December: A Manic Month of Mayhem! (Time for a rest?)

If I thought there were lots of gigs in November, the pace was set to continue, with lots more gigs and events – and that’s on top of Christmas and the New Year.

During the start of December, I was working hard, and gently starting to prepare for Christmas. But that was all about to change.

The 11th December had been in my diary for months. I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the Manic Street Preachers, playing The Holy Bible album in full. It feels unbelievable, but 2014 was the twentieth anniversary of this harrowing, critically acclaimed and essential album, an album influenced by angular post-punk, rather than the glam metal and grunge of the previous two albums. In the months after its release, lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared from a London hotel room, and has never been found.

Against all expectations, the Manic Street Preachers continued as a three-piece band, and they have now released twelve studio albums. They seemed busier and more productive than ever in 2014, having released Futurology in July. A tour to commemorate The Holy Bible was fervently wished for by fans, but it was unsure if the band would want to revisit old ground that invoked such painful memories of their friend’s disappearance.

But in late September, the band officially announced the tour dates, and my friend Louise managed to get tickets for the  Albert Hall in Manchester. On a stormy, sleety afternoon (I didn’t dare to cross the Pennines by the Snake Pass or the Woodhead) we drove to Manchester, arriving in good time at Louise’s boyfriend Peter’s flat, where he cooked a lovely meal, and I opened a bottle of red wine as a reward for battling the rain and the rush hour.

The gig was everything I hoped it would be. The Albert Hall was build in 1910 as a Wesleyan Chapel (very fitting when you think of the Methodist upbringings of the young Manic Street Preachers and the religious title of the album they were about to play in full. Ornate tiles, stained glass and cast-iron pillars added to the atmosphere of the venue. There was no support band, and we enjoyed the DJs and drank beer with mounting excitement.

The band appear onstage. The thing that hits me first is the empty space – the space where Richey Edwards used to perform – front left. This space has always been left, but as they launch into ‘Yes’, the first track from the album, about prostitution and exploitation, it feels incredibly stark. The stage is draped in camouflage netting, and James, Nicky and Sean are wearing their combat chic, just like in 1994. Nicky is all in black, his face half-hidden by outsize shades, and James Dean Bradfield wears a black sailor’s top. The songs are tight and powerful, and in such an intimate space, it becomes obvious what an outstanding guitarist James is, and also how hard he has to work: carrying the weight of these songs about human suffering and cruelty. It was brilliant to experience The Holy Bible being performed live, but the gig went far too fast to take in.

After all the emotional intensity, the Manics then delivered a brilliant second set with songs from the rest of their career. A particular highlight for me was Dreaming a City (Hughesovka) from Futurology, really allowing James’ guitar heroics full reign. The Manics ended with their traditional closing number A Design for Life, before we were kicked out into the pouring rain. It had been an amazing night!

The next day, I was doing it all again, this time seeing another of my all-time favourite bands, Gogol Bordello at the O2 in Sheffield, with my friend Kirsty, her husband Mark and old uni friend Katy. After stopping off in Pennine town New Mills to take photographs for an adult education session, the drive back was a little stressful, due to a blizzard in the Peak District. I didn’t fancy taking any of my usual shortcuts on minor roads as it looked too slippery, but luckily, but the time I arrived back in Sheffield, the long way round, there was no sign of snow!

The O2 felt pretty chilly though, but support band Mariachi El Bronx, who combine punk with Mexican Mariachi music, including tiny and gigantic guitars, trumpets, violins, accordions and maracas! I think it was Mark’s Santa had and Christmas tie (he’d just come from his work Christmas party) that made the singer announce that he was feeling Christmassy for the first time! The band looked great in proper gold-fringed Mariachi outfits.

Gogol Bordello themselves were a riot of colour, attitude and fun. Singer Eugene Hutz is the only person I can think of who would get away with wearing satin boxer’s style shorts and pointy black and red cowboy boots. Since I last saw them at Download last year, they’ve had some line-up changes – a leather-clad accordion player called Pasha, and bald, Les Paul toting guitarist Michael Ward (Eugene Hutz lied in his announcement – he’s American, not from Sheffield!) They played songs from their breakthrough album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, right up to their latest album Pura Vida Conspiracy. Gogol Bordelo have built up a big cult following over the years, with a devoted audience wearing the t-shirts and outfits inspired by Hutz’s off-kilter colourful sense of style. The place was packed, but the crowd were friendly and up for a good dance/mosh.

Their sound is fresh and still evolving, with heavier guitars combining with Latin rhythms. They are one of the most multi-national bands I know of, formed in 1999 in the cultural melting-pot of down-town New York; the vision of Ukrainian immigrant Hutz, who was hungry for success as a musician and actor. A Gogol Bordello gig is a very entertaining experience – each member of the band is a stunning musician, and although Eugene Hutz is one of the world’s most engaging frontmen, every member of the band has a chance to shine, and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev deserves a special mention for his virtuosity and on-stage antics. The first time I saw them, in 2006, at Rock City in Nottingham, I hugged him! That’s my claim to fame, anyway. He looked quite surprised! This time, we just left with smiles on our faces and our ears ringing.

I felt a bit wrung out after two big gigs in a row. I don’t know how I hack it when I’m at a festival, but going to see a band in a proper venue is always a treat. I concentrated on Christmas and went back home to stay with my parents and see family members on the next weekend – it was good to calm down for a bit!

My mum is a volunteer room steward for the National Trust at Kedleston Hall, and she recommended that I visited the stately home while it was open for Christmas. My dad and I went along and I’m really glad I did. The sight of Grecian statues covered in fairy lights really made me giggle, and I loved the atmosphere of the grand rooms lit only by flickering LED candles. Even when it was lit for grand dinner parties and balls, this eighteenth century mansion must have been full of shadows and mystery. It was really a visit to spark the imagination.

