1997 was a memorable year. Princess Diana died. I turned 30. I went to Glastonbury Festival for the first time.
After earning my festival ‘wings’ at Milton Keynes, Donington and Knebworth back in the 80s I had only been to a handful of outdoor music events since then. ‘Life’ had taken over and I’d started doing more sensible things like buying my first house, getting married and taking foreign holidays etc despite only being in my mid-20s. I was still buying lots of music and going to gigs etc but I’d not really had an urge to stand in a muddy field watching bands for a good while. THEN in the summer of 1994 I watched Channel 4’s coverage of the Glastonbury on the telly and I liked what I saw. I did the same again in 1995 and really kicked myself for not getting a ticket for what is now widely regarded a vintage year. I’d been aware of Glasto (and the Stonehenge Festival) for a long time – and the crusty / new age traveller ethic had appealed to the ‘hippy’ lurking inside me since my teenage dope smoking days. I wasn’t going to miss the next one…
Unfortunately, due to Glastonbury’s ‘fallow year’ policy it would be 2 years before me and a couple of mates would get to go. As June 1997 drew closer we began to hatch our plans. Believe it or not this would be the first time any of us had camped at a festival (unless breaking into a council van to get some sleep at Nottingham’s Heineken Music Festival in 1991 counts as ‘camping’…. no names mentioned?!) We soon discovered that packing for a UK music festival is a major operation, requiring a lot more planning than packing for a foreign holiday due to the unpredictable British weather. In the weeks leading up to it we debated how many tents to take, what footwear and clothing we would need (shorts and shades, wellies and waterproofs) and whose car would be big enough to carry all of this shit! In the end we decided that the Peugeot 405 my mate Zip used as a taxi would be the most suitable. We also decided to head down on the Thursday afternoon so we’d be set up ‘nice and early’ before the festival started on the Friday lunchtime (in more recent years we’ve spent almost a whole week there!)
The day arrived and we loaded the car, went to pick up some ‘supplies’ and headed off to Glastonbury. Except we didn’t. The car broke down before we’d even got out of Nottingham. We had to dump it off at the taxi base where my mate worked and transfer all our gear to my other mate Spike’s metallic yellow and extremely snug Fiat Punto!
My memories of that 4 hour journey are:
The weather conditions. It had pissed down constantly for days and continued to do so on the day we drove down to Somerset (we naively wondered whether the festival might get cancelled!)
The mood in the car. Spike had reluctantly agreed to use his car when Zip’s car broke down. It was fairly new and he was probably anxious about the condition it might end up in at Glasto. I can’t remember why I didn’t offer to use my car…. probably the same reason.
The line-up announcement on Radio 1. It’s a long time ago and my memory isn’t what it used to be but I’m pretty certain that the line-up wasn’t announced until we were driving down that day. We were buzzing to hear that Radiohead (OK Computer had just come out) and The Prodigy (Fat of the Land) were amongst the headliners and loads of other ‘Britpop’ era bands we were into at that time would also be appearing. The weather also got a few mentions and the DJ’s painted a bleak picture of a site that was already beginning to resemble Dunkirk…
On arrival in Glastonbury that afternoon we opted to go for a few pints in the town centre and booked into the Bolt Hole B&B for the night rather than brave the conditions down the road at Pilton. Come to think of it we were proper lightweights that day considering the Glasto mud baths we have experienced and even embraced since then! Anyway, we still managed to get ourselves completely wasted in the pub, putting up with the stench of some crusty sat on a barstool in his sweaty old socks, and we did “come back rolling drunk” (and a bit stoned) despite the warnings of the landlady at the B&B, bless her!
After a full English on the Friday morning we got a cab to the festival. Yes a cab! The thought of having to get the Punto towed off site on Monday morning was a bit too much for Spike so we decided to get a taxi to the festival…complete with all our gear.
Then it happened. As the cab got closer we got our very first glimpse of the sprawling Glastonbury Festival site and it was absolutely fucking HUGE! Far bigger than any of us could have imagined. Tents could be seen for miles up on the rain soaked hills around the site. It was the size of a small town and the storm clouds up above made it all the more stunning. Anyone who has ever been to Glastonbury will confirm that their first experience of seeing the site is pretty breathtaking and one of life’s great memories.
