Monday, 1 July 2013

I remember I went to Glastonbury, but that’s all!

After reading Denise McNamara’s excellent piece about her experience of the Electric Picnic, my mind wandered, stumbling around distant memories of festivals like a drunk in a field.

All these years later I can still remember a moment at Reading Festival in 1978 when I briefly experienced ecstasy. That’s the feeling, not the drug, folks. 1978, remember?

Off my tiny teenage mind on a cocktail of gordknowswot, I returned from the stage area to the campsite, abandoned to squelching my way across fields of muck and detritus, and then I saw a vision.

Like a medieval army resting up for the night, the fields in front of me were filled with tents, flags and fires. Even from a distance I could feel the spirit of bonhomie and comradeship coming from the camp.

Where was my tent? Who cared. I wandered from fireplace to fireplace, naive and safe, having a ball. What I felt that night must have had a profound effect upon me, because I’m feeling it right now.  

It’s a cocktail of freedom, trust in your fellow man, a lack of care and a host of kinship.
Equally, I remember the discovery of Drambuie that night, and the subsequent wasting of hundreds of drinks, spoiled by failed attempts to look cool. Del Boy’s drinks didn’t come from thin air. A pint of Directors with a drop of Drambuie: very sophisticated to an insecure 18 year-old Adley.

Life was confusing back then. Not enough to be half man half boy, I was also half a Public School boy maybe on his way to Oxbridge, half a warehouse-working dart-throwing biker boy from the other side of the hill, and just to make things particularly challenging, half a hitch-hiking low-life, hoping to be a hobo.

To mirror all these halves the world of music had been rendered in two. I saw Led Zeppelin in 1973 and Deep Purple and Frank Zappa and Humble Pie and will spare you all the gigs, because gradually many of the bands became boring. Guitar solos went on for ages, and don't even talk about the drum solos that had thrilled me as a 14 year-old, slightly drunk on cans of brown ale and Long Life.

So when Punk arrived I was right in there, thank you very much. Down the Marquee on Wardour Street, armed with the cut-out advert from each week’s NME, with which you got in for free, Monday-Thursday. At last, here were bands you didn’t sit down to. You weren’t half a mile away from them. Suddenly, anything could happen.

Yes, I loved punk, because I was 16 in 1976 and felt I had no future. I pogoed to The Clash, The Pistols, The Anything that you wanted to call your band, and a special mention goes to the Ramones.

Nothing could ever compare to a Ramones gig. I went to six or seven, memorably one, in which I lost a single shoe after ten minutes. The morning after a Ramones gig my black leather biker jacket could be snapped like Jacob’s cream cracker. Rigid in dried sweat salt, it had to be soaked in a bath and then hung to slowly dry before it would bend once more.
Siouxise and the Banshees, who I adored, had the ability to evolve as had my earlier hero Bowie and future hero Elvis Costello. All driven to change with the times.

Reading Festival in 1978 was the meeting point of changing times. Punks and Longhairs, the old and new musical worlds, meeting in a mudpool cesspit for the weekend.
Punks weren’t supposed to be into either big outdoor gigs or the superstar bands I’d enjoyed for years. So sub-culturally speaking, I was screwed, but much as I doubtless dreamed of little else, there was no joy to be found in the direction either.

But there was music. Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 had a cry on stage. Paul Weller of The Jam gave out about the sound but  then sent us mental by playing his (new) song Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.  Status Quo were Status Quo, which was no bad thing. Penetration were brilliant, and Tom Robinson had us all singing Glad to be Gay.

All of us, spiky-haired alongside the pony-tailed, were blown away by the Jimi Hendrix sounds of Spirit. The sun shone and people stopped and stood together for a few minutes, appreciating the pure brilliance of great guitar playing. Then the wondrous Patti Smith came on and enriched our minds and spirits with the power of her music and poetry.

Time lost itself in a blur of alcohol and music, laughter and mud. Seven of us in the back of Transit van, washing down anti-histamine tablets with rough cider, swigged from white plastic gallon containers. We all passed out and slept through the entire day’s music, waking up as everyone came back to the site to talk about the gig.

I know I went to Glastonbury in 1981, but aside from snippets of a tale of woe about orange juice, speed and one accidentally and tragically neutralising the other, I recall precious little. A row in a tent with a young lass from South Shields ... and … pfooffff. Nothing really. Not a single band. No memory of music at all, which probably scores high on the Festival-O-Meter Of Fun.

The last time I went to a festival was Feile’s final ‘Trip to Tipp’ in 1994. Years before any notion of ‘glamping’ had been conceived, I lifted the still-sheeted double mattress, duvet and pillows off my bed and lay them into my Transit van. With flat pack barbecues, a gigantic water container and a Chilly-bin filled with cans, pies, rashers and other healthy items, it was bliss.

Elvis Costello was brilliant. Sharon Shannon had all the hip young things twirling against their better judgements, and at the age of 34, I fell asleep, comfy and warm in my bed, in my van, listening to the sound of teenagers having their own epiphanies.

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