I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to a proper music festival.
Well, not completely. I was, as a child and teen, a regular at a nearby and internationally-celebrated Jazz festival, due to my father being both an enthusiast and a competent Jazz musician. So while my peers and contemporaries in the early-to-mid-90s were blowing their minds on a combination of Shed 7, one of the many iterations of Hawkwind, and being introduced to the sunrise via some over-priced weed, somewhere in a British country meadow, I was getting down to the likes of Pat Metheny, Clark Terry, and John Scofield with my Ma and Pa.
(What’s more, Dad insisted on not camping – he reacted with genuine horror to the idea of sleeping under canvas – and instead we stayed in a hotel. Rock n’ fucking Roll).
As I got older, I went to a few community festivals, some of which were quite large and attracted some big names (Robert Plant, Roni Size, Spiers & Boden – who are sort of big if you like British folk music). But they were day-only affairs. I’ve never camped at a festival site. I’ve never experienced the legendary three-day-full portaloos at 2am with Dutch Gabba pounding in my ears from a nearby stage. I’ve never ‘skanked’ to a 38% reformed line-up of The Specials. I’ve never had fumbly sex in a dodgily-constructed two-man tent whilst stoned out of my box (well, I have, but not at a festival).
Aaaaanyhoo, what with every smug bastard I’ve ever met having been to a festival at least once, and their bloody stories about shitty toilets and crap drug experiences; and me, with my inferiority complex, feeling somewhat left out of all of this. I figured people had stood in my way long enough, and this year I was going Festivalling.
Sarah – a veteran of three mid-90s Glastonburys and a WOMAD or two – was in agreement. Alice was game for anything. You see, every year, when Glasto is given a weekend’s worth of blanket coverage by the BBC, we pile all the cushions into the living room, put the TV through the stereo, light some incense, cook some “street food” (i.e. burned bits of potato, meat and cheese) and watch as much of the performances as possible. This can mean having to sit through the interminable “schmindie” of, say, Coldplay… or it could mean listening to a brisk and fantastic PJ Harvey set, through to the unexpected joys of the batshit-crazy Gaslamp Killer, or even Dolly Parton.
So which festival? There are billions in the UK every summer, or so it seems. We opted for WOMAD – the World Music Festival set up by Peter Gabriel in the early 1980s – for various compelling reasons:
- We can afford it
- It being ‘World Music’ we won’t have any preconceived opinion on the line-up (unlike, say, 60% of the type of bands who play Glastonbury that I’d bury myself in centipedes to avoid)
- We’re a pro-multicultural, ethically-sourced, environmentally-friendly sort of family. WOMAD is right up our Smugness Alley
- It has a reputation for being excellent for families with young kids. There’ll be plenty for Alice to enjoy.
- Apparently the food is really good
- Hey, I’m sure can stock up on brightly coloured African shirts, right guys??!
- Sarah’s mother (the excellent Mothra-in-Law) and Superb Aunt are regular attendees, and every year drop hints for us to come along
- It’s barely an hours’ drive away. If it’s shit, we can pack up and go home
So with all that in mind, at the end of July, we set off for WOMAD. Here is the report on wot i did on my festival holiday…
9am-11am: PACK. Pre-packing involved getting new rucksack for me to use as a day-bag; ensuring all our camping stuff was in reasonable order; checking petrol, tyres and oil (which is a bit pointless considering we’re only travelling 25 miles up the road and then parking the car for the weekend); and transporting the tent and a trolley over to Mothra-in-Law as she was going to WOMAD early and – unbelievably kindly, which is typical of her – set the tent up for us before we arrived. AWWWWW!!!
Anyway, in the Phnut household, packing involves me insisting on having my morning coffee and then being cajoled and exhorted into action by an impatient Sarah, which then leads to cajoling and exhorting Alice into packing sensibly – ten outfit changes, including her Iron Man costume, is not sensible packing for a three-day festy.
