~~G L A S T O N B U R Y ~~2 0 0 2~~
England.. The land that brings you drizzle, drudgery and an unhealthy disinterest in oral hygiene.
Glastonbury...The festival that gives you more stimulation than any man can stand coupled with the collective blind faith of 130 000 people who mostly plan on it not raining
A disgruntled stilt panto , a business manager, a ribald magician, a pavement chalk artist, a freakshow circus frontman, the worlds loudest mime and a visiting eccentric melbourne actress......
Hopped into a hired van and went to the supermarket to stock up for a week in the wilds.
Several slabs of beer, multiple milks, oodles of orange juice, various varieties of vegetables, cases of condiments.
This plus duty free single malts of Irish and Scottish origins and other illegal unmentionables.
Then off through the English countryside.
Did the sunlight dapple? Ask Nick.
Did the meandering hedgerows wind like a well loved scarf towards the neck of our destination? Ask Nick,
Did the clouds teeter timidly across the face of England's robust sun only to skitter away harmlessly as their shadows ponderously fled over hill and dale? Ask Nick.
We were in the back of the van sitting on top of a weeks supplies and several tents, windowless, packed like cattle, passive bovine units of entertainment waiting to be unleashed in a meadow.
After a brief unspectacular and minor collision with a family vehicle we got to Shepton Mallet where some of us picked our tickets up from the post office and we all went shopping one more time just to be on the safe side.
Op shopping for silverware, more plates and bowls and I picked up a pessimistic raincoat.
Then on to the Glastonbury site, which, being 2 days prior to the festival proper, it was a doddle to enter (sometimes queues stretch for miles and can take several hours and they close the gates at night so you can have just about made it then have to spend the night in the car before entering the next morning.)
We just sailed in driving behind some Christians van,
( Pentecostal-amphetamine, addicts for Jesus i think they were. They drove erratically but with unwavering purpose)
Then we were in and made our way to the backstage theatre and circus and cabaret camping area where a prime spot had been reserved for us by Haggis with a big sign.
Haggis is one of the main organizers of the Glastonbury fest and specifically in charge of the theatre/circus/cabaret areas, He always provides just that little extra to us street folk as he’s one himself, be it access to masses of firewood that we can burn for 5/7 days heartily as well as make abundant furniture out of or just popping over with bottles of spirits and slabs of ale from his semi official secret performers-lube cache.
Not that we were short of anything as we circled the wagons and stocked up our larder tent, lit the fire, put the billy on, hyperventilated into inflatable mattresses and generally settled in.
We were right next to “THE FENCE”
THE FENCE is a 5 mile long, final effort to exclude waves of people who have seen breaking into this festival for sport for as long as the festival has existed (something like 30 years)
Youthful mischief and getting something for nothing because you can is a big part of the draw (and bear in mind that this is a country where if you can get into an empty house and change the locks you can live in it for as long as it takes the owners to comply with legal backflips-or send in thugs)(and if you can stay in it for 20 years you own it)
But the festival was canceled last year because the year before 50 000 or 80 000 or 100 000 (depending on various accounts) broke in without paying.
Predominantly people with a sleeping bag and £10 cannot survive a 3 day festival without theft or other acts of desperation and so “THE FENCE” was built.
20 ft high with 4 foot sharp overhang, dug into the ground and with another 20 ft of heavy metal slabs across the ground at its base (to deter diggers) winding 5 miles around the site with towers and spotlights and manned by security THE FENCE did its job and shut out 25 000 people who gathered outside it and unsuccessfully plotted, there was one plan to attach a snowplow to a truck and try to crash through but disagreements among that particular group had one half removing the trucks engine while the other half slept.
I only saw one guy make it over, reports range from 1 to 30 and while some of the older hands commented that the edge with mad max like survivors roaming about was missing I must be getting older myself because personally I see enough fucked up drug addled desperadoes with self justifying political stances among my peer group to not really mourn meeting another 25 000 people who collectively lack a quorum of neurons.
How the fuck are you going to change the world if you can’t even get over a fence?
Anyway the spotlight that shone down from the watchtower made a good reading light for my tent.
