STU'S GLASTONBURY DIARY
Culture without squalor.
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FRIDAY JUNE 24
Wake up and watch lightning arc across the skies of Bath, 15 miles or so east of Glastonbury. Thunder booms like earthquakes across the bowl-shaped valley of the city as sheets of rain batter the windows and drum a stirring tattoo on the roof. Nice and dry inside, though. Have some Sugar Puffs. In the supermarket the other day, they were selling "reduced-sugar" Sugar Puffs. Surely, that's just "Puffs"?
Share the experience of the still-raging storms with some chums via MSN. Turn on the TV news to see footage of large parts of the festival being swept away by dirty brown rivers of surging mud and rainwater. Watch for a while, then have a hot shower and get out feeling clean and refreshed.
"Keep moving or we'll sink."
Set out for a productive morning. Pop down to town during some gaps in the rain, enjoying the freshly-ionised air. It's still t-shirt warm, but much of the oppressive, suffocating humidity of the week has been dispersed by the storms. Gather a rich bounty of snack treats and head for home, where Nerovision Express should be just about finished encoding some episodes of The Armando Ianucci Shows for burning to DVD.
Burn DVD, and start a BBC4 Storyville documentary on Dr Goebbels encoding. Should provide some interesting study of the nature of mass delusion. Print out the published accounts for Glastonbury 2003 for some more leisurely browsing. Despite the claims of the Glastonbury accounts office in a BBC news story that "the festival gives all its profits to charity", the figures tell a slightly different tale. From a gross profit (that's AFTER paying all the artists and so on) of almost £10 million in 2003, the charitable donations account for barely 1%, or just £111,000.
Michael Eavis, by contrast, personally rakes in sums totalling close to £2 million in rents, management fees, compensation for loss of farm earnings and so on. On top of that, the festival company disposes of a further £9.7 million in "administrative expenses", which as far as this reporter can gather is actually profit siphoned off to various other related companies owned by the Eavises and the Mean Fiddler Organisation (a branch of evil right-wing US media conglomerate Clear Channel). In such a way, the festival can legally claim to be "non-profit", despite making millions of pounds for its organisers (who are also the only shareholders) and donating only a tiny fraction of its proceeds to charities.
"Don't worry! I'm still making a fortune, suckers!"
The BBC's Glastonbury coverage takes to the airwaves. Massive technical problems caused by the weather reduce the amount of footage from earlier performances, but the evening's headliners are captured in fine style. Digital viewers, such as your correspondent, are particularly well catered for - BBC3 is not only showing normal-style coverage all night, but is also offering five channels of interactive broadcasts, giving viewers the opportunity to select a particular band's set and watch it all the way through, uninterrupted by commentary or studio shenanigans. (This is of course a blessing in itself, since it provides a means by which to avoid the boneheaded witterings of Radio 1's omnipresent, toweringly vacant DJ pairing of Edith Bowman and Colin Murray. To be fair, the latter eventually redeems himself slightly by completely losing his mind during Primal Scream's set, but more on that later.)
Secure in the knowledge that the Beeb has everything covered, set the DVD recorder running and head off to the beer garden of a nearby pub with a friend and the puppy she's looking after for the weekend while its owners are at Glastonbury. Amusing hi-jinks ensue, of course - everyone loves a puppy. A mutual friend texts from the festival while we're out:
"Muddy, tired, hungover, cross. How's you?"
Text back to tell him that we're none of those things, thanks.
"I am a fool. My feet hurt.", he replies.
"Mummy? Can you send Daddy in the Range Rover to take us home? It's beastly."
Take the puppy for a romp in the park, then go home. Get some snacks and a cold beer out of the fridge, and settle down on a comfy giant beanbag in front of BBC3. Thoughtfully text our friend at the festival to let him know of these developments. The reply - his final text before lapsing into silence - reads "Bitch."
Watch most of a surprisingly good set from the White Stripes. The spartan two-piece do a better-than-expected job of commanding the crowd's attention from the main stage, which is very fetchingly decorated. During the duller songs, flick over to watch Fatboy Slim's splendid lightshow distracting everyone from the fact that he's basically a little bald bloke dancing to some records, or to the jaunty bhangra-hop stylings of MIA ("Sri Lanka's answer to Dizzee Rascal", apparently). When neither are very diverting, flick to Paramount Comedy and catch an excellent stand-up set from Stewart Lee on Just For Laughs. The footage is a couple of years old, so the Princess Di material still draws some shocked gasps from the crowd.
