Poetry, Punk and Please Y’Self. It must be Bearded Theory!

Writing this in August, May’s Bearded Theory feels a long time away already. It’s always one of my favourite festivals, because I’ve been involved in it since it started in 2008. I’ve worked there as a steward, and for the past few years, I’ve worked in the kids’ field, helping out and running workshops. 2015 was to be a little bit different. I was to be a teacher at the very first festival school in the UK – parents could legitimately take their children out of school for a day of “education elsewhere” – head teachers up and down the country had given the go-ahead for pupils to attend our “pop-up” school.

This was to be Bearded Theory’s second year at Catton Park, still (just) in Derbyshire, on the banks of the River Trent. Last year saw some “interesting” weather hit the site, but what was in store for us this year?

Wednesday 20th May

Gorgeous skies at Bearded Theory

Gorgeous skies at Bearded Theory

It was great to get my bell tent up and to make it a home from home! I wasn’t sure about the crew campsite being so far away from the main part of the site this year – it was across the road from the festival site, but at least I would be near my car, and I made friends with another volunteer from the kids’ field, Simon, who not only had a bell tent, but a gorgeous VW camper van. We also made friends with Hilary, an intrepid camper who would be spending most of her summer sleeping in a tiny tent and cycling around Europe.

I had a great evening catching up with the Oxfam stewards who were camping a long way from me, and meeting up with various other crew members. I said hello to Janet, my new kids’ field boss, and found out where I was going to be working.

Bearded Theory has come a long way since it was 500 people in a pub campsite. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as festival stalwarts greeted each other for the first time since last summer. Bearded Theory is the first major festival of the season for many people.

Thursday 21st May

I was soon to be teaching with this crowd-surfing man!

I was soon to be teaching with this crowd-surfing man!

A day of preparations – meeting festival superstars Scott Doonican and his amazing partner Amanda from the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican. We were to be teaching together on Friday at the festival, and we ran through the plans for our festival-themed English lessons, with a bit of music thrown in. I helped to set up the “village green” in the children’s field, soon to be filled with sports-day fun, football sessions from Derby County, and dance performances. There was just time for a quick ukulele practise.

By teatime, I was ready to party again – a lot of the crew had finished work and were now relaxing at the bar, and I was also keen to enjoy a night of live entertainment, starting with the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican. They were on top comedy form, with further hilarity caused by the British Sign Language interpreter, who really entered into the spirit of things, demonstrating the sign language for “vejazzle” and mangled gentlemen’s parts in the “Zipper” song. 3 Daft Monkeys also played a cracking set, and Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs were brilliantly entertaining – although cut short by the early site curfew.

Friday 22nd May

The Bearded Theory School in full flow.

The Bearded Theory School in full flow.

The Bearded Theory School was here! It was a whirlwind of activity. The day was fully timetabled, with lessons including maths – making fire towers out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti and calculating the number of flags at the festival; mindfulness; science – making slime; history – learning about Catton Park’s past, as well as football with Derby County or can-can lessons.

Before we knew it, we were telling a large gang of seven year olds about sea shanties and how sailors/pirates used to sing them to give them a rhythm when hauling ropes and scrubbing decks. Even as experienced teachers and workshop leaders, it was a challenge – most of the children didn’t know each other, so we needed to incorporate getting-to-know you exercises and games to break the ice. We asked children for their favourite pirate jokes: ‘Where do pirates do their shopping? Arrrrgos.’ We started telling the joke: ‘Why are pirates called pirates?’ expecting the answer: ‘Because they arrrrrr,’ but one boy piped up with the answer: ‘Because they were bad people who sailed on the ocean a long time ago and stole people’s treasure.’ Indeed.

The aim of the lesson was for the children to write their own verses of ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’. Inventive verses included: ‘Feed him on squid and calamari’ (this suggestion was from a pre-schooler!), ‘Fight him like a baddie on Mortal Combat’, and ‘Make him dance just like my grandad’. The teenagers’ group had a different activity. They had to come up with inventive exaggerations about Bearded Theory (which is pretty good already), and we came up with tales of potent portaloos and armies of angry midges on the rampage, as well as heavenly music and food.

