A festival of home comforts

The music may be great, but what about the camp site? Blur's bassist Alex James reveals how you can do Glastonbury without tears
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The Independent Travel

Day 1 - Travels in my camper van

Day 1 - Travels in my camper van

The football was on, so all was eerie and still in Cirencester when we stopped to buy groceries. If truth be told, I was a lot more excited about going to Waitrose than Glastonbury. Waitrose is currently the most glamorous supermarket, and we only have a Tesco in Stow-on-the-Wold. I was looking forward to a double trolley binge, while the rest of the country was watching telly.

The car park was almost empty. My wife, Claire, parked our gleaming new motor home right across six disabled parking spaces next to the door. I felt this was in bad taste, and we were still arguing about who was a pussy and who was an arsehole when we realised the supermarket was shut anyway. We ended up in Tesco as usual. We filled a trolley and trawled on through the night. The roads were empty. It was a good feeling to know we had everything we needed with us.

What do we look for in a festival I wondered, as we drove on towards Somerset. Good weather? Good chance of a shag? Goodbye life for the weekend? Maybe we just have to express some primal locust-swarming instinct. Maybe it's just a laugh. But one thing's for sure: the festival phenomenon is an ancient and global licence to print money.

It suits the record companies and the agents and the media and the promoters to put everything together into a huge package. Probably, in fairness, it suits the punters as well, but the word "festival" is often cunningly used to inject some hip retro-chic into what are basically stadium rock concerts. If you called it a stadium gig, nobody would want to go, but if you call it a festival and put some balloons up... bingo.

We were whacked by the time we arrived at our camp site at the rather cheeky Winding Lake Farm, the next-door farm to Glastonbury. The owners don't have any problem with everything being sponsored: you get a free rain mac from O 2 and a free lift in a Toyota. There were a lot of festival types and a lot of Sony people staying in very large Winnebagoes. I don't understand why you'd want one of those big ones, unless you want to go on holiday with your neighbours. Ours is nice and compact, easy to manoeuvre, but big enough to fit our family and a trolley-load of shopping.

I'm a farmer, and I got to thinking about the profits at Glastonbury. I manage to net about £50 an acre a year for my land. If you've got the next-door farm to Glastonbury - and a drinks licence and room for a few hundred caravans - well, do the maths. Put some nice toilets in. Get some sponsorship. They're queuing up.

Anyway, it was the ideal place for our gaff. We got wired up with electricity and hit the hay. Our four-month-old son was in a little nest in the galley; we were up in the roof. Just perfect.

Day 2 - A night under canvas

We had a pretty good night's sleep in the camper van. Not too moist. Moisture is the camper's foe, and draughts. Not too draughty, either, in our van. A motor home does give you a kind of freedom you can't achieve with hotels and aeroplanes. As soon as you climb in, you're on holiday. And it's very much your holiday. We took off around Europe in one when I was 10 years old. I'd decided to buy one by lunchtime.

Where the motor homes can't compete with the hotels is in the bathroom department. But it was only Friday morning, the first day of Glastonbury, and the Winding Hill toilet facilities are already legendary in the music industry. People leave the backstage compound and walk for 20 minutes to use these loos. You would be looking at trading a BBC catering pass for a Winding Hill Farm pass by Sunday. I was dismayed to find a small speck of urine on the black seat in my chosen cubicle. I don't go for those plastic hygiene covers - go French when in doubt, I say. It was a shame, though. Otherwise spotless. I don't know what the Michelin system would make of a small splash like that. Maybe that's why they have those other kind of toilets on French camp sites.

The shower made me feel very good. The sun was shining and Claire was ensconced in her magazines as I erected a half-tent thing and attached it to the end of the motor home. I felt like my dad. The half-tent was big enough for the pram and other stuff we weren't using. Kind of a shed. It was going very well. There was a rumble of various musics in the distance, and back here there were blankets and cushions and little things to do.

We'd persuaded my parents to come - they're up for everything. When they arrived, I left my son Geronimo with them and headed off for work. Glastonbury is harder to get into than America: you need a passport, ticket, visa, wristband, reason for visit, duration of stay and all the rest of it. By the end of the weekend I needed four different wristbands to carry out my business. I wandered down the hill facing the Pyramid Stage to the majesty of Elbow. They sounded immense and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled.

My wristband that gets me into the backstage bit is number 6512. Everybody in the music business is here - every magazine editor, press officer, video commissioner, product manager, record company chief and his PA. It's a field day - and why not? I have a new supergroup myself and I'm keen to see what's on the market.

I'm working for the BBC World Service and I have a roving brief. The Beeb have their own compound backstage, and the food in BBC catering is rather better than the stuff you get when you perform. There is a good atmosphere in the canteen, a lot of people who love music. It's refreshing to see things from this side of the fence.

Goldfrapp were awesome, a big success. My mum wanted to see Oasis so we all had a look. She didn't think they were as good as they used to be.

Part of the deal with my parents was that they got the camper van. It was a hard bargain, but fair enough in exchange for childcare. It was dark and there was a tent to put up. Camping technology has advanced since I last spent the night under canvas. The Union tent from Millets looked totally brilliant; you could wear it to Wimbledon, and it is a good piece of engineering, too. To use the technical term, it is a "flysheet superstructure suspension tent". We had it up in only two goes. The best thing was the auto-inflating mattress. Four of the big round batteries and away you go. Blows itself up in two minutes. We tried zipping the sleeping bags together, but they're wearing them tight this season. Still, all the torches and lamps you can get are brilliant. There is a head torch and a collapsible lantern, which everyone should own.

I fell asleep reading with the head torch on and woke up to the sound of rain on canvas. I'd forgotten how cosy it is in a tent when it's raining.

