The first music festival I ever went to was Glastonbury ’98. I’d just finished my GCSEs and got my first job making nuts in a nut factory in Wolverhampton. The work was repetitive and tedious, and at the end of every shift I’d end up picking out tiny flecks of iron filings from my fingers, but for £3 an hour, I didn’t complain. At the end of each week, I was paid in cash, and the bulk of my £105 pay packet was usually spent on my bike ride home in a record shop in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, called Max Millwood’s Records. The shop was crammed with overpriced CDs and dusty cassettes, and I could happily browse in there for hours, chatting to the staff about music and searching through the bargain bin for some hidden gems.
On one of the weeks, at the end of June, I took a few days off to go to Glastonbury festival with a couple of friends from school, and some other people I didn’t really know at the time, but who became good friends through the experience.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so for my birthday in the May, they paid for my return coach ride to Glastonbury. I had kept aside £60 spending money for the weekend, and went down without a ticket. I figured that I would just jump the fence; I’d heard of people doing it, and figured it couldn’t be that hard. At the bus station I met up with a few school friends, and realised that I wasn’t the only one without a ticket. Arriving at the site, we looked up in horror at the fence. Other friends had convinced me that there was nothing to the fence, and that it may as well have been guarded by garden gnomes the security was so lax. I felt duped. As a Glastonbury veteran (he’d been there the year before), I felt that he’d been slightly misleading. But if I hadn’t been so confident in my ability to gain illegal entry, I probably wouldn’t have gone: he did the right thing.
Fortuitously, my friend and I managed to procure a couple of tickets from a dodgy farmer who was also selling batteries and cider. We negotiated him down to £70 for the pair, and we were elated: no scaling or digging for us!
On the Saturday night we spent quite a bit of time exploring the site and becoming gradually more caked in the thick gloopy mud that covered the site due to the relentless rainfall that plagued us. We came across the opening of Afro Celt Sound System’s set on the Jazz World Stage and we were transfixed. Their sound, as you can probably glean from their name, is a fusion of African and Celtic sounds: somewhere between the Waterboys and Fela Kuti, with some dance beats thrown in for good measure. The live show was a spectacle. There were countless people on the stage, dancing and playing all manner of assorted instruments. I’d never heard anything like it before, and was mesmerized by the intensity of the performance.
On returning back to work the next week, although my pay packet was significantly reduced, I went home via Max Millwood’s and purchased Sound Magic for the princely sum of £17.99. On returning home, I listened to the album and immediately recognised the second track ‘Whirl-Y-Reel’ as the one that had closed their Glastonbury set. I remember feeling a little disappointed with the album, as it hadn’t captured the energy of their live performance, and felt too much like an album that had been produced in a studio with lots of computers and equipment, rather than the storming live ensemble I’d witnessed only the weekend prior.
Listening back to the album in 2012, I was immediately struck by something: the opening track of Sound Magic is played on loop in my local Wilkos in Leeds. Every time I’ve been in Wilkos lately, I hear the strange atmospheric album opener building up in intensity, only to be cut off by someone calling for customer services over the PA. The fact that this is considered the perfect soundtrack for buying DIY equipment, cheap shampoo and colouring books is just too much.
This is an album that I should have culled years ago, but it is getting done now, and that’s the main thing.