The next day was the winter solstice. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember that I spent the summer solstice up Glastonbury Tor. That was a long way away, so I suggested that we should wake up before the official sunrise (8.15am) and walk to Bunkers Hill, a viewpoint near the ridiculously posh village of Quarndon, a mile or so up the road from my parents’ house. The sky was already turning red as we walked up Woodlands Road up to the park, but we got to Bunkers Hill just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon. We were lucky, because it started raining just as we got back to the house. Later on, we met up with family members and went to my Aunt Marion’s annual Christmas party. It was lovely to see everyone. I’ll always remember the 21st December as the anniversary of my grandad’s death, thirteen years ago, so my mum lit candles in his memory, which was lovely.

On Tuesday 23rd December, I gathered up some friends for a Christmas dinner (nut roast with all the trimmings) and lots of mulled wine. Eventually, we made it out of the house in time to catch the folk train! It was rammed, but very good-natured. Some of my friends managed to get seats, but the rest of us were crammed into the corridor but we didn’t mind! On the way to Edale, local choir The Sheffield Folk Chorale entertained us with Christmas carols and gave out song sheets so we could join in.

I hope the customers having a quiet night at the Rambler in Edale were warned about the hoards of people who descended on the pub in one go, once we got off the train! It was like being part of a huge procession walking from the railway station to the pub just around the corner. Surprisingly, we got served fairly quickly, and found a corner with seats to drink our pints. In the main room in the pub, the choir conductor stood on a table, and the choir started singing! They did a great version of Fairytale in New York, as well as more traditional carols.

On the way home, the choir sung some traditional Sheffield carols, such as Sweet Bells, which is a version of ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night’ which originates from Stannington in Sheffield and has now been made famous by folk singer Kate Rusby. It was a beautiful moment. At the other end of the journey, the choir sang around the Christmas tree at Sheffield railway station before we all headed off to the Sheffield Tap for a final beer.

I spent Christmas Eve collecting holly for a touch of traditional decoration, and preparing a mountain of vegetables for Christmas, even though there were only four people eating, enjoying listening to the radio adaptation of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, followed by a selection of rockabilly Christmas CDs played by my other half!

Christmas Day went smoothly, except for my dad’s self-timer on his camera not working, and then the batteries ran out, but we used my camera instead, and we went for a lovely afternoon walk in the local park and took the chance to have a go on the huge swing that’s popped up near us! Even my dad had a go!

On the morning of Boxing Day, we had a bracing, if a little foggy walk to Stanage Edge from Redmires Reservoir, which was popular with a lot of other people trying to blow away the cobwebs after a Christmas blow-out! And then at tea-time, it started to snow…and snow…and snow… until we woke up the next day in a winter wonderland /nightmare, depending if you had to get anywhere. Luckily, we fell into the first category, and the snow looked very pretty, with lots of families enjoying sledging in Ruskin Park.

A few days later, and the snow had turned very icy and slippery on the pavements, which is tricky if you live in such a hilly city, so we caught the train when we went to meet an old uni friend in Castleton in the Peak District and went down the Blue John mine at Treak Cliff Cavern, which truly has some stunning sights, and actually felt quite warm underground!

And so we come to New Year’s Eve! The pavements were still icy, but I headed out to the city centre for some early drinks with a friend. It was very quiet, but I was due at another friend’s house for a small gathering with wine and pizza (I supplied my own vegan garlic bread and some Christmas cake – which I always seem to end up eating myself!) It was all very civilised, and for a while, it looked like we were destined to enjoy Jools Holland’s Hootenanny and the Queen concert that followed on TV. But my friend Angelina was determined to drag us out to enjoy ourselves, so we put our boots on and slid out onto the melting ice and headed first to the Three Tuns, a lovely little pub on the outskirts of the city centre, where the party was in full swing, with DJs playing some great music.

After a pint…or was it two? I can’t remember, we ended up at the Dada bar, where the Dub Central New Year’s party was happening. It was a bit quiet, but we know the lady who ran it, and I vaguely remember a round of aniseed flavoured shots! This was probably the point where things got a bit hazy.

We’d heard about a party in the Wicker Arches, so a group of us stumbled out of town, towards the Victorian railway arches. Over the years, several of the arches and the tunnels underneath have been used as party venues, and we headed to the last place we’d been to a party near there, only to find it all very quiet. Maybe the party was in one of the arches further along? I have vague memories of walking along the “spider bridge“, suspended over the river that runs through one of the arches. And then we found the party.

It was in the old “Arches” nightclub, which I hadn’t been inside for at least ten years. Angelina and I met in 2004, working together in a building very close by. The nightclub was already closed then, and shortly afterwards, the new ring-road was built, right next to the railway arches. Then the dramatic floods of 2007, when the river burst its banks and swept down the Wicker, must have caused terrible damage. But there it was, like some kind of mirage from 1999.

When we were students, a long time ago in the 90s, the Arches was a by-word for a crazy night out. Headcharge played dance music of all kinds, but mostly house, techno and trance. Rough and ready, it was the place to go if you wanted to rave all night long, with the main club inside the old railway arches, and metal stairs leading up to the bar, toilets (always a bit crazy in themselves), and a weird, corrugated iron-roofed chill-out area. It’s all still there. I was amazed. We just walked in through the fire escape, and it seemed to be a free party of some kind, but it was packed, and lots of people we knew were there – and lots of other people who were also veterans of the club scene in the 90s, who’d somehow ended up here. It was like being in a dream – a very strange, euphoric dream. It had to be a dream- the toilets had toilet paper! The music was thumping… it was like we’d taken a trip in the Tardis (although it had actually just been some wine, several pints of ale, that weird aniseed spirit, and some rum). I can’t even find anything about it on the internet…It was like a mirage.

Eventually, we looked at our watches and were absolutely mind-boggled to realise what the time was. It was about to get light! We were absolutely shattered. Within a few minutes, we’d flagged down a taxi and were on our way to a terrible New Year hangover. It was worth it though. The only clue that my Wicker Arches adventures were real was the mud on my coat and all over my boots. In my drunken state, I somehow managed to get the dustpan and brush and the carpet cleaner out before I stumbled into bed.

After all that excitement, I’ve been teetotal so far in the New Year. I’m looking forward to an action-packed year, when hard work and creativity are combined with good times with friends and amazing music of all kinds!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

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Cider and Spandex – The Epic Glastonbury Diary, Part Three

Phew! Finally onto the final instalment. This is my last chance, as tomorrow (actually today!), I’ll be enjoying Tramlines festival, here in Sheffield, and next weekend, I’ll be off to Nozstock in Hereford, to sample some local cider and (hopefully) dance myself silly to Craig Charles.

