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Camden goes to Glastonbury - festival preview
Camden goes to Glastonbury - festival preview
Tue, 23/06/2015 - 14:02
Published:25 June, 2015
by DAN CARRIER
IT is billed as the world’s best music festival – but Glastonbury, which takes place this weekend on Michael Eavis’s dairy farm in the gentle rolling fields of Somerset, is about much more than headline acts and rocking-all-night sound systems.
Spread over more than 100 sprawling acres, Glastonbury’s strength is the fact it encompasses a huge range of performing arts. Its fields are packed with theatre, poetry, drama, circuses, its hedgerows and trees providing shade to those discussing politics, practising crafts and sharing their art.
There are plenty of people heading down from north London to take part – including myself, DJ'ing as the Dig It Sound System in the Unfairground field - and here the Review has caught up with some who are hitting the road south-west for the cultural landmark that is Glastonbury.
CHRISTO Hird, who runs NW5-based film company Dartmouth Films, is taking the stage at Speaker’s Corner in the Green Fields with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and head of Greenpeace John Saven on Saturday at 12.30pm.
Dartmouth Films are known for their documentaries that highlight current issues – and help change policy.
“I’m due to be talking about documentaries and social action,” says the film-maker, who lives in Dartmouth Park.
Christo has in recent years produced two films that have led to long-term change.
His 2009 documentary End of the Line highlighted the wasteful and damaging effects of over-fishing on the oceans’ biodiversity, while Black Gold revealed issues in the coffee industry.
“Both films had measurable effects on consumer behaviour, government policy and the policies of big corporations,” he says.
This year, they are releasing a film called The Divide, which considers the work of political philosophers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, who wrote the book The Spirit Level. Drawing on 30 years of research, it shows how the more equal a society is in terms of wealth distribution and opportunity, the healthier – and happier – it becomes.
Christo says using documentaries as part of campaigns has become more prevalent in recent years.
“It is the case that there has been an increase in the number of films made outside the usual broadcasting system, aimed at changing public opinion,” he says.
“But what really matters is when you can combine a documentary with existing social movements – then it can be very powerful.
“It can take the message to those who have not heard it before. It provides a tool for campaigns to use.”
And Glastonbury provides a perfect forum for film-makers to discuss their work, he adds.
“People who have not been to Glastonbury perhaps don’t always understand it is much more than music,” he says.
“It is basically like stepping into a small city, and it is a self-sustaining community that is not dominated by big international brands. All the businesses here helping provide for the needs of those who come tend to be small, they tend to be individuals, independent stall-holders. You feel, for once, you are in a world not dominated by big corporations.”
And the sense of enjoyment creates a special feeling.
“Everyone is there to enjoy themselves, not to cause trouble or exploit other people,” he says.
“I once spoke to a policemen who had come from Hull – a comparable-sized population as there is at Glastonbury – to work for the weekend, and we were speaking about the crime figures. He said to me, if Hull had the same number of crimes as Glastonbury on a Saturday night, he and his colleagues would think all their Christmases had come at once. The sense of community that runs through the atmosphere is very powerful.”
THERE has been acres of newsprint spent on Glastonbury, and a fair few books too – but what connoisseurs consider the definitive book on Glastonbury was penned by festival insider John Shearlaw.
John has worked in the press office at the festival since the mid-90s and has been a regular long before that.
The journalist and author is behind the book Glastonbury: An Oral History (Ebury Press), an enchanting tome packed with voices of those who have made their way to Worthy Farm each year, from dairy farmer Michael Eavis, to people who make the festival possible, to performers and the people with tickets in their pockets.
His work details how the festival started as a party on a farm back in the early 1970s, where the price of a ticket included lots of free milk from Mr Eavis’s dairy herd. It includes voices of Michael and his daughter Emily, now heading up much of the organisation, to what it means for the people living in Glastonbury village and police officers on the rural beat.
From the big stars who have appeared there – including Billy Bragg, John Peel, Norman Cook and David Bowie – to the workers who make it all possible, John’s book is the comprehensive social history of what is the world’s most famous party.
The festival’s story is also told this year from the other side – by a writer who didn’t have a ticket, let alone an access pass. David Johnstone’s novel Ultraviolet, published under his pen name Blueblagger (pictured, above), is a fictional depiction of his own adventures at the festival in the early 1990s. David is a journalist who specialises in music and football. He has run the legendary Chelsea FC fanzine CFCUK for 30 years, and has been a Glastonbury regular since the 1980s. This story – which he says is “about 95 per cent” true – brings back to life the days when getting in over the fence or through a similar scam was seen as a right of passage for teenagers across Britain.
