Friday, 1 August 2008

I want to see the name of the African child my donation is going to ...

I'm pacing through tents, swerving round campfires and trying to keep the swearing at a reasonable volume. It's just after 1 in the afternoon, the sun is beating down on me, Maddy, is sitting on my shoulders and I'm late.
"Why are they liars, daddy?"
"Because they said the car park was near the main stage..."
"Why did they lie?"
"Er... because they wanted me to drive somewhere else..."
"Why do you think?"

Turn the questioning round - always works that one, always gets her thinking and sometimes keeps her quiet.

"Was the other man a liar?"
"Which other man?"

I'm now beginning to wish I hadn't verbalised my feelings towards the Secret Garden Party festival staff who had directed us to the 'Guest Car Park'. If I'd kept quiet I wouldn't be having to deal with all these questions. The sweat is now beginning to dribble from the sides of my sunhat and into my eyes, whilst Maddy clings on tightly to my ears and my manbag starts chafing my leg.

"The man who told us to come here!"
"You mean the man who told us the stage was fifteen minutes away?"
"Yes!" Maddy's tone of voice is indicating that she's beginning to think I'm a bit of an idiot.
"No, he wasn't lying, he was telling us the truth. That's why daddy's cross..."
"Why are you cross with him?"

I ponder the options open to me and decide against going into a portaloo to unleash a barrowful of swearing.

We're trying to get to the main stage of Secret Garden , a low-key festival set on a beautiful Cambridgeshire estate, which has been quietly growing every year. I feel like I have a bit of an IN with it because a manager who I used to work with is one the organisers. If I bump into her, she has promised Mead. Whatever that may be. I've come this year to see Olafur Arnalds, the artist I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, who I publish. I've brought the whole family, as well as Geoff from the management company, but Maddy and I have left them at the main gate, whilst we we were told to drive round to the guest car park, which apparently is "round the back of the main stage." After driving for about 15 minutes through various counties, looking out for the occasional teenager in a high-visibility tabard who would casually gesture us onwards, we finally found the car park, tucked away in a area just outside Poland. Oli is now on stage, or certainly his time slot is for now. A very familiar feeling comes over me as I pace bad-temperedly through numerous camping enclosures, past sun-reddened, relaxed people, drinking warm cider: why am I the only person in a hurry?

This festival sensation can only be familiar to people who are involved in the music business in some way. For the proper festival attendees, the overriding emotion is one of: finally I am somewhere where I no longer have to worry about real life and I can relax in my felt jester's hat with impunity. I am not speculating here, I can testify to having this feeling three years ago at Glastonbury. I was working in new media at the time and had absolutely no work connections to the event, I bought my tickets online like everyone else, took my two year old daughter and in the end, although it wasn't planned, I ended up camping. I even smoked a joint for the first time in about 400 years. As far as I can remember, I saw a bit of Chas & Dave, a smidgen of the Kaiser Chiefs and a couple of Go Team songs; the rest of the time there we just wandered around enjoying the atmosphere, and you know what? It was the best festival time I've ever had. And don't worry, I didn't so much as think about buying a jester's hat.

Every other festival I've attended has had a work atmosphere - you go to the backstage enclosure for starters, which is comparable to getting off the tube at Old Street or Camden - lots of overdressed biz folk, crowing over NME-sponsored cups of lager, a few people you like who sympathise with the terror of such gatherings and an atmosphere rife with jealously and competitiveness. One quote I remember from a mid-90s Glastonbury was from the Echobelly drummer: "We are going to blow them off stage!" He was of course talking about Oasis. Both bands were playing the second stage that year.

Actually I feel a bit of a fraud talking about festivals because I don't think I ever went to a festival before I worked for a record company. Unbelievable, I know, considering how obsessive I've always been about music but they just didn't have the attraction for me. I went to see the Clash play the Victoria Park Rock Against Racism show in 1978 when I was 12 but I couldn't see over people's heads. I think this may have tainted the outdoor stage thing for me. My brother did the whole 80s Glastonbury thing, where Elvis Costello, Echo and The Bunnymen and Van Morrison seemingly used to play every year. I just don't think I ever had the spare cash or desire to sleep in a tent surrounded by drunk people. One of the first Reading Festivals I went to was in the early 90s and I planned to sleep in my car, not having the expense account to qualify me to get a room at the Ramada Inn where all the successful A&R folk were ensconced. I got so drunk I lost my bag (even in those days I had a manbag, oh yes) which of course contained my car keys. I had to resort to finding a tent with the friends who were planning on sharing the car with me. We eventually found an unused two-man Millets number and the four of us attempted to squeeze in. I was at the top of a steep moaning curve at this point, lamenting losing my bag, lamenting the impending hangover and probably lamenting the fact that the band that I had signed, Five Thirty, had not been chosen to be on that year's bill. As we lay in the tent on the soggy Berkshire turf, I continued ranting until someone walking past, no doubt on the way back to their pitch, muttered, "Oh shut up and get your head down." I did just that. Found my bag the next day too, you'll be pleased to hear although Five Thirty never made it big.

One thing that didn't used to happen at Festivals was guest list charity donations. If you've ever been on the guest list for a festival and you arrive, thinking you're all prepared, to be asked to cough up a surprise £20 can throw everything out of whack. OK, so it's for charity, but whose charity? As Geoff said, whilst we were struggling to find a spare £60 in cash at the gates of Secret Garden, "I'd like to see the name of the poor African child this money is going too." Of course, guest list is a privilege but not everyone on the list is a senior record company executive with the requisite expensive account. And now it seems to be mandatory at all Mean Fiddler organised festivals too. We managed to stump up the cash - well almost all of it, they let us off the last £1.50 which only took about 5 minutes negotiation. How big hearted of them. But of course, once inside we had no money and the cash point was having its lunch break. Or so the very Un-Secret Gardenish security guard told me, who stood, FBI style, outside the black silk enclosure where the machines were.

But I'm carping, the festival was, as ever, great fun once we got in the spirit - for starters there is no sponsorship anywhere so you aren't constantly tempted into the Golden Grahams Tent or plied with Innocent products. No, it's all circus skills, mud baths, and girls dressed as princesses. Maddy - dressed as a princess, natch - and I made it to see Oli, only missing one song. The blazing sun and bucolic atmosphere wasn't quite right for his brand of glacial string-laden tropes but it still went down well.

We ended up learning how to do hula-hooping and and climbed up to the top of haybales to survey the land. We even braved the queue at the cash point and Robyn and I guzzled pints of beer like there was no tomorrow. Summer had finally arrived.

I'll probably be back writing more of this in a less than a week because there are many things to tell you all about, not least my first glimpse of the new SonyBMG building, my trip to see Dragon's Den 'indie' band Hamfatter and last but not least getting propositioned in Hackney whilst dressed as Freddie Mercury. But these, as they say, are other stories!

Here's me and the girls at the festival

1 comment:

  1. this is a very cute picture..
    I'm sorry about SGP. everything behind the curtains seemed a bit unorganized and weird.. but the festival itself was great! glad you had a good time.