Observe, with some smugness, that most of the people who are actually at the festival are doing exactly what we at home are - watching it on TV screens, being far too far away from the stages to see the performers as anything but dots on the horizon. The only difference, of course, is that we're not standing outside in freezing cold and darkness, up to our shins in mud, a 20-minute trudge from the nearest refreshing beverage and two hours away from a flushing toilet, and having paid a small fortune for the privilege. Am slightly dismayed at having to take some drinks out of the smallish kitchen fridge before they're properly chilled, and decide to spend some of the money saved on not going to Glastonbury on buying a nice new dedicated drinks cooler.
Watch an excellent recording from earlier of Doves doing "There Goes The Fear", without having to stand around waiting through all their hugely-inferior other songs to get to it, and retire to crisply-laundered king-size bed. A splendid day all round.
You can actually smell it through the screen, can't you? Damp, sweaty nylon.
SATURDAY JUNE 25
Get up after a relaxing sleep. Have a bacon sandwich and a tasty probiotic yogurt and a quick game of Destroy All Humans on the Xbox, which is quite entertaining. The post brings a months-overdue cheque for £1,500. Score!
Watch the British And Irish Lions crash to a heavy defeat, in a Glastonbury-esque downpour, by the All Blacks in the first rugby-union Test of their tour. The weather outside is pleasantly mild, so decide to take a six-mile hike out into the countryside surrounding Bath. Having climbed the hill out of town, pause for a while at the cemetery in the grounds of Beckford's Tower to enjoy the view across the valley and think profound thoughts. On the way back, stop in the giant What! tat-store and look for a variable-voltage mains adaptor for the Digital Video Stabilizer I got thrown in for free when I bought my Nuon, and which I've belatedly realised will probably serve as a Macrovision decoder if I can get it powered and hooked up correctly. Despite a shop assistant vowing that they don't sell such a thing, I eventually manage to find one for the bargainous price of £2.20, and get home to discover that, to my joy, it will indeed enable me to use the stabilizer to make DVD copies of some of my disintegrating old VHS tapes, without spending the £30 I thought I was going to have to fork out for a special lead. Result! Still really hope that everyone at Macrovision dies of something painful and disfiguring. Soon.
As part of my new mission to find a good drinks fridge, head out in the car to Comet at Longwell Green (distance: 9 miles) to examine first-hand one that's on their website but lacks a picture. It turns out to look almost precisely like this:
...which is exactly the sort of thing I'm after, and is approximately a fifth of the price of identical-looking ones of the same size offered by various catering-equipment suppliers on the net. Including delivery on Monday it costs less than half of what I've saved by not going to Glastonbury and not having to buy a Macrovision-removing SCART lead, so I order one, and then go to the Longwell Green branch of What! and buy a case of Fanta Blackcurrant to put in it, at the newly-reduced bargain price of three bottles for a quid. (And then to the Asda across the road, where multipacks of the gorgeous new Branston Pickle flavour Mini Cheddars are buy-one-get-one-free.) Bingo bongo!
Spread the Saturday Guardian across the living-room floor and study world events for a bit. The newsagents was also selling the delicious new Maynards Sports Mixtures in another buy-one-get-one-free promotion, so get six bags to keep me going through the weekend.
The first of today's BBC2 programmes from the festival brings a beautiful live performance of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" from Gallic cover-version specialists Nouvelle Vague. It takes place within the BBC backstage compound, so anyone who's actually at the festival doesn't get to see it. In public-stage action, we get to see a splendid rendition of "Oh My God" from the Kaiser Chiefs' set. Before the day is out, and in the absence of much else to get excited about, the BBC will have broadcast this festival high-spot no fewer than nine times (not including radio).
"Actually, I DID find a drop to drink."
Tsk, out of grated cheese. Time for another short stroll to an inexpensive and conveniently-located nearby supermarket.
Back in plenty of time to tune to Channel Five for live coverage of the first semi-final of the Confederations Cup (flicking over occasionally to see traditional plucky Brit Andy Murray crash out of Wimbledon). Germany pull level twice in an action-packed first half, but have no answer to a third goal from Brazil, and despite all-out attack in the second 45 minutes it's the South Americans who progress to the final against either Argentina or Mexico.
