Festivals ain’t what they used to be

It’s August 1973.  Anne and I are hunched up in the back of a van on our way to Reading music festival; in the front are two members of the Sealed Knot in full cavalier regalia – plumed hats, breeches and thigh high boots.  They drop us off by the entrance but we never make it through the gate.  Tim Hardin and Commander Cody are playing but so are Status Quo.  It all seems a bit efficient, commercial, mainstream so we head back to the road, stick out our thumbs and hitch to the free festival in Windsor Great Park.

Anne is carrying the tent because she’s sturdier than me.  A basic two-man with a pole at either end, it’s a million miles from yurts and glamping and we’ve never even heard of a Winnebago.  Other than that we have a small rucksack and sleeping bag apiece.  We’re not carrying any morning-after eyeliner, lipstick, scented candles, duvets, leftover roast chicken or foldaway chairs.

As for festival outfits, it’s a choice of purple loons and an embroidered tee shirt or a cheesecloth skirt with a black halter-neck top.  If it gets cold I’ll put on the burgundy velvet jacket that is getting creased to buggery in my rucksack.  These are not my ‘festival’ clothes; this is not how I express my festival persona. Basically, they’re the clothes I wear all the time because they’re the only ones I’ve got.

Glastonbury late 60s/early 70s - Bath Chronicle picture library

I’m reminded of this now because festival season is upon us and last weekend’s papers devoted page after page to festival survival guides.  How on earth did we manage back then?  No tips on what to take, what to wear and what to eat or drink.  No Goan fish curry, rare breed bacon rolls, seafood paella, organic bruches or chai teas.  No Jimmy Choo mock-croc wellies, fairy dresses (worn with work boots, natch), sequins (the only time you can get away with them, darling) or Chanel messenger bags.  No Pearl Lowe, Pixie Geldof, Kate Moss or Alexa Chung.  No U2, Coldplay or Beyoncé. No, erm, Wombles. No solar showers. No toilets.

No toilets.  You think festival bogs are the pits?  Try picking your way through the woods to find a tree that hasn’t already been commandeered by a bare-arsed hippie or isn’t ankle deep in the offerings of previous squatters.

As for retail opportunities, you could buy a copy of the Socialist Worker and score a veritable rainbow of microdots (LSD) but you couldn’t buy a bottle of water (bottled water, what the …?).  You might be ripped off, but not for long.  A free sheet gave an update on the quality of acid being sold and festival-goers ‘liberated’ the guy selling milk of his produce because he was selling it for 15p, almost three times the going rate.

See, there was a strong political element to the Windsor Free Festivals.  Of course we all went to have a good time but, as organiser Bill Dwyer set out, there was also a revolutionary aim – a new society based on the commune, getting high and an end to rent-paying (a feudal relic from the time of William the Conqueror).  Far from giving festival-goers style tips, the Sun and the Evening News warned people to stay away. About 1,500 people ignored them.

Of course it was naïve and misguided.  And as far as I can recall there wasn’t actually much political activity as such – no one roused until the police turned up to bust people for drugs.  Essentially, there was a lot of lying around getting stoned and being photographed by tourists in checked trousers with cameras hanging around their necks.  Being a hippie was terrific way of life for the lazy; you knew you could always rely on the more industrious freaks to truck in water, set up a free food kitchen and talk down the acid casualties in the Release tent.

To be honest the music wasn’t all that but then festivals have never been just about the music, which is why watching Glastonbury from the comfort of your armchair, a glass of chardonnay in hand, is such as much fun as weaving a macramé hanging basket.  I vaguely remember watching Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies.  The only other thing I remember about the music is a general air of chaos, a running order that kept changing because bands didn’t turn up and pleas for help with stage management because the stage hands kept crashing out.

It was terrific.  I loved it; I even went the following year.  So why does reading about Glastonbury make me want to spit?  Why get so worked up about girls with names like Miquita, Bip and Jameela saying they’ll be sure to pack their Wayfarers, bunny ears and feather boas?  Why so splenetic about pictures of Camp Kerala at Glasto?  (Egyptian cotton bedding, beaded throws from Rajasthan, golf buggies, bar and chill-out areas, a spa team – all for a mere £8,000.)

Camp Kerala tent - source Camp Kerala website

It’s not as if I’d change anything, not even putting up with hair that was greasy and frizzy hair for days (no John Frieda serum back then and dry shampoo simply sat like dandruff on the grease).  The thing was, everyone’s hair was frizzy, all the time.  I can’t say style didn’t come into it because what we wore was important.  It said something about who we were, what we believed in.  Even if we weren’t always entirely on message (I never did think that refusing to pay rent was much of an answer) our clothes were an expression of a counter-cultural philosophy, whereas a ‘festival’ wardrobe is leisure wear for people who want to spend a few days trying to locate the wild child they never were.  It’s today’s equivalent of cruise wear.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve always loved clothes and it would have been great to waft around Windsor Great Park in a floaty Ossie Clark number, channelling Marianne Faithfull.  But I’ll pass on Camp Kerala.  Unless, that is, anyone’s got eight grand to spare.

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~ by Lorna Thorpe on June 23, 2011.

7 Responses to “Festivals ain’t what they used to be”

  1. Love it, Lorna. Especially the purple loons. 🙂

  2. Lorna, I love your spleen and I felt the same spluttering indignation when some people I worked with once told me how they were taking a very high powered exec from a multinational to Glastonbury. I just hadn’t been paying attention to the ways of money, power and influence. They are the same people, of course, who would call a safari guide and his traditional round house ‘quaint’ and aren’t these the same people whose inherited wealth is pushing up the price of food as they speculate? Looking at that pic you posted, I get the same feeling I get when I have to go to Ditchling or when I see the name Cath Kidson. Keep keeping me posted. So entertaining.

    • I know! The other thing that gets my goat is the way so many events are dominated by corporate hospitality these days – marquee loads of people quaffing champagne taking tickets away from people who are genuinely interested in the tennis, cricket or whatever. Btw, if you subscribe (ie press the stay tuned button) you’ll get an automatic update when i publish a new post.

  3. Hi Lorna – I’m enjoying your blog!
    Just got back from Glastonbury – Thought you’d be interested in a light hearted report.

    I’m guilty of the following
    Fold away chair – (it’s more comfortable)
    a Goan Fish Curry ( a Cornish company – the best food I ate over the weekend)
    ‘Festival’ clothes (chosen for pragmatic reasons not ethereal. But I loved the idea of festival clothes being the equivalent of cruise wear!)
    Buying a bottle of water ( Andy fell over in the mud – had to clean him up somehow)

  4. Yes it is another world now. I suppose we all have to make a crust or a curry or a t-shirt .. I have never forgotten the first festival I went to with my then boyfriend (who later went on to become the Chairman of Border TV, sigh), the sense of adventure, my parents letting me go with aforesaid boyfriend, the traffic jams getting to Shepton Mallet after journeying from up country, Led Zeppelin, sigh, … and it was also the last festival I went to because I also remembered the women’s toilets, wimp that I am….

    • Lovely … really sums up the feeling of going to a festival back then. I was never really a Led Zeppelin fan until I saw them at Brighton Dome and they blew the roof off …

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