We rounded off the day with a story – reading ‘Don’t Mention Pirates’ by Sarah McConnell. The teachers were exhausted – but happy and satisfied that we had kept about 150 children entertained all day. The children all proudly received their certificates to prove they had completed a whole day of festival entertainment, and they were collected by their parents. It had gone remarkably smoothly. The most tricky moment was when the main stage did a very loud soundcheck – strangely, once the bands actually started, they didn’t sound that loud and just faded into the background.

One of the best things about the Bearded School was the commitment to SEN (Special Educational Needs) children. We had staff from a nearby special school in our team, and were able to support children with a wide range of physical needs, autism spectrum disorders and emotional and behavioural difficulties – and the best thing was that we managed this in a field, with volunteers and improvised resources.

I think we deserved to let our hair down for the night!

People on shoulders for the Mission.

People on shoulders for the Mission.

I watched a bit of Sonic Boom Six before having a rest back at camp. I was excited about seeing classic 80s goth band The Mission. I caught up with some friends and watched Gun, wating for the to do their cover of Word Up, although they were quite entertaining. Alabama 3 were great, and I caught a bit of dub legends Zion Train, before the headline band. The Mission were on great form and I had a brilliant time waving my arms in the air, completely mesmerised.

Saturday 23rd May

Poetry in progress

Poetry in progress

Over the weekend, I was working in the kids’ field, showing kids how a manual typewriter works and using it to write poetry. I was very busy all weekend. Children have grown up with computers, tablets and smartphones, so the idea that something could fulfil (some of) the same functions, but with real levers, buttons and ink rollers was totally alien to most of them. On Saturday, I had some brilliant young poets, and I had chats with children who are really keen readers. My highlight was when a boy of about nine had been typing away for ages, with a piece of paper in the typewriter, when he turned round to us and said: ‘Can I print it out now, please?’ He didn’t understand that he was printing out as he was typing. When I had finished, I was even treated to a glass of wine by a family I had been entertaining for most of the afternoon.

The worst thing about working in the kids’ field at a festival is that you’re so busy in your area that you don’t have much chance to explore the rest of it! There were some lovely ladies next to me demonstrating lots of craft with wool, and I made my own Japanese braid. There were activities and performances for children of all ages and teenagers too.

New Model Army

New Model Army

In the evening, I was treated to a stunning performance by New Model Army. Performing mostly material from their most recent album Between Dog and Wolf, they proved that they are still a vital force in music, after thirty five years.

After the intensity of NMA’s performance, the audience relaxed and watched Afro-Celt Soundsystem in awe – held spellbound by an aural battle between Indian Dhol drums and the Irish bodhran.

I rounded off the night by staying out late to dance to Eat Static in the Magical Sounds dance tent, enjoying the psychedelic décor and sounds.

Eat Static - with George the Horse

Eat Static – with George the Horse

Sunday 24th May

The magic of the typewriter!

The magic of the typewriter!

Sunday started off a bit colder and cloudier, after the warm sunny weather we’d been having (most unlike Bearded Theory!), but it was perfect weather for aerobics with Mr Motivator and the Beard Judging competition. It seemed like the entire population of the festival was dressed as a pirate, in keeping with this year’s fancy dress theme.

I took a break from the poetry to join the world fake beard record attempt, which was won this year by a man who had painstaking made a beard from tiny Lego bricks. My beard was made out of poetry, written on my typewriter.

I had some very keen young writers on Sunday, and together, we wrote some very effective acrostic poems. By 5pm, the sun had come out, and I read the classic story Harry the Dirty Dog to an appreciative audience of small children and their parents. One dad about my age said that he hadn’t heard the story since he was small.

Watching Please Y'Self in the woods with my poetry beard.

Watching Please Y’Self in the woods with my poetry beard.

I started the evening by going to see my old music teacher’s band, Please Y’Self. A comedy punk skiffle band – they’ve been defying genres and expectations since the sixties – at least, since they are two brothers, John and Rob, and sister Chris. It was wonderful to see them – they’re a fixture at Bearded Theory, always managing to play in in some capacity, and they’re always highly entertaining, finishing with their classic punk version of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’.

