Thursday, July 30, 2009


As we were driving back from our holiday in Scotland, a text arrived to tell us that our dear friend Stanley Middleton had died. He would have been 90 on Saturday. He was suffering from cancer and had been ready to go for several months. I visited him for the last time just before we left. He was in a nursing home, dying with the same dignity that he lived his life. There's a fine obituary from his literary executor and former pupil Philip Davis here. Our mutual friend and publisher Ross Bradshaw has written a short memoir here.

The photo on the left was taken at what I think was his last public appearance, at the launch for the new edition of his favourite of his novels 'Harris's Requiem' that I edited for Trent Editions. Stan is standing on the spiral staircase at Bromley House Library. It was the second of 45 novels. I hope that Hutchinson will publish his final novel, 'A Cautious Approach' soon. Many of us will miss him a great deal. Condolences to Margaret, his wife of more than fifty years ('I'd be a man made of smoke if she died before me' he once told me), daughters Penny and Sarah, and five grandchildren.

You can listen to or download my tribute to Stan on BBC Radio Nottingham's John Holmes show here.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Glastonbury Diary 2009 Day 4 

12.05AM. Rich and I lose each other coming out of the Queen's Head. He goes one way, I go the other, but five minutes, two texts and one call later, we're reunited. Fran and Chris are off buying presents for my niece and nephew but rejoin us at half twelve. Amidst the steadily growing crowd of young folk gyrating round their handbags, we dance to Motown, then decide to return to the camper van. No security queue to get out this time and no urge on our part to head over to Trash City and the like. Which is a good thing, because at one, just as we're all sat down inside the Hymer awning with wine, hipflask etc, the heavens open and a huge downpour begins. Poor sods who are still out there will have been soaked. We drink and talk until it's over, then I spend my last night outdoors.

In the morning, the queue to get out of the field is as long as it was at 1am, but we join it at 1.10pm and by ten to two we're out and away. The camper van experience might involve a lot more walking but it's also a lot more convenient in terms of access and shelter. Fran, heroically, drives for hours before the camper's out of petrol and we stop for scram at Warwick services around six. Then Chris drives us the rest of the way. Rich sleeps nearly all the time (see above), while I devour the entirety of John Niven's hugely entertaining Kill Your Friends, which I pass on to my siblings. In Sherwood, at half eight, we sit in the garden with a pot of decent tea, four very smelly but very happy people.

Glastonbury, there's nothing like it, and this year's line up could have been made for me. Three and a half days later, I'm recovered from the post-fest jet lag. Next year is the 40th anniversary, but I'll probably watch it on the telly, as I do most years. For this year's will be very hard to beat. 'Best Glasto ever', Michael Eavis says, as he normally does. This year, I'm inclined to agree with him, as are the other people I know who went. Thanks to Fran and Chris for driving, and Michael and Emily for organising it. That's it on here for a while, but you'll find me regularly on Twitter when I have something short to say. For now, though, I have a couple of books to write. Have a good summer.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Glastonbury Diary 2009 Day 3 

In the camper van, nobody is stirring. I head over to the next field and buy myself a bacon and egg bap with a mug of tea. The tea tastes disgusting, made with heavily fluoridated water, but the bap is brilliant. I ring my mate Rob over in the family field but fail to get through. So I head into the site and catch the end of the midday headliner on the main stage, Status Quo. In 1973 I had a ticket to see Status Quo and somebody nicked it from me (I know who, but there are libel laws). Thirty six years later, here they are playing 'You're In The Army Now', which is a miserably bad song. Still, I get to hear them do 'Down Down' and John Fogerty's classic 'Rockin' All Over the World' (I saw Bruce play it as an encore in 78, and the Quo opened Live Aid with it), which is nice. And I got a nice photo of two girls playing air guitar, above.

Next I went to the Jazzworld stage to see Linda Lewis, who I last saw supporting Cat Stevens in 1974 (unusually, she was in between his two sets, meaning that Stevens suffered from the crap sound for the first act syndrome - evidently they were going out with each other at the time, which may explain it). She doesn't do the one song of hers I remember, Cat's 'Remember The Days Of The Old Schoolyard' but she does pay a tribute to one of my great heroes, a Glastonbury legend, John Martyn (he appears in my Glasto novel, 'Festival') by playing 'May You Never'. 'John was a great bloke,' she says. 'Always legless.'

