In the summer of 2006 I was head chef at a conference centre in Lancaster. I was seeing a lot of my dad at the time because he was living a short hop away at his beloved Scottish residence ‘the Snoot’.
I had been working flat out in that job for two and a half years and was owed a load of accrued leave so when dad told me he had an upcoming gig in Rome I invited myself along.
He picked me up in Lancaster on the way out from Scotland he threw a festival pass over to me as we drove off . “I’m playing at the Green Man festival today we’ll do that and get a ferry early tomorrow.” I was glad of that because we were facing a 3000 mile round trip to Rome in a Volvo in the raging August heat. A festival before we hit the road proper might help.
I’d never been to the Green Man and didn’t know much about it. Dad filled me in. “Calum’s daughter runs it , well catch up with them today. The festival is great , bit of a trippy one.”
I started to have misgivings, the last time we did a festival was Glastonbury 1992. It was total carnage. It took dad two hours to get off site after the gig because of mud and site traffic. I could do without that sort of stress , I was on holiday. I didn’t want to hear that it was a ‘trippy one’ either because I’d packed in drugs three years previously and really didn’t want to be surrounded by psychedelic lunacy all night.
Calum was an old friend of the family. He knew dad’s mum and it would be a real treat to meet him for the first time. If he had anything to do with it it would probably be a traditional folk festival. This made me begin to worry that it was going to be an overdose of Morris dancers and nutters with beards and metal pint tankards in embroidered white smocks singing with with one hand cupped over their ear.
Not knowing what to expect, I turned to the paperwork with the festival pass for more information. Inside a clear plastic envelope was a brightly coloured, psychedelic design pullout with the line up etc. I only recognized four names. As far as I remember I didn’t have a clue who any of the other artists were so couldn’t gauge what sort of event it was going to be. The names I recognised were John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones and Donovan.
Donovan had been staging a bit of a comeback at this point in history. He gave his reasons in a quote on the pullout. “I have hitherto held back from public performance until I felt the world’s consciousness was ready to accept me” .
I read it out to dad and asked “What the fuck is he on about ?” Dad didn’t answer just screwed his eyes up and shook his head. Donovan had played the night before so we had missed him perform and any chance of asking him about the remarks on the pullout.
Another person we weren’t going to see perform or socialise with was Bert Jansch. Bert had it written into his contracts at the time that he was never to perform on the same bill on the same night as John Renbourn. This was after dad had run off with one of his girlfriends sometime previously. I told dad this made them look like the Gallagher brothers and was highly unprofessional and bloody pathetic. Bert was playing on Sunday night, we’d be long gone by then.
When we got there, the check in was surprisingly easy. A steward asked who we were and directed us to a parking space on a field by a big white tent. Volvos aren’t designed to drive on festival sights, they tend to sink into the earth, so it was a relief to park up quickly and simply. I let dad go off and do whatever he had to do while I went to have a look around.
I immediately found a tent selling cider so I felt right at home from the off. With a pint off apple juice in hand I set off to explore. Everywhere I went there were groups of nice people sitting around on the grass having a good time listening to great live performance. There was an amazing communal vibe and a real engagement with the music. This was in dramatic contrast to the utter lunacy of Glastonbury 92. The whole time I was at Green Man I didn’t smell a single joint or see anyone do any other drugs. There was one guy running a stall with pupils like pinpricks that sat in a chair all day clearly gouched out to Trainspotting standards but that was it, just him.
As I walked past the main stage on my way to find the Folky dokey tent there was an indie looking band playing. I recognised the song they were playing from the radio or something so I felt a bit with it amongst the audience of indie looking fans all singing along to the tune. I had no idea who the band were or any of the words to the song but really enjoyed the performance before moving on.
I got to within sight of the Folky dokey tent when I met Wizz Jones coming the other way. Wizz has known me since I was a toddler so when I’m around him I’ve always got this feeling that if I misbehave I’ll get a clip round the ear. My half drunk pint of cider attracted a stern look but he could see that I wasn’t totally bladdered so was prepared to speak to me. He had a general moan based around what he thinks of the music industry, which he likes doing, and then told me he was on the next day. I explained that we’d be long gone by then because of the situation with Bert. I think he played with dad on a few numbers that night, time blurs the detail along with the Bourbon I laid into later so I’m not sure.