Friday 27th June 2014

I didn’t have quite as much time as I’d hoped this morning.I got everything for my shift ready, including some ciders for later, and had a shower and an enormous breakfast from Nuts. Maybe it was too enormous. I’d planned to take a leisurely stroll through the site to Campervans West, but I hadn’t realised how much it had rained in the night, leaving much of the site covered in unusually slippery mud. And because it was overcast, and I wanted to make an effort, I was wearing a tutu and a corset, with a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath.

Rushing past the Other Stage, I caught a couple of Blondie songs as I struggled through the mud. And it was starting to get hot again. So by the time I reached my gate, I was only just on time, and I was a horrible sweaty mess! I removed as many layers as I could before putting my tabard on, and after a while, I recovered from my dash across the site. It was a sunny day, and the mud really started to dry out.

Late in the afternoon, I sorted out the times when all the stewards wanted to go on their breaks, and then took my own break in the Park, the “boutique festival” area, nearest to our gate. It started in 2007, and now feels like an integral part of Glastonbury. Full of art and beautiful decorations, it’s also got the Bimble Inn, a pub/venue inside a large, elongated tipi. I ate my favourite festival snack, “Giant Beans” in tomato sauce, out of the can, while watching a great singer-songwriter on the Bimble Inn stage.

On my return, I noticed that there were black clouds circling the horizon, and a threatening wind blew. The sky darkened as I hurried back, and I feared that I was going to get completely soaked before I reached the shelter of my gate, which has a big canopy over it. However, once I returned, we waited around an hour, as the sky got darker and darker, and lightning started to flash. The gate was quiet as we waited with anticipation. Then the rain started, a wall of water, bouncing off the ground. And people started dashing back to their camper vans, and I had to deal with lots of disintegrated tickets – and very soggy ticket-holders.

But as the rain stopped, there was an amazing rainbow, vivid against the pewter sky. We posed for photographs in front of it, as the numbers of returning ticket-holders slowed down. One man had told us that the Pyramid Stage had been hit by lightning. He was almost right- both the Pyramid Stage and the Other Stage had been shut down for a while as a precaution.

The rest of the shift went smoothly, with the main problem being people slipping on the mud caused by the streams of water that had run through the gate in the rain storms. But James improvised, with gravel and a paper cup, which was surprisingly effective.

It was a lovely evening by the time I finished my shift, and I stopped for a veggie bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee at the lovely Tea & Toast stall. I also had a chat with the girl working there – the staff are always so friendly, and totally appreciate my devotion to their wonderful produce – a big, floury bap, succulent veggie bacon (yeah, I know – it often confuses people), sun dried tomato relish and fried onions!

Feeling refreshed, I joined my friends at the Tiny Tea Tent in the Greenfields, and we went to see M.I.A. I hadn’t seen her live before, and if you have no idea who she is, she’s a British-Tamil rapper, singer, pioneer of cutting-edge electronica and dancehall and a kind of performance art statement. I think she’s pretty cool. She had loads of dancers, singers and band members on stage with her, some of them with t-shirts supporting Tamil immigrants, and M.I.A. told the audience that the BBC weren’t showing her set as they were being politically neutral: “Fuck the BBC!” she started chanting. As M.I.A. started her set, she and her entourage threw hundreds of huge, multi-coloured flashing glow sticks into the crowd, but we were too far over to the side. Fraser tried to get some for us, but they were jealously guarded.

But we couldn’t stay for the whole set. We needed to get to the Glade stage, this year back where it belongs, erm, in the glade! We were due to watch System 7, space-rock guitarist Steve Hillage’s electronic project, play with members of his original 70s prog-rock band, Gong. My other half got me into Gong, and five years ago, Louise and I saw Gong, right here in the Glade. Gong were supposed to headline the Glade again, but frontman Daevid Allen is ill, so they decided to play as a fusion of prog and techno. And it worked brilliantly. The perfect touch was the psychedelic Gong video animations, projected on a huge screen, with flying teapots “pot head pixies” and laser beams everywhere. It was a fantastic experience – and only towards the end of it did I realise that we were standing behind another Oxfam friend, Chris, who was wearing some very funky black and white stripy trousers.

After the gig, we settled back at the Tiny Tea Tent, losing and gaining some friends on the way. I had some lovely “cowboy style” coffee, before more cider! We  lost track of time, chatting. Eventually, we ended up at one of Glastonbury’s most civilised late night venues: the Small World Stage, where we saw a swing band, with a stripper dressed like Charlie Chaplin. It was brilliant, but the sun had already come up, and it was time to head for bed. I had to make the most of Saturday.

 

Saturday 28th June

I woke up feeling remarkably okay, and decided to get a shower. The weather was showery. And for some reason, there was a huge queue, stretching out of the ladies’ side of the shower marquee. Perhaps people had only just started to feel dirty. So I did what any sensible person would do. I politely asked at the mens’ side of the showers if anyone would mind me coming in! No one said they objected, and I had a perfectly good shower. One older gentleman did congratulate me afterwards (once I was dressed), for being so brave, and one bloke said that he had bigger tits than me (which is quite an achievement). I wonder if I made a few peoples’ days in the Oxfam field – certainly some people thought they’d imagined a girl using the mens’ showers!

There was another torrential rain shower when Louise and I were in the tent, getting dressed, and I invited in a few friends out of the rain.  The bell tent was bearing up very well. It gave me more time to plan my outfit – mostly leopard-print based, in anticipation of the Manic Street Preachers’ set later. Plus, leopard-print is a great look. When the rain had stopped, I ventured out for breakfast, and there was an enormous queue at the Nuts van as well!