The evening continued on cracking form with the Buzzcocks, and finally James. I’d missed out on seeing James in their 90s heyday, but I loved their performance of classic songs, topped off by a spectacular firework display. Later on, Special legend Neville Staple brought the woodland stage to a close with throngs of dancing people. In the small hours, we met members of rock band Electric River, who had been a surprise hit of the weekend, opening the main stage on Sunday. They were a great bunch of lads!

This really was a classic Bearded Theory – meeting friends old and new, brilliant music, a great atmosphere, lots of silliness, shock  horror – great weather. Most exciting of all, I’d been part of something new – the first ever festival school.

See you next year!

A bonding moment watching James.

A bonding moment watching James.

Nozstock – Small but Perfectly formed!

 

At the very end of July, it was time to get my bell tent out again and head to Herefordshire for the Nozstock festival. On a small farm near the picturesque Herefordshire town of Bromyard, Nozstock started in the late 90s as a barbecue, and thanks to the Nosworthy family’s enthusiasm, along with a large group of committed volunteers, it has grown into a festival with around a 5,000 capacity. The family are still very much involved and I got to know the Nosworthys and the crew quite well over the course of the weekend.

Nozstock may be small, but it’s got everything. World-class music, comedy, theatre, crafts, and even late-night burlesque! Each year there is a different theme, and this year, it was “The Farm that Time Forgot”, with a prehistoric theme.

I arrived with fellow Oxfam steward Darren, and we drove through the site to drop off our camping stuff. We were struck by how much care and attention had gone into the hand-drawn signs and beautifully decorated venues. The Garden Stage looked tiny, and the “Pale-ale-ontology Bar” was a great/terrible pun. One of the nice touches at Nozstock were the ladies’ only loos, sheltered by a marquee, with specially scented toilet paper and hand-washing facilities. There were lots of old sofas strewn about so that people could sit down comfortably too.

On the first night, we had time for a briefing, followed by an explore and a few beers in the camp site. It was amazing how much effort had gone into the theme, with a mini-digger making giant dinosaur footprints in the hillside. The main arena also looked tiny – with the grass of the ancient orchard gently sloping towards a stage being eaten by a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a Pterodactyl perching in the trees. Because the festival-goers didn’t arrive until the Friday morning, we only had to do two stewarding shifts, and we were all stewards – there were no supervisors!

My Friday at Nozstock was totally free – plenty of opportunity to try the local cider available at the bars. We started off with a brilliant belly dance workshop with brilliant teacher Claire Lucas. We wandered around as the festival came alive. There were several bars, and one of my favourite places in the festival was the craft area, perched on the top of a hill that looked over towards the comedy tent. There were gypsy caravans and games for kids, and lots of things to make and do.

As we were enjoying our first pint of local cider, a few drops of rain fell, but then the sun came out, and we had a good boogie at the Garden stage, its steep embankment making a dance floor. Two of my friends were lucky enough to have a go at zorbing downhill into the lake, as the council were doing an inspection at the time and needed some willing volunteers! It looked pretty scary though. The rain gathered pace, but we tried to ignore it by dancing to the Fresh Dixie Project, watching a comedy sketch show with duo O’Shea and Gaukroger (one lady thought they were really promoting Gummy Bears and got quite angry!) We joined in with bands busking inside the “Human Jukebox”, a stage/giant TV screen!

As it grew dark, we ate delicious stone-baked pizza while watching The Skints, who were great, with their mix of soulful dub, ska and reggae. One of the highlights of the evening were By the Rivers, on the garden stage, a youthful band, with more ska-based sounds, but sounding really fresh and different. Their songs are instantly catchy, and they’re hotly tipped for the future. We enjoyed them so much that we stayed for their entire set before heading back to the Orchard Stage for the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, just in time to hear them play “Scooby Snacks”, and then enjoyed some smooth disco and hip-hop flavoured tracks.

But despite the rain, the highlight of the night was to be Craig Charles’ funk and soul show. He played great tunes, way into the small hours. Somehow, I ended up with a baseball hat on my head, that gave the effect of my own personal umbrella. I must have looked terrible in a soaking wet hat and a cagoule, but I danced all night, until it was time to go to bed – my shift was starting first thing in the morning, but thankfully, just a few minutes’ walk away from my tent.

