Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The record company thumbs a lift with hippies

There are two slices of Goo fudge cake left on the picnic plate. No one is claiming them and it doesn't look like that's going to change now that the rain is converting the icing to a brown soup. Soon bits of it start falling off like a sandcastle as the tide comes in. On stage the band are oblivious. The singer is having a ball underneath the hot lights and the dry ice. OK, so maybe I made up the dry ice up - but crucially everyone on stage is dry. For us, the audience, the concept of being dry is a sweet and distant memory. If my 'waterproof' jacket ever did make it to the North Face it would break down and beg forgiveness; I am clearly not dressed for this sort of weather.

Around me, my friends' children contemplate buying a T-shirt from the handy souvenir stall - do they sell souvenir umbrellas? Ah, it turns out they do. My own daughter is barefoot in her mud-spattered favourite dress, indifferently twirling an umbrella over her head. My friend, Mandy complements me on her stoicism but I know what is going through her head: when can we go home so I can watch High School Musical 3? And as another ear-splitting crackle of thunder breaks and the rain gets even more intense, the prospect of watching Troy, Gabriella and Sharpay going through their routines for the 38th time is beginning to seem attractive to me too. But two things keep me going. Well, three actually if you include the half bottle of red wine I've just downed in 3 minutes.

Firstly, we are not at Glastonbury. We are in London and can leave any time we want to. Hooray! OK, so it would be lovely to be at Worthy Farm with Springsteen, Albarn and Spinal Tap, bumping into friends I haven't seen in ages. But the big mistake to make about Glastonbury is that if you want to watch lots of your favourite bands it's probably better to stay at home with the telly. Glastonbury, as I discovered when I took Robyn and Maddy in 2005, is about serendipity; about chancing upon The Bootleg Beatles on a stage you never knew existed, about getting your face painted in the kids field, about walking around with no particular destination and no deadlines. The moment you start referring to your little Guardian timetable your weekend takes on a completely different shape, you'll find yourself saying sentences like "Christ, the White Stripes are on the Pyramid Stage in 10 minutes - we're never going to make it!!!" Far better to be wandering past a stage and catch a song by a stranger with a beard.

I used to go to Glastonbury for work but it was only when I went as a punter in 2005 that I felt like I'd sampled what the festival is all about. As an A&R man you're not actually working at a festival, just bathing in the reflected glory of your bands. And schmoozing with other industry folk in the Guest area between the Pyramid and the Other stages. And I did have a good time most years but let's be honest, small talk with the drummer from Echobelly or the scout from Rondor Music is not the cutting edge of festival pleasure. Particularly if you have to find your way back to a B&B in Shepton Mallet at midnight.

At Glastonbury in 2005, I smoked a joint for the first time in a hundred years. After the obligatory 15 minutes of complete paranoia where I thought I was going to get abandoned by everyone and end up sitting alone in a mud pool all night, I surfaced as officially the happiest person on site. I missed every performance, regularly arriving to see bands at the precise moment when there was a mass exodus from the John Peel tent. So we missed the Magic Numbers - big deal! we giggled, and made our way back for more drinks. I walked barefoot round the whole site at 5 in the morning just enjoying the morning. That's the sort of sentence you get punched for isn't it?

Contrast this with waking up in a posh B&B with the staff of BMG as I did in the 90s and finding there were no cabs to the site so we all had to hitch hike in. We eventually all got a lift in - I kid you not - a van filled with veteran hippies. There were about eight of us - from marketing to business affairs, all wearing our best festival gear. Hidden about each of our persons were mobile phones - a object which in those days was symbolic of being The Man. We all got into the back of the van and contemplated the unbelievable tableau before us - a mixture of teenager's bedroom and Moroccan bazaar, hand woven scatter cushions, empty bottles of Lambrusco and king size Rizzla.
"Welcome aboard. You guys come to Pilton every year?" says a long haired handsome guy whilst strumming a guitar (I am not making this up)
"Er, yeah, man" mumbles our head of legal, not wanting to say anything that might be used against him.
"We go over the fence" says another, slightly less benign-looking hippy.
"Can you still do that? I thought they'd clamped down on all that...stuff..." says a product manager instantly regretting he'd opened his mouth, "I mean, I used to of course... " Handsome hippy lifts his fingers from the strings and taps his nose,"You gotta know the right places, man."
Each one of us is silently hoping that our phones don't ring. Not before before we get to the festival site anyway - how much longer? Come on! If that happens then our cover of being young hitch-hiking gunslingers will be blown and our new hippy friends will probably wreak some horrible Manson-esque vengeance.

