Another summer approaches,and there is going to be a big gap in festivals this year. There is no Glastonbury! Well, I say big gap, but in fact there are lots of other pointless festivals all competing and generally killing the touring scene. The Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is 42 years old this year, and is taking its middle-aged arse on holiday due to a lack of constabulary reinforcement and portable lavatoriums (I think that last point stands every year).
When I found out I wouldn’t be subjected to this musical mire, a little part of me went to heaven. Not being forced to get covered in mud or dust (because there is never an in-between), go insane with rage because of a spotty youth with a decibel-metre, and have 30 different coloured wristbands and laminate passes covering my entire body just so I can do my job, filled me with utter joy.
As you round the bend of the A361 and you see the sea of tents for the first time, it’s pretty impressive, but it’s short-lived. You are soon greeted by angry people in high-vis jackets guiding traffic and shouting at people. As you enter the Red Gate (artists entrance) you are guided towards the holding car park to wait for your clearance to descend the dirt track. If purgatory actually existed, this is what I would imagine it to be – a place where an evil, phantom farmer carries his pitchfork chasing petrified hippies, ghostly disheveled road crew and the occasional apparition of a Womble.
Eventually, after many eternities, a ghastly howl beckons you down the zombie-lined dirt track, where you reach the entrance to the underworld. Although the ferryman has retired his oar and joined a union, he will let you drive yourself as long as you pass the stringent entry test, which basically involves being prodded by more grunting zombies looking for glass bottles. Once a ‘nil glass receptacles’ count has been confirmed (must be something to do with the melting point of glass in the fiery pits of hell), another grey-skinned, glazed-eyed zombie attaches the ferryman’s vehicle pass to the inside of the windscreen with the aid of wallpaper paste, and you are sent on your way.
Your journey to the bottom of the hill is made even more treacherous by a random and sudden stampede of teenage festival-goers running across the road trying to escape more zombie parking attendants. As the road levels out at the bottom of the hill, you have reached the gates of Hades themselves, guarded by more bright-orange-clad zombies, but this time, there is a department manager zombie as well. You can always tell who they are by their blue jackets with reflective silver stripes, over-sized headphones with microphone attachment, and a slightly more extensive vocabulary.
Once more, ticket checks have been carried out, the gates open in a slow, dramatic fashion and you are presented with the terror within. Before you are allowed to go any further, you must work your way to your production office to exchange your ticket for a pass: this is more complicated than it seems. There are different production offices for each stage, and they are usually located behind the stage you are playing on, which is guarded by more zombies who won’t let you pass unless you have a pass. The usual procedure for tackling this is to distract the zombies using a yoyo and a couple of tricks that you learnt in the school playground, while the tour manager crawls through the undergrowth and appears on the other side of the fence.
The passes that he needs to collect are for your stage and its backstage area: you need a pass to walk on the dirt track, plus another for camping, breathing, listening to the music, speaking in English (a Union Jack wristband: if you speak another language you need to have the corresponding flag of that country otherwise you’ll get threatened with eternal damnation by more zombies). So, all in all you need about
30 wristbands on your arm and you’ll look like a 13-year-old school girl. But if anyone breaks one, you have to have sex with them. I know, it sounds crazy, but I don’t make the rules.
I was nearly seduced by the siren howls of this festival once. The maniacal meteorological conditions had ploughed acid drizzle into the ground for days; the tyrannical sun appeared on the morning I arrived, and the slimy ground had begun to dry. I finished working that day and retired to the VIP bar. I had pointed out to me a few idiots from Heat magazine, a presenter from Children’s ITV – who was actually two different presenters from Children’s BBC – and the whole situation got a little embarrassing. My beer began to boil in this demonic, hellish pit, and my nose began to turn red with sunburn and I found myself wishing I could stay. But the reality of tent living had been realised many years before on various different Scout trips to War Memorials across northern Europe. Waking up suffering from dehydration, my face stuck to the pillow, and the breath of an ogre? No thank you very much. Anyway, you don’t know what demonic creatures are lurking just outside the tent.
By the time you reach the end of the weekend, any form of self-worth, pride or purpose has been replaced by trapped wind. Well, at least that’s how I remember it . . .