Inevitably, the set-off is extended by the traditional recital of the “Have you packed the _______?” litany. Then set off, only to slap my forehead with the cry of “SUN-CREAM!!”, or “SOCKS!!!”, or “MEDICATION!!” and then return to the house in a hurry. Repeat litany as necessary.
Radio 2 in the car on the way. Don’t want to over-stimulate ourselves.
12:30pm: No queue on approach to site until the very last minute. The distant hill is covered in flags and banners. It’s like the pre-battle assembly gathering of an army. Directed by perky female students to park car at the bowel-end of a massive field. Offer to sherpa all the heavy items, with Sarah and Alice carrying just light stuff. REALLY begin to regret being so heroic after just 50 yards. Buddha-be-praised that we’re not carrying the tent! Our tent is fucking massive.
The campsite is massive. Sarah walks the perimeter looking for MiL and SA. Eventually we have to ring them for help and they come bounding over the hill. Arrive at base camp to discover that we have a nice corral of three tents, and there is plenty of space between us and any neighbouring strangers. I assume that this is down to WOMAD camping etiquette (I discovered later that Mothra-in-Law had been shooing away other campers from our vicinity like a territorial goose, telling them we were a large group and more of us were coming. Hurrah for Mothra!!)
12:45pm: Head into the Festival. Enter through the ‘Healing Wood’. I doubt I’ll need a Shiatsu massage costing £15 during the weekend, but you never know. Pass through the kids’ field. Rather keen for lunch and Mothra insists on taking us to the Goan Curry stall for a Keralan Fish Curry. It’s magnificent.
2pm: Wander about. Festivals are bizarre little towns that spring up, it seems. There’s lots to buy and peruse. Obviously some of the things (wood carvings, overpriced djembes) I’m not going to buy, but some (the essentials: food, fabulously ostentatious shirts, water) I’m going to go nuts on, finances permitting.
2:30pm: My first toilet. Feel a bit like there should be an Elmo instructional video on Festival Toilets, but this one is… OK. It’s clean, there’s toilet roll, and it doesn’t smell. However, I made the classic first mistake: I looked into the abyss. Nobody should do that.
2:45pm: There are lots of women around here who are not wearing a bra!!! I’m totally cool with it.
2:47pm: However, just to be sure, I’ll keep my dark glasses on. Women can’t tell if you’ve noticed their brazen bralessness if you wear your dark glasses!
2:48pm: That woman just glared at me. I think she sensed I was aware that she was not wearing a bra, even though I was wearing the dark glasses.
3:10pm: Bought the first of The Many Outrageous Shirts. Spent 10 minutes dithering, by which time the family had moved on out of boredom.
4pm-6pm: Wanderin’. Occasional music acts. All pretty lovely so far.
6pm: Charles Bradley & The Extraordinaires. I’ve dragged Aunt and Mothra away from This Is The Kit to see Bradley, who is funky and sparkling in an early-James-Brown kind of vibe. Much high-pumped funk, which could not compete with This Is The Kit. Sorry ‘Kit. I’m enjoying the fact that all the English-language bands have a sign-language interpreter at the side of the stage.
7pmish: Buika. Lovely stuff. Eat reasonable Moroccan meaty thing with chips.
8pmish: Alice to bed. Sarah on child-minding duty. I then wander around the market stalls and, to my inevitable pride and shame, spend an obscene amount of money on more Outrageous Shirts. Really liking walking around in the dusk, lovely warm atmosphere, foody smells, nice vibe, no gangs of pissed-up arseholes.
9:30pm: John Grant. Lovely singer-songwriter. Mix of 80s electronica and lush West Coast balladry. ‘Glacier’ brings a tear to my eye. Damn you, John Grant! YOU MADE ME CRY! YOU WRITE SONGS THAT ARE MEEEEEE!!!
10:45pm: Might have man-crush on John Grant. Hmmm. Lovely beard!
