Sunday, January 15, 2017

Glastonbury 1998. My fifteenth Glastonbury. (A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall)

The weather was great for Glastonbury in the first half of the 90’s but sadly 1998 for the second-year running was a rainy mud bath. We were back in the field next to where the Glade is these days.  We had borrowed a tent from our neighbours Dave and Sarah who lived two doors away from us. It was a nice tent, even big enough to store my books in as well. I pitched the tent right next to one of the metaled walkways because I thought that would be a great spot to sell my books from with thousands of people walking by every day. That decision was to prove to be a terrible mistake. The weather was fine when we arrived but before long it started raining and over the next few days that walkway turned into a muddy stream. Every time a vehicle like a tractor drove by, one side of the tent got sprayed with muddy filth. The field was on a slight slope and about 100 yards back from us were some toilets. They were of the long drop variety where they had been constructed over a trench. Water flowed down the hill from even further up and the toilets eventually overflowed. It was all running down the hill towards our tent. They had sludge-gulpers going around which solved that problem and it was still nice and dry inside the tent but I knew that there was no way we could clean it up and return it. The tent had been destroyed.(See photo of tent)

Even when it stopped raining it was too muddy in our area to set up my book stall. Up in the Field Of Avalon I discovered a man with a proper, dry indoor bookstall and I had a chat with him and he agreed to buy my entire stock off me. In the end though I couldn’t be bothered to carry them up there and I didn’t sell one sodding book all weekend. I had brought my ghetto-blaster along that year so we could have some music around the campfire. The problem was that we didn’t even have a bloody campfire because the firewood was too damp to burn. We did have a dance in the mud though and one day the Bishop Of Bath And Wells walked by and grinned at us.
1998 was also a World Cup year. On the Friday night they showed the game between England and Colombia on the big screens at the main stage. England needed a draw to qualify for the next round. In the beer tent the water was coming up to the top of our wellies. I sat there at a table and surveyed the market area outside. The rain was chucking it down and the market more or less empty. I didn’t feel sorry for the food outlets because people still need food whatever the weather. It was people selling clothes and other merchandise who had my sympathy because their stock was getting splattered and muddy. They must have lost a fortune. Eventually the rain eased enough for us to leave the shelter of the beer tent and go and watch the footie. The Lightning Seeds were on first because they had recorded a football song called Three Lions which reached number one in the charts in 98.  It all ended well because England won the game 2-0 with goals by Beckham and Anderton which cheered everyone up.

There was one other thing I particularly remember about that Friday. When the music started on the main stage Kim and I thought we better go and watch some of the acts because it was a music festival after all. We were watching a band called Gomez who I had never heard of before but they sounded pretty good. Then who should I spot standing in the crowd listening to the music but festival organiser Michael Eavis and his wife Jean. Lots of people were talking to them and taking photos.
“Come on Kim, let’s go and say hello”.
“No, leave them alone”, said Kim.
I insisted though because this was a photo opportunity. I asked Michael and Jean if I could take a photo and they were happy to oblige. (See top photo) Michael didn’t have a clue who we were, he must meet thousands of people every year. Incredibly though, Jean remembered us from our brief meeting at the farmhouse six years before and asked how we were and had a little chat with Kim. This put my nose out a bit because I liked to think I was the big ‘I am’ and she talked more to Kim than me. Anyway, what a nice lady she was, very friendly indeed. Taking that photo was to prove fateful for us a year later but I’ll tell you about that when I get to it.

I can’t remember who else we saw on the Friday apart from Eric Bibb who played on the Acoustic Stage. He is a brilliant American guitarist and blues singer who I have seen quite a few times since at various festivals. They had a new stage that year at the top of our field called The New Bands Stage. I never bothered going in it but I did notice that Sean Lennon the son of John Lennon was on that stage and apparently, Yoko Ono accompanied him to the festival. On the Saturday Blur and Robbie Williams were on the main stage. I didn’t bother with Williams because I can’t stand him but we watched a bit of Blur. I think that whole Saturday must have been a bit of a blur to me because I can’t remember anything else about it.