I managed to scrounge a few things to eat and Fraser, Louise, Gavin and I headed out onto the site. A vegetable pasty filled me up a bit. We weren’t particularly aiming for anything, but we spotted a sticker in a toilet that said that Seize the Day were about to start in the Mandala stage in the Greenfields. It was just what we needed: a bit of shade from the sun that was now beating down, folky music, and lovely Greenfields vibe. In all the years I’ve been going to festivals, I’ve never seen them before, despite them having “stickers in toilets since 1997”. I don’t think I’d always be in the mood for them as they’re a bit “hippy dippy”, but perfect for that sunny Glastonbury moment.

I grabbed an awesome “fish style” burger from the Veggies stall again (they were doing well out of me!) If it wasn’t made by a hardcore vegan catering stall, I would have been suspicious that it had real fish or even chicken in it. I ate it while watching the Dap Kings Soul Review. The Dap Kings are an amazing band, usually featuring singer Sharon Jones, who play good time funk and soul in an original 1960s style. Unfortunately, the bank of black clouds on the horizon, which had seemed to be blowing away from us, were about to hit the West Holts field rapidly. So we ran for it…

Luckily, we had a good direction to run in. The Avalon Stage is always a good bet, and Louise was curious about Skinny Lister, a folk / punk band, who were compared to the Pogues in the programme. They were great, with a girl singer with bags of attitude, a double-bass player, who actually crowd-surfed through the audience on his bass, and an a capella version of a sea shanty, which lots of people joined in with (it is the Avalon stage, famed for folk music, after all). They’re a band I’ll definitely be checking out again.

But now it was time to get horribly over excited and made sure I’d been to the loo as much as possible in advance, so we could get into position for the Manic Street Preachers. It’s funny to think that a band I wasn’t even that bothered about five years ago has now become a massive obsession. For me, it’s the band’s story, their intelligence, the breadth of their music and song writing (although I especially like their heavier stuff like their bleak third album The Holy Bible). And a week after Glastonbury, their twelfth album Futurology was due out. A group of us met in front of the Other Stage mixing desk in advance (including soon to be marrried Gaelle and Graham), and I was full of excitement. Despite being where I spent most of my fist Glastonbury in 1993, the Other Stage hasn’t got too much of an atmosphere of its own. It always seems a bit barren and windswept – and full of young indie-kids like I once was! But the sense of anticipation was growing, and the Welsh flags were starting to fly.

And it was a great gig. A greatest and future hits set. Kicking off with Motorcycle Emptiness, playing two songs from the Holy Bible, a few brand new ones from Futurology and a good spread of songs from their unbelievable over twenty year career, it was over far too fast. An hour wasn’t nearly long enough, but at least you can re-live it on Youtube! And here’s the Guardian review. They enjoyed it too.

Before the Pixies, I parted company with Louise, as she wasn’t enjoying the Other Stage atmosphere, but I managed to find one Oxfam friend after a quick refreshment stop, even though the Other Stage field was full to bursting. There were lots of young people, which is great to see, as I got into the Pixies in the 90s, long after they’d split up. A group of us saw them at V festival in 1994, when they first re-formed. That was very exciting. I can’t believe that that was ten years ago, but I really enjoyed the gig, singing along to virtually everything (in my head, anyway!)

I returned to the West Holts stage to meet Louise for Bryan Ferry, but she was nowhere to be seen and didn’t respond to my texts. I later found out that she was enjoying herself too much watching Bryan to take any notice of anything else! He was definitely the highlight of her weekend. But I think I’d joined the crowd in a bit of a lull, and the songs seemed to be really slow, and I didn’t recognise any of them, despite being a fan of Roxy Music. I was feeling a bit sleepy, and I had to be at work at 4.45am on Sunday!

So I decided to go over to the Pyramid Stage to watch Metallica. And they were brilliant. I became my 17-year-old metal alter-ego and found a friend, another girl, who also loved metal. With the mud and the darkness and laser flashes, it was very atmospheric, and lots of fun, with the audience really getting into the spirit. I was expecting fireworks at the end of the set, but instead, the band threw hundreds of beach balls into the audience black, of course, but also multi-coloured, so it looked a bit like a beach party.

I made my way back up the hill as quickly as I could, and packed my bag for my shift. At least I’d been promised a lift to the gate from the Oxfam field, so I would have almost four hours before it was time to get up again!

 

Sunday 29th June

4am. The alarm rang. I got into the clothes I’d laid out before I got to bed, and crawled out of my tent in the half-light. I’d already packed everything in my bag. I was still feeling excited after the Manic and Metallica from the night before as I rolled into the Oxfam Landrover, waving at bemused revellers, who must have thought that I was someone important as I was ferried across the site. I couldn’t thank the driver enough. And I’d been clever – I’d got Nuts to make me a veggie sausage sandwich and wrap it in foil, so by the time I’d settled into my shift, I was ready to eat it.

The shift went steadily. We were a great team – and we had time for having a laugh as well as doing the job, asking people if we could “tug on their band”, which was said with lots of winks and giggles. This morning, lots of people were happily on their way from their campervans into the festival, and the sun was shining reliably again. A a lot of people were planning to see Dolly Parton.

At the end of my shift, I took group photographs, and then escaped, to enjoy the rest of the festival. After grabbing yet another delicious Veggies burger (and a new dress, from charity stall Tat for Tibet), I went straight to the Avalon Stage to watch festival stalwards 3 Daft Monkeys. I was instantly in my total comfort zone. I took my wellies off, opened a can of cider, and I was surrounded by Oxfam friends – and watching 3 Daft Monkeys, with their brand of humour, and Balkan-infused folk music that you can dance to. It was a brilliant start to Sunday (apart from the working bit!)

There was just time for another Magic Hat sauna (see Wednesday’s entry!) to freshen up before Dolly Parton. We all had big plans to meet up with each other for Dolly, but we hadn’t reckoned on  the crowd being quite so packed. It was insane. I got a pint of Burrow Hill cider from the Cider Bus, and managed to squeeze into the crowd behind the disabled viewing platform, right at the back of the field. But I had a good view of the screen, and the massive audience, all waving their flags. I could actually see the stage, but Dolly was a tiny white speck in the distance – at least I can say that I saw her in “real life”! She was wearing an amazing white rhinestone encrusted jumpsuit, and when she speaks to the audience, it’s like she’s talking to someone in her own living room. She managed to create a feeling of intimacy amongst about 200,000 people who must have been there. And then Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi came on. I think Bon Jovi would be a good choice for the “legend” spot of Glastonbury next year.