BBC3 returns to the festival, with a blistering set from Keane. "Blistering" in the sense of "what happens to your feet after running a long, slow, boring marathon", that is. They are duller than the sky and wetter than the ground. Decide to have a little soak in a hot and fragrant bath, not because I'm dirty but just because I can. Meanwhile, an energetic and funny set of shouty harmonising from the Futureheads is only partly ruined by the crowd clapping like cretinous seals through beautiful, funereal album standout "Danger Of The Water" until the band decide to drown them out from the second verse onwards by adding some instrumental accompaniment to the normally near-acapella tune. (Actually, that's a bit unfair. Even the most cretinous of seals would have kept better time when barking along to "Hounds Of Love".)
"How did my life come to this? I want my Playstation 2."
A special little moment, as a roving reporter spots Bethnal Green MP George Galloway and interviews him, culminating in the semi-honourable member giving an impromptu rendition of the Proclaimers classic "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)". The controversial politician announces that after the festival, he's off on a sold-out lecture tour of America, which will apparently make him "as much money as if I actually HAD been an oil dealer".
In the main arena, tribute band The Fat New Order wheeze and waddle their way onto the stage, but are swiftly revealed to be the actual New Order, explaining the reported shortage of pies available from all of Glastonbury's many fast-food vendors. A set most charitably described as "ramshackle" ensues, and is most notable for the antics required to follow it on the BBC's coverage. It starts off straightforwardly enough, but by 9.15 the band are off the air, replaced by some lobotomised twattery from the presenters. At 9.30 the station's multi-channel interactive coverage kicks in, but viewers hoping to pick up the rest of New Order's set are disappointed - in numerous senses - by having none of the channels feature the Manchester troubadours, but two of them being dedicated to dire 1980s novelty act Echo And The Fucking Bunnymen. (In fairness, the BBC compensates slightly by having one of them displaying the Bunnymen, but with sound from Keane, which is at least better than having to listen to leathery Scouse dickhead Ian McCulloch as well as look at him.)
Attempts to view New Order via the Beeb's promised live webcast instead are frustrated by the fact that the website thinks the band is on at both 8.50pm and 10.20pm, and neither link actually offers any footage of the performance, but in compensation there's the day's fourth chance to catch the Kaiser Chiefs, for anyone who missed the previous three and won't be around for the next five.
"I'm SO glad they said they spent loads of money on improving the drainage."
"Me too. Otherwise the water might be slightly further up my shins."
For the next three hours, the BBC3 coverage takes on a highly surreal air, as a small roster of bands (namely New Order, Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian and Razorlight) have half their set broadcast on one of the interactive channels, then are replaced by half of someone else's set, then reappear on one of the other channels at a point 15 minutes back from where they were cut off, so that some of their songs get aired four or five times before another one's been shown at all. ("Transmission" fans are particularly well catered for here by the New Order coverage, with at least four plays, as are the three people in the world who like atrocious current single "Jetstream". It's possible the BBC just wanted to grab the opportunity to show as much as possible of the song's glamorous guest vocalist Ana Matronic from the Scissor Sisters, as visual respite from Barney and Hooky's double-chinned gurning and uncle-at-a-wedding dancing.)
Later, Coldplay's set is enlivened by a cover of "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", and not much else. Has anyone not covered it yet?
The end of another productive and cholera-free day is marked by loveable Londoners Chas and Dave, live in the BBC compound, performing the popular hit "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", except with the tune, lyrics and title replaced by those of their own chirpy Cockernee knees-up "Ain't No Pleasing You". Chas and Dave are 97 years old.
"Is this the Green Field?"
SUNDAY JUNE 26
It's Sunday. Time to go to the park, play with your rat, read some Bill Bryson, then go home and eat some tasty snacks (mm, ice cream with crumbled-up frozen Galaxy Ripples and lemonade, all in a big sundae glass), and chill out until the evening.
Culture pile-up! Manage, with some careful juggling, to catch the 350th episode of The Simpsons, and the exciting, red-card-littered penalty-shootout climax of the second Confederations Cup semi-final, while picking up the best bits of Brian Wilson during the ad breaks. The whole festival seems to have turned out to see the brain-damaged Beach Bloke (whose gaze is far, far away but whose voice is still in the right place) - the people at the back must be literally about a mile from the stage. Luckily, we TV viewers are up close and get to understand the poignancy and sadness behind those heavenly sounds.
