21 years ago today on 26th June 1999, I took to the stage of the Poetry and Words Tent at Glastonbury alongside two poetical pals Tom George and Liam Brayd. The three of us were representing Liverpool poetry and it was an honour to be a part of it, to be considered as being one of Liverpool’s best poets when I’d only relocated there the previous September! Still, goes to prove what a great performer I am as I made an immediate impact upon the Liverpool scene.
It was a rather strange experience. Tom set it up and he asked me if I fancied doing it sometime in January or February. I said “yeah” as you do, not expecting any more to come of it but, with less than a month to go, it was official and definitely happening. Eeek!
Anyway, what follows are a handful of random memories of that weekend…
- We arrived late… we were due to travel on Thursday afternoon and Liam and I watched helpless as our coach departed. Tom burst into the bus station running as fast as he could but, it was too late… and yeah, he had the bloody tickets, so ended up travelling Friday morning and arrived as a heatwave got underway. I guess I was lucky – the previous year had been a complete washout with mud galore.
- I had a tent and a bag. Half the bag was occupied by my old styled 80’s ghetto blaster along with a set of replacement batteries and a bundle of blank tapes so I could make recordings of my exploits. There were 2 cartons of orange juice, 3 tins of tuna, 3 tins of rice pudding and a couple of other edible comestibles. In my pocket, I had my keys and a wallet containing all the money I had in the world – a five pound note. I survived. I spent just £1.50 on a cup of tea. Cans of Coke were £2 which I thought was downright obscene. I managed to shop smart beforehand. Tom on the other hand went with just a tent. He had no money and no food – he would rise at the crack of dawn and sneak off to the Hare Krishna tent for free food from there.
- The first evening, I saw Marianne Faithfull in the acoustic tent. The funniest thing was, it was the second time in a week I saw her show as I’d seen her at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Tuesday that same week. In Liverpool she wore a nice white outfit. She wore the same outfit at Glastonbury… and it was noticeably much more crumpled!
- My performance occurred on the Saturday morning. Just minutes before we started, one of my pals Simon passed the tent and I alerted him… we had arranged to meet up but I didn’t have my mobile phone so he was lucky to find me as he was relying on me for space in my tent that night. And no, he had no money either! I haven’t listened to my performance since a few days after the performance… I considered it to be the worst performance I’d ever done in my then nearly ten year career. I think it was partly the initimidation and novelty factor, a bit in awe and disbelief I was really performing at GLASTONBURY which affected my performance so ended up being hesitant, stilted and contrived. The audience were hungover so getting any response from them was not easy and I failed in that department.
- Frankly, the three of us from Liverpool were PATHETIC. I caught bits and pieces of various other poets over the weekend and they left us dead in the dirt… much more visual, dynamic and confrontational, and us three were lame and conformist by comparison. I watched and learned. I returned to Liverpool and upped my game considerably and for a while, became much feared and untouchable. I thank some of those Glasto poets for that. Sadly, my colleagues didn’t quite get the same inspiration.
- Saturday afternoon was bizarre. I guess to ensure we got the deal, Tom had agreed to us hosting a half hour “workshop”. This was in an adjacent tent that was so small it could only fit maybe 10 people in it at the most. We congregated there along with a female friend of Tom’s and… yeah, nobody else came in to join us. Instead, we spent half an hour adopting nonsensical characters and improvised a load of nonsense. Liam was spellbound by me as Oswald Finnigan outlining the workings of his worm farm and how he was breeding worms designed to take over the world… Tom did the worst ever Geordie accent I’ve ever heard. We generally had a great laugh and enjoyed it so much we agreed to explore it further back home in Liverpool. Sadly, we didn’t.
- Later that afternoon, I had to introduce one of the poets onstage. I’m prattling on as you do when this long haired guy with a pierced nippled lunged towards the stage. Who was this loony? He shouted “BAZ! IT’S ME!” I didn’t recognise him… then he shouted out his name (all in front of a bewildered audience) and there was a guy called Nick Williams – the bassist in the band I filmed who I wrote about here. This was the first time I’d seen him in 8 years. We had a catch up backstage, exchanged addresses and I’ve not heard from him since.
