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On the Unendurable Appeal of Festivals


On the Unendurable Appeal of Festivals

Until Coping Saw won a slot at Benicassim in a competition and I finally got to realise my lifetime ambition of snorting at supermodels off the cocaine of tits (is that right?) I’d never understood the appeal of festivals. If I want to go camping, I’ll go camping, ideally somewhere that doesn’t entail queueing behind twenty drunken arseholes to shit in a trench, or worse still an overflowing Portaloo. If I want to take some Class A drugs I’ll take some Class A drugs. And if I want to go to see a band I’ll go to see the band. Why try to amalgamate the three? I enjoy swimming, smoking and Scrabble, but the combination would be disastrous.

That said, in recent years the proliferation of what the newspapers I read have dubbed “boutique festivals”, where you might actually want to watch a significant proportion of the acts (ATP started this in the UK, of course, but the likes of Green Man and Latitude have, um, “developed their brands” nicely) almost makes me want to give it another go. Almost. Especially if there’s no tent involvement. Tents are fine when your neighbours are a couple of trainee solicitors stopping off for a polite bucolic fuck en route to the next must-see in their Baedecker’s or, more eerily, an insomniac sheep. Neither will disturb your sleep for long. But ten thousand eighteen year-olds laboriously underlining the point that they are, like, really, like, on drugs? Nein danke, like. So it’s chalet or shan’t I? Probably I shan’t.

Things could be worse, of course. I came across a reproduction of the flyer for Glastonbury 1986 in an old rock biog. A ticket for the whole weekend would have set you back £17, a mere third of your dole for the fortnight. The acts on the main stage were an unappealing hodge-podge of commercialism and tokenism, although at the time the Cure’s unambitious (post-) Punk Floyd schtick was probably as good a main stage draw for a hippy festival as you were going to get, and on the second stage you did have the Go-Betweens, Microdisney, the Vindaloo stable (Nightingales, Fuzzbox and Ted Chippington) and Robyn Hitchcock  to punctuate the worthiness. Well, it would be £17 well spent in today’s money. In 1986 it might have tried the patience.

The best thing about the flyer is the extras it promises in order to fill up space after it’s finished listing the turns. Theatre, Films, Comedy, Cabaret, Classical Music and Ceilidh all sound fine, if you like that sort of thing, although it seems superfluous to point out that there will be Folk Music when you’ve already told us you have Christy Moore, the Pogues and John Martyn on the main stage. Children’s World and the Greenfield are doubtless both twice as dull as fuck, but at least the organisers are trying. There are only so many times you can take the kids to throw plastic bottles of piss at Behemoth in Berkshire, after all. But… Camping? Food? Well, yes, we were hoping there were going to be those. It’s always nice to be reassured, mind. Would be terrible to turn up to a three-day festival on a farm in Somerset and find a great big NO CAMPING sign and nothing to eat. Clowns, on the other hand? Now just hang on a minute. Nobody, but nobody, wants fucking clowns around the place. Not even clowns themselves. That’s one of the things that’s terrifying about them. But don’t worry. It says there’ll be Lazers too. Can neutralise the Clowns with those. All is well.

It’s not, though. All is not well at all, because there it is lurking slyly in the small print, just ahead of Folk Music. Workshops. Now, I don’t know about you, but this word is enough to have me seriously considering joining the police and breaking some heads.  It might have been entertaining if they had done what it says on the tin and been faithful recreations of Engels’ Manchester for the hippies to try on for size, but in fact they would have been circles of well-spoken white people with dreadlocks earnestly tapping “ethnic” drums made in Islington out of time with each other. Workshops. God help us. It’s leisure, Jim, but not as we know it. No wonder the fucking Right cleaned up the entire game in the 1980s.

posted on Saturday 6th June, 2009

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