The weather cheered up on Sunday and it was memorable for two acts. Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan. Kim loved the veteran crooner Tony Bennett and he seemed to relish playing at Glastonbury. I bet he had never had an audience like this in his life. If I remember correctly he had a white suit on and somehow managed to not get any mud on it at all. Bob Dylan on the other hand I found a bit disappointing. He refused to allow the big screens to be on which made it difficult to see him from the vast crowd. Compared to the previous time I had seen him outdoors at Blackbushe twenty years earlier when he was at the peak of his powers it was quite a sad performance. Bob said that playing at Glastonbury was a dream come true but it seemed to me that he was just going through the motions and it was just another gig on the never-ending tour. Bob is one of the greatest poets who ever lived who absolutely deserves his Nobel Prize for literature and I still listen to his albums a lot but I haven’t seen him live since that Glastonbury performance. (See photo of Bob saying hello to Nick Cave, and Bob Wearing wellies backstage) A friend of ours called Pru who did stone-carving up in the Greenfields Crafts area was also in a folk band called Murphy’s Mongrels who played in the Wise Crone CafĂ© stage on the Sunday. They played for three free tickets to the festival.
“I bet you never thought you would be on the same bill as Bob Dylan”, I said to Pru.

The only other band I can remember seeing on Sunday in 98 was Catatonia on the Other Stage who had Cerys Matthews as the singer and were very famous at the time. I didn’t have a lot of interest in them though. That brought Glastonbury 1998 to an end. It was quite disappointing weather-wise and musically but it was certainly unforgettable. When we got home on Monday evening. I put on the telly to see what it said about the festival on the local news and on the BBC report they had filmed our splattered tent to show how muddy it had been. Next day we went to Argos and bought a new tent and then went round to Dave and Sarah’s and explained what had happened. They were fine about it, probably because they are Glasto veterans as well. The whole experience certainly hadn’t put us off going and we were back in 1999 which was another epic year. More about that later.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Glastonbury 1997, My Fourteenth Glastonbury

When the festival returned in 1997  eighteen long years had passed since my first Glasto in 1979 and in all that time the Conservatives had ruled Britain. The dark age was finally over. In May the Labour Party won the election by a landslide and it was time to party. Sadly the weather that year was bad. There was a lot of rain even before the gates opened and the festival site became a mud bath. It was raining when we arrived and it is quite a miserable experience putting up a tent in the rain. Not to worry, as soon as I managed to get the tent sorted out Kim dived in it and poured some wine. The NME stage by now had become known as the ‘Other’ stage and I think that was the muddiest area. It looked like a lake in front of the stage and some performances on that stage were cancelled because the stage was sinking into the mud.
1997 was the first year that Glasto was broadcast on the BBC which would have a big influence in years to come on the type of audience it attracted. Also, a good performance at Glasto could propel an act to being world famous overnight because of the huge TV audience. On the other hand sadly a lot of acts have used Glasto to boost their flagging careers. I think that the weather might have put off a few of the ticketless gate-crashers that year but not many and it certainly didn’t put off the tent thieves. Robbery from tents was even worse than ever. There were two girls camped near us who we befriended. We called them the ‘Posh birds’ because of their accents and they wore Barbour jackets and caps and looked like they were at the Badminton Horse Trials rather than Glasto. They were very friendly though. They even had a lock on their tent but that didn’t stop the thieves cutting into the tent with a knife and robbing them.

My friends Jacky & Bill’s daughter went that year with her boyfriend Craig. He had come specifically to see The Prodigy who were the most popular band in Britain at the time. It was blowing a gale on the Friday night when they were on. They were introduced by a comedian called Dennis Pennis who was a bit of an idiot. When they did their big hit Firestarter I said to Craig, “I like that song, but what’s it all about, what is the message?”. “Well, it’s all about starting fires”, replied Craig.

Despite the weather there were some great bands on in 97. I really enjoyed The Smashing Pumpkins on the Friday night although I didn’t know anything about them previously. Beck was on as well. I really liked him and had his album Odelay. In the beer tents on all the pint containers they had printed, I’m a boozer baby, so why don’t you fill me’ as a tribute to Beck’s song Loser. Echo And The Bunnymen were also on Friday. They are a great band but it always seemed to rain when they were on at Glastonbury. On the Saturday me and Kim met up with a work friend of hers and we watched Nanci Griffiths from a distance ( From A Distance was one of her big hits !) and then Ray Davies from The Kinks. He is an arrogant git but brilliant musically. I made a big mistake in the evening because we were part of a tiny audience in the Acoustic Stage watching Nick Lowe. I was right at the front and kept shouting out requests for The Beast In Me which must have pissed him off because he never sang it. We had a bit of a dance though to I Knew The Bride, When She Used To Rock And Roll. The mistake I made was that although Nick was great, on the main stage Radiohead were playing one of the legendary sets of all time and I missed it. This was the performance that took them from being great to being one of the top bands in the world.

