It’s staggering to realise that 20 years ago today, I performed at the Glastonbury Festival. It’s one of those “blimey, where has the time gone?” moments!
To say it was an experience is putting it mildly. For many, Glastonbury is some kind of a rite of passage whereas for me, something totally unexpected as I was actually invited to perform so being a gig, I was hardly gonna turn it down! It all came about thanks to moving to Liverpool on September 26th 1998 as within two months I made a name for myself on the open floor circuit and 1999 was MY year. There’s a whole load of stories about all that for another time but one of my poet colleagues Tom George had connections with Glastonbury and there was an invite for 3 poets representing Liverpool. As I was shaking things up, I was flattered when Tom asked if I wanted to be one of the trio of poets. I agreed as did Liam Brayd, a poet I held in the highest regard. I heard no more about it for a few months then Tom informed us it was definitely happening.
I recall there was just one month’s notice before the event. My brother bought me a tent, travel tickets were funded by Liverpool’s Dead Good Poets Society so all I had to do was pack some crud and go. Unfortunately a few days before, I was threatened by those nice morons known as the TV Licence people. I was on the dole, had no savings and that was almost all my money gone. I had to be strategic as there was one other snag – another skint pal of mine would be sharing my tent and we had a deal where I would take care of the food. So, I had to feed two people on next to no money and bought a few tins of tuna, rice pudding, fruit, three litre cartons of orange juice and maybe one or two other bits and that would have to do. I was left with a fiver to spend at Glastonbury. I was lucky – Tom George was totally broke and I discovered after the event that he was getting up before the rest of us in the morning and sneaking over to the Hare Krishna tent for free food! Here’s Liam and Tom along with a lady friend of Tom’s whose name I never caught…
We were scheduled to perform on the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. There we were early Thursday afternoon at the coach station… or to be more precise, there was me and Liam. No sign of Tom… and he had all the bloody tickets. Liam and I watched helplessly as our coach began to make it’s departure without us. Tom came bursting into the coach station running like a maniac. It was too late. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trapped in the coach station trying to get on another coach without success so were stuck in Liverpool until the following morning. Not the best of starts.
I’d never been to any kind of a festival before and Glastonbury is pretty much the Grandaddy of them all… so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As chance had it, we arrived in the midst of a heatwave. We did see a little rain on Saturday evening but we were lucky weatherwise as the previous year had been a complete mudbath. Oh… and me being me, my bag was heavy as not only did I have the tinned food and cartons but also crammed in my camera, a few blank tapes and most importantly, my tape recorder along with a set of spare batteries.
We arrived too late for our Friday afternoon performance so were able to chill, settle in and wander around at our leisure. I sauntered around with the tape recorder capturing my thoughts and impressions on what I was seeing. Ever the contrarian, I was not at all thrilled or impressed. I had cynical eyes and was very anti-establishment so there was a conflict inside my head as what I was actually seeing was a mass money making racket and thousands of students pretending to be “alternative” for the weekend before they went back home to their parents for the summer. I felt disillusioned as Glastonbury was far from the anti-establishment deal I believed it to be… it felt fake and conformist like some bizarre overcrowded temporary holiday camp. The word didn’t exist then but thinking back it was like a lame Cosplay thing.
I had absolutely no interest in the big acts that were playing – Blondie, REM, Manic Street Preachers and more. I mostly focused on the acoustic tent where I would see Marianne Faithfull, Sharon Shannon, Glenn Tilbrook and Lonnie Donegan… Lonnie sure brought the house down on the Saturday night and that remains a fond memory. Marianne Faithfull (above) is one of my heroines and the weirdest thing was, this was the second time I saw her that week as on the Tuesday evening she performed at the Liverpool Philharmonic. What was amusing she wore the same outfit at Glastonbury which was much more crumpled than it had been in Liverpool! She was plugging her latest album “Vagabond Ways” which was a rather strong set… might dig it out for a spin one of these days.
