Mud, sweat and beers: How to survive summer festivals

The festival season is upon us again. Alex James - who's been to a few in his time - dons his Barbour, packs a bumper box of Wet Wipes and offers his A to Z of how to survive the mayhem


AAA, or Access All Areas A horrible sticky label or nasty luminous wristband that bestows absolute freedom of movement upon the bearer. The people who should never be given these passes seem to the best at blagging (q.v.) them.

Aspirin Big fizzy ones work best.

Anorak Archetypal nerd, but now quite fashionable. Jeans are the new anoraks.

Backstage Any of the restricted-access zones where the people who are being paid to attend operate. See Hospitality Area, Catering, Press Tent, Media Centre, Dressing Room Compound, Production Office.

Big Boots Absolutely essential or completely unnecessary depending on whether it rains. It's worth bearing in mind that it always, always rains at Glastonbury, but otherwise it's a tricky call, as they take up a lot of luggage space. Some people go for the collapsible rolled-up wellies-on-standby approach. I tend to favour big Blundstone boots at all times (unless it's nice enough for bare feet).

Boiler A groupie, in season.

Bonfire The hallowed tradition of recycling plastic cups and crisp packets to keep warm.

Blagger Similar to a ligger (q.v.), but lower down the food chain. Someone with no legitimate reason to be backstage other than to worm his way into dressing rooms, help himself to bands' riders (q.v.) and irritate the nouvelle noblesse.

Catering The tent where the bands and their production crews eat. A catering pass is the holy of holies. It's harder to get into catering than it is to walk on to the stage or into a dressing room. Catering standards vary enormously from festival to festival. The catering tent is usually full of roadies talking about carnets and, formerly, John Peel having a quiet cup of tea.

Comedy tent See wigwam.

Dressing-room compound High-security enclosure full of Portakabins, where the bands play football and seduce each other's girlfriends.

Don't forget your...Toothbrush, toilet paper, sunblock, skins, tin opener, swarmy (q.v.), ukulele. A couple of tins of baked beans and a bottle of Scotch never go amiss on any serious expedition. Cold baked beans go well with whisky and emergency cowboy rations can turn any disaster into a triumph.

Enjoy yourself A festival is traditionally a period of celebration. These events started with cavemen dancing around bonfires and not much has changed, really.

Front, down the It's a serious squash in the mosh pit and can be dangerous, but always exhilarating. People often emerge purple. The best place to stand, and the place you're most likely to rub shoulders with other bands or record producers, is directly in front of the mixing desk which is at the third apex of the imaginary triangle that the huge towers of speakers on the stage point at.

Frog song, the Charming song about a frog that gets lost. Often sung by festival crowds – but only in Sweden, sadly.

Gaffer tape The fundamental force that holds the musical universe together, but no one ever has any. There was a roll in the production office, but someone has swiped it.

Glastonbury The big one. The new Christmas, or perhaps the old Christmas, seeing as it takes place around the summer solstice. Pays appallingly, crap toilets, too many hippies, crusties and freaknasties, draconian security, bad food, appalling drugs, mud. Somehow still good, though. A triumph of goodwill.

Headline act The band that persuades punters to part with their money. The great thing about festivals is that the band you've come to see isn't necessarily the one you enjoy the most. A festival is the easiest way to see hotly tipped new bands, as well as the jaded juggernauts. The headline slot is traditionally the 10 o'clock Saturday-evening spot.

Helicopter If possible.

Hospitality Area The lowest level of backstage, and actually the most fun, although not as much fun as "down the front". Hospitality is where all the liggers, journalists and record company types rub shoulders, drink beer from floppy pint pots, get sunburned and miss all the bands that they've come to see.

Hotel du rock The nearest hotel, where all the bands will be staying. At Reading, the Ramada; at Glastonbury, Babington House, etc. A haven for blaggers, liggers, boilers and record company executives.

I've lost all my friends Bound to happen. The best thing to do is to get some new friends, rather than look for the old ones. People who go to festivals are nice, on the whole.

Jacket (Barbour) The Queen rarely gets it wrong. The one item I would never go to a festival without, the Barbour Border jacket is the best piece of clothing design, ever. Mine has been back to South Shields twice for patching up and re-oiling. They're 100 per cent waterproof, and you can get a bottle of champagne in each of the inside pockets. It always gets cold at night and at a festival there is no indoors to go to. The Barbour is a blanket, groundsheet, tent and suitcase rolled into one wearable style statement.

Kate Moss Models like bands and bands like models. There was nothing very glamorous about festivals until pretty girls started arriving. It is fairly obvious that wherever the pretty girls go, everyone else soon follows.

