I’m not going to Glastonbury this year, though, of course I know a bunch of people who are, and I’ll be avidly watching as much as I can on the BBC. So there’ll be no new entries in what has always been this site’s most-read feature, my Glastonbury diaries, the 2003 and 2009 versions of which can be found by searching the archives. It was the most-read feature on my old website too, but the links to those Geocities pages have long gone, since Geocities closed down last year, taking 38 million pages with it. Some of those pages have been archived, but when I searched for ones from my old site (which ran from 200-2003) I couldn’t find them. However, today, just in time for the anniversary, my internet buddy Dave Lull tracked down all five pages of the diary. So I’m going to repost the detailed diaries from June 2000. Why so detailed? Well, it was my first Glastonbury, and I was also researching a novel – the, then uncommissioned Festival which was to appear the following year. The book went to to sell tens of thousands of copies and I still hear from people who’ve read it several times in anticipation of their first Glasto. I even had one NTU student who told me how he took a copy to his first Glasto and used the (extremely basic) map inside to locate his tent! Anyway, this is from before the days when I had a digital camera, so no images for the moment, just huge chunks of text. These entries are exactly as they first appeared. Part one is the preliminaries and part two, which I shall put up this evening, will be the Thursday entry. From tomorrow to Monday, I’ll post daily.
PART 1 – Before The Festival.
A few weeks ago I had a very pleasant lunch in Leicester with my agent and our partners, sometime during or after which I came up with a new idea: a novel set at this year’s Glastonbury festival – a kind of YA “Short Cuts” (“Short Cuts” is a movie by one of my favourite directors, Robert Altman, based on several short stories by one of my favourite authors, the late Raymond Carver.). It would have several main characters and interlocking stories. It would be a new thing to do.
My agent was enthusiastic. I went home and wrote a synopsis, and an opening chapter, partially inspired by a news story in that week’s “Big Issue”. Then I tried to persuade my friend Mike (the guy who puts up my website and to whom “Dying For You” is dedicated) to go to Glastonbury with me. Neither of us had been before. Unlike me, he’d always meant to go. Mike agreed, provided we stay in a B&B nearby, as we’re both too old to live in a tent stinking of our own sweat for four nights. I rang up for the Glastonbury Accommodation guide.
My agent loved the first chapter, but asked for another before she sent it to a publisher. I wrote one. All the Bed and Breakfasts I tried were fully booked. I checked with Mike and decided to try hotels instead. Amazingly, on the second go, I got lucky. A double room in Shepton Mallet, only three miles from the festival, which would mean only a short taxi ride if I wanted to leave the car behind and have a few drinks (Mike doesn’t drive). General jubilation all round.
An hour later, the phone rings. The bloke at the hotel (also running a busy restaurant) has made a mistake. He’s fully booked for every night except the Thursday. I try a few more places, further and further afield, but it’s useless. It’s now May and I should have booked by January, or whenever the dates of the festival were announced. It looks like I may have to do festival the traditional way, in a tent. First though, I check out RVs (after finding our what an RV is). There’s only one place near Nottingham that has them. We go and take a look at a mobile home. It’s posh – sleeps five or six (provided four people are willing to share doubles), but the guy’s just rented out the last one for that week. Good thing, it turns out that a week’s rental is £700, which would eat up half of my initial advance for the book (presuming it gets commissioned, which is not a definite. The YA book market’s in a lousy state.).
I plead defeat. Mike, worried about his holiday entitlement, is quite pleased to get an out, but it’s a drag for me. Mike and I go to a lot of gigs in Nottingham. He’s easygoing, plus our tastes tend to overlap and complement each other. The only other person I can think of to go with is my youngest brother, Tank, who goes to Glastonbury most years, and occasionally even pays to get in (Tank has already given me some help with this novel, as a section based on a tele-centre is entirely based on the one he works at). Tank says maybe, if the weather looks OK.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to angle to get a press pass, to give me better access to all parts of the site, make me legitimate when I try to interview people. Also, rather usefully, a pass would let me camp in a more central area (I’m getting on, you know, and have a bad back). And it would let me into a “hospitality” bar full of liggers, record execs and acts. I spoke to someone back in April, before the festival press office opened, and I’ve since written but, surprise, surprise, no reply.
I ring up and talk to somebody called Crispin, who sounds young and snotty. He tells me in a rather condescending way that I really don’t need a press pass. I’ll have all the access I need without one. Demand is huge and, anyway, they often make press people pay. I’m perfectly willing to pay and repeat that the book might be rather good publicity for the festival. Maybe I should have got on my high horse, told him that I was the most popular British author for teenagers (only a mild exaggeration) and that my audience was the festival’s target audience. But banging your drum’s so unBritish and, anyway, the little snot probably thinks that reading novels is deeply uncool, never mind writing them.