Rich texts to say that the Other Stage is running everything half an hour early, so he's just missed Art Brut. I explore the circus and cabaret field, where I see John Otway for the first time in - oh, at least 28 years - I saw him with Wild Willy at my first festival, Chorley Wakes, in 77 and interviewed him afterwards. I still have a signed copy of their first LP that they gave me there. His shtick these days seems to be comedy reinterpretations of well known numbers like 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.' Oh well. I've arranged to meet Rich in the Park field, which is a long slog, but he's already there, and I'd like to see jazz legend Terry Riley. Or is it blues legend, Terry Reid? We're not sure, until Reid comes on stage.

It's a nice area, which you can see in the top two pictures above, and they still have real ale left (the better beer holds out well at some bars this time - last time, everything good was gone by Saturday night). We watch Reid do four numbers, each better than the last. I try to remember which superband he nearly joined, but fail. Rich is less impressed and wants to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs - we've arranged to meet Fran and Chris there. So off we go (Reid, it transpires, turned down Robert Plant's job in Led Zeppelin and Ian Gillan's in Deep Purple, so the man has no commercial inclinations whatsoever - no wonder he was playing to a hundred people at the outer edge of the festival!).

We're not working hard on spots from now on - it's chill out time and the four of us have decided to stick together for the rest of the festival. We watch the YYYs (passable, but not really that interesting) and Bats For Lashes (ditto) from a distance, gorging on enormous burritos. Rich and Chris go over to see Nick Cave, but Fran and I are keen to see Bon Iver, who I picked up on early last year. He's excellent, despite the loud dance music drifting over from The Glade in the quiet parts. Heavier than on the album, of course. Good dynamics. The crowd sing/scream along on Wolves (which you can see the video of by clicking on the last link) makes for a stirring conclusion. But I'm with the girl next to us, who keeps yelling for album closer 'Re:Stacks'. He should have played that. Interesting to see that this artist, while heavily adopted by the Uncut/Mojo crew, actually drew the youngest crowd I was part of. Justin's band has seriously crossed over and it'll be very interesting to see what Bon Iver's next full album is like.

I'm a Nick Cave agnostic. I see what people see in him, but can't get worked up by any of his stuff. The only exception is the song There She Goes (my beautiful world) which I loved so much when I got it on a sampler, I put it on our best of year cd a few years ago. Fran and I arrive in time for his last four numbers. First up is her favourite, The Mercy Seat, then mine, the aforementioned There She Goes. He does a couple more of his big biblical numbers then he's off. By my reckoning, this makes it the perfect Nick Cave experience. Rich and Chris enjoyed the whole show.

We amble over to get a drink at our favourite bar (Solidarity) and and are joined by Rich and Chris. Off we go to watch Blur.

Now I've seen Blur twice before, in '92 and '97. They were good both times but I could have easily passed on seeing them again. In which case, I'd have made a big mistake, for Blur were awesome. Usually, for the last night, the crowd thins out a bit, and plenty of people were leaving. However, as you can see from the final photo above, the audience for Blur was huge. We got a spot dead centre, ahead of a gang waving Somerset flags, just before the set started. Hit after hit and classic album tracks followed. Loads of 'Parklife', including Phil Daniels guesting on the title track. And 'Tender', which I hadn't heard them do live before, was the song of the night. It was a big, happy, Glastonbury singalong, wave your arms in the air experience, and we all loved it. During the big ballad, 'To The End', I felt an arm slip round my waist and turned to find a long haired blonde of 19 or so, in a blue dress decorated with stars. She began to serenade me like a long lost lover: 'and it looks like we could have made it'. I serenaded her back and we sang another chorus together, then she slipped back into the crowd. A Glastonbury moment.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Glastonbury Diary 2009 Day 2 

Slow start to the day. Pyclet and banana for breakfast, then to the Pyramid stage to see the brilliant desert blues boogie of Tinariwen, a Malian band I've seen three times before. It's quiet at the front, so we discover that there's a dividing, safety wall to hold in the first thousand or so people (what, at a Bruce show, is called 'the pit', or at Beyonce 'the golden circle'). You can only access it from the front sides. This information will come in handy later. Tinariwen are as good as ever, perfectly suited to coming round on a sunny afternoon. My siblings go and crash on the grass to listen, but I stay near the very front, swaying slightly to the hypnotic, buzzy rhythms. Their new album is out this week, but they're too cool to mention this.

