Dublin Sunday Tribune, July 2, 1989

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Dublin Sunday Tribune

UK & Ireland newspapers


All the fun of the fair

BP Fallon

BP Fallon and friends donned their beads and kaftans to travel to this year's midsummer fair at Glastonbury, a herbal festival of brown rice and music.

London Airport, and the customs officer is slowly and methodically searching the carrier bag belonging to a young man wearing glasses.

"What's your occupation, sir?" Customs man says.

"I'm a musician," comes the reply.

"Do you travel a lot, sir?"

"Yes, I suppose I do."

Customs man has now gotten to the side pockets of the little bag, pulling out scraps of paper with forgetten phone numbers scribbled on them. It's like fat confetti with writing on it. This is the last straw. He zips up the little bag and hands back the Irish passport to Adam Clayton of U2, saying, "Have a pleasant trip." Adam turns to his friend Mary Gough, the person who manages to ensure that Adam's undomesticity is as un-higgledy piggledy as possible. "It's great when they do that," Adam says. "It reminds you of what you've got in your bag."

Adam and Mary and a bunch of Irish friends are headed down the highway in a hired car towards Bristol. There's Sebastian Clayton, Adam's younger brother, who works in advertising and plays bass with the blueswailin' Moby Dick. There's Maria Doyle, singer with the Black Velvet Band, and Fintan, a rock group stylist. Oh, one American: the Californian singer and songwriter Maria McKee who astounds and delights the High Priest of Happiness by knowing the words to any hillbilly or country or rock 'n' roll or soul song he throws at her.

We're headed for Glastonbury Festival, everyone along for the crack. The High Priest of Happiness, an aged sage who seems to exist in the cloudy world of rock 'n' roll and cosmic hopes, is possibly the only person here who was at the very first Glastonbury Festival way back in 1970 when Marc Bolan and T Rex topped the bill.

Glastonbury Festival is run by farmer Michael Eavis on his farm. The large pyramid-shaped stage, crowned by a green CND logo, is for the rest of the year a hayshed for Michael's cows. CND benefit from the festival, in 1987 alone receiving £100,000. Worthy Farm is sited in the Vale of Avalon where once King Arthur and his knights enacted their Merliny magic, and nearby Glastonbury Abbey/Stonehenge leyline crosses the farm, and there are energies there beyond time and logic. Naturally, it is the largest hippy-type festival in Britain and Adam is suitably glowing in a loud orangey tie-dye t-shirt that'd make Ray Charles wince. Even when the High Priest insists on stopping to buy a tape that fills the car with Elvis Presley feebly exhorting "Rah-ock, a-hula baby" the spirits remain undemolished and, after driving all the way around Bristol a couple of times, we find ourselves jammed down a country lancway that resembles nothing more than an overcrowded version of the fall of Saigon.

A girl with pupils the size of billiard balls sticks her head into the car and says "Ecstasy." The expensive Jaguar in front has been abandoned, smack bang in the middle of the lane. Sebastian has found an acoustic guitar and stands serenading the folks squeezing by, hippies and freaks and fresh civil servants with anoraks and rucksacks, bearded fathers who hoist their children on their shoulders, geezers sitting in the ditch with painted faces and free-form minds. Maria McKee is hanging out the car window, using the roof as a metallic drum. Maria Doyle is convincing the long-hair with the t-shirt covered in marijuana plants that she'd offered him a swig from the vodka, not donated to him the whole bottle.

An hour later the police arrive. When — in order to tow it away — they smash in the windows of the abandoned Jag with hammers, onlookers cheer and look envious. Several volunteer to help.

Outside the backstage gate. It's eleven o'clock at night now, something like that. None of the six Irish folk and the one American are allowed in, not even the chap who plays in The Biggest Group In The World. Through the bars of the gate, one can see police everywhere, standing around in the backstage area, crammed into Landrovers, and the police in more expensive uniforms walking and talking into walkie-talkies. We have missed the night's final act, Suzanne Vega, but to make up for it we discover that there's been a death threat on her bassplayer. Hence the Old Bill everywhere.

Come Saturday night and Van Morrison has been brilliant, finishing his transcendental set with a song that you're told by someone who knows these things is a song that Van only does if he feels he's done a good performance, a song that consists solely of a list of the names of British comedians ("Tony Hancock!" "Tommy Cooper!" "Max Miller!") and bounces into a chorus of "Max Wall! Max Wall! Max Wall!" You have to laugh and it's nice to know that Van does too.

The Hothouse Flowers have pumped it up, they and their extraordinary backing singer Claudia Fontaine being joined for "Feet On The Ground" by Adam on bass guitar and by Maria McKee and Maria Doyle on additional voices on "Happy." Happiness indeed and groovy and fab too. Twitching in and out of his Portakabin dressing room, Elvis Costello is nervous. Dressed in black, he's sporting long side-boards and is telling about how he's just written a song for Johnny Cash. When you tell him you really like the track he and McCartney sing together on Paul's new album, he says, "It seems that whether we want it or not, it'll be a single," then twitches some more, says to no-one, "I'd really like to go now."