Or so I was thinking anyway. But we were lucky, we got to the perimeter of the site without ringtone incident. We waved goodbyes like the best of friends - see you in the Head shop, man! Turned down the offer of a bunk up over the fence too. Who knows, maybe everyone in the van breathed a sigh of relief as they sped away. Maybe they started back on the Pimms and lemonade and got out their own mobile phones: "Hello darling! You'll never guess what! We just picked some hitchhikers up! Ya! Totally wicked - Sebastian and Everard even pretended to be hippies! Priceless!"

Of course, we were the exceptions in the 90s - not many normal punters had mobiles at festivals . And this lack of contact was a good thing. I didn't bring my phone in 2005 as I recall and I tell you not being in constant contact with everyone and everything all the time really adds to the pleasure. Reception is never good there anyway, so why bother? But clearly many do - this year there was a mobile phone recharging area and of course a place where you could get your Wifi access. Yes, I read those Tweets, you sad people.

Before all this connectivity there would be a rumour every year that another pop Peter Pan had died - Cliff Richard. For several hours you could believe it was true - unless you had been there the year before when exactly the same rumour had gone around. And apparently this year when news started hitting the wires about Michael Jackson's death there was just as much confusion as when Cliff 'died' - lots of people running about asking "Is it true? Can it really be true?" I'm sure there were many who remembered the Cliff rumours and consequently assumed it must be a wind up. Apparently the massive BBC presence at the festival this year was utilised by punters simply to confirm the truth about the King of Pop's demise. So it was worth the licence fee funding all those presenters being there after all.

I'm not going to go on about Jackson here as you are no doubt fed up with hearing reminiscences and confessionals in the press. It is sad but at the same time, I suspect the O2 shows would not have been a pretty affair and so his death at least spares him - and his legacy - the ignominy of a 50 year old man thinking he can perform like he did in his thirties . As Paul Gambaccini said on Radio 4, the ugliness of the last few years will be forgotten just as Judy Garland's final years were and all that we will remember will be the fantastic body of work. And Bo Selecta obviously.

So if I wasn't at Glastonbury, why the hell was I standing in the rain in London? I'll tell you, I'd gone to see Ray Davies at Kenwood. How middle class and middle aged is that? But regardless of the weather - and I would submit, because of it - it is fantastic. The music is the second thing that was keeping me going (if you can remember that far back in this blog- the first thing was the fact that we were in London, remember!?)

There is nothing more English than unpredictable weather and arguably none more English pop than the Kinks. The fact that Davies had the Crouch End Festival Chorus with him too, added to the plaintive quality of the tunes and fell in with the blackening skies and ominous rumblings. So by the time he'd reached the bit where he played most of Village Green Preservation Society weather and music were locked in a groove - somehow Ray's lyrics about vaudeville, variety, china cups and draught beer seemed absolutely appropriate whilst every member of the very English audience grooved on the spot whilst clad in in makeshift rainwear, letting their wine get a heavenly top up. If there was any queuing to be done we would have been there like a shot too. And I'm sure if the sun had shone Ray would have been first to complain.

It was only then that I remembered we'd brought a cake and it was calling my name from the bag. I got it out and our group descended on it wolfing chunks down before the rain got there first. It kept us going for a few more songs. As Waterloo Sunset and Lola finished the show, we realised that no amount of High School Musical would make Maddy forgive us if we stayed any longer so we began to pack up. I left the remains of the cake out in the rain just like the Jimmy Webb song and watched the sweet brown icing flowing down...


  1. Wendy will love this post, if just for making her think of 'Macarthur Park', hers and Ashley's favourite song.

  2. This is a nice post in an interesting line of content.Thanks for sharing this article, great way of bring such topic to discussion. Inspiring, as well. Thanks for sharing such inspiring experience with us. Great blog, congrats! Gakuran