Ligger Pejorative term for a guestlist bore. Anyone who is using the hospitality area as a chance to network, shag or improve their cause. Reading has the most liggers. The backstage area is almost as big as the front of house.

Litter See bonfire.

Mud In the absence of pavement, tens of thousands of trampling feet rapidly convert any kind of moisture into mud. The worst mud in recent memory was at Glastonbury in 1996. There's nothing wrong with mud, apart from near the toilets, possibly.

Media centre It is convenient to have so many bands, celebrities and young people enjoying themselves in one place at the same time. The big events generate a media frenzy. Festivals are a phenomenon of globalisation: the magic formula, invented accidentally by spaced-out hippies in a field in Somerset 40 years ago has been replicated across the world. Festivals are the farmers' markets, if not the supermarkets, of popular culture. (Although in America, "festivals" are often just stadium concerts with bad toilets [q.v.] that go on all weekend.)

Number twos The loos are never nice by the end of the weekend. I recall seeing a particularly beautiful girl happily hosing out the cubicles at Hultsfred festival in Sweden. The Scandinavian festivals are well worth considering, not just for the clean loos. It doesn't get dark, everyone is beautiful and up for it, etc.

Overkill Every village in England now has a music festival of some kind. They are about as alternative as Oxford Street at Christmas time. There is one taking place every weekend within a 10-mile radius of my house over the course of the summer. I'm kind of over festivals, actually. I'd rather go to a good steam rally, any day.

Pagans, druids, etc Forget about it. Boring. Get a T-shirt and a gimlet and get down the front and start headbanging.

Performers Most bands with records out spend the entire summer on the festival circuit. Germany on Friday, Switzerland on Saturday, Spain on Sunday. It's a lot of dashing around, but one festival is pretty much like another.

Promoter The man with the money; the backer. He's always in danger of losing his shirt if the weather is bad. We once arrived at a festival in Spain at the same time as a hurricane, which blew the stage down.

Press Tent Area where bands conduct interviews or press conferences depending on how far up the bill they feature.

Production Office The place where all the sticky passes are kept, but otherwise uninteresting. Usually full of tour managers asking the promoter about the weather forecast.

Reading and Leeds Usually held over the last weekend in August, with leapfrogging line-ups, and along with Glastonbury, the other heavyweight event that bookends the festival season. I like Reading.

Queueing Queues to get in, queues to get out, queues for burgers, queues for the loos, queues, queues, queues. Records sound better. Why not watch it all on the telly?

Rider A list of the band's requirement to be provided by the promoter. This can include anything from half a ton of Chang to Lego, Kinder Eggs, socks and pants. I kept asking for a trampoline but was told to shut up.

Roskilde Denmark's answer to Glastonbury. The best festival I've ever been to. Fireworks, good hot dogs, Helena Christensen. Need I say more? Well worth considering, especially as it's easier to drive to Denmark than schlepping down the A303 to wherever Glastonbury is.

Spoons Anyone who completely loses the plot and is talking incoherently, behaving unusually or unconscious is said to have spooned. They have to have "spoons" written on their forehead in thick black marker pen so everyone can give them a wide birth. Peak time for spooning is mid-afternoon on the first day of any festival.

Swarmy Never attempt to camp without a Swiss army knife.

Trench Foot See mud.

Tuberculosis See mud.

Typhoid See mud.

Tetanus See mud.

Tilly hat Headgear for sailors, but very useful as they work as both a sun hat and a rain hat.

Unification When a band pulls it off, with the whole crowd singing along under the stars, well, it doesn't get any better.

Under the influence Music sounds better after a few drinks. I recommend gimlets. Vodka and lime cordial with ice. For some reason, lime cordial is always available at festivals. Don't expect to see any fresh lemons, though.

Venison burger Right on!

Volume It can get very loud. The crowd noise alone is loud enough to damage hearing permanently over the course of a summer's touring. What the hell!

Werchter Another European gem. Worth mentioning as it has the best food of any festival, anywhere. Quite small and intimate, as it's in Belgium, but usually a top-class line up.

Wet Wipes Come in very handy for all sorts of things

Xylophone beardy men See Glastonbury.

X-Factor Two incompatible music cultures. There are festival people and X-Factor people. It's better to be a festival person.

Youth Culture If you look silly in jeans and you're only pretending to like the Kaiser Chiefs, maybe you'd be better off at a steam rally. I'll see you at the tug of war.

Zzzzzz Tent, caravan, wigwam, hedge, whatever. Babington House is booked up until hell freezes over.

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