What is it About the Combination of Camping, Live Music and Portaloos that’s so Magical?
I won’t lie to you. At first I didn’t get it.
‘You HAVE to come!’ my friends urged me, as they stocked up on water-proof cagoules and sausages. Apparently this was the chance of a lifetime, a one-off experience and something everyone had to do at least once in their lives. The preparations took weeks, outfits were chosen and packing was meticulously planned down to the final tin opener. You’d have thought that we were going on an expedition up Everest. But no. Much more exciting than that – it was 2007 and we had VIP tickets to London’s V Festival. I was about to experience the allure of the Music Festival!
I had not long arrived back from a 14 month backpacking tour of Australia and South East Asia. Two nights in a tent with alcohol and live music? Sounded more than do-able to me. In fact I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about.
The day arrived and we drove up the motorway singing to the songs we were looking forward to hearing. Then we got there and we queued. And queued. And did what we would be doing for the next 72 hours. We queued. We sat in the car, watching the heavens grow grey and telling each other that the spitty rain would pass soon enough, until we were finally shown to our own patch of mud. Then it was time to put up the tent!
I didn’t have a problem with tents. I had lived in one for two whole weeks in Northern Australia. I knew what it felt like to wake up with the condensation of your own breath dripping on your face and having to get up at six in the morning as it was too hot to stay beneath the tarpaulin any longer. Except it wasn’t like that, I didn’t know what it meant to camp in a field in England with thousands of drunk and drugged teenagers surrounding you, cold mud beneath your plastic ground sheet and a damp stinking sleeping bag. But there was a camp fire, badly cooked food and a lot of beer. Sitting on our fold-up cheap seats from the pound shop we played drinking games and howled with laughter to the distant sounds of music playing from one of the three stages. Music from a band we didn’t want to see, or a musician we were too drunk to get to, but they were there – and we were there – and that was enough.
After a night of no sleep and an attempt at bacon sandwiches on a tin-foil barbecue we looked for the toilets. But not the bright blue plastic portaloo boxes which by the first morning were overflowing with pee and vomit. Nope. We found the hole in the fence that led to a wooded area where we used large umbrellas to wee behind… It wasn’t dirty, disgusting or uncomfortable (well it was, but not at the time) – it was hilarious and we were having an adventure!
Two drunken sleepless nights and days followed consisting of standing in muddy fields, jumping on the spot to our favourite music and eating food that we really shouldn’t have and were too drunk to taste anyway. On the second day word got out that Amy Winehouse wasn’t going to be performing after all because of a rushed trip to rehab (no, no, no – not fair)….this story would be a lot better if I could say that I got to see the legend live. Sadly that was the nearest I ever got. But there were dozens more to entertain us, and we did get to drink and chat until sunrise with a very incoherent Bez from the Happy Mondays. In fact have the blurry photo of me sitting on someone’s lap, pastel blue cowboy hat on my head and Bez laughing beside me to prove it. Which is lucky as I don’t remember it all that well.
So on the final day, sitting backstage on the grass in a rare pocket of sunshine, a cider in one hand and my head resting on the lap of my boyfriend, I finally got it.
We weren’t on a romantic weekend away. We weren’t backpacking. We weren’t here for the accommodation, the cuisine or the weather. It wasn’t Woodstock or Coachella, it wasn’t even Glastonbury. We weren’t dressed in cut off sexy shorts with ironic flowers in our hair and wearing expensive tasseled waistcoat, and we weren’t in a jazzed-up VW Camper van sprayed in hippy colours. For God’s sake, we hadn’t even brought along our own guitar to play around the campfire! Because it wasn’t about that. Because this was our music festival experience.
We were here for each other and we were making history.
Never again would these artists be right here, together, frozen in this glorious moment in time – performing for us. We were here so that one day we could say to our children, ‘I saw Oasis live on stage, I was on your father’s shoulders and we spent all day laughing uncontrollably’.
We didn’t notice that the sun didn’t shine for three days, that the smell of sewage seeping from beneath the portaloo door was more pleasant than the burgers they were frying at the food tent, or that every time we tried to get some sleep someone fell or pissed on our tent. We didn’t notice any of that because we were ALIVE: Alive with the power of song, friendship and history. We were, all ten thousand of us, jumping up and down in a field, united together for as long as each song lasted. Then again, and again, each time a new person stepped on to the stage.
I don’t remember much about that weekend. It was a cold drunken blur. But I do remember the music. I do remember the laughter. And I do remember that for three glorious days my friends and I shared an adventure and a moment in time. What a shame that Miss Winehouse never joined us, she would have loved it.