I woke up on Saturday morning, and it was still raining! I started my shift with my friend Amy, my giant umbrella proving to be a life-saver for both of us as we checked wristbands on the backstage production gate. Luckily, as lunchtime approached, the rain started to dry out, apart from a couple of quick downpours. But by the time our shifts had ended, it was sunny again! The ground dried out so quickly that people were sitting on the grass in the afternoon – but the outdoor sofa cushions took a bit longer to dry out. After the shift, it took us a while to get going, as we enjoyed a nice long sit down and a natter in the Oxfam campsite, which was lovely.

However, once we finally made it our of the campsite…

Disco Panther were a new band for me and did exactly what they said on the tin, providing funk and brass and lots of attitude, and I enjoyed playing football with a couple of small boys! One of the highlights of the weekend came when Amy and I went to the Laughing Stock comedy tent to watch Josh Widdicombe. We sat right at the front. He was brilliant, interacting with the crowd – in particular, a band called Hippiecat, who were supposed to be performing at the time.

As the sun went down, I really enjoyed Dizraeli and the Small Gods, their fusion of folk and hip-hop sounding perfect in the orchard, and Molotov Jukebox got us dancing in a 1920s style. Roots Manuva was also very danceable, but as his set ended, I was starting to flag a bit, but I made sure that I checked out the Psytrance coppice before bedtime. I’m a little bemused by psytrance (as it all sounds the same to me…shhhh!), but the Tribe of Frog residency down in the beautifully decorated wood, with UV butterflies, is supposed to be the best in the business, and there was certainly a great atmosphere, with people of all ages glowing under the lights and raving away. The party was certainly in full swing on Saturday night, but I was knackered, so I decided to go to bed with the noise of the party all around me, dreaming that I was still dancing.

I had to make the best of Sunday, because I started my shift at tea-time. We relaxed under the trees at the Orchard Stage – the sofa cushions had just about dried up by now, and enjoyed some live music from a gentle guitarist and a hard-rocking band from Wales (I can’t find my programme right now, so I can’t name-check everyone I saw – sorry!) Amy made a beautiful leather purse at the “L for Leather” craft stall. The guy who runs the stall makes saddles and costumes for major films, and I really enjoyed looking through his portfolio. As I’m veggie, I don’t buy leather shoes any more, but it turns out that the leather bloke working bloke is too!

I really enjoyed Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer – a one-man band who sings/raps songs about behaving like the perfect English Gentleman, while playing his banjo-lele. He sings about cups of tea, pipe-smoking, cricket and good manners, while giving us the run-down of the history of hip-hop in his Surrey accent. Genius!

We had a wander around and checked out some comedy, before it was time to start our shift. The shift was lots of fun, with artists and crew coming and going, and I got to talk to lots of performers and point them in the direction they needed to go! There were drum ‘n’ bass DJs and rappers arriving for the cowshed stage, which was transformed into an urban squat for the weekend. Artists due to perform on the main stage were enjoying a wander around, and were very surprised by how close together everything was! At one point, a giant caveman puppet lumbered out from a barn, with the help of some volunteers to help him! I managed to take a break to eat another stone-baked pizza and watch a good chunk of Sonic Boom Six and their energetic ska punk. As the rest of the music died out towards midnight, we could hear The Heavy really well from their headline set at the main stage, but by the time our shift finished at 1am, it wasn’t party time like Saturday night – everything was over! But I was tired, so I didn’t mind much, so I just chatted with a few other stewards under the Oxfam marquee before going to bed.

At least I was relatively fresh for leaving in the morning, after a leisurely chat in the sunshine to my fellow stewards about our plans for the late summer festivals – some people were straight off to Boardmasters or Boomtown, whereas I had a weekend of rest before Beautiful Days and Shambala. There was still lots of fun to squeeze out of the summer!

I think I’ll definitely be back to Nozstock. The music, and the variety of entertainment on offer is brilliant for a festival of its size. It’s set in beautiful countryside and so much effort goes into the decor and infrastructure of the site. To be absolutely perfect, it would be great to see more showers and perhaps a sauna! The bar prices are great and the local ciders are really cheap and very tasty, but it would be great if the festival didn’t have quite such a draconian policy on bringing your own alcohol into the arena – other independent festivals such as Beautiful Days and Bearded Theory don’t have these restrictions, and their bars are still very popular. A few more vegan/vegetarian food options would also be great, although I didn’t go hungry.

