Festivals? A young man’s game.
I know this because I was a young man until quite recently, so I went to loads of them and can tell you exactly what they were like. Glastonbury? Just as it appears on the telly: wet, muddy, pungent with cow-shit. Back in the day I gave some dodgy bloke a fiver to get in (you still could, then), climbed over the fence on his rope ladder, took some ‘ecstasy’ that was, on reflection, worming tablets, lost my tent more times than I could count, watched the Smashing Pumpkins, felt sad, then got the train home early.
It wasn’t much better at Reading. Hot, stinky, towny air heavy with the tang of tipped portaloos: here I recall drinking two or three litres of Frosty Jack cider, ripping my own shoes off in a mosh pit and throwing them at Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters, sleeping next to a fire made of fag packets, waking up thinking I had consumption and taking the train home, early.
Worst of all was the V Festival. Here, one year, I blagged a VIP pass to their ‘Louder Lounge’ celebrity area to hang out with a mate who was presenting teenage telly. We drank free cocktails. Ate free hot dogs. Didn’t watch any bands at all. Drank more free cocktails. Drank more free cocktails. Still saw no bands. Drank more free cocktails. The next day I woke up on the floor in Channel 4’s hotel. Everyone seemed angry, and offended. I got the train home. Yes, early.
In short, dear reader, the big mainstream festivals are dangerous, and if you want my opinion, the best of the British festival summer is to be found in lesser trodden fields.
Happily, there are lots of these to choose from, and festivals this year seem to be promoting a gentility and civilisation I seldom experienced in my youth. Take, for example, Wilderness (8-11 August), headlined this year by Noah and the Whale and Martha Wainwright. Despite the name, Wilderness is not some Hebridean retreat. It’s in Cornbury Park, just down the road from Bicester Village: you can swing over and buy a half-price Burberry trench the minute it starts drizzling.
Wilderness is pretty much central London in a field, with food by Ottolenghi, Mark Hix and J. Sheekey, talks by Intelligence Squared and theatre from Shakespeare’s Globe. The wildest thing on the line-up looks to be ‘organised woodland walks’ or perhaps an event called Singalong-a-Wickerman, in which I suppose they might immolate a few virgins, although I can’t see Ottolenghi liking that very much.
If that sounds pleasant but a little lo-fi, your best bet is Latitude (Southwold, 18-21 July), now the UK’s leading nice, safe, family-friendly festival, whose musical headliners this year include Bloc Party, Foals and — delightfully — Kraftwerk, and which will also feature a massive comedy stage starring Eddie Izzard, Dylan Moran and Sean Lock, theatre from the Sadler’s Wells ‘Balletboyz’ and literary events by Germaine Greer, Marcel Theroux and Granta’s Best Young Novelists.
For breeders who wish to introduce their kids to festival life before they are old enough to run off and score behind the burger van, other excellent options are Bestival (Isle of Wight, 5-8 September) and Lollibop (Olympic Park, 16-18 August). Bestival, like Latitude, is an adult’s festival where children are welcome and will find plenty to do; Lollibop is a kids’ event at which adults must suffer. Bestival features Fatboy Slim, Elton John and Snoop Dogg; Lollibop stars Dick & Dom (a pair of hyperactive youngbloods who shout ‘bogies’ a lot) and Peppa Pig, who will, alas, not be turning slowly on the hog roast. Still, the nippers will love it, and you will probably find a beer stall somewhere, if you look hard.
If the child is, in fact, you, then check out the small, 3,000 capacity BlissFields, (Winchester, 5-7 July) a themed music festival that this year takes as its inspiration the idea of ‘The Director’s Cut’. Fancy dress on a cinematic theme is encouraged (think Star Wars; don’t think Django Unchained) and there is an independent film festival in which a jury will award the ‘Blissfields Favourite’ prize for the best submission. Bastille and Mystery Jets headline the music stage.
Of course, dressing up as a stormtrooper may strike you as an abomination against the spirit of festivals: i.e. simply listening to live music with like-minded folk. In that case, look to Festival Number 6 (Portmeirion, 13-15 September), where you can watch Serious But Brilliant Artists Who Don’t Smile Much, and nod your head in anxious appreciation. James Blake, the Manic Street Preachers, I Am Kloot and Tricky are all being ‘curated’ there, as well as DJs including Gilles Peterson, Daddy G and Carl Craig. Curated? They’re playing. What can I say? It’s about the music, dig. Accommodation ranges from tents and tipis to rooms in the castle.
Finally, if all this sounds a bit too civilised, and you still reckon yourself a raver, investigate Eastern Electrics (2-4 August) — a three-day underground house and techno banger that started in a car park by the O2 last year, and has now expanded to Knebworth Park. It is headlined by acts and DJs so cool that you, like me, have never heard of any of them. All you need to know is that the party goes on till 6 a.m. each day, and if you want a handful of my worming tablets to keep your buzz up, you’d better get in touch early.
Illustration: Brett Ryder