11pm+: Decide to go for another wander. Beats starting to get a bit more throbby. Lots more people with sparkly bits on their faces. Get tempted to put sparkly bits on my face. Get tempted to have a kebab (it’s OK, 2 stars), get tempted to stay up late and go raving. Worst of all, tempted to smoke a cigarette, although Sarah would definitely sniff it out. Decide that my feet hurt, my knees won’t last longer, I’m knackered, sparkly things will get trapped in the beard and be itchy, and I’m too old to Have It Large, Dan Phnut-style, like I used to (and even that was rare). Head tentwards. But before bed… THE TOILET…
11:30pmish, but I’m not counting: Last kebab probably not great idea. Opt for being very brave and braving the toilet. OK, this is more like it. Stench of ordure… no light… can’t see… toilet roll at the bottom of the rucksack… at least it’s impossible to glimpse the abyss now. Come out to discover queue of young men and women all dressed for raving, all about to enter the zone what I left a scent in.
12amish: Stumble through the dark looking for tent. Can’t recognise tent in the dark. Headtorch at the bottom of the rucksack. Family Field all dark and full of tents. Where’s our tent?? I’m lost! Is that our tent? Who’s making that noise, it sounds like tearing paper. TENT?! Snoring all around. It’s like being in a forest of snoring tents. A Snoring Forest. A SNOREST. Is this our tent? It looks like our tent…
9am: Luckily, it was our tent. Slept remarkably well, considering it’s a) a festival; b) music did go on well into the early hours; and c) we’re surrounded by other children and families. Joined family. Superb Aunt provided Lapsang tea.
9:17am: Toilets now remarkably clean and not horrible again! Truly, we live in an age of wonder (and LIES – all that stuff I was told about festival toilets being volcanic eruptions of shit clearly not true anymore)
10am: There’s a PIANO just by the path on the way to the main arena. It’s available for ANYONE to play it!
10:10am: My tinklings draw a crowd. Sarah whispers in my ear that there are lots of little girls with their parents watching us, and now is the time to bash out ‘Let It Go’. Alice leads the singalong, and one happy little cherub squeaks to her father that “This is the best festival ever!!”
11-3pm: Mooch about. Finances somewhat bruised by last night’s shopping spree, although still can’t help adding to the Outrageous Shirts. All the women seem to be wearing bras today. I’m obviously cool with that. Eat pizza with far too much cheese on it. Tastes like a Tesco shopping bag. Watch some excellent storytelling in a teepee. I get privately annoyed on the storyteller’s behalf at irritating children who insist on attracting her attention (remarkably not Alice, but a little squit who could not contain himself and had to be louder than everyone else. Little squit.)
4pm: Crowded main arena. Start to feel a bit under pressure for no reason. End up being irritable with everyone.
5pm: Anoushka Shankar marvellous. Still v antsy and snappy. Realised later this was some sort of panic attack. Too many people all around. Crowds pressing in. No personal space. No peace and quiet. Children running everywhere. Lots of children doing circus tricks with sticks and string and things, particularly poi and diablo.
Stomp off for a sulk under a tree in the calm healing zone. Attempt to make amends with Sarah by sending text message. It reads: Help! You have the map and I’m stuck in the Piffle Field and bloody hippies keep telling me I look amazing in this new African shirt! Where am I meeting you again?
Sarah does not respond.
6pm: Calmer in time for Baaba Maal, but only just. People still frazzling me. Baaba Maal does not care. Baaba Maal just calming. Mmm. Baaba Maaaaaaal…
8pm: Weirdly, even though crowds still everywhere, I’m feeling a bit better – probably because there are less kids. Have food. Can’t remember what. Think it was meat of some sort. Walk round market. Must not buy Outrageous Shirts. Compensate by buying Remarkable & Extraordinary Shirts instead. Mothra takes Alice to bed.
9:30pm: Now much more relaxed, watching George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic. Realise that I recognise a significant amount of their set. P-Funk more mainstream than I previously thought.
9:45pm: George Clinton & P-Funk is basically funky Hawkwind.
9:51pm: Funky Hawkwind is awesome!!!