Then it's off for an explore. We head to the green fields (that's me near the entrance, second photo down) where Fran wants a massage, so we separate into pairs. Rich and I look at all the bits of the site we haven't been to so for (except the distant Park stage, which I save for Sunday). These are places like Arcadia, Trash City and Shangri La that only come alive at night. But we have our bearings now. It's a fascinating area to walk round. We'll see if we have the energy to return later.

I quite fancy the Gaslight Anthem, who the others go off to see (but they leave before Bruce makes a special guest appearance - oops!). I sidle through the crowds leaving Dizzee Rascal to get a great spot dead centre to see Crosby, Stills and Nash. Would have been nice to see them with Neil Young, but I've not seen Nash or Crosby before and their set was very enjoyable. I saw Stephen Stills last year but there was only a two song crossover (no 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' which was a shame). The Cros was in good form, even getting me to enjoy old chestnut 'Almost Cut My Hair'. Not sure why they needed to do cover versions when they missed out so much of their classic back catalogue. They did the Dead's 'Uncle John's Band' (itself a kind of CSN tribute) but it didn't work until about halfway through and followed it with 'Ruby Tuesday', which made no sense at all.

I'd arranged to meet the others nice and early to get a good spot for Bruce but had a bit of spare time, so wandered across by the Other Stage, where, serendipitously, I caught half an hour of Maximo Park. They irritated me at Rock City last month, with muddy sound and bombastic gestures that undermined the fragile beauty of their best songs. But here the sound was superb and Paul Smith was in rather more humble, win the crowd over by explaining the songs mode, which suited him better. I enjoyed 'Our Velocity' and 'Books From Boxes' amongst others, and was sorry I couldn't stay for 'Apply Some Pressure', but Bruce beckoned.

I first saw Bruce in '81, on 'The River' tour (twice). This would be my ninth time but I haven't seen a decent E Street band gig in twenty years (I can't count the '99 reunion tour, where we had crap seats at the NEC). We got to the front almost as soon as Kasabian left the stage. You can tell how close we were by the photo at the very top, which shows Bruce during one of his crowd invasions, a few feet away from us. But I'm getting ahead of myself. He delighted us by opening with an acoustic performance of Joe Strummer's classic song about Glasto, 'Coma Girl' (I nearly named a book after that song, tho' in the end opted for 'Coma'). Inexplicably, the BBC didn't show this (except for the bit where he said 'for Joe' at the end, before launching into 'Badlands'). After that, what can I tell you? If you're interested enough, you'll have seen nearly 90 minutes of the 2.5 hour set on the TV. There were a couple of songs I could have lived without ('Outlaw Pete', the Poguesish 'American Land') and I was sorry we didn't get 'Jungleland' or 'The Wrestler' from the new album. But it was a classic Bruce show, loaded with big hits (half the tracks on the latest greatest comp were played) and crowd pleasing gestures, like running across the moat and performing on the barriers, once getting into the crowd (as above). 'Promised Land', 'The Rising' and 'Tom Joad' were amongst the highlights. We were a bit cramped but had space to dance, except when one over excited young man pushed his way in. Soon he tried to crowd surf while Bruce was in the throng, and was swiftly ejected. Our view got better as the crowd rearranged itself too. Fran's a Bruce fanatic and it was her first Bruce gig in ten years. It was great to see the show with her and Rich (Chris doesn't like Bruce and left after the first number, listening to the rest from the bar). A classic family event (Paul, who got me tickets for our first Bruce show, at Manchester Apollo 28 years ago, and runs this music discussion group should really have been there too).

Afterwards, we had a pint. At one, we set off to Trash City, Shangri La and Arcadia. This involved walking very slowly with vast crowds of people on a long (often one way) route. It's not unlike the ritual evening promenade in France or Italy, except that people are concentrating on not stepping in puddles or falling down ditches so that they don't look at each other too much (a constant of the whole weekend was making sure that I had either my brother, sister or Chris in sight - only lost each other once, but I'll come to that). Oddly, there are only one or two bars in this whole area, so, although we were out until half four in the morning, it was a very sober experience. The device in the final photo above fired jets of flame throughout a set by one of Chris's favourite bands, Evil Nine. In one of many exotic inside areas we watched a weird Christian Bale movie with subtitles and a trip hop soundtrack. We enjoyed the carnival, but didn't bump into Michael Eavis, who also explored the area for the first time at night, and told the NME he stayed out until four. And on the way back to the tent, buying tea as dawn broke, Fran bumped into several work colleagues who, it turned out, were in the same field as us. Small world.

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