Nozstock is a unique, truly independent festival, and long may it prosper!

 

Glastonbury – the epic 11 day mission!

 

This isn’t going to be the average sort of Glastonbury review that concentrates on the headline bands at the Pyramid stage and nothing else. This blog entry is rather epic, but it’s probably going to be my longest blog of the year, so bear with me.

I’m going to try to show you parts of Glastonbury you haven’t seen before. This was my 20th anniversary of going to Glastonbury festival – and festivals in general. Glastonbury is a behemoth of a festival. There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s a crazy concept really – a quarter of a million people (roughly 150,000 ticket-holders and 70,000 workers) descend on a dairy farm in a small Somerset village which has turned into the biggest festival in the world. After two years of being away, the sight of Glastonbury festival, filling up an entire valley, can still be breathtaking.

I’ve just used this programme and I’ve discovered that Glastonbury festival is almost exactly the same size as the whole of Sheffield’s city centre http://howbigreally.com/dimension/festivals_and_specticles/glastonbury#S1_2HH

I arrived in the Oxfam field with my friend Fraser on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd June. We were both volunteering for Oxfam as stewards, but Fraser was on the early shift, meaning that all his shifts would be over by the time the public were admitted to the festival on Wednesday – whereas mine didn’t start until then. For me, it was a great opportunity to be there early, relax with friends and treat it as a holiday.

The weather on the first two days wasn’t great. Driving down, the car was buffeted by really strong winds and it was a struggle to keep control. We stopped for lunch in Tewkesbury and wandered around the Abbey, then drove down the M5, past Glastonbury town and the tor (and the Clarks shoe village in Street), finally arriving in our Oxfam field (Oxfield), just outside the perimeter of the festival. Oxfam are now the biggest agency providing staff for the festival and there are over 2,000 people camping in our field, all Oxfam volunteers and staff. I’ve been to some festivals that have been smaller than that in total. There were already lots of familiar faces there, and we found space near some friends’ tents. Oxfam stewarding is such a great social network that for the whole festival, it takes a long time to get a shower (yes there are showers!!! That’s the long marquee to the left in the aerial photo above), food, go the loo or get a cup of tea without saying hello to about five different people at least.

On Sunday, it was still windy and I didn’t have my wristband yet, as I wasn’t working on the early shift. There was a choice of either getting drunk in the Oxfield or doing something productive! I discovered that a friend called Holly had never been to Glastonbury town and didn’t know about the Tor. After a short drive, we we battling tremendous winds, struggling up the side of the Tor. It was so windy at the top that we could lean right back and the wind kept us upright. After nearly being blown away, we sauntered around the hippie shops of Glastonbury town and did some charity shopping.

Monday was my first chance to explore the festival site this year, which I did with my friend Dave. We were looking for the codes clues for the Oxfam stewards treasure hunt, which had been organised voluntarily – with great prizes – by two stewards. It was a lovely sunny day and the empty stages and camping fields were pristine. There was still a lot of work going on – marquees, stages and signs being erected, decorations going up. You realise how much effort and attention to detail goes into the festival. It’s not just a flagpole – it’s a hand-painted flagpole with a uniquely decorated flag. Each bin, made out of a recycled metal drum, is painted imaginatively by an army of volunteers who are onside for weeks. I love watching the build-up to a festival, Glastonbury in particular, as there’s so much going on.

One of the highlights of Monday night was actually meeting Michael Eavis, the farmer who owns most of the land where the festival is held. We were admiring Bella’s Bridge, a footbridge built as a tribute to Arabella Churchill (the granddaughter of Winston Churchill), who became one of the festival’s main organisers, when Michael Eavis loomed out of the darkness and said “I’m glad you like my bridge!” We were all a bit surprised but we had a lovely chat to Michael, who seems to really like Oxfam stewards.

By Tuesday, all of the stewards had arrived, many of them in several coach-loads from Bristol. I finally had to start thinking about work. I wasn’t starting work until 4.45am on Thursday – an eight hour shift as Team Leader on a pedestrian gate leading to the campervan field on the opposite side of the site. We had a supervisors training session in the cinema tent on site, which is more Oxfam supervisors than I’d ever seen in one place before! We also had a one-hour briefing back in the Oxfield marquee, which was fairly entertaining and stressed the point of how important Oxfam stewards are. We’re on every gate into the site. It’s our job to make sure that people without tickets don’t get in! With back-up from security, of course, but if we get it wrong, the whole festival could be in jeopardy. A scary thought!