Went walking and found the main stage, a huge outdoor film theatre, 2 outdoor theatre stages, a cabaret tent, a circus tent, a theatre tent, the hugest tent was the dance tent, a field of tee pees, a field of woodworkers and their produce, an outdoor rave stage, 2 more smaller rave stages and 2 more music stages. Theres also a hospital, a social welfare office and a rock-hugging epicenter.
Its miles of temporary community.
I went back to our spot , it had grown with the arrival of the rest of the happy sideshow (aussie freak circus) dirty fred and Mika from holland, still expecting Gazzo at this stage and missing Butterfly-man who’s priorities are confusing at the best of times I putted about with a propeller on my head inhaling nothing more objectionable than campfire-smoke and drinking naught but orange juice and coffee.
One more full day before the fest even starts I’m trying desperately to pace myself.
Woke up on a bed of air provided by nicks spare air mattress and exited the tent to a bright sunny day and Peppe cooking eggs on the fire.
Peppe works to his own inner calender, a rare variation of liver-time, when the liver needs extra energy to process excess alcohol..you sleep. When its finished..you wake up.
Peppe had also mysteriously adopted rooster like properties but instead of cock-a- doodle doo, he had, for his own reasons come up with.
WEEEEE ARE THE BANANA KIIIINNNGGS OF THE WESTERN WOORLLLLD.
This is repeated at volume ad nauseam until someone sticks their head out of a tent and screams at him to shut the fuck up.
Anyway after sticking my head out the tent and yelling I got up.
The fest will start tomorrow but people are beginning to stream in.
Walking round the place all morning most of the shops had opened and the competing sound systems changed the atmosphere every 20 ft.
Met Dougy from Invisable circus who had set up their own stage and juice shop.
Invisable circus had been rehursing a whole new show for the festival but some component or other had gone missing and so they were constructiong an improvised show with 24hrs to go (very Glastonbury)
As the crowds grew little drum circles formed like fungi , small rings of menfolk tapping away in interlocking rhythms many of which would go on to last the whole festival, it was like corporate male bonding for the unemployed and it was a beautiful thing.
Up at the stone circle the shellshocked forgone conclusions had already started stumbling through their 4 day overdoses because to really enjoy all a festival has to offer its presumably best to retreat as far as possible into your hallucinogenic entrails at the earliest opportunity and so shuffling shells hugged 3 meter rocks or sat and stared at blades of grass filled with infinite possibility.
I went back to our dude-ranch and lucky had arrived and was settling in, bike-boy popped up as well.
I decided to test the new stilts I had made after snapping my old ones in a nightclub in Toronto the week before. They were much heavier than I’m used to ( I make them at borderline tolerances normally but these were downright clunky and designed to survive mud if required)
I went for a wander to seek out sound systems to wiggle to and generally get the lay of the land. It was fun being one of the only performers up and running and its always good to make contact with various stall-holders so you can get supplys of water on the hoof later on, and boltholes should you antagonise the punters.
Two hours later I decended at Pee Wees bar and took my gear off and had a weaponsgrade bloody mary (It has begun) followed by a bottle of vodka, 3 lines of charlie, 4 meteor strike joints after which I wrote 2 short novels and a “ abdominal surgery for idiots” self help book (or did I?)
Back at camp night had fallen, the fire was roaring, fireworks would light the sky at intervals from various corners of the 250 acres of the festival grounds and we all knew that this was the last night that the stages would be silent.
Tomorrow it would start for real.
Woke up, my mouth tasted like a vulture had pissed in it, my brain had somehow putrefied and my soul would have preferred living in a potted plant.
I was primed and on schedule.
Burst out of the tent, had a shower, leftover stew, coffee, popped briefly down to Pee Wee’s bar for a wake up call then ambled across to the main stage and caught Alabama 3, who are a cunning theatre group masquerading as a kick arse rock and roll band, they look speak and sound like good ol boys from down south USA with brilliant banter between the songs but are actually 3 chaps from Bristol.