The blisters on my feet were starting to get the better of me by that stage, and by the time I got to the Acoustic Stage to see Jake Bugg, my feet were killing me, so I enjoyed his set from the front, but while lounging on surprisingly fresh green grass at the edge of the tent, in a secluded little side bit near the fence.

Fraser texted me, having an amazing time watching Yoko Ono in the Park. I told him that I was on my over there, but by the time I arrived, my feet were absolutely killing me, and I was reduced to limping along. We also got the shock news that Louise had decided to leave on a Bryan Ferry high and was currently on a bus back to Bristol! But she seemed pretty happy about it.

I consulted the Guardian Guide handing around my neck. The next two acts on the Park’s main stage were St Vincent and James Blake, which would do me nicely. We found a great spot to sit on the grass, a short limping distance from some backstage compost toilets which were still relatively fragrant, and we had a good view of the stage without having to stand up. Unless everyone stood up, which happened a couple of times! Fraser was an angel, and brought me a veggie bacon sandwich, and also cider, not from the bar, which was about 100 metres away, but from Bimble Inn, which was only £3.50 a pint, but was 8% – very tasty, but very strong and potent.

St Vincent was brilliant. Quirky, glamourous, entertaining – chatting between songs about how if you’re a bit weird, the staff in the supermarket automatically look at you suspicious like they think you’re a shoplifter! I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her music in future. Her set combined heavy guitars and electronica. She’s really innovative and original.

And then James Blake‘s set was perfect. It was very special to see him outdoors, in a beautiful arena, just as the sun was going down: wonderful, haunting and delicate. And then he introduces those insane dubstep moments, blasting out the heaviest possible bass. The dancier elements of his set put me in the mood for Kasabian – the cider had gone to my legs and I thought I might manage walking to the Pyramid Stage.

Not only did I make it to the Pyramid Stage, but we ended up right at the front, near the monitors, with a brilliant view, and I danced around like a crazy loon. It was great. And over far too fast. I was impressed by Serge’s shiny black Spandex pants, as I’d been extolling the virtues of Spandex all week to anyone who’s listen, particularly the gentlemen. I mean, who wants trousers that trail in the mud, when you could look like an 8os rock star and have all the stretchiness and quick-drying properties you want!

When Kasabian finished, we stumbled off. And realised that we’d somehow found ourselves backstage at the Pyramid Stage. I don’t know how we made it! No one checked our Easy Pass Out wristbands. We were stood amongst lots of flight cases and sound equipment and blokes in 3/4 length shorts with lots of lanyards. Around the corner, we found some luxury portacabin toilets. As I was washing my hands, a woman shouted ‘get a move on, Serge’, and I came down the steps of the toilets to find myself face-to-face with Serge and his Spandex pants.

‘Great Spandex pants – good choice!’ I said.

‘They’re not Spandex, they’re denim,’ he mumbled.

‘Have a good one!’ I said, and with that, we went our separate ways! According to the review, they were skeleton print pants, but they looked pretty much like Spandex to me: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jun/30/kasabian-at-glastonbury-2014-review .

We wandered around backstage, finding the BBC area, more toilets, and large socket board type thing that looked like it might control the electrics for the whole Pyramid Stage. We also managed to find a backstage / hospitality disco, but to be honest, it wasn’t that exciting. A much more exciting disco was to be found in the bar next to the cider bus; alternately cheesy and eclectic, and my dancing seemed much more drunken because my feet were so sore.

We made it back to the Oxfam campsite as the sun was coming up, and after sharing a huge bag of popcorn, fell into a deep sleep…

Monday 30th June and Tuesday 1st July.

Yes – there’s more! But I’ll make it brief. I always stay behind on the Monday of Glastonbury. That way, we avoid all the traffic, have a relatively restful, soberish day, and catch up on some sleep.

We did some “tatting” – rescuing things that people have abandoned. But security were much more active this year, and told us off  – and then kind of turned a blind eye to us as we were packing away a clearly abandoned tent. I picked up a few things – fancy dress outfits, cider, two pairs of white Converse pumps, a bit mud-stained, but virtually new. Friends picked up tents. It’s always a shock to find that the punters have left the site strewn with wreckage and litter. I love “tatting”, but I’d love it even more if everyone took their belongings away with them at the end, or put their rubbish in a bin bag and took it to one of the recycling points. It’s really not that hard! It’s always disappointing to think that the people we’ve been partying amongst all weekend really aren’t that like-minded, and don’t give a shit about the farm, the countryside or the environment.

But we got lots of free “bargains”, and the few of us who were left in the Oxfam field had a lovely night around the camp fire. But there was even rubbish left lying around here – and lots of cans of cider – thanks, Fraser, for collecting it!

On Tuesday morning, I packed away my bell tent, taking the time to clean the mud off its flaps, and dry out the groundsheet. We drove away with a car full of crap, and heads full of memories.

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves Still Make Me Believe

Deciding to volunteer at Festival Number 6 was a step into the unknown. Last year, I listened to the coverage of the festival on BBC 6 Music, and I was intrigued. I’d seen one episode of The Prisoner, so I knew that was the reason for the festival’s unusual name; I liked the eclectic line-up, and I’d never visited Portmeirion, the eccentric village, built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1976 in the style of an Italian hilltop town.

One of the other major attractions was also the Manic Street Preachers, due to headline on the eve of the release of their new album “Rewind the Film”. I’ve loved the Manics for the past three years. I was always drawn to their earlier songs, glamour and the drama of their guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards, missing, presumed dead since February 1995. I saw the band twice as a teenager. However, I only started getting into them when I was researching my novel-in-progress, Distortion. My teenage protagonist is obsessed with the Manics, and it rubbed off on me! It would be very special to see them in their home country.