I told him that it was really unusual to have a festival without a major drug problem and loads of agro, the look in his eyes when I was talking said he thought the same about me. We went our separate ways and after I’d located the Folky dokey tent I found dad and went to meet Calum.
It was truly wonderful to meet Calum and talk about dad when he was a kid and family history, pipe music and festival rates for catering concessions which I like to moan about. At some point Jo joined us and it was a homely sociable affair, all sat round a table in what I think was was a staff catering tent.
When they left, a guy sat down with me and dad and asked if he could interview the old man. I used to feel sorry for these guys, dad could be a real nightmare to interview, infuriatingly vague, sometimes point blank not answering the question and staring off into space until the interviewer asked him something else. This guy did OK though and I actually learned something about dad’s musical history from listening to them talk.
Once this was done dad went off to get ready to play so I wound my way back to the Folky dokey tent.
It’s hard to remember exactly, but what I thought I saw when I got there was two girls in fairy outfits both playing electric keyboards to accompany themselves singing. There may have been other members of the band, I don’t remember. Those girls performance was so way out the lack of available mushrooms at the festival wasn’t an issue, if I wanted to trip out I just had to watch this lot. I remember being really upset when they finished I could have watched them all weekend they were amazing. I wasn’t seeing double until much later in the day so there must have been two of them although they looked sufficiently similar, like twins, for that to have been the case. To me it felt a bit like a musical of that scene from the Shining and gave me the creeps, which I loved.
The audience was all seated on the grass and were mostly around the same age as the performers. The Shining twins on the keyboards clearly weren’t traditional folk music and the audience clearly weren’t folk fans. The tent was about half full full of people. I can’t describe what sort fans they were because I can’t think of a genre of music that describes, even remotely, what we were all listening to.
I didn’t for a moment expect that any of them would be there later, when dad was on, or expect that any of them would even know who he was. I was wrong on both counts. Later when the tent was packed to bursting, a lot of them were still there. Most people were seated inside the tent with quite a few standing at the entrance. As I sat behind a small group of Shining twins fans I overhead two of them discussing a previous gig of dad’s they had regrettably missed and what guitar he was using on stage. There seemed to be a real cross culture of musical genres happening at this festival as well as quite an in depth and quite intellectual engagement by the audience with the music. It was a long way from a crusty traveller in Glasters wiping out under a hedge on Valium and Special Brew, missing the whole weekend and waking up in a field of litter after everyone has gone. Everyone one here was seriously into the music, it was good to be a part of.
Dad was seriously on form and playing a blinding set. He was using his favorite Fishman pickup because it made his guitar sound like an SG. He was also using his favorite gauge wound G string which, as usual he was hammering and bending the living shit out of on certain tunes. During something with stupidly fast note runs in like Cannonball Rag the the G string snapped right over the bridge. One bend too many. Through the Fishman and whatever amp or PA was being used it sounded like a bomb going off. There was a lot of tension on that string. The bottom end had blown well clear of the guitar so dad just carried on playing and finished the song, before grabbing another axe. They audience went nuts at the end of the song standing ovation style.
Later on, in Italy, while I was fixing the string, he told me “That never happens, ever”. He was really embarrassed. So was I at the gig. Whilst the audience were still freaking out I legged it, to the backstage area of the Folky dokey tent.
I got into the backstage area of the tent and sat down on a comfortable, large sofa. I was still pissing myself laughing about the string incident. It was a massive relief to away from the crowd where the music was softly muffled and I didn’t have to face cracking up laughing amongst a load of enraptured audience.
It was pleasantly cool with a grass floor and white canvas enclosing some random seating and a couple of tables. There were two other people there, a man and a woman. The man came over to me and asked “Do you want a drink?”. He gestured toward a table in the centre of the area groaning under the weight of a bewildering assortment of alcoholic drinks.