Passing through the main thoroughfares it seemed that the masses of people were all behaving and chilled out, popped briefly into the children's area and saw the effort that had been put into making the festival cool for kids, story telling, opportunities to construct all sorts of stuff, rides, slides, masses of things to occupy the littlelys while one parent or the other moshed on.
Back at the theatre, circus , cabaret fields and Lucky was pumping out a show, while 4 legged sci-fi stiltwalkers roamed, 2 tough broads with sideburns and attitudes rode around in pedalcars abusing other motorists.
The jazz field was going off, some calypso band pumping the crowd.
The stone circle was more heavily populated than yesterday with its drum circles and the shellshocked forgone conclusions looked set to reach critical mass ( a rare phenomenon wherein a like-minded herd of people instantaneously achieve a status of a collective half-brain, rip their clothes off and writhe violently in a huge pile gibbering ancient football scores and long forgotten tax textbooks)
Popped into the Invisible circus’s area next to the roller disco and casino and church and had a carrot juice and a talk to Dougy and Dado then back to the dude-ranch to get ready for work.
The camp was looking impressive with seats and tables made from firewood and a large table filled with snacks all coming from a 3 man tent filled with provisions, the fire kept whatever was available warm and ready and celia and peppe and beck and others had each at different times cooked enough for all..Praised be the tummyfillers.
I’d spoken to Pee wee who’d told me to more or less keep to the theatre field where i had been programmed as out there in the meanstreets all bets were off with people likely to try and push you off your stilts for fun and that Em had had a brick thrown at her out there at an earlier festival.
I’ve never been deliberately taken out, (though theres been a fair share of attempts) and whilst part of me relished the idea of spinning and swiftly kicking some unsuspecting pillock in the head with a large piece of wood I deferred to experience today and only briefly ambled out of bounds to the Stone circle (trippers are slow moving) and wandered and danced madly at the jazz field also, there was an aptly named field of vagueness that had danceable bands as well and as it backed onto the tee pee tents and the woodworkers field it was mellow and good for a wiggle.
Once my contractual obligations were done for day one I cleaned up, had a beautiful massage and fueled up with my fellow campers and chilled out as the evening bled to night.
Then it was time to check out the acts I had either seen before or had heard about.
Caught a couple of good standups (and a couple of overwhelmed and struggling ones)
Saw the Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper who's wee wee humour was surpased by his slickness .
Miss Behave who has a brilliant sense of style and pace was let down somewhat by miscommunication with the soundguy. (give the same emphatic hand cue 3 times...pause...music starts...go to mike...’No the other one darling”... continue)
The audience was on her side though and that alone is two thirds of being able to pull stuff off.
Then outside to catch Dirty Fred do his 1am show next to the public toilets on his own portable stage.
Dirty Fred is one of my all-time favorites, its a mixture of his confronting improvisational bravery, his gross content interludes and the mastery with which he Ping-Pong's between high and low status.
You really have to watch him to appreciate it and for example if I told you he admits to having the ugliest white bum in the world and reveals one buttock to the audience only to discover a huge boil on it which he squeezes sending fake pus squirting into the audience, and then gets a large lump of phlegm spat onto his hand by an audience member before popping it into his mouth and spitting it up into the air and catching it again, then deep-throats a banana while delivering a twisted heterosexual monologue only to have the banana ejaculate over his face afterwards (‘Oh I must have been better at that than I thought”)
Then burns his mouth while fire-eating and bending down, takes a realistic penis out of his fly and pisses in his mouth for relief.
You would only have an ugly outline of what for me is as best an example as there is out there of the unique unfettered freedom available to the fearlessly creative street performer.
All in this ugly american persona thats as sharp as anything i’ve ever seen.
As well as being a highly skilled and fluid juggler.
I headed back into the secured performers area and popped into the green room bar and then on to Pee wee’s bar which was packed with eccentrics, then back to stare at out campfire for a bit before kip.
It was cold last night, chilly, English summer but still it hasn’t rained yet, Peppe crows at the new dawn, WEEEE ARE THE BANANA KIIINGS OF THE WESTERN WOOOOOOORLLLD.
The fire, as always, is a primitive constant, providing coffee, beans (9p a can) eggs (a-la-peppe) and those sudden swings of breeze that engulf you in an acrid eyewatering Neanderthal kind of chemical warfare.