A scary devil-woman performance from Shirley Manson of Garbage is followed by the standout moment of Glastonbury so far, as comedy double-act Bobby Gillespie and Mani of Primal Scream give an extraordinarily funny, stream-of-profanity interview with a hapless Col'n'Edith, culminating in Bob calling Basement Jaxx "fucking cocksuckers" live on early-evening telly. It's like Morecambe and Wise as played by Jerry Sadowitz and Roy Chubby Brown - real sandwich-drop TV. (And hey, once more, the best bits of Glastonbury turn out to be things you wouldn't get to see if you were actually there.)
Fucking hell, they're showing Kaiser Chiefs again.
So, can the Scream walk it like they talked it?
BOBBY: Do you wish you were seeing Kylie Minogue?
SOME AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yeah!
BOBBY: Well fuuuuuck you. Fuuuuuuck you. Fuuuuuuuck you.
BOBBY: D'you know what...? We came here in a fucking helicopter.
Glastonbury summed up in one picture - a human turd standing in a muddy field.
Now, that's why you ought to watch Glastonbury on telly instead of going. Firstly, as Bobby relentlessly abuses the crowd for being "fucking hippies", you know he isn't talking to you. Secondly, you get the full benefit of his playing to the cameras rather than to the live audience, with lots of snarling close-ups and contemptuous sneers inches from the lens. Thirdly, you can turn up the volume to something far louder than you'd get if you were there (an eternal problem for big festivals - if you make it so loud that the people near the back or off to the sides can properly appreciate the pummelling beats and waves of white noise, you'd kill the people near the front) and enjoy it the way it's meant to sound. Fourthly, you get to see what's actually happening as the security cut the power and manhandle Bob off the stage when the Primals try to play one more song.
Fifthly, the experience isn't diluted by having to stand in the middle of a crowd who are only there to stake out a good spot to watch Basement Jaxx from (another inescapable live-attendance drawback - if you do want to see any of the acts on the main stages from a halfway-decent vantage point, you have to stand there for hours beforehand, missing anything else you might have wanted to see elsewhere). And sixthly, there's no chance at all of inadvertently seeing Van Morrison while you wait, as the bad-tempered old codger has refused to have his set televised. Bonus!
Well, they're not Kylie, and they may or may not be fucking cocksuckers, but at least Basement Jaxx have put on a show. Including - who could have guessed? - yet another cover of "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", this time sung by some really camp guy who's apparently called Felix, and is just one of a cast of thousands employed to liven up what would otherwise be a pretty dull DJ set. Meanwhile, Ian Brown gives some purpose to his useless life by playing a bunch of Stone Roses songs and not murdering them too badly.
"Never mind - Athlete are on soon."
Grinning spoilt rich idiot Emily Eavis is given free reign by simpering presenters to witter on unchallenged about how "special" and different to other festivals Glastonbury is. The BBC has employed enthusiasts like Mark Radcliffe and Lauren Laverne to anchor the station's coverage of the festival, which is by and large a good thing, but it'd be nice to see just a little bit of journalistic balance exercised as well now and again.
Oddly, the BBC's TV coverage has been substantially less comprehensive on the Sunday, with just one main channel on BBC3 (the interactive multichannels now merely offering Little Britain, Casanova, and a looping festival "best of" compilation) and a few hours of different footage on BBC2. Perhaps they ran out of money. Still, as the coverage winds up its last couple of hours of broadcasting once the festival itself is over, with a series of presenters' personal highlights and such, there's - yes! - one last chance to catch those krazy Kaiser Chiefs, bringing the total number of airings of the high points of their set to somewhere around the 20 mark. And then, time for bed, while everyone at the festival starts on the 10-hour process of queueing to get out.
So, that's Glastonbury the WoS way, chums - hours of top-quality concert footage (some of it even exclusive to us lucky TV viewers) with a great view and clear sound; international sporting excitement; 100 channels of cabaret entertainment, all at the touch of a button rather than a 30-minute trek through sludge; some relaxing reading; no mud; no jugglers; no lining the pockets of greedy farmers and right-wing media corporations; a comfy bed; fun social interaction with chums; loads of tasty snacks at bargain prices; healthy physical exercise in beautiful countryside; and ice-cold beverages on demand for years to come. And all for about half the cost and none of the unpleasantness. You know it makes sense.
"When we get home, tell everyone we had a great time anyway."