My main focus was the theatre field or whatever that was called. I greatly enjoyed seeing many bizarre fringe acts but I felt annoyed because there was the BBC broadcasting the BIG MUSIC ACTS who just fly in and use Glastonbury for nothing more than a promotional tool whereas the theatre field was full of unknown acts with much more interesting talent who would benefit enormously from a little BBC exposure. Now Glastonbury is all about the BIG NAMES they get headlining and in the farcical “legends” slot.
Big sodding deal. Yeah, I’m as cynical as ever!
Having said that, the BBC would have been wasting their time in the Poetry and Words Tent while we performed! I was too much in awe of where I was as it affected my performance which ended up becoming one of the top three worst performances I ever did. I did some of my “greatest hits” which were received politely by an audience of about thirty but there was nothing noteworthy or interesting about how I performed. Very “by numbers”. My two colleagues performed well enough but compared to the many other poetry acts we saw, it was a little worrying to realise we were the most static, boring poets on the bill.
Yes, it’s all on tape and I think I’ve only ever listened to my performance once! I’ve absolutely no interest or desire to have a listen now. Yes, we were upstaged by almost everyone else who were much more in yer face, confrontational or plain funny/bizarre. The best of all were these two…
“Josephine and Her Wood Nymph” were unbelievable. Very um… sexual and funny. They would mime out all manner of sex acts as they went along. The Nymph would bend over and bare her arse which had RIDE ME written on the cheeks whilst Josephine recited a comical poem of that name in a rural farmer’s accent! I loved ’em and in talent scout mode got their details because I wanted Liverpool to experience them. I passed on the details to the Dead Good Poets who I suspect got the horrors as they were never booked. A shame. What was important for me was this was all vital research. I was taking notes and when I returned to Liverpool, my poetry performances became much more extravagant and confrontational. The better poets had taught me how to stand out and sure enough, I stood out even more to the degree that other performers began refusing to follow me in gigs.
Saturday afternoon was bizarre. Tom had agreed we would do this “workshop”… the workshop tent was tiny… could only fit maybe 10 people standing at a squeeze in it. It was a bit embarrassing as Tom and his lady friend, Liam and myself went in there expecting some others to join us… and they didn’t. I switched on my tape recorder and we spent the whole half hour spot adlibbing as a variety of characters. I lapsed into the weird Oswald Finnigan – a character who had made occasional cameos on recordings over the years – rabbiting on about worm farms and creating intelligent worms intent on taking over the world. The funniest thing was how Liam played along and got well into this concept. Tom came up with the worst Geordie accent I’ve ever heard. Generally we had fun. We were liberated and had enormous fun and that piece of tape is a precious one to me as it captured something that could had been but never was. When we finished, Liam, Tom and I agreed to explore more of that direction when we returned to Liverpool. Sadly, it wasn’t to be as back in Liverpool, Tom seemed to quickly go off in his own direction whilst Liam and I collaborated on his venture, fell foul of the Dead Good Poets… oh, a long political saga that led to the whole poetry and music scene in Liverpool collapsing. Liam was the backbone of the whole scene and I was a major player. As 2000 began, Liam and I had withdrawn…
We also had to host the general poetry sessions for a couple of hours that afternoon. I had to introduce one act and that was the weirdest moment of the entire festival. As I was doing this intro, this long haired guy with a pierced nipple lunged towards the stage trying to get my attention. He kept saying “IT’S ME BAZ! IT’S ME!” I almost collapsed in shock being reunited with a guy called Nick Williams. He’s been featured in an earlier entry on this blog. He was the bassist in the band I used to know and I hadn’t seen him in 8 years! I finished me intro and backstage we chatted and had a catch up. He just happened to be passing the tent, heard my voice and instantly recognised it! I gave him my address as I told him I still had the old live tapes and the video… and that was the last time I ever saw him. A strange reunion.
I performed solo the following morning during some open mike session and that fell flat on its arse as well! There are various other odd stories I can tell you about that weekend but they’re for another time and place nor do I fancy reminiscing about something that doesn’t actually induce any real warm feeling of nostalgia.