I packed light(ish), as due to the steep, remote site, there’s no parking, so everyone has to park at the nearby Porthmadog football club. When I set the satnav postcode, I had to change the country to “Wales”. This was going to be an adventure: going on my own to a different country. I was in Wales within two hours, driving through the dramatic hills of Snowdonia. As soon as I was over the border, the road signs became bilingual: “ARAF” for “slow”, and “UN FFORDD” for “one way”. I hadn’t been to Wales for years and enjoyed the feeling of everything being slightly different. I got a bit lost trying to find the “park and ride”, because I was only the forth car to arrive on Wednesday morning. I caught the shuttle bus with most of my stuff to set up my tent in the staff camp site, just behind the main arena, which made the park and ride worthwhile.  I then returned to the football club to get my wristband. There were a few delays, but while I was making, I made friends with some other volunteers: Callum, Sharon and Rod in particular. By the time we were on the coach again, the rain was really coming down, blurring the dramatic skyline.

I helped the others to put their tents up, and we braved the rain to check our shifts in the production office. It was a shame my first view of Portmeirion was a rather wet one, but the advantage of having a festival partly set in a village is the advantage of buildings. We had a warming coffee in the tea rooms before getting a good view of the estuary and sheltering in a beautiful grotto decorated with shells. Later, we returned to the hotel and had a couple of drinks on wonderfully comfortable sofas in front of a fire. It had stopped raining and Portmeirion looked stunning under floodlights – it didn’t feel like we were in Wales at all, until we returned to our damp tents. Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny. The views of the estuary and the mountains really opened up. Sharon and I had a wander around Portmeirion and lunch in the staff canteen, which is also the main restaurant for tourists in the village. Bizarrely, I bumped into a lady I know from Sheffield, who was on a coach trip around Wales. We caught the shuttle bus back to the Park and Ride for our shift.

Unfortunately, it started raining again, the clouds blocking out all the hills. I was on wrist-banding duty as the first ticket-holders came through the gates, but after a few hours of dryness inside a marquee, I spent the rest of my shift directing cars and selling parking tickets in the car park. An entertaining security guard livened things up. According to the BBC Wales website, 61.2% of the population speak Welsh as a first language and I tried to pick up a few phrases: “Bore Da” for “good morning” and “Nos Da” for “goodnight”.

We finished our shifts at 11pm on Thursday, just after it finally stopped raining. We got straight onto the shuttle bus to take us back to site. I was still feeling fairly lively, so I had a couple of ciders and chatted to the decor crew, who had been working hard in the rain to make everything look beautiful.

Friday looked like it was going to be a great day, but again, and I was given the task of selling parking tickets again, and directing cars to where the stewards were parking them. It was sunny for a while, but then a steady rain began to fall, and didn’t stop until just before the end of the shift. It was my last shift though, so I didn’t mind too much, and kept relatively dry with my waterproofs and an umbrella. It was good to be one of the first people to greet the arriving ticket-holders, and it was amazing to see the car park field absolutely full up by the end of my shift.

By the time I arrived back in Portmeirion, it was a lovely autumnal evening. I met up with Sharon and Rob, and it was time to relax and enjoy the festival! We headed to the Estuary Stage, down by the waterfront and the hotel. it was great to just sit back, near the swimming pool and listen to the music while admiring the baroque buildings of the village and the beauty of the mountains in the background. The band was Clinic, a post-punk band wearing surgical masks. Some of their songs had a classic gothic sound, with drum-machines, strong basslines and intricate guitar lines. It was an aural assault but very enjoyable. As a total contrast, we walked uphill to the Piazza to watch the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir. Hundreds of people were packed into the square to listen to this traditional choir – mostly elderly men in tuxedos – performing ‘Good Times’ by Chic, ‘A design for Life’ by the Manic Street Preachers, which was absolutely spell-binding, and ‘Uprising’ by Muse – which was slightly marred by the use of a backing track, but it was a fantastic experience.

Unbelievably, I hadn’t been inside the main arena yet, but as we walked towards the main stage (wisely inside a marquee!), there was time to take in the beautiful gateway, lighting and decorations in the arena. The scale of the festival is also astonishingly intimate, with everything within an easy walking distance. I hadn’t previously seen James Blake live, but when I was in the final weeks of my job and the horrendous daily commute to Derby, his song ‘Retrograde‘ was regularly played on 6 Music. Its sensitive, soul-searching lyrics, with an unsettling undercurrent of searing electronic noise really helped me through those tough times at work, when I was wondering if leaving work and following my own path was the right thing to do. James Blake sometimes seemed like a rather introspective choice for a headliner, but Festival Number 6 isn’t about obvious choices. There were moments of banging bass which really brought the tent alive, and he proved that he’s got plenty of quality songs. James Blake actually performed ‘Retrograde twice, as his “autoharp” wasn’t working properly, providing me with two magic moments. After that, all the standing around in the rain caught up with me, so I had a quiet can and a chat back at the camp site, before heading off to bed.

Saturday dawned beautiful, and thankfully, stayed that way! I wandered around with Sharon, and we hung out at the Tim Peaks diner – a coffee shop in a small tower, run by Tim Burgess of the Charlatans. It was rammed inside the building, but it was great to sit on the steps and admire the view. We decided to explore the sea-front and the woods, making the most of the weather, so we took in the atmosphere on the estuary-side path, where children were being taught pirate skills by professional pirates, and festival-goers were relaxing, taking photographs and admiring the view. People were serenely paddle-boarding below us. We walked down to the beach but the estuary tide was turning. The path through the woods was steep in places, with surprises around every corner: origami-wishes that we made and attached to a tree, under the supervision of a fairy; a daytime woodland rave; an Ibiza style cafe filled with dry ice; and a children’s area with a very cheesy disco! There were lots of activities for children, including an area where they could make their own dens. It was a brilliant, relaxed way to spend an afternoon at a festival, in an atmosphere that was truly magical. The strangest thing we found was an artist making screen-prints of the topography of the forest floor. His name is Maurice Carlin, and he’s done some pretty interesting stuff!