Crispin eventually concedes that, if I buy a ticket at the normal rate, doing so will put me in a good position to have it upgraded when they make the decision. I say I’ll do this. In a way, I’d rather fork out £145 for one of the hospitality tickets, but a press pass would give me better access and make me look less like a ligger. I ring up for a ticket and fax Crispin and his boss, Jason, with my renewed request, asking for a decision by June 4th as I’m out of the country for a fortnight from then (researching another novel in Greece). Now that I’ve decided to camp, a friend agrees to lend me a decent tent. Mine is 23 years old and full of holes.
The Glastonbury bill is announced. It’s very conservative, with none of my favourite bands like Teenage Fanclub, Wilco, The Jayhawks, REM. Flaming Lips are on, but I’ve already seen their set twice. Ditto Kate Rusby. The only surprises are the people who aren’t playing. Of the “strong rumours” discussed on the web-site, the following are absent. Super Furry Animals on Friday, Madonna on Saturday and Paul McCartney on Sunday. I’ve seen the SFAs and I was never expecting Madonna, as she’s fairly pregnant, but I must admit, as an old Beatles fan, I was rather looking forward to seeing Macca for the first time. No joy. The only person playing who I quite want to see and haven’t seen before is David Bowie. Unfortunately, he’s on last, which rules out an early getaway and means a fourth night in a tent. Oh, stop, whinging, Belbin, I hear you say. Which brings me to:
WHY I HATE FESTIVALS
Maybe “hate” is too strong a word. The last festival I went to was in June 1980, the Stonehenge Summer Solstice Free Festival. It was the pits. My girlfriend Barbara and I hitched down, then were too knackered to get up and watch the solstice. Later I watched as naked people danced in the middle of the stone circle (no, not us) and listened to some truly awful bands (the only one I remember is Nik Turner from Hawkwind). The food and facilities have, thankfully, been erased from my mind (but this was a free festival, remember). It was tiring. It was boring. It was windy, and probably wet. Afterwards, a lot of the teepee types were going on to Glastonbury (not then fully established as a festival, hard as this is to believe) but I made myself a promise: no more festivals. Fifteen years later, I revised this to: no more outdoor concerts, on the basis that they were a huge amount of hassle and you’d be better off watching the bands on video than from a huge distance with bad sound.
Watching on TV is what I do with Glastonbury. When I was a teacher, a bunch of my 20something colleagues would always pile off to Glastonbury after work on a Friday. I always lent someone my tent, but I was never tempted to go. It’s a long way. The loos are awful. If I was going to go to a festival, it would be Cambridge, which I twice attended in the Seventies (the first time was bliss, I slept on the floor at someone’s house, so, no tent and a place to escape – only problem was when I copped off with a girl and had nowhere private to take her). I believe the festival’s a lot bigger these days. I watch Cambridge on TV, too. It’s enough.
So why bother going? I’m an author. I can fake things. I’ve been to enough festivals in the distant past to make damn sure I’d convince a reader I’ve been to Glastonbury. Only I haven’t. If I’d been another year, even a long time ago, I might get away with it. But I visit schools and get interviewed a lot. And I always tell the truth. So when people ask me questions about this novel (again, presuming it’s published – I really don’t want to think about doing all the research and then failing to get a publisher) I don’t want to have to say “it’s all bollocks, I wasn’t there”. Also, I want to write a different kind of novel to the ones I’ve done before, not discursive, exactly, but not as plot driven, with more room for observational and philosophical stuff. I want to stretch myself, see what I come up with. I usually write first and research later but, this time, I want to work in exactly what went on. If I’m really lucky, by my being there, the book will at least halfway write itself.
So I’m not keen on pop festivals, but my characters (all bar one – see the draft beginning) probably don’t. So the novel will have to be more balanced.
At last, a letter from the festival press office. “Dear Press Person” it begins, then, in two short, completely unpersonalised paragraphs tells me that I can’t have a press pass because of high demand. Bastards. I make plans to include a villain in the book and call him Jason Crispin, or some such. Only trouble is, it’s not a crime novel.
Back from Speteses, after a great break, where I also got loads of writing done. I ought to get straight on with the adult forgery novel while I’m hot on it, but my Glastonbury ticket has arrived. Anyway, I’ve told too many people I’m going to back out now. Plus, in an odd sort of way, I’m looking forward to it all.
No word from my agent on the publisher’s reaction to my “Festival” material. Try to get in touch with Tank, to see if he’s coming. No-one in and he doesn’t ring back. Ominous. There’s an e-mail from my mate, Rob, an IT systems manager. He’s going to the festival, but on a hospitality ticket (so I won’t see much of him there) and we can’t travel together as part of the deal with him getting the ticket is that he has to pick up various people on the way. Shit.