The coffee kicks in and my world transitions from a gothic 19th century horror to a mid 70’s pastel blinkered optimism.
I put on my sleepingbag (sleepwalkersleepingbags.com) and go for a walk, its early and an interesting mix of the early risers and the late nighters are all mixed up and bumping into each other, no performers are scheduled till at least 11 so its all sound systems .
Go to the Post office with Celia and send a few postcards home, check out the invisibles but no-ones about, find this place where someone's imported heaps of sand from a beach and made their own little oasis with fake palm trees and speakers shaped like shells that play sounds of waves crashing, it smells salty, its brilliant.
Passing by the pyramid stage Jools Holland is playing ragtime and honky-tonk, he’s a piano genius and its infectious cheerful stuff.
So bounce back to the dude ranch and think about getting ready for work.
Nicks on at the
same time as me and we plan on me doing a bit of stiltcam of his show in the
circus tent and afterwards he’ll follow me about and show me where
the water dragon is.
I’m up and wander backstage and Nicks pacing about before he’s on and I grab the camera and go out front and find a good spot and get his whole show (one of 2 he’s doing)
Its the cups and balls which I’ve seen before (easy over 1000 times) its the audiences that differ every time and the subtle differences in how they’re played that still keep me interested.
Theres one kid who comes up and trys to sabotage the show by grabbing something and just standing there not giving it back, in front of hundreds of people, he thinks he powerful but Nick just finds him interesting in a condescending sort of way and lets him play himself out till he realizes that Nicks a comedian and he’s a kid and theres another 40 minutes of material where the last 10 came from, the show continues, lovely full house, good finish, good footage.
Then I go wandering up to the stone circle where off to the side hidden in the brush is a huge stone dragon with crystals embedded all down its coiled scaleyback as it sits in a creek bed peeking out through bushes into the field. It was made many festivals ago and must be a bit of a freakout to discover in some altered state while stumbling about the festival site. I’d say the majority of folk never even know its there let alone find it.
Off up to a swing off a huge oak tree with my stilts on and then down to the jazz stage then home via a quick pop in to Pee wees bar.
Big cook up at the campfire as night fell then off for a spin to see what was on.
Checked out the angel trapeze woman who was suspended on some immense balloon that floated about tethered to roving strongmen who held her in check and let her descend to touch people before floating skyward again, I heard it was really expensive to produce but I’m all for no expense spared metaphor's.
Saw another woman doing suspension work inside a huge inflatable clear tube in the middle of a field and then onto the circus stage where a duo called Tumble Circus did a double trapeze act full of risk, strength and beauty and towards the end of their piece, which was flawless, the woman acrobats face was radiating with the joy of what they were both pulling off and the crowd just fed on it and she fed off the crowd all the while fully concentrating on the highly risky moves they were pulling until the crowd simply couldn’t take any more and erupted about 30 seconds before they had actually finished.
Then The Happy Sideshow, the slickest funniest most whimsical and friendly freakshow you are ever likely to see,Shep is a polished grinning ringmaster whose patter just leads the show effortlessly and the space cowboys a grinning hardcore freak you could still bring home to charm your mum.
Each piece builds on itself rather than being an isolated grossout and while most freak shows I’ve seen are about the performers and what they can do this shows more about giving the audience the best show the guys can come up with, right down to their catchphrase ‘It just keeps getting better.’
And so it did as the shows ended and we spun off to Pee Wees where we stayed submerged in debautury till about 8 in the morning before moving off to a caravan and topping off the untoppable with red wine and more unmentionables till around 10.
Sunday, last official day, staggered up late,missed Rolf Harris and his digerridoo nursery rhymes (tears stained my pillow).
It was overcast and threatening to drizzle but after the brain chemistry enema of the night before I was in the psychological Bahamas, immune to ennui, free from funk, relieved of rancor , diverted from depression, vanquished of vitriol, devoid of disgruntlement,becalmed from all bitterness.