He was in a band as was the woman, different bands but they knew each other well and played the same circuits a lot. They were delightful company.
The guy initially had taken me over to the drinks table before I found any of this out. There, in the middle of the mountain of bottles, cans, mixers and so on, was a bottle of bourbon. I can’t remember if it was Makers mark or Jack Daniels. He had been to Kentucky or somewhere and explained that mint Julep was how they drank it out there full stop. He was a mint Julep fanatic and absolute purist. He was heavily insistent that the only way to drink it properly was with mint and ice. We had loads of ice and I can remember looking for mint but can’t remember if we found any.
The three of us sat together at a small table and hammered the bottle. Endless rounds of whiskey over ice in straight sleever glasses. They talked about their bit of the music scene and we all talked about mint julep. The guy knew a hell of a lot about it and it was making us all laugh. It was a very funny, lively session.
There wasn’t any bourbon left when dad came off stage. He found me and then went off with Wizz for a bit and they both disappeared, struggling out with guitars in big cases.
On tour with dad, as soon as he got off stage, the overriding objective was to get the fuck away from the venue as soon as possible avoiding absolutely everyone. Venue managers, fans, radio reporters, Guild and Martin representatives, bearded men with embroidered white smocks and metal pint tankards, record company executives, television reporters etc all had to be dodged, the Volvo located and the road out hit as fast as possible. Finding me playing backstage beverage temple with my newfound muso mates didn’t exactly cheer dad up. I don’t drive so my end of the deal was to carry guitar cases about and do map reading and directions on the road. Not only had I just sat there slinging shots and sinking into the sofa while he and Wizz had do all their own roadying but I had also lost any sense of orientation much earlier on and was holding departure up dramatically to boot.
It was dark by the time we staggered back to the car. When we finally got there dad unlocked and opened the passenger door for me. “You’re joking” I said and collapsed across the back seat.
That’s the last thing I remember about the Green Man festival 2006, fuck all. Bourbon blackout. When I surface its early daylight and were driving to the ferry port. Three weeks later , driving back though the north of France after our fear and loathing on the folk circuit tour , dad turned to me and said “Seems a long way from the Green Man now, doesn’t it ?”. For some reason this makes me laugh so hard it totally lets the pressure valve off the whole tour. That year the Green Man was the delightful starting point of the whole tour and has become a treasured memory.
I have regrettably never been to the festival since , a couple of years later my brother Ben went in the Volvo with dad. Pentangle were playing. Presumably because I had warned him that there were no drugs at the festival, he dropped all the trips he had at the outskirts of the Brecon Beacons on the way in. Ben likes to wear his all in one Spiderman costume at times like this and is, in fact, convinced he is Spiderman in general.
During the festival he seriously twisted Terry Cox’s melon for ages backstage. None of the others would have anything to do with him so Terry had to handle it on his own. He was trapped, he didn’t have anywhere else to go, it was either put up with Ben ranting psychedelic gibberish at him in a Spiderman costume all afternoon or go outside into agoraphobia central and face hoards of Pentangle fanatics, poor bastard.
After getting bored of doing Terry’s head in he went outside and started making mud angels so it must have been a wet year with big sludge patches. Ben said he found it hard to get back up because of the thick , wet mud but the load of blotters he’d downed earlier gave him the extra energy he needed to get to his feet again. With the whole back of the Spiderman outfit totally covered and tripping out heavily he lurched off into the festival.
Zoe Ball was there that year. Unfortunately for her Ben spotted her trying to interview people or something, whatever, peacefully going about her business. He ran up to her shouting “Welcome to my game” in a sinister voice. When she tried to get away he followed her all over the place and wouldn’t leave her alone. Sorry about that Zoe, now you know who it was. I don’t know what else he got up to that year and neither does he but he ended up in the back of the Volvo , sprawled across the seat painting the whole of the rear interior with mud windows and all to within an inch of the roof. Dad wasn’t impressed . That was 2008 I think so if Ben can remember any more Ill get him to post it on the blog himself.
Thanks Joel, this is absolutely wonderful! X