Finally talk to Tank. He’s been badly burgled yet it still planning on going to the festival, but not until Friday. He’s going with a bunch of friends who’ve bought a broken down Dormobile for £200 so he won’t be training it over to Nottingham for a lift from me. Briefly consider going in the Dormobile (material, material!) but it’s not clear if it’ll make it there and none of them appear to have tickets. Their shenanigans might be useful for my research, but – thinking positively – maybe I’m better off doing it all on my own, with no-one else’s plans to consider. “Turn your limitations into advantages”: Graham Greene said, though he was talking about writing. I’m fairly self sufficent. It should be OK.
The tent I was going to borrow needs two people to put it up, so that’s out. I could borrow a smaller one, but don’t see the point, if my old one still works. It cost me £19 in 1977 and I hitchhiked from Colne to Greece with it. Since then it’s seen me through several festivals and camping holidays. I last used it in 1985 when Sue decided that she didn’t like camping, but it’s been borrowed for several Glastonburys since and is covered with an interesting array of patches. It fits two at a pinch and the zip at the front is all gone, replaced with red velcro. I put it up, discover I’m two tent pegs short, but my mate John Clark will lend me those, and anything else I need.
Sue comes back from Sainsbury’s with supplies for me” twelve energy bars, six half litre bottles of water, four apples, four wholemeal rolls, tissues, baby wipes and tiny fruit juices, plus more stuff that I’ve doubtless forgotten. I need to come up with a banner to help me identify my tent. At least I won’t have to worry about missing any good music to see the football. After another lousy performance, England are out of Euro 2000. I think of the people in the Socrates bar in Spetses, where we watched the other two matches in a great atmosphere – English and Germans together on Saturday night, then watch a depressing Panorama about the idiots who follow England around Europe, hope that none of them turn up at Glastonbury looking for something to wreck.
Letter from my agent with a cheque from Heinneman for a short book I’ve just done. “We must talk on Thursday or Friday’ she says, but I’ll be gone by then. Put off ringing her. I have to replace a second defective Sony video recorder before I go, hassle I don’t need, finally settling on a cheaper, more basic Panasonic one. Getting back, there’s an e-mail from Five Leaves publisher, Ross, letting me know that my friend Stanly Middleton, a novelist, is in hospital with a suspect heart attack. Stanley’s twice my age, but we’re close. Sue and I are very worried about him. Keep ringing his wife, Margaret but there’s no response (later it turns out that she’s been having a cataract operation).
John Clark (cartoonist, journalist and one of my oldest friends) lends me loads of stuff for Glastonbury. Last year he cycled 2,500 miles across America for a book about the Gold Rush which he’s just finishing. This is small beer for him but he thinks of me as a softy and wants to help out. I borrow a lilo but when I blow it up at home, realise that lilos are for floating in swimming pools and I’ll never be able to sleep on it. Where’s that mat I used to have? The tent held up well under a night of rain. I let it dry off then rush to bring it in when it starts raining again.
Finally get through to Margaret who’s in bed, recovering. I can’t spell what Stanley’s got, but it’s pretty serious. He was doing far too much in the heat last week she says. Trouble is he’s eighty and keeps running about like a fifty year old. If she hadn’t forced him to the doctor yesterday (where he was rushed to hospital), he’d probably be dead now. “But he’s tried to die a couple of times before. I don’t think he’s going this time.” We keep our fingers, toes crossed and try to arrange a visit when Sue gets back later in the afternoon.
Finally talk to Jenny, my agent. The editor who’s looking at the “Festival” book is on holiday (is it just me or do editors have more holidays than anybody else?) so no decision yet. She advises me not to put any of the m/s on the net and is rather worried that I should even mention the idea, at least until I have a contract, in case anybody nicks it. However I’ve already told several people (and written this), so I guess I’ll have to take that risk. a break now as I have to check and print off a short story that’s gone missing for her to send on to another publisher. *
After waiting half an hour while he was in x-ray, we found Stanley surprisingly chipper. Hurried back for me to concoct a stir-fry. Now I’m finishing this off rapidly so I can e-mail it to Mike to put on my web-site. Not much to do now, apart from pack clothes, decide which notebook to take etc. Don’t think I’ll take a camera, never mind a video camera – too much hassle. Maybe a small tape recorder, though, for interviews and when it’s not easy to write. Now Sue’s shouting at me because my stuff’s all over the place and we’re meant to be going to the theatre with friends who are coming round in fifteen minutes. I must be mad. Off I go…