"Oh is this the way they say the future's meant to feel? Or just 20,000 people standing in a field?" (Pulp: "Sorted For E's and Wizz")
I've never been to Glastonbury. There, it's done. I've said it. It's out in the open and I can never take it back. For years, whenever the subject has come up, I've lied about the many, crazy times that I've been. I've recounted horrific tales of hallucinatory exploits, romantic hippie conquests and cool run-ins with famous bands.
The very fact that I have never set foot on the hallowed ground of Worthy Farm has encouraged me to make up ludicrously Zelig-type stories to hide my guilty secret. That was me on stage with Robbie and Oasis, sitting on a guitar amp during Radiohead's seminal headline performance, and, yes, I once spent three days completely submerged in mud, using only a snorkel to survive.
I've lied so efficiently about my Glastonbury past, and so often, that first-timers will be told to ring me for advice as to what they need to take and where to pitch their tents. But I could never admit that I hadn't actually been there. I just couldn't bring myself to announce that I didn't actually fancy sleeping in a tent among 100,000 smelly hippies while trying to deal with the fact that someone had spiked my biscuit with horse tranquilliser. It just never appealed. It just wasn't my bag... man.
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE music, and Glastonbury gets the best. Noel Gallagher called it "the only real rock festival – the rest are just bands playing in fields". It's just that I can't help remembering what Jack Dee said about the reality of going to these sorts of events. He described it as the equivalent of placing a record sleeve at the bottom of your garden and then looking at it through binoculars as you play the music through a crap stereo.
Personally, I prefer my festivals on television. That way I can skip the rubbish bits, sleep in my own bed and turn the whole thing off every time the loathsome Edith Bowman appears. So that, until last week, was that. I was just never going to be a festival person but at least I could lie sufficiently convincingly that no one need ever know my secret.
But then I found myself invited to not one, but two of them. They were not, I was promised, the usual sort. These were big, posh, civilised festivals that I would really enjoy and where I wouldn't feel frightened. Intrigued, I blagged as many laminates and passes and wristbands as I could, and took the plunge.
It's my firm belief that laminated passes are a necessity at any festival. Although rock'*'roll was originally supposed to be about non-conformity and sticking a finger up at The Man, all that's happened is that these "anti-establishment" types have set up their own élites and hierarchies – clearly marked out by the colour of your laminate or the power of your wristband.
Unfortunately, however powerful you think your laminate might be, there is always one better. I remember when I cameo-ed on the Brits and had a coveted "Artist: Access All Areas" laminate. I was totally thrilled. Then I got to the Spice Girls' changing-room and their security guard wouldn't let me in. I waved my laminate about but he got quite bolshy and said that even this didn't give me permission to watch Baby Spice undress. Imagine my disappointment.
So my first outdoor rock experience was the House Festival at Chiswick House and Gardens. This was an event set up by the super-trendy private members' club Soho House, and it promised an evening of: "Music, comedy and food and drink worthy of the historic surroundings."
I liked the sound of this and secretly hoped that they might have some swan on the menu as I'd always fancied trying it. They didn't have swan (well, maybe they did in one of the tents that my wristband couldn't get me into) but they seemingly had everything else. In a huge semicircle around the stage was a series of tents groaning with free food and drink, each one sponsored by the likes of Freud Communications or BBC Worldwide. The tickets were £150 each, but almost everyone there seemed to have been invited for free. It was a huge corporate shindig masquerading as rock'*'roll. Although it was raining, the festival discomfort that I'd imagined I might feel was offset by having to decide whether to approach the suckling pig or attack the seafood bar, which was a veritable massacre of oysters and lobster.
But there was something missing and I couldn't quite work out what it was. Then it hit me – the music. This was supposed to be a music festival and yet, inside my particular tent, there was actually muzak being piped through hidden speakers. It was a bit like going to Wimbledon and not seeing any of the tennis.
I got the list of performers and started to realise what the problem was – Natasha Bedingfield, Jamie Cullum, The Feeling... It was bland, boring corporate pop that no one really wanted to hear. There wasn't much need for the muzak. The organisers could have just piped the live stuff through and it would have had the same effect. I eventually wandered out of my hospitality womb and into the uncomfortable hostility of the London night. I was suddenly afraid but I spotted Ross Kemp. I followed him. He knows how to take care of himself as he's ex-Special Forces.
Four days later, I was at home in the Cotswolds and about to head off to our local music festival, Cornbury, known to one and all as Poshstock. My wife, Stacey, was worried about taking the kids. "There might be Hell's Angels and stuff," she said. I showed her the website.
"Like the best of England, Cornbury is eccentric, charming and irresistible – a homespun melting pot where music-lovers share pies and a glass of champagne with superstars, toffs, rockers, crooners, Mor
ris dancers, farmers, urbanites, fashionistas, gourmet chefs and the little old ladies who make exceptional cakes."
Suddenly, she wasn't scared any more. But I was.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I was quite chuffed with myself as I'd organised "VIP" tickets and parking, so I was clearly going to be treated in the manner I felt I deserved. Stacey, Parker (our six-year-old daughter) and I drove through the lush, rolling countryside until we arrived at the deer park where the festival was being held. We parked up in the VIP parking and took a VIP golf cart down to a VIP tent that had a VIP champagne bar and a private, white, picket-fenced VIP enclosure that overlooked the festival site. I congratulated myself on being so VI and wandered around the tent looking for other VI people to say hello to.