Day 3 - A country house retreat

My mum, Kelly, made bacon sarnies. The smell of bacon frying on a camp site is one of the great features of the universe. Claire's gang of friends turned up, soaking, to use the facilities. There was no question it was Barbour jacket time. The Barbour jacket is without doubt the finest piece of clothing I have ever owned. It's up there with the smell of bacon frying.

I must admit I've never been a particular fan of Glastonbury. As a performer, there are festivals in Europe with better facilities, better systems for coping with rainfall, that pay better. The punters love Glastonbury, though, and that's quite infectious. I wandered around with a microphone and a producer for a bit, on the trail of the unusual on behalf of the BBC.

There was a giant scorpion sculpture that you couldn't miss - as big as a bus, suspended from a frame carved out of larch. For sale. We tracked down its designer, and he was cool - cooler than the main stage headliner Paul McCartney, even.

There was a kind of Sergeant Pepper vibe about the band playing in the croissant-shaped tent [Croissant Neuf], the Biggles Wartime Band, singing about their auntie, with big moustaches and tubas. There's just loads of far-out stuff going on - it's exciting. You feel you could meet lots of good people here. Everyone is talking about chai tea, so we tried some. The chai tea guy is a born salesman/performer. He loves it. Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves - he's selling a dream of fresh organic love and will probably be bigger than Starbucks in five years' time. Good luck to him. The best thing we found was the sound massage tent. A softly spoken luminary called Martin bonged a gong and adjusted my subtler energies as I wallowed in sound. It was well worth the money, which, true to the spirit of the place, was whatever you felt was appropriate.

We slopped back through the mud to the main cultural highways. Claire's gang were dressing up as gorillas and going on stage with Basement Jaxx for a number. They were a man short and it's hot inside a gorilla suit. Still in showbiz, though.

Hearing McCartney play all the Beatles songs was a bit like a girl taking her clothes off and showing you everything. It spoiled the mystery a bit. It was all jaunty and matey. Mum and dad liked it, though.

It was the end of our second full day at Glastonbury and we were feeling the strain. It was time to try out a different, more luxurious way to spend the night at a music festival. At this point, Claire and I were whisked off to Babington House by one of their drivers. There was a warm blanket and a picnic basket full of booze in the car. Babington House is part of the ultra-chic Soho House empire and it's only 25 minutes away from site. Loads of the stars book in here and travel up to the festival during the day.

After the last couple of days, it felt indescribably good to be at Babington. We ordered everything on the menu and passed out. Crisp sheets and a bathroom and newspapers. It was heaven. They really look after the ladies at Babington, too; the bathroom products and bottles of water hit the she-spot. You'd be much more likely to pull here than at the festival. It's a pretty sexy environment all round. You get beans with breakfast and all the gossip with your massage. Reluctant as we were to leave Babington's brilliant Cowshed spa it was time to head back to the fields of mud.

Day 4 - Back on the road

Fair weather: cumulus and bright sunshine all the way back to the carnage. A lot of people missing in action. I'd picked up a sexy little barbecue at Tesco for £1.97. Did some chicken. Nice. In fact, the food at Glastonbury is pretty bloody good actually - much better than at Wimbledon, where it's just a rip-off. Our night in the hotel had really given us new zip. I felt content again and happy to do nothing. Kelly and Jason, the grandparents, went off to look for dragons and fairies, and by the time I got down to the action James Brown was on stage. Tightest band I've ever heard. Twenty-one of them. Very accurate, lots of space, smoking! It was pretty yucky everywhere, sloppy and wet, but everybody was smiling - even Morrissey. Dot Cotton [June Brown of EastEnders] drew a cheer every time she went to the bar.

We were on our way before midnight, thundering back the way we came, sad that we would have to hand our new motor home back in the morning, but happy with our memories of camping and Babington. I definitely saw the festival through new eyes. Glastonbury's much better fun dressed as a gorilla. And the best way to do it is definitely all three: tent, mobile home and hotel.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

Alex James camped at the Glastonbury Festival in a Eurohike Union Jack Tent (£39.99), available from Millets - The Outdoor Store (0800 389 5861; www.millets.co.uk).

He took the following items, also available from Millets: Eurohike Adventurer 200 Sleeping Bags (£19.99 each); a Eurohike Electric Airmattress (£39.99); Air Land Sea Hollowfibre Pillows (£4.99 each); a Eurohike Collapsible Lantern (£9.99); a Cyba Lite Headlight (£19.99); a Eurohike Low Chair (£9.99); a Eurohike Beach Shelter (£9.99); a Tefal Seven-Piece Cookset (£39.99); a folding Toaster (£4.99) and a Sungas Uno Stove (£19.99).

Alex James also stayed at Babington House (01373 812266; www.babingtonhouse.co.uk). A large double room costs £250 between Sunday and Thursday for members, £285 for non-members. These rates rise to £275 per night for members on Fridays and Saturdays (two night minimum stay) and £315 for non-members. He travelled to Glastonbury in a Pilote Galaxy G40, supplied courtesy of the Motorhome Information Service (01444 458889: www.motorhomeinfo.co.uk). The retail price is £44,990. To hire the Galaxy will cost around £450 per week upwards through a car hire company.

The Motorhome Information Service [MIS] represents the motorhome industry in the UK, providing information about buying, hiring and using a motorhome. There are two main motorhome types, the Conversion and the Coachbuilt. The Conversion has a "high-top" or elevating roof to give standing room. All equipment for living, sleeping and eating are incorporated inside and Conversions are very popular for everyday as well as leisure use.

Coachbuilts are larger vehicles, constructed on the chassis cab of the base vehicle. With greater space, more internal equipment can be added and up to seven people can be accommodated.

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