Thursday, 20 October 2011

What was Glastonbury really like Daddy?

A friend from overseas asked me to decode the significance of stuffed giraffes and a pink pony on a stick seen on a video from Glastonbury, so I wrote down a few thoughts, which pedants will observe includes minor inaccuracies, some intentional, others less so, but anyone who has been to the Festival will get the drift:

My Grandmother once went around Ireland on a coach tour, and on the second-to-last day asked the driver, in all earnestness, when they were going to see the Little People. She would have really loved the Glastonbury Festival.

It takes place on a working farm (with heavy clay soil - which is why the conditions sometimes get so extreme, of more later) the weekend after the Summer Solstice, about five miles or so from Glastonbury itself, a small town which tries to exist entirely in a time and space of its own, where it is easier to buy a bottle of faerie water steeped in healing crystals than a pint of milk. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus to Glastonbury, Joseph's staff taking root and growing into a tree known as the Glastonbury Thorn, at the foot of the Tor (a great big hill with a tower on top of it). It is also reputed to be the last resting place of King Arthur, in the mythical, mystical land of Avalon. The town attracts those of a mystical persuasion, and rival groups of Druids have fairly heated arguments about which of them should be in charge of the place. There is a certain Druid, who (as far as I know) still performs a ceremony at the Festival to get it going, while other Druids get cross that this man who they consider a disgrace to the profession gets the gig.

To an extent it has been a victim of its own success, in that the tickets now sell out in minutes, so you need to be fairly organised to get one - this has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of folk who could be described as existing in a spectrum between a bit beyond normally eccentric to truly believing that they come from another dimension (and if they paint themselves with woad and dance to techno hard enough they will some day return), which is a shame, although it does mean that things which are anticipated happening (like the set by the Fleet Foxes which sparked this conversation) are more likely to actually take place than in the days before they put the Great Big Fence up. They put the Great Big Fence up because one year an estimated quarter of a million people jumped over the little fence they had before, and on top of the 120,000 people the place is licensed for it became rather tricky to move about.

Because getting a ticket now involves knowing how to use both an alarm clock and a PC connected to the internet, plus having quite a lot of money available on a specific date of the year, there are a lot fewer stuffed giraffes and pink ponies on sticks than there used to be, and with it a reduction on people balancing on surfboards being borne aloft above the heads of the crowd, beach balls the size of airships being passed around, nudists with placards standing around protesting that they get arrested every time they wander around town centres without any clothes on, and a lot of other stuff that is so completely unexpected that you'd think you were hallucinating, which in the days when mind-expanding substances were traded quite openly was also more likely than now.

The weather can occasionally be absolutely glorious, hot, sunny, just perfect. More often it is grey and miserable, about one year in three the heavens open about three days before it starts and the mud and surface water assumes Biblical proportions once people start sloshing through it. One year the second stage sank and had to be abandoned. I remember seeing Kula Shaker about three or four times that year as most of the acts billed refused to enter the site, anticipating being stuck there forever, so the ones who were there played several times wherever they could get to and wherever there was still electricity.

Another year a storm on the Thursday night brought down a tree which fell across and dammed a river up the hill, emptying the entire contents of the river onto the site. Children were sailing inflatable boats on a lake that had formed on the grass strip between the hardstanding walkway and the food stalls and silly hat shops. I don't think that anyone has ever drowned in the mud and surface water at the Festival, but it wouldn't be stretching credulity too far to imagine that one day it could happen.

When the weather is nice the place is filled with stilt-walkers, unicyclists, performance artists, all wandering about cheering the place up, but when it's muddy all that gets a bit tricky. Some friends run a juggling workshop in the circus fields, and for many years I've had the good fortune to be able to go and help them out. We get kids making their own juggling balls, and then they take them and get shown how to use them.

Glastonbury is about so much more than music, there was one year I went and only saw one band during the entire three days, and didn't feel that I'd missed out on anything. There's theatre, circus, comedy, healing fields, environmental fields, dance tents, tents with speeches by politicians, didgeridoo making workshops, a stone circle, little cafes where people just turn up and play - including one where the bands play using electricity generated by people from the audience taking turns to pedal bicycles. There's also the stage which gets filmed and shown on telly, of course, but that's the only bit about the weekend that's like any other festival I've been to.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

So Long, Frank Larry and Pip

It seems rather churlish of me to have not paid tribute to Larry Fischer, whose first album inspired the title of this blog, and whose music made me laugh all the time I was feeling his pain. He died earlier this year, to almost no media attention.

A deeply troubled individual, his "An Evening With Wild Man Fischer" album has been out of print for over forty years. There are some people I have met who agree with me that it was better than anything its producer, Frank Zappa, ever recorded himself, and the consensus of opinion seems to be that it is his widow, Gail, who has prevented its re-release since then.

The link to the album which was the first post I did on this blog seems to have died, so I'll have a go at finding my rip of the album and putting it up again (along with the Science Songs album which has been requested).

Since I signed off last, two of my favourite maverick artists have also checked out, Pip Proud, who I came across when a friend bought his "Adrenaline and Richard" album while in Australia purely because the shopkeeper had put a sticker on the cover reading "the worst album ever made", which might not be far from the truth. His music comprises a flat nasal drone over an almost mechanically strummed acoustic guitar which never quite sounds in tune. He appears to have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity towards the end of his life, although he was far from in good health for the last few years.

Also gone is Frank Sidebottom, who I saw several times at festivals in the late eighties and early nineties. He was a bit like George Formby would have been if Formby had sung with a clothes peg on his nose and wore an enormous papier mache head on stage. He was a marvellous performer, I feel sad when I think about him now, but only have to hear his music to put a big smile back on my face. He made an album called "Frank Sidebottom Salutes the Magic of Freddie Mercury and Queen and also Kylie Minogue, You Know, Her off Neighbours", which is an extraordinary listen, but was impossible to find when it was released. I recently found it posted on another blog, I'll put a link up to it when I've a few minutes to find it again.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

It's been a couple of years since I've even looked at this blog, but today I had an urge to come back and see if it's still here, maybe come up with some ideas for new posts, and share some more sounds. Was surprised to see how many hits it's had since I last looked, and amazed that so many of the links are still active.

To everyone who has had a look around this little corner of my world, I'd like to say thank you for popping by. It feels to me like the time is right for me to be here again.

I've been hanging out at the Rock Town Hall blog, if you like it here why not pop over and check it out?