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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

FESTIVALS: Hidden gems surviving the corporate take over

Several things have brought festivals into my mind the last day or so. Firstly, the clocks going forward and lighter evenings; secondly, daughter number one wanting tickets for Re@ding.

Re@ding tickets went on sale last night and sold out within an hour, so number one is disappointed. I used to love Re@ding when I were a lad; the drinking to excess, the throwing up everywhere, the bottles of piss flying over head, the loud tasteless rock… those were the days. I have grown up a bit since then and expect a bit more than a couple of stages, a dance tent and a market, I also like to be able to see the band without binoculars, but I cannot knock anyone who wants to go to Re@ding, as I say, I used to love it.

Back then it was the Reading Festival, now it is the C@rling Weekend, and happens in Leeds as well. It is also now run by Vince Power and the Me@n Fiddler Corporation. Yes, the capitalists have well and truly got stuck into festivals; Tenants Lager run the T-In the Park in Scotland, Virgin run the V-Festival (all of which have also sold out this year) and even Ashton Court ‘Free Festival’ has been taken over by Orange Mobile. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Up and down the country festivals are being run by people who have no interest in the festival scene, just profits. Inevitably, going into a festival with this attitude means the festivals are pretty much sterile experiences.

Glastonbury managed to keep it’s spirit for a good few years but the sheer size of the event meant a more business like approach was necessary, impenetrable fences, fascist security, sponsored stages… it has well and truly lost its way. I kept the faith and kept going for over 20 years, but in 2004 I finally accepted that I was only going out of habit and decided to call it a day.

There were several pivotal stages in the decline of Glastonbury. The police being allowed on site (there was a time when literally anything was allowed), the various stages of the fortification and fence ‘improvements’, the exclusion of the ‘Travellers’, the BBC broadcasting from site popularising the event way beyond the traditional festival crowds, and Vince Power getting involved in the security.

Glastonbury was always a great festival, but it ceased to be the best festival many years ago. There have been traveller/ free festivals dating back to the late 60’s, but I did not start going to festivals till the ‘80s, so cannot comment on them. During the ‘80s a number of things combined; the Stonehenge scene, the peace movement, the punk ethos and the disillusionment of the Thatcher years. The result was bands of nomads in convoys partying all summer long wherever they could find space to set up a stage. As the rave and free party scene emerged and integrated with the traveller scene things started to get too big for the Authorities to allow it to go on, so we had the infamous ‘Criminal Justice Act’ which outlawed anything more than two people and a ghetto blaster from gathering together.

The festival scene is pretty resourceful though and more ‘together’ people started organising things on a legal basis. Sometimes they were disastrous, but often the more chaotic events were the most fun. The ones that spring to mind for me as being the best were the Treworgey Tree Fayre (where I had my honeymoon, romantic old fool that I was), the Forest Fairs in the Forest of Dean, the Harvest Fair in Haverford West and the Spring Fair in Mid Wales somewhere (which I will always remember for meeting a guy that everyone knew as ‘Stan the man who used to live in a van but now he lives in a bus’). There were a few good Severn Revels events but the heavy policing at the last event was nothing short of fascist.

Chaotic events like those mentioned above were doomed to never be lasting events on the calendar, but there are a few others about run by people who care about the festival scene and are worth checking out. The headline acts are inevitably less well known than the big events, but very often just as talented if not more so (definitely more original). They are generally friendly affairs where people treat each other with respect and on the whole do not try to rip each other off. Events such as Shambala (sadly not on this year), Larmer Tree (got my tickets today), and off the Tracks. I plan on going to Endorse it in Dorset this year, which is run by Pronghorn (all round good guys and nutters), and Beautiful Days (run by the Levellers, who I have serious reservations about, but it cannot be denied they have enough contacts to pull in some half decent bands). I have a few others in mind but if I get to those three I will be happy.

The absence of Glastonbury means a lot of people will be looking for alternatives (hence R@ding selling out so quickly), but hopefully (SNOB ALERT) the smaller events will be able to hold on to their cool and friendly vibes.

For a list of events i posted earlier in the year, click 'ere


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