Glastonbury Festival, 23rd June 2011.
The night before I had got my checklist ready. Cameras were the first thing, enough rolls of Tri-x and Neopan 1600 to keep the Leica's hunger at bay, 2 lenses a 50mm and a 90mm. Simple. One tent, christened at Bestival a couple of years before I trusted it was up to the challenge and gave me some comfort thinking it was my sanctuary for the long weekend ahead. I have a sports bag, it is reasonable big, in it managed to fit the rolled up sleeping bag, wash kit with towel, one spare pair of trainers for the journey back and one set of clothes for each day. finishing of the top layer of the bag before trying to zip it shut, I managed to cram in a pillow. Something I have always tried to manage without in the past. This must be the first sign of getting old, next time I will be wanting to hire one of those 'dog kennels'. One final good nights sleep before heading west.
I arrived at the studio, not a bad journey on the tube, my plan to only bring what I could physically carry seemed to have paid off. I waited for Jill to arrive as she wanted me to print some images she had taken some time ago of Beyonce with Missy Elliott she planned to take them and present them as a gift if the chance meeting came between her and the Sunday headline act.
Jill had hired a van to drive there in, minimal sleeping facilities were in the back in case the need came to use it as a makeshift hotel. We set off a little late but made good time through London and out onto the long stretch of M4 which took us right to the heart of Bristol. It was beating down on the roof. I hope it hadn't already visited Glastonbury, or this rain would put a serious puddle under my recently (literally hours before) purchased boots. After stopping for tea near Bristol we carried on with our pre-planned route. Somehow conversations distracted the map reading and we became ever so slightly lost. Jill's rough knowledge of the area having driven to the festival on many occasions helped her make the decision to take a few back roads, and as luck may have it, we appeared on the main road that led right up to the festival site entrance and 100 yards from Frank Naish's front door.
Frank Naish's parents lived in this farm house in Glastonbury and brought up Frank and his brother. Frank is now in his mid to late 80's, his parents passed away quite some time ago, his brother more recently. He makes cider on the farm, award winning cider. You might have seen them on the old moving picture box, something that is missing in the time capsule that is Franks house. They were on BBC2 just after Christmas 2010 when Oz Clark and James May visited the farm to taste the cider, they were doing a thing on real ales, beers and ciders from around the UK. We stayed with Frank and chatted, had a cup of tea. Frank showed us his medal which he had recently been presented with for being a champion cider maker.
'Hello! Hello?!' what's this, someone disturbing our afternoon tea? There was a knock on the open door and a girl looked in, 'I saw your sign, could I buy some Cider please?' This was all quite funny and difficult as Naish is virtually deaf so there was lots of raised voices and slow talking, 'what? You want to buy some?' As if it wasn't a question Frank was often asked. 'well, ok then.' Frank led us all out to the barn where on opening the door we saw the treasure trove of barrels each full with the fermenting juices of apples. There were a few half pint tankards on a shelf in barn. Frank took one down, dusted it off, turned the tap on the barrel and offered the girl a generous cup full. 'do you like that one? The one over there's sweeter.' She decider the first was fine.
Frank asked the girl is she had a container, she didn't. So, Frank went tot he back of the barn and under a plastic sheet he searched for what I assume was the cleanest 2lt. plastic container that used to have Robinsons juice concentrate inside. Some still had the blackcurrant residue inside. He returned to the barrel and filled it to the top. 'well, I guess that'll be four pounds please.' Frank, maker of the best, and best value cider in all the land.
We arrived at the Festival at about 7:30 that evening. After a lengthy walk through the site we found the entrance to the hospitality area, where I was going to be able to pitch my tent. Hopefully in a less crowded area to that of which I had only moments before walked through, the public camping. The Hospitality area was busy, but not that bad and I managed to find myself a safe spot that would be easy to find in the middle of the night next to the entrance and the hedge. My only doubt was that from past experience, people like to pee in the hedge. It was a comforting feeling to finally get the tent up and to know that it was going to be my safe sanctuary away from the crowds, my own space. This makes me sound like I hate crowds, which on this scale I do actually, then why am I here you ask? I hoped to find that answer over the coming days. Once Jill had settled in to her accommodation, which was basically a shed, with two bunk beds inside, we met for a cuppa. Showbiz columnist Helina showed up and after a chat over tea she took me to the hospitality bar, and press area. I was amazed to see that they had real ale from the barrel, Otter Ale to be precise. A few pints later Helina's friends called and we were off to meet them in what I could only describe as the 'slums' of Glastonbury. I know this is not very fair, but compared to the luxuries of the bell tents, shed and general hospitality area, the public camping looked like a shanty town. Tents pitched overlapping other tents, every inch of field used to put a tent peg in. It is actually an incredible sight. People cooking on their stoves, sitting in small circles where they could find space, chatting amongst numerous beer cans. We met Helina's friends in just such a circle about 8 early 20 year olds who seemed quite happily intoxicated in some way or another, sharing the rum around happily. Quite obviously excited about the festival and adventures ahead. The story of the hour was of someone's brother that they managed to blag into the festival, a tale that I am sure is still being told now.