The sun finally came out on Sunday afternoon which created a great relaxed atmosphere and there was some fabulous music. Kula Shakur had replaced Neil Young who couldn’t play because he had broken a finger which was a shame. They were great though and even played a Neil Young song but I can’t remember which one it was. Sheryl Crowe was on as well, she was really good and Van ‘The Man’ Morrison had returned. I have written about his performance in my previous book so I won’t go into it all again but just add that he was on great form and in a good mood. Van changed the words of one song to Whenever Sir Cliff Shines His Light On Me and in his song Summertime In England he referenced the surrounding towns such as Shepton Mallet. At the end of his set Van walked around the stage holding the microphone stand above his head before slamming it down on the stage and walking off in triumph. What a great performance. Steve Winwood was supposed to be on last but he didn’t turn up and was replaced by Ash. Me and Kim didn’t watch them though, we went and saw the Bootleg Beatles who were great and I bet if you took enough drugs you would swear they were the real thing.

The car-parks at Glastonbury are all on grass which is ok normally but if it rains all weekend then it can be a disaster. On Monday afternoon when me and Kim reached the car-park it resembled the Battle Of Verdun in World War 1. I thought we would never get out of there. Luckily for us though most cars had already gone and they had left a little green square where they had been parked. Kim drove and I carefully guided her from green patch to green patch until we reached the road way. Once on the road we were home two hours later and Glasto was over for another year. Little did we realise what 1998 had in store!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Glastonbury 1995, BOLLOCKS!. (My Thirteenth Glastonbury)

I will always remember 1995 as the year that I put the bollocks into Glastonbury. I never claimed responsibility but other people have insisted that it was me that started it. Here is how it came about. It was another scorching hot year and this year we were all camped opposite the main stage just in from Muddy Lane, (It wasn’t always muddy, that’s just the name that lane became known as over the years) It was Friday night about 3.00 in the morning and I was sitting on my little chair by the campfire. I remember it vividly because we had all been having a sing-song of Beach Boys songs. Anyway, somebody was walking home up Muddy Lane and they spotted us through a gap in the hedge.
“Alright”, shouted this bloke, “Having a good one?”. I immediately thought of a witty reply.
“Bollocks”, I shouted back.
“Oh, well bollocks to you”
“No, you bollocks”
Then somebody else nearby joined in.
“Hey, you lot”
“Bollocks !”
“Bollocks to you as well mate”
Then it spread.
“Hey, I’m trying to get to sleep”
“You can bollocks as well then”
“Don’t you bollocks me!”
“Oh bollocks”

More and more people joined in and before long everyone was shouting bollocks at each other. I went to bed just before dawn but when I woke up later that morning all you could hear in the whole field was people shouting bollocks at each other and anyone else who had the misfortune to walk by. Chanting started as well with people shouting out the names of the politicians and celebs of the day.
“John Major”
“Bill Clinton”
It gradually spread from our field to all the others till the whole festival site was shouting “Bollocks!” at each other. In front of the main stage it was all going on. Finally, I don't know if it's true or not but on Saturday night Robert Plant & Jimmy Page came on stage and apparently Robert Plant said, “Hello Glastonbury”, and 100,000 people shouted back, ”BOLLOCKS !!”
Another thing I remember about that day was that when I emerged from my tent was that my little fold-up  chair had disappeared.
“Bollocks”, I said to Kim. “ Some thieving scally has nicked my chair”
Later that day we were in a beer tent and I noticed a chair in there. “That’s my chair”, I thought to myself, so when were leaving I picked it up and took it back to our campsite.
“Somebody nicked my chair”, I said to my sister Margaret, “but I saw it in the Beer Tent and nicked it back again”.
“That’s not yours”, said Margaret. “I saw you had left yours outside so I stored it safely in our tent”. So now I had two chairs. They were breeding!

I did well on my bookstall in 95 but I made one bad mistake. One day I sat on my stall for about six hours in the blazing sun and all I had on was a pair of shorts and no sun block. Next morning when I woke up my legs were burned red raw and had swollen up. I could hardly walk. I had to go to the medical centre and the nurse put on loads of calamine lotion. It was really painful I can tell you. Another thing about Glasto 1995 was that the gate-crashing had reached epidemic proportions. Glastonbury in the 90’s was crazy and 95 was possibly the craziest year of all. The official attendance figure was 80,000 but anyone who was there knows that it was at least twice that. Up in Kings Meadow at the top of the site a whole section of the fence was dismantled from the inside and thousands of people just poured in through the gap.

