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IT’S Glastonbury next weekend. I won’t be there and it’s fine. After the absolute honour of being invited to perform at 26 consecutive festivals dating back to the early 1980s, I wasn’t on the bill in 2017 and I’m not included this year.
It’s absolutely right that old gits like me make way for the new generation and if the line-up was the same as it was in 1983 I’m sure many people would be very disappointed!
I’d like to wish organisers Haggis, Charlotte, Helen and the team and all those performing in my old stomping grounds — the Cabaret Marquee and the Poetry & Words Tent — a happy, healthy and above all DRY festival.
By (opened) heavens, I have seen some wet ones over the years. In 1985 the mud was so far over my wellies I just took them off and, when it went over my shorts, I took them off too. Covered in mud, I met and greeted the great John Peel in my underpants and, being an old hippy, the sight didn’t faze him in the slightest — especially since he was absolutely covered in it himself.
But my favourite early Glastonbury memory has to be my first one in 1983. Those who bemoan the size, prices and “tickets like gold dust” aspect of the modern-day event will be interested to learn that back then it was limited to 30,000 people and my performance fee included a container of scrumpy and as many free tickets for my mates as I wanted — which was quite a few.
We travelled down in a minibus and I did a set on the much smaller cabaret stage of the time, following the late Rik Mayall doing his Kevin Turvey routine.
Then I got stuck into the scrumpy. I’d never drunk it before and it slipped down very nicely and soon I was beginning to feel drowsy in the afternoon heat.
At that time, it was quite common for people to wander round naked if the weather was friendly. I thought “when in Rome,” stripped off, rolled my clothes into a pillow, lay on my back naked in the afternoon sun and went to sleep.
I was woken by a bucket of water over my face and the stentorian tones of Seething Wells, my late, lamented and lovely ranting poetry co-conspirator, bellowing: “John! John! Wake up! You’re burning, mate!” And burning I was, in places no man should burn. Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire.
I curled into a miserable, painful mess in the cabaret tent and was discovered there by festival co-founder and cabaret organiser Arabella Churchill, who saved my weekend by giving me some cream to put on my poor sore bits and a space to sleep in her massive tent.
Arabella was brilliant, a true rebel — it’s not easy being a peace activist when you’re Winston’s granddaughter — and it is absolutely right that the cabaret field is now named Bella’s Field in her memory, following her tragically early death in 2007.
Talking of Glastonbury and balls-ups, my other favourite and far more recent memory is walking through the site in a packed throng with my wife immediately in front of me. I stopped to get some cider. She didn’t realise, thought I was still there, and reached a hand behind to, erm, give me a loving cup.
The bits didn’t feel right and when she turned round, the face wasn’t right either and had a very surprised look. She has never been more embarrassed in her life and ran. I can understand why.
What makes Glastonbury really special isn’t the headline stuff but the sheer number of stages and diversity of acts and you can have a brilliant time without going near the main stage once. If you’re going, two recommendations — manic klezmer-punk accordionist Geoff Berner, introduced by Billy Bragg on the Leftfield stage, and warm and clever songwriter-rapper Gecko in Poetry & Words.
Thanks, Glastonbury. Next year it’s your 50th anniversary as a festival and my 40th as Attila.
I’d love to be there to celebrate but, whether I am or not, I hope it’s brilliant.
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