10:23pm: Actually start dancing. DAMN YOU, FUNKY HAWKWIND!!
10:45pm: Maggot Brain guitar solo. YAAAASSSSS!!!!
11pm+: Wander back tentwards. See piano. Tempted to do late-night piano tinklings in order to woo wife. Gang of jeering, beer’d-up lads barge past and hurl themselves at the piano. Sensing piano-vandalism, or at the very least, Chopsticks (which amounts to the same thing, TBH), I stick close by; alert to the possibility of having to admonish them for damaging the piano. Beer’d-up lad then bashes out an accomplished ‘Take the A-Train’. As you were, lads.
Ahhh, WOMAD. Where lairy gangs of pissed blokes play Duke Ellington.
4am: Go to the toilet in the shivery pre-dawn. Didn’t bother putting on shoes, which might be a mistake, but discover that the grass is soft and comfortable, and there are no sharp things to step on!! Someone has obviously inspected every square centimetre of ground in the campsite and ensured there were no thistles or sharp things underfoot. I want to meet that person and give them a kiss (although it was probably sheep, so this agreement is not binding)
9am: Another good night’s sleep! This is better than camping in a normal campsite!!
10am: This morning’s main attraction for Sarah is to see TV’s top jaunty chefs, The Hairy Bikers. I’m bowing out, due to a workshop on the Kora, one of my favourite musical instruments (along with the valve piano, soprano double bass, and the bum trombone).
10:23am: Some bloke has just confused me with being one of the Hairy Bikers, presumably because I’m hairy. I’ve never ridden a motorbike though, and I’m not a TV chef.
10:38: The Hairy Bikers, with an accompanying PR person, have just walked past us at a distance of 150 yards!!! OMG!!!
10:48: Observe The Hairy Bikers riding slowly on their motorbikes along a path. There is a crowd of people watching them and taking blurry iPhone pictures. They wave as they pass. OMG!!!!!!
11am: Walking around the site, and we literally bump into The Hairy Bikers. There is a TV crew with them, and they’re just chilling in between takes on their motorbikes. Not only do they agree to a ‘thumbs-up’ photo with a delighted Alice, but one of them (Dave) looks at me and says: ” ‘ey mate, you look like both of us melted together!”. I’m being confused for a Hairy Biker by one of the Hairy Bikers. Wow, man. This is, frankly, much better than when Alice and I met Bill Oddie. Bill Oddie did not give us the thumbs-up at any point, or claimed I looked like him.
11:58: After an enjoyable wander, with a shrieking and thrilled Alice (including playing on a wooden gamelan) who just cannot handle having met The Hairy Bikers, we wind back to the woodland stage where The Bikers are about to do a live cookery show. I hand Alice back to Sarah and explain the mornings Bikers-related shenanigans. As I leave, a woman stops me.
“I’m Jodie, I’m your interpreter”
“Your sign-language interpreter. I’m here to do the show”
Oh… OK. [try to move past]
“[confused] Are you off somewhere?”
Well, yeah. I’m trying to go to a workshop.
“But you’re on in fifteen minutes!!”
[panicking slightly] I am??!
“Are you… hang on, are you a Hairy Biker?”
“Oh I’m so sorry & etc!”
That’s three people confusing me for a Hairy Biker in one hour. Must change my look (even though my look is pretty fuckin’ awesome)
2pm: Kora workshop done. All I did was make plinky-plonky noises. Meet up with Sarah and Alice. Alice has somehow acquired a picture of a chicken, and is marching around with it attached to a stick shouting “Dress! Up! As! A! Chicken! WOOO!”. Within minutes, she has attracted three strangers to her cause.
3pm: Tibetan Monk choir. Seriously, one of the best things of the weekend. Go off and visit the 2nd best food stall of the fest, who are selling half a lobster with chips for £NOTMUCH. I like this, this mix of lobster and Lobsangs. Really not liking the little twat in front of me practicing his Diablo skills far too close to other people’s heads. Really hoping he clonks someone so that I can get all justifiably angry at him. Unfortunately, his skills are superb, so I have to keep quiet.