Having joined the queue and passed through security (which was a doddle back then compared to today) we entered the site and made for the first ‘sensible’ place to camp – right at the top of Hitchin Hill ground, just inside the perimeter fence. The fence was a lot smaller back then – perfect for the annual fence jumpers who all seemed to come from Liverpool! (Just an observation la, no stereotyping here – you cheapskate bastards lol!) After quickly putting up our tents we made a start on the scrumpy cider we had picked up on the way in, rolled a spliff, headed off in the direction of the stages and the weekend began…
The first band we saw on the Main Stage (no Pyramid that year – it had burnt down in 1994) was Echo and the Bunnymen. The first song we heard performed at our first Glasto was “Nothing Ever Lasts Forever”. I still get goosebumps whenever I hear that song now and it always projects me back to that muddy field in Somerset in 1997.
Shortly after the Bunnymen we watched on as a huge group of new age travellers danced to The Levellers, throwing themselves around in the mud and lobbing large clumps of muddy grass at anyone who looked remotely clean. THIS was the proper Glastonbury we came to know and love in those early days. “What a beautiful day” indeed…
We spent the next few hours stumbling around the vast site, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the festival (those bogs really were hell on earth back then!) Band, beer, burger, bog… band, beer, burger, bog…. became the routine. Oh and those delicious kebabs smothered in hot chilli sauce! The conditions were appalling and it could take an age to get from one stage to another because of the mud. However each time we found ourselves thinking “sick of this rain, mud or whatever” we’d just head in to the warmth of the nearest beer tent, sit down at a table and make some new friends. Glastonbury remains one the friendliest places on earth and I’ve yet to find anywhere else where everyone is so chatty, accommodating and genuinely nice people. The world could learn a lot from this place…
The bands came thick and fast over the next 3 days. We got soaked watching Supergrass, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Ocean Colour Scene, Dodgy, Placebo to name a few – all were brilliant. We would have seen more if the ‘Other Stage’ hadn’t sunk into the mud and some bands lost their slot. This was also the first year of the Dance Tent which would grow to become the Dance Village in future years. We also got to see Ray Davies of The Kinks in 1997 apparently. My memory is a bit errr ‘sketchy’ for that one – ok, non-existent. Zip has tried to convince me that I stood in awe, singing along to ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and generally having a ball but when he later pronounced that “Ray Davies was a bit good wasn’t he” my reply was “What? We saw Ray Davies???!” I genuinely have no recollection…
As anticipated Friday’s headliners The Prodigy set the place alight with the legendary Keith Flint (RIP) working up the crowd to rave in our wellies. But Radiohead’s atmospheric set on the Saturday night remains my favourite ‘Glastonbury Moment’ all these years later. I still get shivers when I see footage of them performing ‘No Surprises’ that year. It was pure magic.
When we weren’t watching bands we’d be experiencing some of the ‘weirdness’ for which the festival has become renowned. Infact this would become my favourite aspect of Glastonbury. The strange goings on up at the stone circle, the Healing Fields, the Hare Krishna people, the naked protests, fire juggling new age travellers, people openly selling ‘hash cakes’ and other illegal wares around the site, folks tripping off their tits on acid while an old fella in a top hat would make his emu puppets ‘dance’ to AC/DC under a strobe light! The place was truly bonkers but we loved every minute.
Sadly over the years I do think the festival has lost some of its spirit and become a bit of a parody of itself. The traveller society has largely gone now and in my opinion many of the people who go today try a little too hard to ‘fake’ the weirdness (a bit like people who go to 80s parties dressed in lycra and dayglo outfits – it really wasn’t like that folks!) Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a great festival but back in 1997 the strangeness was all very real.
During my preparations for Glasto 1997 I overheard my (then) wife telling her friend….”yes, he’s going to Glastonbury for the weekend. He’s 30 this year so I’ll let him go and get it out of his system…” Little did she know at the time that I would be going to Glasto for the next 20 years – a love affair that would outlast my first marriage by 15 years, and counting…!
I won’t attempt to attempt to write a detailed review of this, or any of the other Glastonbury Festivals we attended over the next 20+ years. My memories have obviously been blurred by the years that have passed and the parties that have taken place in that wonderful field in Somerset. I have instead created a page containing videos and photographs from each year I attended the festival (1997 to 2017).
Grab yourself a pint of Brothers pear cider and join us on a nostalgic trip through the fields of Avalon…
My 20 years at Glastonbury 1997 to 2017
My Glastonbury Wall
See it here
I’ll be posting loads more Glasto memories in the coming months (years?!). Join the party in the attic over on my Facebook group and be the first to get updates. Would love to hear your Glasto stories. Join here>>>