The plan was to go to the silent disco, but somehow we ended up in a not so silent disco... I left, and tried to make my way to Shangri La, although I got lost and was told it was a 20 minute walk away! I decided to return to hospitality. Shangri La is a futuristic dystopian wonderland created by over 1,500 crew and artists. A mini city inspired by the film Blade Runner. Over the last three years there has been a story evolving, 2009 saw the socialist utopia became a dystopian pleasure city run by a corrupt regime. Then in 2010 the ruling administration was overthrown and the city was opened up to rebels and chancers to carve out their own little piece of paradise. This year it is pre-apocalyptic, the beginning of the end, people are fleeing before the end of he world in 2012. There is no Festival in 2012, it is returning in 2013 to give the land time to recover, it will be interesting to see what happens in Shangri La in 2013.
Festivals are a funny place to be on your own. There are so many people there, but yet you still feel alone. I was now back at the hospitality tent, it feels like a safe haven, a place to make friends, but it is actually just as bad as 'out there' but on a smaller scale. However there is ale, and bad music, this was my night cap. My flu like virus was still with me, a week old now and still going strong. It was wet and very muddy, I felt like going home. I wasn't sure if home meant my tent, or my home back along the M4 in East Finchley. As East Finchley seemed an impossible task home was my tent. As I made my way back in the dark, I heard a folk band playing outside the cafe that was closing up. They were playing to a small gathering of people lit by candles, I sat and listened.
24th June 2011
7:42am - I woke up, hot. Not a nice experience after only 3 hours sleep, it is very easy to loose track of time at a festival once the sun has put itself to sleep, as the festival NEVER sleeps All you seem to know is it is getting dark, then it is dark. Then you realise that it is beginning to get light and you feel confuse to where the night has gone! I went to the organic cafe and got myself a bacon roll and a cup of tea. On sitting down I realised a big fat juicy blue bottle had dive bombed my hot tea, and was now struggling for life in the milky wash.
I started the day watching the Master Musicians of Jojuka. The defence line of security had the presence of a riot, a political stand off instead of a festival. Ever so slightly OTT for that time of day I thought. Having seen enough I wandered to the Other Stage and caught a glimpse of Chipmonk. Not impressed, not really my style, but it was obviously to the taste of about 30,000 people who had turned out to see him. I carried on walking, and up to the Green Fields.
I stopped at what I think was the band stand, I may well be wrong. There was a girl singing there, a slightly melancholy feel to her music, but it was ok. There was also a garden, which incorporated pods, like the bubble chairs that were around in the 60's, you could sit in them.
During the afternoon, the rain begun to come down. I had managed to link up with Alex and Matt from the Mighty White Horse FC football team, they were there with their better halves Zoe and Jenny. We watched Vaccines and also a little of The Wombats.
With a big afternoon/evening ahead I retired to hospitality for some chilli and rice (and ale) before heading back out to meet Al and Matt for Biffy Clyro's performance. I love Biffy, they are one of my bands of the moment. They gave a great performance. As soon as they had finished a sea of people evacuated the area and moved as one to the Park stage across site. rumours had been spreading about that days secret gig, and the talk was that Radiohead were going to play. As I followed the crowd I realised the Park Stage was actually quite a small stage and a 90mm lens would just about be good enough to photograph a band performing there. I decided to chance it and get back stage where the other photographers were waiting.
I walked up to the security, with a quick flash of the press pass I was allowed back stage and was instantly greeted by about 30 other photographers all waiting to be allowed in to the photographers pit to photograph what we were told, would only be two songs. The head of security stood in front of the expectant snappers and said, ‘the pit’s only small, so I will only be allowing some of you in, only people with the right pass’. I realised this meant that only photographers whose passes had the more important magazine names on them. Suddenly the music stopped, the crowd roared and then there was a welcome voice acknowledging the crowd, the voice of Thom Yorke. The special guests were indeed Radiohead. My pass, which I later found out wasn’t even a photographers pass as these had ‘press photo’ on them not just ‘press’ didn’t have a worthy magazine name on it. I was on of the unlucky nine photographers that were denied access.
