Friday, 7 September 2012

Blast from the past : Phoenix Festival 1996

Another festival diary.
Glastonbury takes a year off every few years, requiring regulars to go out looking for other festivals. Phoenix ran in the 90s in the Midlands at Long Marston. The difference between Long Marston and Shepton Mallet in Somerset is that Long Marston is an airfield with a vast flat wide open space in the Midlands with no shade.. 

and the difference for me in 1996 was that I'd just moved to a village in the middle of nowhere.. Kye and Cath had just met and where to get married shortly after but moved away (like virtually everyone I got to know in Parracombe). I've just got back into contact with them via Facebook. Pictures were all lost when Castelinks first server died.

The first sign of a major mover at Phoenix was in the weather reports the weekend before. Our month long cold spell would end and by the weekend it would be hot. Very Hot. Perhaps 82 degrees in some regions. Principally the Midlands. So - I took a flimsy sleeping bag. (This was so I could freeze my a**se off in the morning before I got a chance to get heat stroke).Amazingly in this tiny village I'd found a neighbour called Kye - who had offered me a lift with his girlfriend Kath to Phoenix on the Thursday morning. .

In the middle of a tortuous journey word reaches us that a mutual aquaintance who shall remain nameless will arrive at some point at the weekend WITHOUT a tent but WITH a portable barbecue.

Well anyway, we arrive - put up tents. Jeez its hot already. Adrian and Noelle just happen to camp next door. get on the wine. And champagne.

Finally enter arena much later. We catch the end of PRODIGY and then BOWIE arrives.
(The Times and ET would say later that those still in the huge queue to get in left their cars were they were at this point and ran in)

The first surprising thing about BOWIE was how close to the front we were able to get. 20 yards ? Ten years ago My friend Jane Weddell described how she had been unable to get close enough to DB to see more than a spec at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Its a sad reflection of his output since that the crowd here was so much smaller.

Of course - I thought he's been getting slowly better since Tin Machine... and I like the new stuff (some of which sounds amazing on the soundtrack of Se7en). Obviously I thought the old stuff was better. Which was the second surprising thing.

Most of the set came from the Alladin Sane/Lodger era but a lot of it - other than the stuff off OUTSIDE - was pre SCARY MONSTERS. Brilliant. Just to show how much of a sop it was to potential new fans three of the songs he did were more notably covered by someone else - MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD (by Nirvana), LUST FOR LIFE (Iggy Pop) and ALL THE YOUNG DUDES (Mott The Hoople) - which was by far the best of the three.

So convinced was everybody that he would not be doing old stuff that it felt like we were seeing a very good tribute band. Except it was the real thing. Both session musicians were stunning.. The black bassist was dressed up like an Inquisitor from a Ken Russell film and filled in the other half of the duet on a quite moving version of UNDER PRESSURE. The bald lead guitar was a worthy stand in for Mick Ronson (?)

Climax of a brilliantly theatrical performance was MOONAGE DAYDREAM and the rest of the music at Phoenix was frankly a bit a an anti-climax afterwards.

My jeans have been taken out of my tent during the night. Sigh. AND I had to go for ANOTHER shit. This wasn't going to plan.

Onto the main site with a bit of festival tutoring for Kye and Cath. Lesson One: Do not drink Snakebite all day.

KYE: What does snakebite taste like then ?
....OK, since you don't know I'll get you some. Just one right...

IAN MCNABB comes on. Kye is very impressed (he's just had his first snakebite). He is good but has no stage presence. (That's Ian Macnabb not Kye)

Then FLAMING LIPS. Psychedelic US rock which gets nowhere with the crowd until the lead singer announces the next song. Its about his brother apparently. On acid. Trying to escape from a grocery store. (You could see the bassist grimace with embarrassment). It was very funny and ended with ".... and he called upon the power of the Insects, and the Waterbugs attacked the Policemen..."
Had BECK come on early ? No. Beck came on in a very silly suit that looked like something Dennis Pennis would try and wear at the Garrick Club. Before launching into the first song he lit and dragged on a very conventional looking pipe. Rather too much to look respectable it seemed to me.
He opened with DEVIL'S HAIRCUT and played a lot off the new album. Surprisingly - he Rocked. With some aplomb. Only the Truckdriving neighbour song came out quiet. "..Bellyflopping naked in a pool of yellow sweat, Shouting JACKASS with a wet cigarette.." LOSER was a big hit with the crowd. And at the end he pulled out a hanky and tried to stuff it up his nose as he collapsed. People came out and carried him off the stage. Beck is sometimes compared to Bob Dylan but even ol' Bob couldn't do slapstick.
It gets hazy. I dragged my attention back into reality for FOO FIGHTERS but they were a big disappointment. They were at the end of a long tour apparently. I'd seen Faith No More and Radiohead under similar circumstances and it had only made them super-sharp. Grohl and co had given up already. They thrashed out their set and went home to bed.
Errr.... Comedians. Mark Hurst. Very good.