Following our wander, we settled at the Estuary Stage again, having treated ourselves to some posh drinks from the Fevertree bar – I had a Gin and Tonic. We watched Stealing Sheep, who paraded through the audience with a brass band before they came on stage. The music was folky psychedelia which washed over us gently as we soaked up the sunshine and the gorgeous view. The need for food was calling us into the main arena, and I had a delicious curry from Ghandi’s Flip Flop. We relaxed in the sunshine outside the Soup Library – a stall combining a pop-up library and home-made soup, flicking through the old books and chatting to fellow festival-goers. The audience at Festival Number 6 is a really nice mix – fairly mature and family friendly, open-minded, and a fair amount of hardcore indie devotees. There were lots of local people, who’d been able to purchase tickets at a reduced rate, so the lyrical Welsh language was often heard around the site. All the signs at the festival were bilingual.

We watched trip-hop legend Tricky at the main stage, who seems to have gone in a heavy metal direction with distorted guitars. I particularly enjoyed a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead! We then returned to the village piazza to watch punk poet John Cooper Clarke. The piazza was packed with people of all ages, absolutely entranced with John’s mix of stand-up, rambling commentary and the set-pieces of his poetry. It was the perfect moment, as the sun was going down, making the pastel-coloured buildings glow.

Returning to the Estuary Stage again, we watched Caitlin Rose, a hotly-tipped country singer-songwriter, often played on Marc Riley’s show on BBC 6 Music. She’s a brilliant performer and her songs are beautifully crafted. I particularly enjoyed ‘For the Rabbits‘. Her music is gentle, but with a dark edge. When her set had finished, we could already hear My Bloody Valentine’s headline set echoing over the estuary. Legendary innovators of shoe-gaze, their sonic attack must have been too much for many people at close-range and the main stage marquee wasn’t full – but the hardcore audience were spell-bound by the waves of sound. I’d been warned about the infamous ending to their gigs – a wash of feedback and noise. I loved it – and so did the My Bloody Valentine devotee I was dancing with, having the time of his life!

Sharon sensibly retired to bed after a nightcap of Kraken Rum, but I stayed out and partied to some great tunes in the Kraken bar, which consisted of the same three tipis as one of the more laid-back stages at Shambala festival! I made some great friends for the night, determined to boogie to the very last song.

I awoke on Sunday morning to gales. It wasn’t raining too much yet but the weather had definitely taken a turn for the worse. I helped Sharon to pack as she wasn’t up for spending another night in a very draughty tent. By the time we walked to the village, the rain was torrential. My plan was to get inside somewhere as soon as possible. I managed to squeeze into the Tim Peaks diner for Bingo Disco, which was great fun, although there wasn’t much room to dance! The main arena was closed because people were checking the safety of the structures, but the winds seemed to be easing off slightly. After a veggie burger from the always reliable Goodness Gracious, I found myself back in the Tim Peaks diner, listening to a reading from Joe Dunthorne, author of the novel Submarine, which was made into a brilliant film by Richard Ayode, a beautifully quirky coming-of-age story. It was a real treat, and a good lesson in putting on a good performance as a novelist. The highlight was a “choose your own adventure” story about a couple having a picnic in a park, with the audience voting on what happens next, leading to wild sex on a revolving office chair!

The next must-see thing for me was Caitlin Moran in conversation with John Niven. I’ve always liked Caitlin Moran, ever since she was the bouncy, teenage presenter of music show Naked City on Channel 4 in the early 90s. She’s only a couple of years older than me. I really enjoyed her autobiographical book on feminism, ‘How to be a Woman’. Despite an impoverished childhood, she won a writing competition at the age of thirteen, kept writing and ended up with a published novel and was working as a reported for Melody Maker by the age of sixteen. Her interview was very entertaining, full of embarrassing stories of Mooncup disasters, turning Gwenneth Paltrow’s house into a blood-bath. I’d love to find out what gave her the faith to become a writer throughout her childhood. Did being home-educated and immersed in books strengthen her resolve? Was it success in a competition at a young age that boosted her confidence in her writing? It’s clear from listening to her speaking and reading her books that she wasn’t confident in everything. She was often desperately unhappy and insecure about her weight. I’m full of admiration for her – but if I have to be honest, a little jealous too. And that’s totally unreasonable of me. I’m learning to have confidence in my own writing and teaching abilities and I’m making my own life, my own career, based around writing; on my own terms. And strong women like Caitlin are fighting my corner.

I stayed around in the bar to listen to Guy Garvey in conversation with Stuart Maconie. I’m not the biggest Elbow fan, but I was fascinated by the discussion about his lyrics and how they develop, sometimes over a period of months. The interview inspired me to listen to Elbow more closely and examine the poetic craft that goes into the songs.

It was time to stake out the main stage in preparation for the Manics. Although I was on my own, there was plenty to keep me entertained. I am Kloot – a Manchester band closely related to Elbow, played a stunning set. I’ve been into I am Kloot since around 2000, when their skilful, sensitive songwriting won me over. They now have a more dense, mature sound, rocking out more, but it was a beautiful way to start the evening. The next act was Johnny Marr. I’d never seen him live before and it was an absolute treat. His own songs sounded great, from his solo album The Messenger, proving that he has a good singing voice as well as unbelievably amazing guitar skills. The highlights of the set have to be the Smiths songs he performed, owning them just as much as Morrisey ever could. Johnny Marr turned classic songs such as ‘There is a light that never goes out’ into sing-alongs, the crowd delirious with happiness.

The marquee was packed for Chic. The intimacy of the venue really came into its own – there was no need for a big screen. Nile Rodgers was standing a few metres away from me and the band looked unbelievably glamorous in spangly white outfits. Nile Rodgers accurately pointed out that he’s responsible for some of the most important moments in the history of pop music, such as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie and ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna. They played a hit-filled set of Chic classics such as ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Good Times’, and a medley of Nile Rodgers songs such as ‘I’m coming out’ by Diana Ross. They ended the set by dancing to the hit of the summer, ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk, which features Nile Rodgers distinctive guitar playing. Nile Rodgers is really inspiring, overcoming cancer by the power of positive thinking and pure determination: http://www.nilerodgers.com/blogs.