- Saturday night was spent mostly in the acoustic tent where Sharon Shannon then Lonnie Donegan (pictured above) gave spellbinding shows that went down a storm. Simon who came along for the ride was similarly impressed with them. Saturday night was gridlock central… we wanted to see something at the other end of the site but it was so busy it was impossible to get ANYWHERE at all, so we gave up, went back to my tent. Ah yes… Simon and I had a deal – I would provide food, and he would provide smoking substances. He had bought a bottle of poppers so I showed him a trick – take a drag of the joint, then have a whiff of the poppers. Simon copied this. His face went bright red, a big smile came across his face and BAM… he was out like a light, almost collapsing the tent. Two minutes later he groggily came round grinning like the cat that got the cream, buzzing from the fact he was now utterly stoned out of his brain on just one toke of a spliff!
- Sunday was mostly spent in the Theatre Field. We saw many amazing acts there and I got pissed off. As usual, the BBC cameras were present, set up on the two big stages broadcasting the big name acts who didn’t need any further exposure. In the theatre field were acts of amazing quality and I grew angry that the BBC wouldn’t condescend to think maybe some of them deserved some exposure.
- Throughout the whole weekend, I couldn’t avoid the ugly fact I was surrounded mostly by stuck up middle class students… yeah, end of their University year and here they all were at Glastonbury pretending to be “alternative” for the weekend before they pissed off back to Mummy and Daddy on Monday morning for a nice cosy summer doing nothing. I hate phoniness. I could see through them and it’s fair to say their pathetic antics greatly soiled my perception of Glastonbury as a whole. My overall verdict is that of a psychedelic concentration camp and for a realist like me who saw exploitation, phoniness and profits almost everywhere I looked, it didn’t gel at all well with me.
- Sure, I had some moments I enjoyed, but it’s not an experience I have repeated nor desire to repeat. Not my cup of tea at all.
- The journey home was a fucking nightmare. I was offered a lift back to Liverpool on Sunday night. Big mistake not accepting that, but there was no way I could leave Tom and Liam in the lurch to wonder where I may had vanished to. It was the longest most depressing journey ever as first thing Monday morning, the BBC and food vendors were clogging up all the roads to escape with their profits so the rest of us were stranded, missing buses and connections to get home. We got back to Liverpool at one minute past midnight on the Tuesday morning.
- Archive wise… just less than 30 photos taken and I retain the negatives as well. Audio wise, there’s 9 hours and 10 minutes of unique recordings, featuring all the stuff I did and the workshop session, a selection of some of the acts I saw – some in better quality than others (Marianne Faithfull sounds superb, Lonnie Donegan is horribly distant) – and interviews and verbal musings as I wandered about describing what I was seeing and witnessing. Not listened to at least 8 hours of that stuff since then though it is safely digitised. It was the only period where I wasn’t able to write my journal in 1999 but made up for it by doing a lengthy write up in a letter to a friend called Matt the following week and a copy of that letter was made and survives in the archive in place of an actual journal entry.
So, the BBC are slapping themselves on the back as it’s the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury and of course this farcical “lockdown” drags on so the BBC are simply showing repeats of various sets they caught over the years, none of which are of any interest to me. You know, I struggle to remember who were headlining in 1999 – never went anywhere near the main stages as even then, I had no interest at all in Blondie, the Manic Street Preachers and REM who are the only names I remember.
This was also years before they established the sycophantic “legends” spot and got people in like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney etc headlining. I always believed that Glastonbury was supposed to be about the ALTERNATIVE, championing the underdogs and being anti-establishment… nah… it’s long became a fraud, just another rotten part of “the establishment” and though it looks and sounds good on my CV, it still remains one of my worst ever gigs and as a whole, a rather unsatisfactory experience I’m glad I will never go through again.