4pm: Realising (again) that lots of people are frazzling me. Turns out I’m having another panic attack, only this one is a classic, sweaty-palms-and-shallow-breathing-wide-eyed-fear sort of affair. Mothra and Superb Aunt go off in one direction with Alice, Sarah disappears in the other. I’m left gibbering in the middle with swarms of people AND a little fucker with a Diablo right next to me. Thank Gabriel (Peter) that Sarah comes back to find me and hold my hand. So twitchy that when the single drop of rain of the entire festival lands on my wrist, I jump a fucking mile.
Still doesn’t stop me buying another three Outrageous Shirts in the next hour.
6pm: Simmering down. Decide to go back to the Goan Curry place for our final night supper as it is the 1st best food stall of the fest. Alice demands a fish curry. I tell her it’s too hot. She insists that she wants one. I insist categorically that it’s too hot. She tries a bit. She absolutely insists that she wants it. So I buy her a portion, all the while cautioning her that she’ll find it too spicy and hot. Poo-poo, Daddy.
Three mouthfuls in and she’s making lots of “Fhooo! Fhooooo! Fhoooo!” noises and flapping her hand around her mouth.
I warned you it was too hot! Why didn’t you listen to me??!
(at this, she bursts into tears).
“Because I was trying to be brave and try new food!!!”
Ummmm…(realises that… yeah, well, fair enough. New food, young kid. Can’t really complain)
Splendid Mothra to the rescue does a much better job of calming Alice down.
8pm: I take Alice off to bed. Pass the ‘Play Me!’ piano en route. Cannot stop myself, and we’re both playing and singing ‘Space Oddity’ on the piano together. I hear someone walk past with a muttered “Awwww, bless!”
Realise that while walking back to the tent, there is a spectacular sunset going on. Realise that sunsets are precious and fleeting, and Alice won’t be at her first ever festival for much longer, and it’s the Summer Hols, and Alice then tells me she’s never watched a sunset before
Then we’ll watch it together.
So she and I lie on the grass and watch the colour of the evening illuminate the whole sky. She dances around in the golden light, buzzing about the day, and the festival. She was enchanted by the sunset.
“Sunsets are definitely better than sunrises, Daddy. I should keep a sunset diary. I want to look at one every week.”
As the night slowly creeps in, we cuddle together by the mouth of the tent, our torches peering into the dusk. She goes to bed with no fuss and no worry… until the distant sound of St Germain freaks her out, and I promise to stand guard at the front of the tent.
Sarah comes back an hour or so later, and I’m slightly surprised she has not gone out raving. Sarah is slightly more surprised that I would think such a thing, considering she has never gone out raving in her entire life.
9am: Still managed to sleep really well. What the fuck?? Say goodbye to Superb Aunt (Mothra, having been brilliant all weekend, left late on Sunday night to avoid the rush).
10am: After finding the last croissant stall in the festival, we pack up miserably. There are a few drops of light drizzle, which is actually quite refreshing. The mass exodus of 40,000 or so people is underway, and it’s remarkable. It’s like a sort of affluent, Guardian-reading, middle-class, well-mannered, completely pleasant, pain-free, non-violent, well-managed, fed-and-watered-and-happy refugee crisis; except this crisis is not horrific, unnecessary, violent, painful, degrading, a result of war, famine or destitution, or in any way a humanitarian disaster.
WOMAD campers are incredibly thoughtful and conscientious. There is one – ONE!! – pile of rubbish in the whole campsite, where clearly a bunch of wankers have left their crap for someone else to clean up, and someone has written a peevish note on a piece of cardboard saying “This is NOT how to leave a campsite!!”, and left it next to the pile of mess for all to photograph and share on Facebook/Twitter. Car is right at the bowel-end of a big field. We get there somehow. Thank God we got the trolley back off Mothra!
Get home at 12:30pm. We want to go again next year. I bought 13 Outrageous Shirts.