I eagerly waited for the Manics to take to the stage, and they didn’t disappoint, starting the set with an explosive ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. They played a hit-filled set, with lots of songs from ‘This is my Truth, tell me Yours’. The cover of that album was actually shot on the beach at Port Meirion, as the Manics explained – and they’d enjoyed fish and chips afterwards! Songs from the new album ‘Rewind the Film’ sounded great – more acoustic and reflective, and Richard Hawley made a brief appearance for the title track, where he sings most of the vocals. James Dean Bradfield himself was in fine voice, obviously pleased to be playing on “home ground”. Nicky Wire looked great in his Star Wars jacket, and he jumped around the stage with enthusiasm, scissor-kicking with his impossibly long skinny legs! It was the first time I’d seen them from such close quarters and it was particularly great to see Sean Moore in action- he puts so much power and precision into his drumming. The audience had a wonderful time, hanging off every word and lyric. Towards the end of the set, Nicky introduced ‘Revol’ from The Holy Bible as a tribute to Richey. It was so heart-felt and genuine. In the wake of the Manics massive success with ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This is My Truth, Tell me Yours’, it’s easy to forget the ongoing importance of Richey to the band. The stage-left position is always left empty in tribute to him. The set finished with ‘A design for Life’. I felt like I’d been part of something really special. http://www.manicstreetpreachers.com/

But the night wasn’t over yet! I danced the night away in the Kraken bar again, courtesy of a Craig Charles’ funk and soul DJ set. I didn’t stop dancing for two hours and even got to shake Craig Charles’ hand at the end. Eventually, I stumbled off to bed, proud that I’d done the last festival of the season proud!

On Monday, I packed away quickly and got a shuttle bus back to the car without any delays. I’d drunk all my cider, so I had no problem carrying all my stuff in one go! I made a detour to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology, nestled amongst the mountains of Snowdonia. CAT was one of the first pioneers of wind and solar power. When it was established in the 1970s, the community was seen as a bunch of cranks and weirdos. Forty years later, the technology they helped to develop is now mainstream and widely accepted. If governments and society in general listened more to organisations like CAT, we’d solve the problems caused by climate change. But sadly, CAT have still got a lot to do! I also found out that “Popty Ping” is Welsh for “microwave”.

After my adventure, it was good to get home to a rainy, dark Sheffield and my other half, who’d been waiting patiently for me (and the chip supper I brought home!) I’m determined to crystallise my summer experiences into developing my own writing career and to inspire me to live live my way.

Contrition and Catharsis

Manic Street Preachers at the O2, December 2011

Manic Street Preachers at the O2, December 2011 – a cathartic, celebratory night

This week, I had an argument with one of my closest friends. At its peak, a really tempestuous argument which involved slamming doors and shouting like a fishwife, which is something I don’t do very often but am actually quite good at! Later, we managed to have a good talk and get a lot of our emotions and the issues which had been simmering around under the surface out in the open.

It’s important to move on from these times, and perhaps they are needed – big arguments are a pretty rare occurrence in my life but are always significant. There are things I’ve got to look at

I’d been burbling on about the plans for the launch of my new writing business, as I’ve just booked the dates for the first taster course I’m delivering. This is all very exciting, but very scary! I’ve just come up with a new business name too. As soon as I’ve got everything sorted, I’ll let you know!

Therefore, my excitement was tempered with anxiety and insecurity. After a long day at work, moonlighting occasionally to scribble my own ideas and to book the venue for my taster courses, I was bursting to tell my friend. I hadn’t stopped to reflect all day. At the moment, I’m compelled to spend every second when I’m not sleeping or working in my day job, planning, writing and doing things to get my new life started, step-by-step. My life needs to stay afloat, and keep afloat when I finish work in a few weeks.

I appreciate that I’ve been irritable and have “snapped” at my closest friends and family, when they are just trying to make sensible suggestions or give me advice. This is partly a reflection of my own fears and doubts. I’m glad I’ve been “pulled up” about this. I’ve still got a lot to learn about myself, not least that I need to keep focussed on positive things. I’ve got to embrace my emotions as they come along, rather than pretend that everything’s great but I shouldn’t expect my friends and family to validate every idea I have – otherwise, I probably wouldn’t do anything! I need to listen to them and respect them though.

The same can’t be said for the “top dog”, otherwise known collectively as the “shitty committee”* that lives in my head and feeds me negative thoughts, just like those school bullies when I was thirteen who treated me like a freak, when, I realise now, that I was just a normal teenage girl who wanted to be an individual. The trouble is, for a while, I believed those voices, real and imaginary. I know I keep going on about this but the lovely world of Free Range Humans finally helped me to understand that I’m not mad, but that EVERYONE has these voices. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be “normal” be if you didn’t have them! The trick is kicking them into touch as soon as they arise. I’m not sure why I’m using a rugby metaphor here because I have absolutely no understanding of rugby, but that’s what you’ve got to do – jump up and down on the heads of the shitty committee until they realise that you’re just not taking their shit anymore!

On my long drive to work the next morning, I was still feeling chastened, but calmer. I felt the urge to listen to something dark and loud, to meet any negativity I was still feeling head-on. So I blasted ‘The Holy Bible’ by Manic Street Preachers down the M1 to Derby, singing along to the lyrics I’ve managed to decipher. For a while, I thought “So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything” from Faster was “so damn easy to Kevin”! It’s a notoriously bleak album, but I always find it very cathartic.

At work later that morning, I sneakily checked Facebook on my phone and Download Festival had posted that it was the 19th anniversary of Kurth Cobain’s death. I was 17 when Kurt Cobain died, and a big Nirvana fan. Nirvana are another band that can make you feel better if you play their music. Millions of teenagers from my generation onwards have felt the therapeutic effect of jumping up and down and crashing into each other to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Negative music can often have a happy effect. It’s s shame that it doesn’t always have a positive effect on its creators and Richey Edwards and Kurt Cobain are still very much missed.

Anyway, now I’ve cheered you up and brought you down again, here’s an article about an academic research project that proved that goths “grown old gracefully”, although I’d dispute what he says about people growing out of punk and rave from my direct experience. The journalist has clearly not been to Beautiful Days festival. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/oct/24/goth-culture-research

*I got the term “shitty committee” when I went to see Dudley Sutton at Beautiful Days festival last year, AKA Tinker from antique / detective show from the 90s, Lovejoy! He is absolutely amazing and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Watch this. He is a legend!

Things this blog is about…