Love and hate. Looks like it’s going to rain again. Torrentially. That’s nothing new, seeing that it usually rains at Glastonbury. Still people go there in ever increasing numbers.
I was mildly exited when I heard Emiliana Torrini was playing Glastonbury this June, since this meant that I would be gracing that oldest and biggest of English summer festivals with my presence for the first time. I am her drummer for the summer, so to speak.
Our festival run started in June and will take us to the end of the summer, zigzagging Europe like mad, jumping trains and planes with a bunch of guitars and musical trinkets.
Now, truth be told, I can’t stand ruddy muddy festivals. I don’t like the thought of being wet and miserable in a tent with thousands of other miserables and sharing the sodden condition is very little consolation to me. Sod the whole thing. It’s hit and run for me, even though its Glastonbury, the granddad of all festivals in England.
Even though I am leaving early Saturday morning, I can’t skip the chance of seeing a few cool things since I will be there for the Friday night. Jumping the boat early Saturday morning come hell or high water.
The rest of the band are staying until Monday to revel in peace and love, mud and beer and God knows what else but me, no sir, I won’t have any of this peace love shit, sex drugs and mud or whatever you call it.
Those days are over for me.
The Glastonbury Festival was founded by Michael Eavis at his Worthy farm near Glastonbury in 1970. It was originally called the Pilton Pop festival and only 1500 people turned up to pay the admission fee of one pound, but by the following year it had turned into the Glastonbury Fayre and featured the likes of David Bowie, Traffic and Fairport Convention.
Yet while Glastonbury still resonates with historical associations of Druidic rituals and free love, these days it has morphed into a smart operation, still donating all the profits to charities. Indeed, it has had to in order to thrive in an increasingly sophisticated and global live music industry, where juggernaut multinational promoters such as Live Nation and AEG Live battle for market share. Glastonbury’s size, scope and history make it the bellweather event for the British festival season.
This year we have the North Americans storming the festival, with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen headlining the Pyramid stage on Friday and Saturday. Brit pop’s resurrected messiahs, Blur, are headlining Sunday. I will be well away by then.
The sweet smell of death
We arrive on Friday morning from Leeds on our bus and my first notion of the place is that I hear voices through my slumber in my bunk and figure that we are pulling into the festival grounds. If you sleep on a bus for a while, you can detect when you are on a gravel road through your slumber. Then the smell hits. I’m thinking this place smells like shit and in reality, we are parked next to the staff toilets behind the Park Stage on the south side of the Glastonbury site. The fumes are filtering into the bus aircon system and gracing my sensitive, half slumbering nose with their presence. I get the feeling I am in a coffin; this place smells like death.
I peek out of my bunk and growl, “are we here?” only to hear someone say, “yeah! and it’s raining.” I fall back with a sarcastic giggle, I already hate the place.
I get up and fetch my pass and laminate and stuff and God knows all sorts of trinkets and yes, it is raining and muddy everywhere. I go see Lay Low open up the park stage at 11 and there are actually people there apart from us. Somehow, I find that weird, but I shouldn’t. She is wonderful as usual, and I’m starting to warm to this, no more toilet smells; I am looking over the city of tents and towers that is Glastonbury and it is actually pretty impressive.
I meet Emiliana and the boys at two to go and play at the BBC enclave down by the Pyramid stage. We are to do a stripped down version of Jungle Drum, which has now reached no. 1 in Germany and is poised to do damage to charts elsewhere, though God knows whether the Brits will ever get exited about it. They really do have their own agenda when it comes to pop music, and are not going to let the Germans tell them what is cool. Oh no. On the way down in the Land Rover through the mud encrusted paths, word reaches our tour manager that Emiliana is being bumped up to headline status at some of the German festivals we are doing in July and she looks worried.
Not all musicians want to be pop stars. Funnily enough.
Paging Dr. Freud
The BBC stage where they do interviews and the odd musical performance is a TV studio on site, complete with outdoor and indoor stages and lots of wooden mushrooms (paging Dr. Freud), all very psychedelic and grrrrooovy. We play outside since the sun just decided to honour our presence and came out from behind the clouds to bathe us in its glow. It’s actually steaming hot now, and all the rain is evaporating.
Then it’s back to the Park Stage to get down to some setting up and soundchecking, which we shake back in the Land Rover to do. It is funny to watch a little sunshine making a big difference in the way a crowd looks as we drive through the grounds. The drummer and singer from Supergrass are playing before us on the Park Stage with a friend of theirs on bass doing cover versions of 80´s pop stuff. They are having fun but I’m finding it rather sad. I’m not big on 80´s nostalgia; I was there and like to remember it like it was.
There is a changeover while our stuff is rolled onstage and plugged in and I’m trying to talk to the monitor engineer who says a lot of yes, but I have this hollow feeling he is really not listening to what I’m saying. Poor man must have a lot to do or so it seems.
It’s now just past five and we are going on stage at 5.15.
The monitors take a while getting ready, but finally we are on stage and the crowd gathers to hear; the bowl in front of the stage fills up with people. The set starts off pretty easy but soon picks up and ends with a bang and it’s over… we’re off stage and it’s all over with. Much like teen sex, I’m told.
No hate in my heart
Now is the hard part – packing up after festival – because behind the curtains are risers with drums and keyboards that have to be stripped post haste for next band. This operation is still a one-roadie thing, so I am packing drums while sweating like a pig after the show. No wailing groupies waiting backstage with drugs and debauchery. Now that would be hard work. This is easy.
They do have a charming backstage bar at the Park Stage where they serve up some good local ale, so I am feeling rather perky when we trek on down the muddy path all the way to the Pyramid Stage to see Neil Young at 10 o’clock.
For some odd reason it is way past ten when we get there and Neil has been playing for a while. Good thing he got warmed up for our critical ears… Not quite, we hang on to every word he says and are singing along to most of his tunes except of course the ten minute guitar solos in 11 time. Well, I do remember singing along to that as well. You see, by this time my resolve towards the damn festival ghost had all but dissolved and I was, dare I say, having a blast and when Neil did Heart of Gold for his encore, it was an unexplainable phenomena to be part of that sea of people on a very communal high. At that moment I really felt that I GOT the festival vibe, and some. No hate anywhere in my heart.
Virtually cured of my sarcasm, I made quite a few new friends that night after the Neil Young show. I don’t hate this place at all.
I actually managed to catch my cab at 6 in the morning, the train back to London and the plane back to Iceland, which was, I’m not sorry to say, close to a miracle.
Sigtryggur Baldursson is a legendary Icelandic drummer. He’s beaten skins for The Sugarcubes, Þeyr, KUKL and several other awesome bands. He also performs as sarcastic dandy Bogomil Font.