... marked principally by a failure to get too interested in the dance tent. Since at night it was so crowded we thought it was a disaster waiting to happen. I thought I go during the day

It is Freezing in the mornings.... I need another shit.... Very bad news as the prefab SEARCH loos and portaloos are becoming practically unusable. Suddenly Glastonbury seems like a hospital.

The bands start and in a long hiatus waiting for the appearance of ANDREW WEATHERALL in the dance tent, I see a comedian, MARK STEELE, who is first on the bill and very good. One speech in particular, about the uselessness of language teaching, was not funny but so spot on it got a large round of applause. Destined for bigger things.

As LAMB would seem to be - who came on first in the Dance tent and who were so good they came back to play one of their few tunes again. They were the best thing on in the dance tent. Weatherall appeared eventually about an hour an a half late. I never saw the dance floor so empty.

Next good thing on was RED SNAPPER in the dance tent but not for ages so I morbidly took a look at JAZZ PASSENGERS FEATURING DEBBIE HARRY in the (eek!) Jazz tent. Initially Debbs looked like she had finally succumbed to the ravages of age . (But even at the start she looked like the Worlds Grooviest Granny) Peering through reading glasses at a music stand with lyics on, tied back greying hair, she still has one of the best voices around. Smart and funny too. When the Jazz Passengers let rip the granny routine was revealed as an act as the reading glasses and tied back hair came loose in a on stage pogueing session which got BIG cheers. After that all the old power was back.

Only downer was the crowd forcing the Jazz band to play "The Tide is High" as an enchore. A big shame as their own stuff was good enough to see even without Debbs.

RED SNAPPER are good once, maybe twice, but third time they are boring. For no apparent reason I wrote a screenplay on the back of a post card. It seemed very very good at the time.
Returning to the main stage I found MASSIVE ATTACK, who were OK. They were supposed to be on last according to the running order but this had been hijacked by Bjork for reasons which became apparent. Shortly after we saw a man in a Rhino suit go through the crowd, someone behind the stage launched (according to NME) 1000lbs of fireworks into the sky. The two seemed unconnected though the strange little Icelandic thing was singing "HUMAN BEHAVIOUR" at the time so you never know. Poor Bjork - took her at least three songs to get over the size of the crowd - after that she had to cope with the sky exploding.

Later... and tales reach us of the most outrageously original Rock and Roll stunt of the Festival . Disorientated by a cocktail of totally legal substances two nearby festival goers got so wrecked they got their ears pierced by accident (?) , then ran off without paying to lie prone in the campsite trying to pool their mental resources in an doomed attempt to eat a Mars bar. Only the hasty administration of a chip sandwich prevented them becoming the Peter Green and Syd Barret of Long Marston.

("DRUID" bought in rather large quantities and available from the rather sad "Legal Highs" stall. Laced with that slightly lesser well known mind altering substance "L.S.A" ....."Lucy In The Sky With Armadillos ?" mused Kye)

Thank god I had something healthy to be going ton with - like a bottle of tequila. (I was totally unconscious within an hour and still not over the experience week later)

As every other day - wake 6am absolutely freezing. Put all my clothes on. Wake up again at 9 boiling hot. Take them all off. have to evacuate tent by 10 - its an oven in there...

Lunchtime. Everyone else gone and we begining a desperate search for some shade. Difficult as all the secluded bits in the main stadium have been used as toilets.

(Night before I had taken a short cut and had to step over two girls having a shit.)
Now praying for home and wondering how bad the queues will be tomorrow ("Lets see.... six hour jam on Thursday and Friday.... how big will that be when we all leave together ?"). Got the first symptoms of Heat stroke just thinking about the inside of my tent.

Everyone outside the comedy tent were we are huddled (with every other sensible person), is looking like the remains of Lawrence of Arabia's Akabar expedition as they cross "The Suns Anvil". Kye says he is thinking of leaving early. Tonight. He apologises. I begin to laugh hysterically and lose the ability to blink. He suggests we get a drink. I am grinning so much I can only nod my head.
Mere hours later we back in the sticky clutch Nova headed home. I am still suffering. Kye and Cath, who seem to like each others company A BIT TOO MUCH are now determined to go to the Reading Festival this year and want to know why I'm not interested.

I suggest, as an answer, that they just put me out of my misery and go on a rampage - kilin' everyone they meet, like Micky and Mallory - they could just become Devon's NATURAL BORN KILLERS.

There is a pause. The sign saying "KEEP DEVON SHIPSHAPE" goes past.

They make not entirely convincing excuses not to go on the rampage and tell a Devon joke. 

Two cows in a field. One says to the other "You know Daisy, Oim a bit worried about cartching this 'ere mad cows disease thing."
"Oh ?" says Daisy "Oim Nart"
"Why's thart then?"
" ' Coz Oim a Tractor !"

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