I wasn’t too saddened by this, as I hadn’t been expecting to photograph them anyhow. Standing there, I began talking to the security guard, ‘shame this isn’t it’ I said, ‘there’s only nine of us left, it’s only two songs’ Then the others chipped in, we could tell the security guard was wearing down, and he seemed to be quite a nice chap. Eventually he said, ‘ok, in you go’. He let us all in! We got in there while the first song was over half way through, I knew my 90mm lens would only be good to use if I could get close enough, so I quickly worked my way front and centre of the pit and the stage was just the right height to stand with my camera resting on the stage. No other photographers were at the front of the stage as they had longer lenses and could stand further back in the pit, it left me room to shoot.
As the second song ended I felt kind of happy that I managed to shoot one roll of film and from what I could remember from the blur of what had just happened, I felt confident that I got at least something worth while. I was not so confident with the 90mm lens as It was lent to me and is probably about fifty years old, the protective coating on the lens has worn off, making the chances of flair very probable with the stage lighting.
I can't remember the rest of the evening, it all became a blur, maybe it was the excitement of the Radiohead gig, or the now heavy persistent rain, or maybe the whiskey. All I remember was seeing U2 on the TV in hospitality and thinking, I better quit on a high and go to bed before I see too much.
25th June 2011
I woke up feeling quite cozy, it was daylight but I couldn't hear much going on. I didn't know what the time was as my phone ran out of power during the day before. I went to the cafe to have the bacon roll and tea, it was becoming the standard. Still didn't know what time it was. The bands hadn't started so I figured it must be about 10ish. I hadn't seen Jill since Thursday. I walked back to my tent to gather my things for the day ahead, and funnily enough bumped in to Jill! We went to the press area where a kind photographer let me use his table and power supply to charge my phone. Jill said she was off to photograph Stornaway, the first band on that morning. I went along to watch. Stornaway are a great band with a quirky singer, very talkative and full of stories. Following this I met Jill back in the press tent and took my phone off charge.
We decided to walk up to the West Holt Stage where Simon, a friend of Jill's was the stage press officer. We went in and had some lunch. The Holt Stage had a dinky garden where the artists could relax and not be hassled by the press. Last year it was themed around an English country garden, this year it was Moroccan. Jerry was the clever man whose job it was to make the garden. He was there all festival making new seats, lanterns and maintaining he garden.
Jill went off to photograph Jessie J, I decided to go off to the craft field. On the way I was stopped by a fisherman trying to catch people badly dressed as Tuna. There was also what I could only describe as a sea witch, or an ugly Mermaid, not sure what her part was in this strange play. Anyway, turns out it was a political short play brought to us by Greenpeace. I guess telling us not to fish too much...
In the craft fields I found many tents where people could partake in various, well, crafts. There were people making things to wear out of leather, people teaching stone carving and also glass blowing amongst many other crafts. At the glass blowing tent the public could pay to get hands on experience in blowing glass and make a your very own 'Glastonbury Globe'. A glass swirly ball that looked like the world.
On the way back tot the Pyramid Stage I found myself walking though some cabaret performances and in particular a juggler. He was very good, very entertaining, looked a little like Rik Mayall. For his finale 'the end' as the English call it (his words, not mine), he rode a unicycle and called a girl up from the crowd who then threw a saucer at him. He caught it, and placed it on his foot, then kicked the saucer and caught it on his head, balanced it there while he repeated what he did with the saucer with a cup and then a spoon, all the while still riding the unicycle! A true talent!
I was now off the the Other Stage to to meet Alex, Matt, Jenny and Zoe to watch The Kills, amazing gig! Jimmy Eat World followed, not so good. I decided to go back and relax at the hospitality tent, get some food.
For my evenings entertainment and I guess nearly everyone else, I went to watch Coldplay. I thought it would be a great shot to get the crowd and the stage by night. It made for a great shot. Someone was holding a flare, there were all the flags. It looked amazing. I stayed about half an hour, watched the fireworks and then went to the hospitality area, to see if I could find another adventure.
Back in hospitality there were quite a few people watching Coldplay on the TV. One chap said to me, 'Coldplay, boring! Why don't they show Chemical Brothers?' (who were playing the Other Stage at the same time) This made me laugh, I thought, why not just go the 100 yards and watch Chemical Brothers for real!?