Middle-aged, very middle-class parents sat on sofas reading Penguin Modern Classics, while others flicked through the weekend papers with lattes in hand. Outside, posh families sipped champagne and listened to the distant strains of the frankly unlistenable Scott Matthews. I realised that I'd been had. The VIP area I'd assumed was for the élite festival-goers and music-world insiders was actually just a clever marketing trick. We were in the equivalent of business class. We'd got extra wristbands and our own tent but the really famous, powerful people were in first class – and that was a golf-cart ride away from the actual event – and I didn't have a golf cart.
We did get something VIP to eat in the VIP tent. We opted for hot dogs – VIP hot dogs (Very Inflated Prices). They were £5 a pop, for a sausage the size of my thumb. I expect they assumed we'd all be indulging in appetite-suppressing narcotics and catered for us accordingly.
We sat next to a bored-looking woman who was reading a travel book about some canal boat trip through Carcassonne. It was clear that, if it were up to her, this is where she would have preferred to be. Her husband had fallen asleep, his newspaper lying by his feet. It was as close an image of rock excess as I would see all day.
Once we'd gulped down the VIP mini-dogs, we headed off into the main crowd in economy to see what was happening. There was a huge queue for some Mexican vegetarian stall, whereas most of the other food outlets weren't that busy. I presumed the Mexicans were selling drugs and was about to join the queue when someone told Stacey that they just had really tasty nachos. A hundred yards on and we spotted some friends who were parents from Parker's school. They had come en famille and were sitting on a picnic rug, sipping champagne and surrounded by their three children. The youngest, who was about three, was sporting a fetching pair of those green ear-protectors normally used for grouse shooting. They were concerned that the music, now coming from The Proclaimers, might damage the teeny rocker's ears. I think it was the noise level (really not very loud) rather than the quality that they were worrying about.
Then we suddenly heard some screaming and shouting at the top of the site where there was a smaller stage and we hurried up there, thinking that something exciting might be afoot. We arrived to find 100 small kids screaming at Rupert the Bear, who was "performing" on stage with Postman Pat on backing vocals. This was the most exciting musical performance of the day, and Parker loved it.
After a bit we managed to pull her from the moshpit and we went round the fairground that had taken over the north-eastern section of the site. Parker had a great time on bungee ropes and ghost trains and bumper cars as we sat with other similarly aged parents longing for some alcoholic refreshments. We finally headed back down towards the main action. Echo and the Bunnymen had joined Rupert the Bear on stage and it looked like things might be about to turn violent.
We sat in the big red double-decker bus that sold Pimm's and took in our surroundings. Old-school Glasto types may moan about how corporate things have got down on Eavis's farm, but it's got nothing on Cornbury. Aside from the cake stalls and tea stands, a whole world of retail opportunities had opened up like some tie-dyed mini-mall. To our left, those canny marketers, Innocent Drinks, had set up a sort of "Innocent World" with a faux village fête and free smoothies. To our right was a very posh Notting-Hill-type tent selling designer flowery bandanas. We bought two. Then we went to the Bubble Factory, spoke to a "bubbleologist" and bought two huge bubble-making machines.
Our shopping excursion over, we retreated to the VIP enclosure, bought some champagne and listened to The Proclaimers for as long as I could bear. It was all very pleasant and sunny and I was actually quite enjoying myself. Deep down, however, I felt ashamed. I knew that "proper" festival-goers would laugh at me. This was more like Glyndebourne than Glastonbury.
I suppose this is the problem I'll face as my kids grow up. I don't want them listening to the Proclaimers or The Feeling or the Wombles. I want them to love great, inspiring music such as Arcade Fire, White Rose Movement, Hot Chip. But then they'll start to want to go to those sorts of gigs, with proper, scary music types and I'll beg them not to and force them to go and see Jamie Cullum and Natasha Bedingfield with their nice friends Hugo and Arabella where everything will be safe... until Hugo develops a heroin addiction.
The Waterboys came on and we decided to make a move home. I actually really like The Waterboys and once even invited them on to my BBC show. I made a terrible faux pas when I met the singer. For some reason I'd always assumed that Mike Scott was Irish. He wrote lots of Irish-sounding songs about fishermen and girls he'd loved in fields. It turned out that he was Scottish. I suppose the clue was in the name. Worse, however, was that he seemed to be a bit of a Christian. Once I knew this, I found it difficult to enjoy their music any more. I realised that, having rocked out to songs such as "The Whole of the Moon" and "Spirit" with gusto, I'd actually been dancing to Christian rock – and I could never let this happen to me again.
A VIP golf cart picked us up and carried us away noiselessly towards our VIP parking enclosure and VIP home. My festival experience was over and it was time to catch up with Big Brother on Sky Plus. I had a great time at both festivals but, sadly, it had very little to do with the music. As a day out for the family or an opportunity to network in the television world, both events were absolutely brilliant. If, however, you're after a bit of your lost youth or a sweaty day in the moshpit, then these particular events might not be for you. Frankly, they just didn't compare with those heady times, back in the day, when I was hanging out at Glastonbury – dancing with Jarvis on stage, leading the crowd in a sing-song of "Common People", then back to my tent with all of Elastica and some acid that Julian Cope had given me. Now those were the days...Reuse content