(In short I was cheerful but my newfound addiction to alliteration was slowly starting to piss me off)
In the distance I could hear Roger Waters reliving Pink Floyd moments, the main stage today was going to be home for many dinosaurs with Rod Stewart due to wiggle his wrinkly pelvis later in the evening.
It was late in the afternoon and so straight to work. I wandered about, keeping a keen eye out for a specific group of guys who had been apparently spending the day hunting down stiltwalkers and pushing them over, I pretty much know what to look for, sudden changes of direction, a deliberate ( and usually pretty obvious) lack of eye contact and finally, sudden acceleration.
I went out into the bigger fields to act as bait and spun every couple of steps so that I could’nt be snuck up on.
I did have a friend shadowing me as well and it was as I diverted down a small lane between two fields (a lane with a large, steep bank down one side) that a guy who had split off from his peer group moments before started to make his move.
It was interesting to note that he’d broken off from his mates who could no longer even see him so my guess is that he was playing catchup with some sort of running tally.
His angle would have had me fall quite a distance if he’d contacted but just yards from me a piecing whistle rent the air and he turned to see himself being glared at by my minder,(or as I like to call her, my benevolent tail); he angled off and disappeared.
There were heaps of good roving characters at this festival, Big Rory with his Kilt wearing stilt dad and giant pram, The stilt soccerplayer and ref who played with a giant soccer ball. The pigmy woman, Petra and partner with their pedal-cars, the sailor with the captured mermaid, Little costumed gaggles of eccentrics here and there. (I’d heard stories of a previous fest with a guy dragging a fish round on a leash.)
It started drizzling on and off which was the first rain of the festival and as it was the last day of work at Glastonbury I stretched it out a little, at the fields of vagueness there was a ska band playing, ska dancing is a kind of stylised skipping on the spot, I did it on stilts for nearly an hour until the tank was well and truly empty.
Wandered back through the light rain passing stage after stage and finally took my heavier than usual stilts off for the last time.
Back at the ranch the campers were girding their loins for one last ferocious attack on the rural party syndrome, protein and social accelerants in equal measure, the fire roared, the eyes watered.
I didn’t dawdle as there was one act I still hadn’t seen, an act that I’d been recommended many times over the years by people whose opinions I valued.
So off I went to see Abner the eccentric.
He’s a mime/ clown and while us mime/ clowns are used from time to time to disparagingly represent everything that is twee and pathetic and self indulgent and irrelevant, I have one thing to say in our defense.
Suck pus asshole.
Its only because its so hard to do well and looks so simple when done well (and also because its the refuge of a lot of twee, pathetic, self indulgent, irrelevant, govt subsidised pseudo intellectuals who mistake unpopularity with genius)
But anyway all a good mime has to do in my opinion is to stop you thinking about what you were thinking and instead follow his thought processes for as long as he can keep you and if also a clown then laughter every couple of minutes doesn’t hurt.
Abners show lasts an hour and a half, he plays with props, ideas and the audience collectively and sometimes individually, he’s in his 50’s and has a confident playfulness thats reinforced by his many years of experience.
Its a gentle show with its own understated power as he takes a couple of hundred people on a journey into his world where nothing works like it should but he triumphs anyway, absurd, charming, skillful and beautiful, he fails, succeeds, gets angry, sad, frustrated, celebrates and shares it all with an audience of all ages who are spellbound.
It was a fitting end of a brilliant festival for me.
I wandered round afterwards and caught the tailend of one or two acts, saw Dirty Fred once more, this time he had his scrotum out and was explaining that it wasn’t offensive because you couldn’t be aroused by a scrotum, he then pierced it with a metal rod and hacked into it with a trick knife then just let it hang out ignoring it while he continued his show till it got cold and he tucked it back in.
I passed by Pee Wee’s but it was too busy to hear anyone speak , flitted also past the big green room tent which was half full and fairly sedate by our standards, so I ended back at the campfire where the atmosphere was almost post coital, people talking utter shit or staring into the fire.
Some packing for an early exodus when the gates opened at 3am but most of us were going to hang round for a couple more days till boredom hit or the food ran out whichever happened first.
Stayed up till 4 bid farewell to a couple of the more organised friends then snuck off to bed.
So that was Glastonbury.