Told in the first person, it reveals how the lead character had discovered that the gate staff at the festival were giving people ultraviolet stamps so they could come and go. The hero of the tale bought himself an ultraviolet pen and set up a weekend cottage industry blagging people in through the doors.
“Glastonbury has always been a special experience,” he said.
“It has changed over the years – it used to have a real edge and didn’t always feel very safe. People would bring vans on to the site with generators and sound systems and set up their own impromptu raves. It felt lawless – in the 1990s, when you went, you’d not be sure you should leave your tent unattended or stuff would get nicked.
“Now, it is impossible to jump the fence but the crime rate inside has gone right down. You no longer worry about getting mugged, being hassled by drug dealers.
“On the other hand, it had a very DIY culture back then and that was a very attractive and creative force. Today, it is so much more organised.”
While his book is not a nostalgic lament for days gone by, it takes the reader straight back into a period when music festivals were not big business, and had a sense of pure, unadultered, make-it-up-as-you-go-along fun.
David may not be the first person people on the gates at music festivals want to see, as he used to make it a statement of pride that he could get into concerts using nothing but charm and ingenuity. With Glastonbury, known years ago for attracting people who saw jumping fences as part of the experience, it was always an opportunity to put his skills to good use.
“I reckon I am in the top 10 blaggers in the country,” he admits.
“I just love getting myself in places. I manage to become totally invisible when it comes to getting through doors.
Critics are calling Ultraviolet a contemporary classic - a honest depiction of the festival in the days of acid house raves, a Gonzo journalist style account of the biggest party Britain holds each year, and an unsanitised account of youth culture of the period.
KENTISH Town’s first family of rock and roll Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, (pictured, below) are hitting the Acoustic Stage on Saturday at 3.30pm – and after a spring of playing as far away as America and Japan, they are looking forward to heading to a place they know well to play some foot-stomping rhythm and blues.
The band, made up of the Durham family – and featuring dad Graeme and mum Ingrid as well as the three siblings – have appeared at Glastonbury before.
Kitty, the youngest of the three siblings, said she was looking forward to the unique atmosphere the crowds being to the occasion.
“This will be our fourth time at Glastonbury. I think our first time was in 2007 – also one of the muddiest years, I believe,” she says.
Horrible rain or baking sun, she knows the Glastonbury crowd are always in the spirit of things and waiting to be entertained.
“It demands a left-field approach from bands – especially when you consider who may follow you on stage,” she says.
“Last time, we played the Avalon stage which was great, and I remember the gig being really fun.
“The Wombles played after us.”
With the sheer scale of the place, it makes it hard for performers to really gauge what is going on elsewhere, she admits.
“It’s certainly big, but a little too big for my taste,” says Kitty.
“I love small festivals, where everything is a little less chaotic and more chilled. I’m not sure if we’ll have time to see any other bands, but I’m really looking forward to playing Glasto this year and hopefully gaining some new fans.”
While it may be every performer’s dream to bag a set at Glastonbury, one group from Camden Town are making their debut this year – and their show allows everyone in the crowd to live the dream.
Friday I’m In Love (FiiL) is the mass sing-along party dreamt up by Matt Morrisroe and Jayne Savva. The FiiL band will be appearing with the Guilty Pleasures crew at the William Green stage on Thursday at 5pm – an opening night set that leaves them plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the sights and sounds.
The show features Matt’s band playing hit after hit after hit – and the crowd belting out the lyrics at the top of their voices.
It started four-and-a-half years ago when founding member Matt met Jayne at a party.
“She had this idea for a rock and roll sing-a-long featuring a live band,” he said.
“I thought: let’s do it, so we put together a group with our friends who are musicians.”
The group, who have performed at various Camden landmarks including Koko, often run specially-themed nights such as a rock or girl power.
For Glastonbury, the acclaimed night out will be offering a diet of classics for the masses.
“We want to play songs that people just intrinsically know the words to,” says Matt.
“We stuck the lyrics up on a screen but we find we don’t need to – we find people get their voices going and belt them out.”
Matt says he is particularly looking forward to a few days in the countryside with his FiiL crew as he is a Glastonbury virgin.
“This is a big moment for us,” he says.
“We are super excited about it and has it set up the rest of the summer nicely for us.”