I have a lengthy journal entry detailing it all showing I was torn as to whether or not I had a good time. We were invited back to the following year’s event but some nasty business went on behind mine and Liam’s back. The pair of us had resigned from the Dead Good Poets at the end of 1999 in protest against what they were getting up to and let’s just say they “intervened” and Liam and I were fed conflicting stories. The pair of us met for a cuppa in the Cathedral to fathom out what was going on… he told his story, I told mine and the penny finally dropped – the Dead Good Poets had stabbed us in the back and hijacked our places. That whole Dead Good Poets saga was a long and complex one, but in the most basic form, they wanted to control the whole poetry and open mike scene in Liverpool, didn’t like the fact that Liam and some others tried to do their own nights to enhance the scene. The DGP’s were stuffy, set in their ways, I had a few rows with them as they were NOT doing what they were supposed to be doing. The crunch came with a poetry festival that was Liam’s brainchild and he put together with the help of one other person. On the week itself, the DGP’s went about claiming the festival was THEIR idea and that they had organised it. Liam was shafted and I was angry how he’d been treated so I sided with him, the pair of us walked away and the DGP’s got what they wanted, a bland and safe scene… minus it’s two most interesting talents. Ho hum… so for the DGP’s to shaft us after we’d walked away should had come as no surprise but was a sad and shocking reminder of what they were capable of.
Brief contemporary sidenote – you can imagine how bizarre it was to relocate to Blackpool to discover there’s a Dead Good Poets organisation here! Thankfully, they are totally independent and have no connections with the Liverpool lot!
Back to the story…
I haven’t been back to Glastonbury, nor do I want to. Once was enough for me. Whenever it comes around and the media go gaga, I feel like throwing up. Not my cuppa tea. Too much exploitation and phoniness and I have no time for such nonsense.
Getting back to Liverpool was a nightmare. Our coach home was at another entrance (unknown to us) so we missed it. I couldn’t help but notice with utter disgust that the roads ahead were all clogged by the BBC and food vendors. Nice. They made sure they were fleeing the scene with everyone’s money so us suckers… ahem… punters were stuck for much longer than necessary. Cue a long mind numbing 13 and a half hour journey where we ended up arriving at Liverpool Lime Street station at two minutes past midnight Tuesday morning and had to run to get the last bus home. That day, 29th June stands out more in my memory than Glastonbury itself. I got home at half past midnight, cooked a meal – my first hot food in a few days, went to sleep at 2:10am. Woke at 9:45, listened to bits of the tapes then – unbelievably – wrote one poem and 2 songs. I spent much of the afternoon creating backing tracks for the two songs.
Liam’s monthly open mike night was that evening and I cycled down there and performed these three brand new pieces… the songs were rather complex with much choreography. In the middle of my set, a bunch of people came in celebrating a certain lady’s 21st birthday party. The birthday girl was bewildered by what I was up to. We didn’t chat until the following week and let’s just say she would become a MAJOR part of my life for the next few years. Following my performance, I cycled home and spent the final hours working on writing a letter to a friend. Insane. The energy of youth. I couldn’t do all that in one day now as whenever I travel it takes a day or two to recover!
Archive wise, there’s one roll of 35mm snapshots. 9 hours worth of cassette tapes. The programme. My wristband. Odd leaflets and the journal documenting my adventures. I pieced together a “Radio K-A-K Glastonbury Special” utilising my recordings a few days later which was duly copied and circulated to a handful of close friends. That, along with the master Glastonbury cassettes are sat in a box in the archive and digitised a few years ago. Maybe one day I should revisit all that stuff and create a new aural documentary but I haven’t the time, interest or patience as I have far worthier things to be doing now and next week. It’s more than enough doing this blog piece about it.
Oh well… maybe when I retire.
To this day, my feelings about Glastonbury are very mixed BUT the good thing that came out of it all was it pushed me even further with my own performances and boy oh boy, things began getting ever more interesting and bizarre!