Eighty thousand Elvis fans can't be wrong. When Elvis, just he and his music alone on that stage, performs "Shipbuilding," the song's co-composer Clive Langer comes close to tears at the powerful emotion.

Around the blazing bonfire an Irish session is in full swing. Waterboys, Hothouse Flowers, Maria McKee, friends and strangers who have been made welcome, accordians and fiddles and mandolins and guitars and bodhrans and voices . .. this is heaven under the night sky. Somebody throws wooden chairs onto the already roaring fire. "An Irish solution to an Irish problem" says Adam tongue-in-cheek.

Liam O Maonlai from the Flowers goes off to sleep under a tree. Adam, Flower Fiachna 0 Braonain, his girlfriend Jadzia Kaminska and The High Priest wander the night. Looking out over the fields illuminated by the bright moon, it resembles a scenario from the end of the world or at least the immigration area to Mars. Multi-coloured tents dot the landscape, fires are burning, people draped in blankets waft around. In another field, past the stalls selling everything from organic food to Rizla rolling papers, acid house music emanates blaring, drawing around its font hundreds of delirious dancers tranced out in their self-induced electronic epilepsy. As you walk the fields, you find your head moving backwards and forwards on your neck, the whizz whizz beat catapults into your brain.

As dawn comes, you find yourself sitting in an emptyish field looking at the empty stage. You don't know why, but you sit there for an hour. It just feels right.

Eleven o'clock Sunday morning and you're lying in the Jadzia's tent, your mind vibrating as you try to fool yourself that you'll fall asleep in a minute. Outside, Adam and Sebastian slumber on the grass.

At 11.30 reggae group Black Uhuru explode the fields into sudden life with a heavy-metal version of "Hey Joe," kinda like Jimi Hendrix playing "Helter Skelter" in Bob Marley's garden, loud. Another day, and the sun yet again has been roasting for hours.

The audience sitting in the field is like a joint-rollers' convention. People stick together Rizla cigarette papers, lay tobacco down the middle and to into a sprinkling routine not unlike a Oxo ad. They then take this white tube, stick it in their mouth and set fire to it. Then there's billowy smoke everywhere. People seem to enjoy this carry-on.

The Waterboys are playing, their finest line-up yet with the inclusion of drummer Nollaig Bridgeman — a player of 25 years since his days in Skid Row with Phil Lynott, Brush Shiels and 17-year-old Gary Moore — and Colin Blakey on whistle and sundry instruments and accordian wizardess Sharon Shannon. It's nearest this special band have come in bridging the gap between their on-stage performances and the loose sessions that invariably follow, and as Mike Scott's voice is carrying us down Hank Williams' "Lost Highway," a man nearby you in the audience repeats his mantra of "acid. acid. acid" and people approach him and give him money and he scoots off no doubt to return with a revealing book on the dangers of acid rain.

Fela Kuti's band have arrived, Fela with his 26 wives in tow and his 10-piece horn section and a whole mill of beautifully striking folk in their African clothes. Loud acid house music is bursting off the stage into the backstage area and these folk, they're now in a circle, clapping, singing in unison "Come on, come on" and they call out a name, and this person, they shake it out into the middle of the circle, moving it to the incessant music real foxy and real funky and real fun, nothing prissy about this, and everyone cheers and they back into the throbbing circle and it's someone else's turn. And a tractor approaches and they make a path, still dancing, still clapping, still singing, and the lights shining off the back of the stage catch the rising dust from the ground and the dancers converge and continue and as you look at this scene, the dust, the dancers, the lights, vans and lorries parked nearby, you see the ethos of a South African township. Except, you remind yourself, it's not always as joyously happy as this.

Things are getting blurry now. What day is it? It was Friday when we got here. It was Sunday … or was it Monday, the early hours … when you last vaguely thought about it. Earlier today … or was it yesterday … you saw those four creatures from out of space yet again. Someone points out that they're people dressed up, but when you see them again you involuntarily jump up in the air startled and go "Huh."

A man in stilts has strolled by, carrying in his hands in the silhouette created by the Avalon sunset a pair of stuffed fish. You're just realising that in fact it's a pair of wooden juggling clubs when from the opposite direction a man without stilts hurries by carrying over his shoulder an enormous Cross.

"Stay in focus" part of your brain is telling you. So you cast your mind out like a lasoo to tie onto some proven reality and you remember the Queen's Arms pub in the tiny village of Wraxall near Shepton Mallet. Everything was normal then. Sebastian, aware that we were headed for Glastonbury where supplies can run out, went into the pub. "I'd like" he told the barman "17 boxes of matches and some ice, please, to take away." Ah yes. The other real world. I remember it well...


The Sunday Tribune, July 2, 1989

BP Fallon reports on the Glastonbury Festival, June 16-18, 1989, Worthy Farm, Pilton, England.


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Page scans.

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