That evening, we had a special party to celebrate an Oxfam steward who sadly died of a heart condition earlier this year. Chris Light (fondly remembered by the Oxfam Stewards’ Forum users as Sergeant Howie), was a wonderful, gentle man and a brilliant photographer. He also wrote a novella about Oxfam stewarding at Glastonbury, The Gate, which I’ve just downloaded for free from Lulu.com! We drank a specially invented cocktail in his honour, called “The Shaft of Light”, which had glowsticks and edible glitter. We also drank to Mickie the Pixie, another Oxfam steward who died this year after an illness. He was one of the first Oxfam stewards I ever worked with, wearing a cardboard box that said “free hugs” on it. And he was the supervisor! Both of them are sadly missed.

Wednesday was lovely, although a little hard to get used to the sheer numbers of people on site, after a few days of blissfully relaxing, emptyish fields. We met up with more friends and had an epic wander round the festival site, to orientate a friend who hadn’t been before. He was surprised at the size, but he loved it. There was time for a quick pint of cider at the legendary cider bus before heading back to the Oxfield for an early night! My alarm clock was set for 3.30am. If I didn’t manage to catch the minibus from our field, it was going to be an hour’s walk to the Campervans West gate.

Luckily, the minibus did come to collect us. I had a lovely first shift, struggling to remember the names of the sixteen lovely people I was working with, apart from my deputy supervisor who was also called Anne (but without the “e”). The early dawn soon turned into a hot day, with a queue of people waiting good-naturedly to get into the festival. At this gate, people had to keep hold of their ticket and get a “pass-out” whenever they went back to their campervans. On the Thursday morning, most people were quite well organised, but by Friday night, people started losing their partners, tickets, passouts and marbles, which made things a bit more difficult. I walked back from my first shift in the heat, managing to get a few more vital clues for the treasure hunt and getting back just in time to enter the competition!

Unfortunately, it started raining immediately after I got back to the field. That meant that the traditional Oxfam stewards Thursday afternoon meet-up at the cider bus was rather damp, everyone huddling in cagoules and under umbrellas. We stuck it out and drank a few pints of cider though! A large group of Oxfam stewards decided to wander somewhere else, where we could dance. A brilliant decision was made to go to the Hell stage in the Shangri-la area of the site. We were damp but ready to party. We had a fantastic time watching Slamboree, a band combining, rave, hip-hop, folk and circus. Then we stumbled to the Avalon Cafe to see 3 Daft Monkeys, mainstays of the festival circuit. After that, I danced in the Rock ‘n’Roll diner at Shangri-La until 5am, where actual real rock ‘n’ roll was being played, including some rare rockabilly classics such as “Barking up the Wrong Tree” by Don Woody.

On Friday, I felt rather rough! I dropped a heavy bag full of jumpers, my tabard and snacks for my night-shift off at Campervans West, which almost killed me. En route though, I was entertained by the L.B.W. Outside Broadcast unit, gently commentating on the goings on on the theatre fields. Then I went to see hotly tipped indie band Peace at the John Peel stage. There was a massive crowd and they were excellent, but the singer must have been very hot, wearing a pair of white decorators’ dungarees and a thick seventies sparkly jumper! I started to feel a better when I had a long sit-down in the cabaret tent with my friend Clare. The sight of compere Arthur Smith is always reassuring, and 4 Pouffs and a Piano were hilarious – and very rude!

Before my shift I went to see the legendary Dinosaur Junior in the Park, the boutique-festival style area of the festival nearest to my gate. In case you haven’t heard of them, they are a legendary alternative rock / grunge band. It was great to see them, despite the mostly blank faces of my Oxfam colleagues when I told them about the gig! I swapped some lovely text messages with a friend who loves Dinosaur Junior but couldn’t come to Glastonbury. The nightshift went very well – the gate was busy all the time with people coming home in various states of disrepair, and there were several relationship crisis where the husband was lost and drunk and their wife had the ticket to get back into the campervan field. It was pretty amazing that we managed to sort out most of the problems – that is, if the drunk lost people actually turned up! Some of them are possibly still missing in action.