Musically it was just as crazy. For some strange reason they decided to put Portishead on in the Acoustic Stage. They were huge at the time, one of the most popular bands in Britain. Their album Dummy had won the Mercury Prize and about 15,000 people tried to get into the Acoustic tent. How a disaster didn’t occur I don’t know. I can’t remember a lot about the music that year. I watched a bit of Jeff Buckley but I left because I thought he was boring. I regretted that later when I discovered his album Grace and thought it was fabulous and I never got the chance to make amends because Jeff died less than two years after his Glastonbury appearance. Another band that I missed which I wish I had seen was Pulp who had replaced the Stone Roses at short notice. My niece Katherine came back to the campfire raving about how great they had been. I expect I was watching some folk band in the acoustic at the time. I enjoyed the Saw Doctors who are a great fun band to see live and I had some of their albums. I remember me and Kim watching Gilbert O’Sullivan in the acoustic. That shows what an old git I had become even in those days. 1995 was the year that they introduced the Dance Tent with the likes of Massive Attack and Carl Cox which was a huge success although I never went to it. I think that might have been one of the reasons for all the gate-crashers because this was the era of the illegal raves and acid-house parties which were sweeping the country and Glasto was the biggest rave of all.

Michael Eavis had stomach cancer in 1995 so there was no festival in 96 while he recovered. I think the festival needed to take a break anyway in order to take stock of the situation. Kim and I had to move house a few days after Glasto and I was still in pain from the sunburn but never mind, it had been worth it and 97 turned out to be another unforgettable year.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Finding Molly Drake.

I had never heard of Molly Drake until a couple of weeks ago. This is how I discovered her. There is an English folk group called The Unthanks led by Rachel & Becky Unthank. I haven’t got any of their albums yet but I have enjoyed the songs that I have heard and I saw them at Glastonbury Festival where they played with a full orchestra which was very impressive. Two of my friends are big fans of the Unthanks. Recently I saw on the internet that they are playing in Bradford On Avon in April which is a very picturesque little town only eight miles from me. “That sounds like fun”, I thought to myself so I bought some tickets and invited my friends down for the weekend. I’m looking forward to it. When I read more about this tour I discovered that they had deliberately chosen small venues which would be perfect for the intimate performance of the songs and poems of Molly Drake.

“Who on Earth is Molly Drake?”, I asked myself. I immediately googled Molly Drake and discovered via Wikipedia that she was none other than the mother of the legendary Nick Drake. Although I really like Nick Drake and am quite familiar with his best known songs and have one album called Way To Blue I’m not a fanatical fan like some completist’s who have to have everything he ever recorded. That’s why I hadn’t heard of Molly before. During her lifetime Molly never performed publicly or made any official recordings but I discovered that in the 1950’s her husband Rodney Drake had made some home recordings of Molly singing and playing the piano. Because of the increasing cult following interest in her son’s life, attention passed to Molly and finally these recordings were assembled into a cd simply called Molly Drake and released by Squirrel Thing records in 2013.
I had read enough. I knew I had to get this cd, especially because it was issued on the same label as the Connie Converse album that I reviewed a year ago. I have always been fascinated by people who never really sought fame and fortune or had a brief flirtation with fame and then faded away but whose reputation has grown over the years due to the quality of their work. In the past as well as Connie I have written about the likes of Karen Dalton, Linda Perhacs, Annie Briggs, Vashti Bunyan. Sibylle Baier, Shelagh McDonald, Mellow Candle, Thomas Fraser, Jonathon Kelly, Jackson C Frank and many more. Anyway, I sent off to Germany for a copy because I couldn’t see one available in Britain and a few days ago it popped through my letterbox. They have done an excellent job in the design of the cd with an attractive booklet with Molly’s story written by her daughter who is the actress Gabrielle Drake and contains lots of photos of Molly. I was a bit disappointed though because I was expecting a 45 page booklet of Molly’s poems to be included but alas there wasn’t. Maybe that was only with the first pressing of the album.

Due to Christmas it was only yesterday afternoon that I got around to giving the cd a good listen. The whole album is only 37 minutes long and there are 19 songs so you can see how short most of the songs are. Molly has a very English middle-class voice and sings in a very formal style. You can tell that the recording was made in the fifties. There is one song though called Poor Mum which almost sounds like a riposte to Nick’s song Poor Boy. If it was recorded in the 50’s then it is strangely prophetic. They have done a great job of mastering this cd from reel to reel 60 year old tapes but there is still some crackle and hiss on some songs but in a way that gives those songs a haunting ghost-like quality. The producer Joe Boyd said that these songs are the missing link in the Nick Drake story. I can understand what he means because the words do seem to have a feeling of quiet desperation and melancholy and explore the fragility of happiness which makes you think that Nick might have inherited a lot of his personality from his mother as well as a love of music.

I don’t suppose I will listen to this cd very often but I’m glad that I bought it. For the Nick Drake hardcore fans though who want to understand everything about him I think this music is essential listening. I am really looking forward to seeing the Unthanks performing Molly’s songs in April and I’ll tell you all about that concert afterwards.