodgy acid. It was brown and Denise wisely chose to avoid taking it, though Joe and myself did as we went as near the front for Pulp as we could. Thing was it was a massive crowd as Pulp were near the top of the charts with Common People and their set was simply one of those festival moments that will live with everyone there because it was magnificent.

Only thing was the acid wasn’t working and we’d paid a fiver each. Or I thought the acid hadn’t kicked in until my legs started feeling weird as the lights kicked in during Common People, Pulp’s final song that night..

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As Pulp finished, so did my legs and I decided to take a little sit down as tens of thousands of people left the arena. I remember sitting them calmly grinning like a sweaty Jack Nicolson at the end of The Shining staring at the main stage for what seemed like hours, but must have only been 20 or 30 minutes before my brain told my legs to ‘get up’ and commanded me to find some water and drink as much as possible, which I did. This sorted my head together but I was still tripping harder than I could have expected and harder than I was prepared for in a field with 20,000 people. So I walked. As I walked someone said Portishead hadn’t been on due to Evan Dando running vastly late, and so I followed the crowds to the tent where Portishead were due to play.

I remember standing on a slope listening to Portishead’s music and slowly getting back in control of myself, and as they finished I was lucid enough to go for a late night wander which is a Glastonbury tradition I still do today. As the sun was coming up I made my way from the Stone Circle back to the tent to find no sign of Joe or Denise which was great as I had the tent to myself.

A few hours later Denise woke me up. They decided to sleep in the car as they’d also spent the night wandering around the site after Pulp, and Joe also suffered the pains of the Yardie acid.

After a chat swapping late night stories, we decided to wander around the site and get some breakfast, but the sun on the last day was again unforgiving and by now the site was baked into a giant dustbowl so dust was everywhere. But at least it wasn’t raining…

Again I don’t remember much of that last day. I tried to meet my mate John who was one of the lads who worked at Comic Showcase in London who was working at the circus field in a double decker bus. The three of us wandered around but I decided to head back to the tent  which meant I saw Page & Plant & The Bootleg Beatles.

It was around this time I realised I hadn’t had any alcohol since the incident with the acid the night before and in fact, it was probably a bloody bad idea considering the heat and the fact that I was losing a lot of fluid walking around. Only one way to cure this; more water and then beer!

That evening though was about the build up to The Cure and I spent the last evening of that year’s festival sitting on the slope looking down at the main stage watching the Cure play a blinding set. This night though I was only a bit drunk, no more drugs for me and anyhow, I’d used them all up the day before….

After this, I wandered off again in an attempt to see the end of Goldie, but failed so I just drifted wherever the crowds took me which meant I saw all the weird, wonderful and unplanned sights you don’t really see at Glastonbury anymore but we’d planned to leave early to get back to Leicester. I headed back to the tent to find it again empty, so assuming Joe and Denise decided again to kip in the car, I just laid down outside the tent and watched the stars. The sky in the country is a different thing from the city, but the sky over a Glastonbury Festival is an amazing site with all the spotlights, lasers and whatever else you can imagine. Eventually I crawled into the tent to get some sleep.

A few hours later Joe woke me up urgently as we’d all slept late, and they had kipped in the car so we needed to get going fast. We packed up the tent, legged it the relatively short distance to the secure carpark by the farmhouse, and sped out of the site only looking behind us with more than a few tears in our eyes once…

On the way back Joe got us lost, so we nearly ended up in Stoke, but we managed to get back to Leicester by early afternoon, so they dumped me off at the house while Joe and Denise went back to hers to tidy up and sleep.

I however couldn’t sleep, so I called Roz and arranged to go out that afternoon, and bumped into another friend Sarah in the pub, so after I updated the pair of them on the weekend we decided on that gloriously sunny Monday afternoon to for to the local Odeon to see the Tank Girl film.

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It’s still a film I love purely because I was still high from the wonderful weekend that was Glastonbury 1995, but as we left the cinema and headed back to the pub I knew I had to let the weekend end so I left Sarah and Roz, wandered home and slept 12 hours in a comfy bed after some of the best few days of my life.

The thing is though the genie was out the bottle. Channel 4’s coverage of Glastonbury had opened people’s eyes, especially as both years were dry years, and 95 was amazing in terms of weather and lineup. There hadn’t been a really wet festival in some years and people were used to the dry warm weather, and this was selling not just the festival but a lifestyle to people watching on television.

1996 was to be a fallow year as the festival took a year off to let the land recover. It was to return in 1997, and I said to myself that I’d get a ticket for this one.

More about the run up to the 1997 festival and the events of the  1997 festival itself another time…..