Although I hadn’t been to sleep until nearly 6am on Saturday morning, I woke up feeling relatively refreshed (due to the lack of alcohol may have helped). I headed off on my own at 11.30am to see Rokia Traore, a singer and guitarist from Mali who was opening the Pyramid stage for the day. I was determined to pack as much music as possible into my day off! The main Pyramid Stage was starting off with a Malian artist on each day, to highlight the strife in the country due to Islamist groups starting a civil war, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and the rich musical heritage of the country under threat by fundamentalists who want to ban music. I’d seen Rokia Traore before at WOMAD. I was running a bit late, but luckily, so was the Pyramid stage, so I was able to catch more of her joyful set, while I made friends with two lads who hadn’t gone to bed yet! We stayed firm friends for Billy Bragg’s set too, until Billy played “a lullabye for people who hadn’t been to sleep yet” and they took the hint to hit the hay! The power of suggestion! Billy Bragg was on top form. As Britain’s top left-wing singer-songwriter, he can sometimes get on his political soapbox a bit too much, but we all had a cheer at the demise of Margaret Thatcher and enjoyed his new Country and Western leanings! I was joined by friends for Laura Mvula but we were all sitting down by this point, conserving our energy in the hot sunshine.

We headed over to The Strypes on the John Peel stage next. This Irish band are still in their teens but are tipped as “the next big thing”. They’re a straight-up 60s style R&B band – a bit like the very early Rolling Stones. They play a few covers but their own songs, notably “Blue Collar Jane” are full of energy. I was bopping away near the front of the stage, but people at the John Peel stage don’t seem to like dancing – they take it all a bit too seriously! After that, Clare was hunting for some Drum ‘n’ Bass, but I headed off towards the West Holts stage. En route, I had a meal in one of the hidden gems of Glastonbury: a vegan cafe in the Permaculture Garden, between the Green Fields and the old railway track, one of the main thoroughfares of the festival. It was time for my peak day-time rave moment with The Orb, an electronic band I’d first seen twenty years ago at Glastonbury. We had been too close to the front to see the massive laser show, which was “totally amazing, man!” according to anyone who’d been at the back of the field. This time, the Orb were playing with Ghanaian master drummers Kakatsitsi and it was an absolutely mesmerising performance, enjoyed by having a good dance with lots of other old ravers! I then popped over to the Avalon stage to check out the Urban Voodoo Machine, who were brilliant – sleazy rock ‘n’ roll with a gypsy punk edge – just my sort of thing. Heading back to West Holts, I caught the end of Maverick Sabre before meeting up with some friends for the next act, Major Lazer, which had been recommended to me by my stewards. It was great fun, but as it hopped between dubstep, dancehall and more other dance genres than I could keep track of, it was all a bit giddy! Music for people with short attention spans!

The next band I saw was a controversial move. I decided to see Public Enemy, rather than the Rolling Stones. This was for several reasons: I like to swim against the tide some of the time; I knew it would be rammed at the Pyramid Stage; I knew I could watch the Rolling Stones’ set on the TV or on the internet later on; and I was just curious really! I know the most famous songs by Public Enemy and it was a chance to see another legend, at closer quarters than I’d be likely to be seeing Mick and Co. We were right on the front barrier, although there did seem to be a massive crowd. Chuck D was the coolest man in the world and really engaged with the audience. In my ignorance, I hadn’t realised that Public Enemy would have a live band. Their guitarist in particular was amazing and the set really blew me away (man!). I parted company with my friend John after Public Enemy to see something a bit different – Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs; a favourite band from Bearded Theory and Beautiful Days. Basically, a punk skiffle band who are hilariously funny. What’s not to like? While I was there, I met a friend from Bearded Theory. We headed to Bez’s Funhouse in the Shangri-La area and re-lived the Hacienda glory days for a few hours. At 4am, my friend left, in time to start his recycling shift bright and early at 6am, and I was adopted by a group of gay guys who took me to Glastonbury’s only dedicated gay venue, the NYC Downlow – a re-creation of a New York gay club in a specially built half-ruined tenement block. It was great fun, but eventually, I staggered home to the Oxfield! What an adventure of a day!

