“To paint that love upon the white balloon” sang David Bowie on Memories of a Free Festival. Well, I’ve never done that, but I have spray painted “space cadets” on an inflatable tent.
With the impending Chagstock Festival only a week away, this year’s “glamping” season (see here for details) is almost upon us. Which has got me thinking about previous festival experiences of the more chaotic, less salubrious kind.
I’d leave it a couple of weeks if I were you.
I have always been a fan of music festivals, because no matter how much we moan about the price, and the mud, and yes, the toilets, you really can’t beat a good festival line-up for good value entertainment. There’s nowhere else you can see so many bands, hear so much new music, and meet so many like minded people, all in the same place.
And for the years 1990-98, my summer holiday was Reading Festival.
So many fantastic bands that I wouldn’t have seen, if not for the opportunity to see them all in the same place at the same time. But so much of the festival experience revolves around the “after-hours” activities on the camp site or in the boutiques and cafes dotted around the arena.
The first year that I went to Reading, with a large group of friends, some of our number fell foul of that hoariest of festival chestnuts, the weed rip-off (and I have to confess to buying a £10 bag of Rosemary one year myself).
I think it was towards the end of the Friday night, and I was trying, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep. I could hear, outside the tent, some of my mates pooling their money in order to get enough together for a sizable amount of herbal intoxicant. I also heard them discussing the fact that they should rope me in on the deal.
I feigned sleep.
After a while, a certain amount of cursing, swearing, and threats of physical violence drifted over the campsite.
The rastafarian gentleman to whom my friends had entrusted their hard earned cash, in a completely baffling turn of events, had entered a camper van’s side door, sliding it shut behind him (“for security, ya get me?”) and never reappeared. When they finally had the presence of mind to bang on, and then open the door, they were met by the smiling, cheerful, and above all innocent faces of several of the scoundrel’s chums, and the sliding door on the opposite side of the van standing open as evidence of their gullibility.
The following day, they hatched a cunning plan to recoup their loses. Taking the shiny white cardboard of a Silk Cut cigarette packet, they cut it up into 1cm squares, wrapped them individually in scraps of clingfilm, and proceeded to sell dozens of them to equally gullible teenagers as LSD trips.
The most amazing thing was, not that they got away with it, but that more than one of their customers were overheard the next day to claim that they’d got a “pretty good trip” off them.
And as the flip side to that, I once saw a truly giant black guy walking around the arena – completely straight and sober as far as I could tell – wearing just a pair of very small shorts, flip flops and an extremely grim expression. He had obviously been on the receiving end of the police stop-and-search policy which was very heavy handed that year. (I was stopped 5 times on the same day, in the same place, by the same copper)
Around his neck was a paper plate on a piece of string on which was printed, in large angry letters “I AM NOT A DEALER, GET REAL!!”
I wouldn’t have stopped him to ask the time, let alone to search him.
Then there were the Australians who had come all the way from the other side of the world to the festival, unaware of the fact that you would be very fortunate to turn up at three o’clock Friday afternoon and buy a ticket on the gate.
They had set their tent up as close as it was possible to get to the arena fence, having managed to secure a Sunday day ticket each, and persuaded the organizers to let them on site for the other two days. They had brought an absolute mountain of Fosters lager with them, which must have almost filled their camper van, and spent the Friday and Saturday sitting on it’s roof on a stack of cases of beer watching the stage over the fence.
I often thought, back in those days, that everyone should go to a festival, just once, just to become a part of that great amorphous hive mind that is a festival crowd in thrall to a great performance by a band who are there to have a good time. It truly is a place where barriers come down between people of all walks of life, making the atmosphere – both in the arena, and back at the campsite – a uniquely inclusive experience.
I’ll end part one of this festival nostalgia trip with one of my favourite Reading memories;
Ladies and gentlemen, the one, the only, Primal Scream.
Been there, done that,…