My plan was to see Shangri La, as it was my final night at the festival. The place seemed like a myth, and I was never going to get to see it. Again, this night it was not going to be. I had met up with Helina at the Hospitality tent and we said we would go there, but first we had to go meet her friends at the dance tent. We met them near the Cube Henge, a big model of Stone Henge made from big cubes that lit up with different coloured lights. People we dancing in and around it, pretty surreal. We walked for what seemed like all night only to end up across site at the Rabbit Hole. Tired and annoyed, I decide to leave and took a long walk back to my tent. I zipped myself up in my sanctuary as day was waking.
26th June 2011
Sunday, the final day of the festival. I woke at about 10 am feeling like I had been moved to a tin shed, in the dessert. I was drenched in sweat the sun was baking me inside my tent it was unbearable. I had to get up, but was so tired. I lay there thinking if I could stay there and sleep a little more, or would it kill me? At the time it was a tough decision, but I thought I had better get up and have breakfast. I decided to go healthy, Muesli with milk, yogurt and fruit salad. They called it continental. It came with a pint of milk, not what you needed on a day that seemed to be starting at 23c. Back at the tent I got a call from Jill saying I should pack up my gear and take it all to the van as we would be leaving at midnight to drive back to London and beat the Monday rush.
After returning from the van I thought it would be good on such a nice sunny day to get a photo of the entire site from up on the hill where the Hollywood style Glastonbury sign is situated. The heat was becoming unbearable, I stopped of to buy some water. I went to a food stall that sold cheese on toast. It smelt great! I wasn't in the mood for food at the time so I bought 2 bottle s of water and as a taster the chap gave me a sample of cheese on toast. I have to say it was really good. Made with local cheese I believe. I said thanks and promised to return when my hunger had also. It was hot walking to the hill, as I made my way to the top I came to the Crows Nest, a small building that people were sitting in and around. Inside there was a girl singing. I stayed and watched for a while. After her there was a couple who told how they had arrived at the festival by boat, along the canal. And after, they had to get going straight up to Scotland.They were called Trevor Moss and Hanna Lou. I stayed and watched there set, then went to photograph the site as intended and also the Glastonbury sign.
The heat was becoming unbearable, I had not been very clever and had gotten quite badly sunburnt. I could feel my skin cooking. This along with my flu like virus that was still within, I was beginning to feel pretty rotten. I walked back down into the festival. Filed my now empty water bottles at the filling station which was by chance very near to the cheese on toast stall. I kept to my promise and bought two slices. Comforting to say the least. and then took a path I hadn't walked before. It took me to the cinema tent. I looked inside to find only a handful of people, I decide to stay here for a while, it seemed a good alternative to standing in the sun watching Paul Simon. The tent was quite stuffy, no breeze. I laid down on the floor and watched the end of a film about kids surfing in Rio, a real life documentary. I began to drift off to sleep near the end.
About half an hour later I was woken with gun shots! Men were shooting everywhere, it was dark and there was an almighty bearlike roar, crossed with the sound an elephant makes. Monsters, monsters invading south America on the big screen. It was intensely loud! I looked outside the tent, the suns white light was pouring in though the entrance still, every now and then people would enter the tent and sit looking exhausted. then once rested for a few minutes, stand and stumble out into the light. I couldn't understand how people, and they were, standing all afternoon in the crowds watching band after band. I finished watching the film. Also felt a little refreshed from a good afternoon nap. I made my way out of the tent, the sun was still hot but it was now 7pm and it had been retreating towards dusk for some time now and the heat had tagged along.
I walked to the Other Stage and caught the end of Eels set, I hadn't seen or heard of them for quite some time, and their hibernation was proven by a girl who asked me who the band was, when I informed her, she looked puzzled. I was there to see Queens of the Stone Age, but before that I had to endure Kaiser Chiefs the fans had become loutish, what I would call ‘Brit-pop rock' fans, entertaining to a point.
Luckily Kaiser Chiefs was soon over and I made my way closer to the stage for the big show. Queens of the Stone Age, what a way to end the festival, rock as loud as it gets. My first experience of them, and my last of Glastonbury.
I met Jill at the Organic Cafe, she told me of Beyonce, and her performance on the Pyramid Stage. We walked to the van and joined the first few to be leaving the festival. I was tired, but happy to go. I drove us home through the night. remembering the last few days, and thinking of my awaiting bed down the M4 in East Finchley.