On Sunday morning, I had a sauna in the Greenfields, followed by a cooked breakfast, before heading to my shift at 1pm (I was a few minutes late as I’d miscalculated the amount of time I needed to eat my breakfast!) The Sunday afternoon shift was a much more laid-back affair. People were coming in dribs and drabs from the campervan fields, and back again. Soon after I started my shift, we had a “runner” – a young man sauntered through the gate and when one of the stewards questioned him, he sprinted out into the camping field. The bored security staff followed him at a lightning pace, but the chase came to a swift end when the miscreant tripped over a guyrope. He was brought back by security to cheers from the stewards and comments like “nice try, pal”, “epic fail” and “try getting a ticket next time”. The sprinter still seemed quite pleased with himself though! We whiled away the hours playing an increasingly cryptic version of I-Spy and wondering when the tea van was going to get round to us (it didn’t!) At eight o’clock, we were instructed to hand the running of the gate over to security. We got a lift back to the Oxfield for 9pm and my stewards were very happy to have finish an hour early (we’d been told that we were being re-deployed, but this was a clever ruse by our steward control, Oxbox!)

I changed my shoes, put on a tutu, grabbed some cider and headed to the Sprit of ’71 stage, to meet Fraser and various other friends to see System 7 and Eat Static and finish the weekend with some techno raving of the highest degree. The lights and visual projections were completely mesmerising and after a few glasses of Westons’ cider, I was well into the spirit of things. Afterwards, we had a wander around the dance village and then headed to the Park to the Bimble Inn, which is a pub venue inside an elongated tipi. Unfortunately, one of the friends we met there was ill (not self-inflicted but through injury) and a group of us walked her to one of the pedestrian gates, very slowly, until the Oxfam minibus could pick her up. It was dawn by the time we returned to the Oxfield but we stayed and watched the sun come up for a while, revealing the view of the crowds still partying in the Stone Circle field.

Monday was a much gentler pace. I had the biggest cooked breakfast of my life from our own caterers, the excellent Nuts. Once that had gone down, it was time to head out on site to see what the hoards had left behind. This activity is called “tatting“. Despite the “love the farm, leave no trace” campaign, thousands of people still leave tents, chairs, camping equipment and general rubbish behind. Of course, there are teams of litter-pickers dealing with the carnage, taking weeks to painstakingly return the site back to pristine condition, but their job would be a lot easier if everyone packed their stuff away and threw their rubbish in the bin. The site did look a little clearer this year, but it wasn’t a lot better in the busiest camping fields near the Pyramid Stage. It’s surprising what people do leave behind. We collected: a brand-new Eurohike tent in perfect condition, about 20 cans of Kopparburg cider, a lovely wicker basket, a picnic blanket, a designer shopper bag, a kettle, a Romany flag – and a mystery flag that looks like it might be an African country amongst lots of other things. Basically, you can just go out there with a shopping list, and find what you want, as long as camping gear and cans of cider are on your agenda. Later on, Fraser and I went to wave goodbye to our friend Clare, who’s going to be travelling the world for six months, as she was getting a lift in John and Suzie’s campervan. We went to see some friends backstage in the acoustic field, and ended up chatting to their neighbours for five hours and having an impromptu barbecue!

Tuesday morning was dull and grey, and time to pack up. Fraser and I had lunch at the Garden Cafe in the delightful town of Frome, where all the residents seemed to have been at the festival, exploring the town and then heading home through the Cotswolds. We took a wrong turning and found a charming village called Barnsley, which we thought was hilarious as it was very different from the Barnsley in South Yorkshire, so we stopped for a drink in the very posh pub. We couldn’t put it off much longer though, it was time to return home, and it was lovely to come home to my partner, solid walls and modern conveniences. At least I wasn’t stuck in an office the next day, and I’m determined to make a success of my free-range life so that I can enjoy many more Glastonbury festivals in the future. One day I’ll be ready for free-range working all summer from a perfectly fitted-out campervan!

Main Links:

The Official Glastonbury Website

BBC Glastonbury Website

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/a-big-weekend-out-at-glastonbury I enjoyed this review, particularly the bit about the stewards – which is exactly what Oxfam Stewards are, really! People who love festivals and want to help other people to love them.

Things this blog is about…