The band are taking their mass sing-song to the Latitude festival and then to the Edinburgh Fringe – but first there is the matter of getting through the Glastonbury experience.
Mat added: “I’m a little nervous but the good thing is we can do our gig at the start and then spend the rest of the time enjoying ourselves and checking out the other acts.”
THE Dotmaster is an artist who has a career that ranges from creating striking street art to commissions to decorate entire homes. This year his work has included an installation at the Exhibitionist Hotel in Kensington, which saw him take over a suite for a show, while his Trash and Cash exhibition at a gallery in Marylebone late last year featured canvases that won huge praise.
But for the past three weeks, The Dotmaster – real name Leon Seesix (pictured, above) – has lent his talents to turning a field in one corner of Worthy Farm into an event installation, and Glastonbury gives him the perfect opportunity to combine his creative skills with a background in event installation, too.
Leon is one of the set designers and builders in the field called the Unfairground and he and his colleagues have been busy getting the place ready for the ravers who come to party in the eclectic atmosphere of this particularly peculiar corner of the farm.
And this year, the crew – many of whom are travelling craftspeople and artists, living in vans – are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Beanfield.
The Battle of Beanfield has gone down in history as the day the Thatcher government declared war on people living an alternative lifestyle. In 1985, a convoy of around 600 people travelling through Wiltshire were set upon by police after they had headed towards Stonehenge, hoping to organise a free gathering. It quickly became violent, with police smashing up vans. It resulted in what was the largest mass arrest of civilians since the end of the Second World War.
“Some of the people working here were involved that day,” says Leon. “We decided to use sculpture and artwork to consider what happened that day.”
One interactive attraction is based on the old Fairground game, Whack The Mole.
“You dress up like a copper, you are given a truncheon, and then you stand in front of a miniature village,” Leon says.
“Heads of ‘undesirables’ pop up out of the roofs and you have to whack them with your truncheon. It is a take on pointing out the discrepancy in policing policies, which was what happened at the Beanfield. It was basically an order that allowed the Thames Valley police, who’d been spoiling for a fight, to beat up hippies.”
Leon has worked on the Glastonbury arts team for nearly a decade and he says the clue is how to make something visually exciting and politically relevant, all on a tight budget and in a short space of time.
“You have to be imaginative, simply because of the budget we have,” he says.
“You can’t just go out and buy things. It is hard work and can be pretty expensive to put together.
“We are essentially building a circus in a field. We have a fresh look at it each year, we move attractions around to keep it interesting.”
As well as the fairground attractions and art installations, there are a series of tents with performances and parties going on. And the backstage bar is typical of their ingenuity and eye for invention. Many of the crew frequent a pub in Bristol called The Chelsea – and so they have designed their own version of it, including borrowing fixtures and fittings from the pub for the duration.
“I suspect if anyone goes to the real Chelsea pub over the weekend, the bar may feel a little bit empty,” he says.
ANOTHER crucial aspect of Glastonbury is providing a platform for interest groups, pressure groups, protest movements and charities.
Amy Hanson, who lives in Highgate, runs the Small Steps Project – a group that provides footwear and education projects for children living on rubbish dumps around the world. This year they are screening a film about recycling at Glastonbury between acts on the Pyramid stage, and are running various fund raising activities.
This is their fourth time as a group at the festival.
“We have a team of volunteer litter pickers who clean up Glastonbury to raise funds for real life child scavengers and litter pickers,” says Amy.
Another crucial event for Small Steps is persuading performers to hand over their own footwear.
“We collect the artists shoes and auction them in our Celebrity shoe auction in the Autumn,” adds Amy.
And with the 100s of wellies festival-goers take to the party, the Small steps team have a ready-made source of vital protective footwear for people in desperate need.
“Our partners, Festival Reboot, up-cycle wellies which are recycled in the wellie drop offs and we make an aid convoy out of them,” she said. Last year, they recycled around 2,000 pairs of wellies.
“They are redistributed to the people on the dumps rather than going into landfill,” she adds. “It makes it part of the solution as opposed to the problem.”
But she urges all festival goers to think carefully about what they are leaving behind on the farm.
“However we only up cycle the wellies that are handed in,” she adds. “Wellies and waste that is left at Glastonbury goes to landfill. recycling has to be down to everyone, if you leave your stuff wherever, thinking you have a clear conscience because it is going to get recycled, you are wrong, its going to landfill. You have to be proactive and part of recycling. If you put stuff in the recycling bins or wellie drop offs, it gets recycled. but it is an urban myth that everything does.”