Tom Sutcliffe: Enjoy music? Then stay away from festivals

Related Topics

I wasn't in the least surprised to read yesterday that there's been something of a slump in the pop festival market this year – with tickets for big events like Leeds and Reading trading at below their face value. In fact it still slightly astonishes me that people will go to them without being paid.

This isn't a prejudice, I should confess, that is based on extensive experience of the festival circuit. I visited Glastonbury once, many years ago now, and left utterly mystified. Why, I wondered at the time, did so many people feel, and with such obvious sincerity, that the music they loved would be enhanced by a pervasive smell of excrement and kebabs? Why was it thought to be an advantage to sit on a carpet of compressed garbage and observe one's heroes from a distance at which they were virtually invisible?

Since then I've enjoyed it on television and every time felt the warm inner glow of someone who gets a free upgrade to first class without even asking. And then, the other night, I went to the Feis in Finsbury Park to hear Bob Dylan play and the bemusement returned redoubled.

The insider's theory for this year's bad harvest was a glut of festivals and a dearth of new acts. The same old headliners were turning up for the second or third year running and – with money tight anyway – more music-lovers were deciding to stay at home. But I wonder if I could offer an alternative outsider's theory. It's simply beginning to dawn on people that if you set out to make listening to music as unpleasant as possible, the end result would look a lot like an open-air gig.

Take Bob Dylan's appearance as a case in point. Musically – and I'm not an expert – I thought it was almost startlingly good. You don't really go to a Dylan concert expecting to hear songs you know well, but this time he offered something close to a greatest hits' compilation. True, he seemed to have designed his arrangements to disguise that fact for as long as possible – but even so it was thrilling, intriguing and, occasionally, moving.

Unfortunately Finsbury Park appeared to have been double-booked with the North London Boorish Tossers' Annual Convention – a gathering of the surly, the incontinent and the downright aggressive. Just as you'd managed to frame Bob's tiny distant head between a shouldered girlfriend and someone's novelty hat, one of the association's members would lurch into you – overpriced beer slopping everywhere – as he attempted to wedge himself into a space that didn't exist.

Underfoot, a slimy paste of mud, discarded rain capes and plastic bottles added to the challenge of remaining upright. And though this generated the odd moment of solidarity – not everyone was a signed-up Tosser – the neighbourly attempts to create a cordon against people who appeared to believe they were entitled to shove to the front (and who got distinctly shirty when that entitlement was questioned) inevitably distracted from the music. As did the sight of people hurling half-empty beer cups and bottles randomly into the crowd – this apparently being the accepted festival way of disposing of one's rubbish. When it rained, umbrellas went up, obscuring the stage entirely and redirecting the water straight down the necks of the people who were now reliant on sound alone for their enjoyment.

This is an old fart's objection I know. It doesn't take account of Dionysiac togetherness or the collective karaoke that started up on "Like a Rolling Stone" (though I can't see why either of those couldn't be available along with a bit of comfort). But isn't it possible that it's beginning to dawn on younger music-lovers too that endless queues for terrible food and overpriced beer, surroundings like a Chicago stockyard and a performance schedule that treats the audience as the least important component in the whole affair, aren't all that good a deal – whoever's on stage?

The puzzle that is gay clergy and the CofE

The Church of England's new position on gay bishops (It's fine as long as you don't do anything but think about it) is a rather puzzling one. The prohibition on action makes it clear that the church still thinks of an expression of gay sexuality as sinful and counter to its teachings. But identifying yourself as gay is not.

This combination of permissible avowal and forced denial strikes me as a bit odd, though. Is it like someone saying, "Well, yes, I am a murderer if I'm honest – but I strive against my impulses and I won't murder anyone if appointed to a bishopric"? Perhaps so, theologically – on the principle that we're all sinners at heart.

But it would still be odd, wouldn't it, to elevate a bishop who effectively said, "Well, all things being equal I'd like to go out murdering from time to time, but I understand that's not possible under the current dispensation"? And the "openly homicidal" or those who were "homicidal by orientation" surely wouldn't be felt to be eligible for this high office, even if they promised not to act on their impulses.

The truth is that being gay (in thought or deed) is no more of a sin than being heterosexual is – and at some deep level the Church of England already knows and recognises this. It's just that it's continues to be more fearful of schism than it is of appearing arbitrary and unjust. It is a most undignified sexual position.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent