Wednesday 22 December 2010

Glastonbury Day 5: "There Are Eyeballs In A Tree"

Day 5 found we Glastonbury old hands lying about on our stomachs in our usual Space of Coolness near the toilets in the morning (along with a few usurpers), before peeling off in various directions to enjoy the festival. I was on the 5pm-10pm shift with N. C, L & T had a different shift which fortunately finished at 8pm, so all of us did the Dance of Going To See Muse Tonight, Yay, again in the interests of good luck, before heading off to the Pyramid Stage to see the Lightning Seeds. I seem to remember it was on this occasion that we learned more about each other’s sexual preferences than any of us ever needed to know (alcohol wasn’t involved at this time in the morning, so I know not why the conversation took a turn that involved the phrase “hair-pulling”), and also the following discussion as we passed the cow barns on the way in:

L: I think the cows are talking to me.
C: Really?
Cow from inside the barn: MOOOOOOO!!!!
L: You see?
Me: You’re like the Cow Whisperer.

We settled ourselves in at a comfortable spot towards the back of the field. The great thing about the Pyramid Stage is that the visuals and audio are pretty good from just about everywhere, so if you don’t fancy being in the squash at the front, you can occupy the “picnic” bit at the back of the field, where people spread themselves out with blankets, chairs, and four-packs of Carlsberg. Or, in our case, frosty lemonades and iced coffee – we really were far too respectable. Iced coffee from the stall near the Pyramid Stage was fast becoming my favourite thing, and if you know me, you’ll know that for it to be too hot for me to drink liquid coffee means it was pretty fricken’ hot.

We sprawled about all over the field, basking in the sunshine. Then jumped up and down to “Three Lions” and “Life of Riley”. Then sat down again, because it was roasting. Now I like the heat, and am famed among my friends for feeling the cold if there’s a stiff breeze. Indeed, one of my colleagues at work once dubbed me “The Lizard” for my ability to sit around in the warmth, but this was pushing it, even for me. People were hiding in any bit of shade they could find. After the Lightning Seeds finished, we went our separate ways to see the different bits of the festival we were interested in. I went off to catch one of the bands at the West Holts (ex- Jazz World) Stage, then hide from the sun inside tents. Specifically, the Cabaret Tent, where I was about to fufil a six-year-old Glastonbury personal tradition.

I was at the Cabaret Stage to see the punk performance poet, Attila the Stockbroker. Attila was the first act I ever saw at Glastonbury, back in 2005. I was trudging along in the mud past a tent, when I heard a song with the memorable refrain: “Aneurin Bevin, your party is dead / And the time for a new one is nigh / Will the last person left please turn off the lights? / New Labour, just fuck off and die.” I promptly wheeled left, and became a fan of Attila the Stockbroker. I now always check the line-up to see if I can get to his show, and this year my luck held; he was on at 3pm. I settled in early to avoid the sun and stake out my spot.

Whilst in the Cabaret Tent, I also got to see the Great Glastonbury Filling The Tent Trick. It was impressive. As the previous act (a middle-aged man in a kilt doing diablo tricks) trotted off, the compere decided the crowd was not impressive enough for Attila the Stockbrocker, and announced: “Right everyone, we’re going to do the Glastonbury Filling the Tent Trick. This always works. Trust me. Right now I want all the people at the back to stand up, stand up, yes that’s right, don’t worry, you’ll get to sit back down again soon, so just go stand at the back and fill the entrances. That’s right, fill the entrances right up so that it looks like the entire tent is standing room only, that’s it, excellent. And now, when I raise my arms, I want you all to clap and cheer as if the most exciting thing you’ve ever seen in your life is on stage, Really raise the roof. That’s it. Right, one-two-three… Yes! Excellent! Keep going, keep going, it’s working, even louder please, even louder, that’s it, the people are coming in – make room for them, folks! Make room! Fantastic!”

He was right; it did work. Drawn by the magnetic urge to see what all the fuss is about and the fear that you might be missing a good time, people packed themselves into the tent, and Attila came onstage to see a full tent, which waved back at him. He ran through his list of favourites: “Libyan Students from Hell”, “Doggy on a String” and the song with the afore-mentioned chorus, “Guy Fawkes’ Table”. You can always tell when people in the tent have never seen him perform it before; they’re the ones who gape with surprise at the chorus, then laugh, then cheer. As his set ended, I reluctantly assumed the perpendicular, and dragged myself off to the beer tent to get on with my shift.

There’s not a lot to say about the shifts at Glastonbury this year, which is a good thing. You show up, you push beer over the counter at people, you throw the cash in the bucket, you repeat. Ours was, as previously observed, a very good and well-run bar to work in. The only challenge was that for some reason people would enter the tent at one end and form a queue there, rather than spreading out down the bar where there were more people to serve them. Being an insanely helpful type, I developed a Village People-style routine where, whenever this happened, I went up to that end and yelled “Folks, please move down inside the tent – we are waiting to serve you at the other end!” then did a sort of Mexican wave indicating the general direction of the people waiting to serve.

By and large, the punters at Glastonbury at our tent were good people. This is something I’ve observed on many occasions; I’ve no idea what working in a bar on a professional basis is like, but by and large, the Glastonbury punters are fairly easygoing. I was happy this year not to be in the Dance Field. The Dance Field is probably my least favourite bit of the festival; it is not my scene, and probably has a higher proportion of drink- / drug- casualties who are still up and perambulating around than anywhere else in the festival. (We used to call the 11am-5pm Sunday shift on the bar in the Dance Field the “zombie shift” because of the appearance of anyone who staggered into it at that time.)

By contrast, our bar was cheerful and, being next to the Pyramid Stage, had the best live soundtrack ever. It’s a funny thing about Glastonbury. We are all so used to hearing music in the background that at first, the sound of “Time to Pretend” or “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” playing nearby doesn’t strike you as remarkable; then you look up and realise that, actually, you’re hearing MGMT or Scissor Sisters playing it live. As the slogan has it: “If Carlsberg did live bar music…”

I was sorry to miss seeing Scissor Sisters, as they were on before Muse, but my shift clashed. At least I got to hear them, albeit through the tent wall. Fortunately, I was going to get to see Muse.

If you know me, you’ll know that Muse are pretty much my favourite band, ever. I have seen them live once before at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, but whilst that was fantastic, there’s something about the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury that seems to add an extra dimension to the artists’ performance. Probably, it’s the knowledge that a fair part of their audience did not pay for their ticket specifically so that they could see them, and is standing there thinking: “Go on then, impress me”. To say that I was bouncing up and down a bit as the clock ticked towards 10pm would be accurate.

Fortunately for N and I, Muse were on in the field next to us at 10.15pm. As soon as we finished (and you’d better believe we were in the queue for signing off the work rota and collecting our shift vouchers about 9.55pm), we tore out of the tent, made the fastest change into our non-work clothes ever, then took off towards our rendezvous with L, C, & T like heat-seeking missiles. Amazingly, we found them, and threaded our way through the MASSIVE crowd to the best spot we could find. Annoyingly, it had a guy behind us who apparently believed that Muse’s light show really needed him to point his green laser pointer at the top of the Pyramid Stage as an interesting addition. Sadly, he was not near enough behind us that I could “accidentally” tread on his foot.

All this was forgotten when Muse strutted on stage like returning heroes. (I’m sorry, this is the point in this blog where my objectivity is temporarily absent – I apologise if I sound like a cross between a fangirl and a sleep-deprived NME reporter, normal sarcastic service WILL be resumed further down this blog when Muse have gone offstage.) Matt Bellamy looked out at the crowd and muttered into the mike “Fucking hell, this is massive!”, and, in the words of the NME’s reporter, “did his best not to look like a man who plays to 25,000-capacity stadiums every day of his working week. (He does. He so does.) But yeah, maybe this one’s a little bit special…”.

Not just for the obvious reason, which is that the Glastonbury Saturday headline slot on the Pyramid is the “you have made it to the big league” signifier. If you’re a fan of Muse, this had a special resonance. Muse’s first performance on the Sunday of the festival on the Pyramid Stage back in 2004 is widely regarded as being the moment they entered rock’s big league and made it into the “you might have heard of them” mainstream. Unfortunately, it was also followed by one of the band’s worst moments, when their drummer Dominic Howard’s father collapsed and died of a heart attack half an hour after watching his son’s band on the main stage. Whether Muse would ever play Glastonbury again was something of a hushed question among their fans. To see them back on the stage was an emotional experience.

Then they opened up with “Knights of Cydonia”, and the crowd went ballistic. At this point I can really only say that I enjoyed the whole gig immensely (with the exception of Annoying Green Pointer Guy). For me Muse on top form + Glastonbury on a summer’s evening = perfect musical experience. Hearing “Guiding Light” live was a particular highlight for me, it’s one of my favourites from “The Resistance”. I also think that Matt Bellamy may actually have said more to the audience whilst onstage than at just about any gig I’ve seen footage of. He is notorious for saying very little to the audience other than “Hello, how are you doing?”, then ripping into “Plug In Baby” or “Stockholm Syndrome”, apparently out of the feeling that the audience is there to see him play rather than listen to him talk. (Possibly correct, although I think the Saturday evening audience would have been quite receptive to tales of aliens taking over the world in disguise.) Seeing him actually smile at the audience and say hello was quite a nice moment.

Then, of course, it was back to “Hysteria” and “Supermassive Black Hole”, and the party continued until Muse finally capped an excellent, excellent performance by bringing the Edge on stage and concluding with “Where the Streets Have No Name”. I’d like to say I don’t need other people to validate my taste, but when you have a favourite band, and when you get to see that favourite band demonstrate their brilliance to 40,000 people plus the watching media, it’s a very, very nice moment.

As the field very slowly emptied, we headed for our rendezvous at the Bread and Roses pub nearby. The Bread and Roses is another WBC bar, and highly popular due to the fact that it was the only bar in the main festival area that took WBC end-of-shift drinks vouchers. In the old days, any WBC bar would take them in exchange for a drink, which made being a volunteer somewhat more fun. Indeed, I don’t think I paid for a drink during the entirety of my first festival back in 2005 (people would just hand over the drink and grin “Nah, don’t bother” at you when you proffered the voucher), which is, of course, why the WBC no longer does things this way.

It does mean that the Bread and Roses is the default off-duty bar for WBC workers, and it was packed that night. We found each other, found some drinks and, after quickly making some new friends, found some seating in, around and on one of the very elderly sofas in the bar. Suddenly, Alabama 3 wandered onstage and started singing. We’d reached the point in the festival where this sort of thing had become the norm. Due to my alcohol intake, I actually cannot remember a great many details of their performance, except that a) I enjoyed it and b) at one point they were singing a slow country and western dirge when suddenly the lead singer yelled “Nah, you don’t wanna hear any more of this sad country and western shit!”, stopped the song halfway through and broke into a much livelier singalong song, to wild cheers from the (largely drunk) audience.

At this point, a debate occurred within the team. We’d talked early about going to see a band recommended in the Guardian Guide to the Festival, the Phenomenal Handclap Band in the Dance East tent, introduced by Craig Charles. Some of us were still up for this, but others were fading fast. After a slightly intense debate, myself and T decided that no, we actually weren’t too tired to go watch them. We staggered on out of the tent and rambled over to the Dance Field, stopping for a much-needed pee on the way. We were merrily rambling onward towards the music tent when, from a young woman nearby, there came an ear-piercing screech: “THERE ARE EYEBALLS IN A TREE!”

I turned to look, and very nearly jumped behind T and yelled “GAAHH!” Because there were, indeed, giant eyeballs in a nearby tree, which is quite a freaky sight when you aren’t expecting it. We stared at them for several minutes, wondering why on earth anyone had put eyeballs in a tree. The only conclusion we could come up with was that someone at Glastonbury hates the inhabitants of the Dance Field with a vengeance, and decided to put up something that would give anyone in an altered state paranoid visions for the rest of the festival. If this was so, I can understand their motivation (see my earlier comments for why).

We made it to the tent, and the band were on, and hugely popular (it looked like everyone else had read the Guardian Guide, too). The tent was jumping with happy people in costumes clutching drinks and glowy light sticks, and we merged into the crowd, pausing only so that T could get her photo taken with a young man and his girlfriend who’d come dressed as “Where’s Wally?” and his girlfriend Wallette. We drank, we waved our hands in the air, we jumped around, and when the band finished at half three in the morning, we weaved our merry way back home, having a good-natured drunken debate with two lads in a similar state of inebriation, about something which I entirely cannot remember. I couldn’t remember it the morning afterwards either – it’s not the passage of time to blame. Quite possibly the best single day I’ve ever had at the Glastonbury festival. What was to happen next?

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