The Festival Begins

The festivities opened at 12 but we missed it. We didn’t finish our shift until 1pm and then returned to the sauna-like tent for a shower and rather late brunch, presumably called ‘lunch’ by that time. The previous morning shower had been refreshing but by this time the cubicle quickly filled up with steam, joining the tent in our personal spa experience. An air vent in the ceiling was inadequate to disperse all the moisture which seemed to accumulate on my skin faster than I could dry myself. Needless to say it was a huge struggle to position my underwear on in the broadly correct area of my body. The early morning queues may become essential.

Loaded with our daypack and folding chairs we set off for the arena to begin our own festival. The first two acts were pretty good but by 5.30 we decided to dump the chairs and reduce our load for the evening so dropped them off back at the campsite before returning to the second stage via the almost deserted fairground, blaring out inane pop music to empty rides. This route took us past the Cafe Nero tent which housed the fourth stage, well a raised dias in the corner, usually promoting emerging artists.

A crowd overflowed the tent with people peering in from the outside sunshine. Any crowd is usually a good sign so we ventured over to investigate the attraction. 2 oldish guys were on the podium, chatting away to the audience. A guitar sat on the lap of a bespectacled red-headed balding gentleman, a long white-haired guy perched at the keyboards. Roger remembered that he’d read something about these guys being ‘a must see’ in the programme we’d borrowed from our neighbour.

“As individuals in the world of music, Peter Asher and Albert Lee have done it all. They have played on – or produced – some of the biggest-selling albums ever released and performed in stadiums and concert halls all over the world. In fact, their combined influence and contribution to music spans over a century and includes work with Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton and The Beatles. So it is no surprise that when they get together they are a force to be reckoned with.” wrote Clive Morgan in The Telegraph Nov 2016. And this wasn’t an overstatement, they were exceptional. The gentle raconteur Peter interspersed their numbers with anecdotes of life over the decades with some of the music world’s biggest stars, yet without any hint of brashness, mostly unassuming and self-effacing. They finished their set to a standing ovation after a wonderful rendition of their own World Without Love.

This had been one of those unexpected treats and we realised that it would be difficult to beat as we left the seats we’d managed to acquire on the outskirts. The James Taylor Quartet began their set on the second stage. Nothing to do with THE James Taylor but a really good act: acid-jazz on a Hammond organ! We missed most of the next act as we went in search of food, returning to the 2nd (Songbird) stage ready for Stereo MC’s. I’m not entirely sure why but I expected a black rapper (or is that MC Hammer?) so I was a little surprised to be watching a hip hop/acid house club band from London’s east end.

We weren’t overly impressed when their fourth number sounded very similar to the first three so made our way to the main (Pleasant Valley) stage to get a good position for the headline act, UB40. I was quite happy with our spot but knew that crowds are a living entity and move with unpredictable surges, but I would stand my ground, about 10 yards from the front barrier on an uphill slope, almost level with the stage. A tall guy seemed to be trying to edge me along from the side but as I’d found a slight lump to stand on I wasn’t budging. The band came on to rapturous applause, a significant proportion of the original line-up, which isn’t too bad considering the intervening decades.

They had just settled into their second number when a diminutive women joined the guy by my side with a noisy greeting and then manoeuvred herself in front of me. I wasn’t too bothered because she barely reached my shoulder. She then turned and called a friend through from behind me. I wasn’t best pleased as she was slightly taller but still didn’t really obscure my view of the stage, even if the antics were a tad distracting. She then called ‘Phil’ through. Fortunately Phil seemed to have more sense than to plonk himself in front of someone else during an act and declined. The dwarf proceeded to have an unrelated conversation with the friend who had come to stand in front of me, but the band were rather loud so she had to shout to be heard over the music which had been one of our main interests in the first instance. Surely this wouldn’t last long, UB40 were the headline act for Friday.

As she continued to yell banalities over the next number I started to get somewhat disgruntled. They were in my face, between me and the stage, blocking both my view and obscuring the musical performance we had come to see. When this interruption segued into the next number my filters came off. I leant forward, tapped her on her shoulder and pointed out that I’d paid to listen to the band not her. (OK, so I hadn’t paid cash but would work 15+ hours in return for the £200 ticket.) She shut up for the rest of this set, disappearing off to the loo as they built to their finale. One has to wonder why she was even there, as in ‘right in the front middle of an audience for a band she had no interest in’.

We enjoyed this closing set for the first night, although I’m undecided about some of the new numbers. The oldies are the best, or am I becoming intransigent? We returned to our tent via the campsite tent where an interesting sounding band were performing. They specialised in cover versions of classic rock numbers. By the time they were on their fourth unrecognisable number we acknowledged that perhaps we were not the most suitable demographic. Our mattress beckoned so we duly headed to our temporary home for an even better night’s sleep, looking forward to a full day off.

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