I’m going to the Glastonbury Festival. I have bought and paid for my ticket. It’s got my name and face on it. What was I thinking? I’ve bought a tent. Next, I’m going to buy a sleeping bag. And a little fold-up chair. For five nights, I am going to be sleeping outside. During the day, I am going to be watching bands play. I haven’t done this for 14 years. It’s all my brother-in-law’s fault! He and his friends have been going for the past few years and creating a kind of male midlife crisis village, and they invited me along. I said yes. (I was drunk. It was a Christmas party.) There’s something appealing about going back. I know it’s changed. I know it’s more civilised now. People didn’t even have mobile phones when I last went. That’s a paradigm shift in itself. You can now watch it on telly, all weekend, as it happens, on various platforms, which I do, happily, every year. There’s no need to actually go! But I’m going anyway.
My first Glastonbury was 1989. I was a 24-year-old cub reporter at the NME. I had already bought my ticket when I was asked to sit in on the Glastonbury meeting, and when this arose, I was seized upon: how quaint, an NME employee who’d paid for a ticket! I was commissioned there and then to write a piece about what’s like to be “an ordinary punter”! It was, as anybody’s first festival experience should be, a mindfuck. This was the year the NME inaugurated its first ever branded merchandise stall, and I put in a few hours behind the trestle table, selling cassettes and t-shirts with the rest of the staff. I camped. The sun shone. Suzanne Vega was not shot, despite a death threat. I ate vegetarian food, as I was a vegetarian, and was photographed for the paper in a vest and sunglasses.
I was a convert. Never having been camping as a kid, I enjoyed being under canvas far more than I expected, and the food was just lovely. In 1990, I stopped paying for Glastonbury tickets, and was sent my first car pass. That year, I was charged with reviewing the Comedy Tent – the first one? – all weekend, and because it had rained, I didn’t even pitch my tent, preferring to sleep in the car. Because of my comedy duties, I missed the Cure and Happy Mondays, but was happy to have such a cool job.
There was no festival in 1991.
In 1992, my last as an NME journalist, it was sunny all weekend, but I was working. Working really hard. This is all told in detail in That’s Me In The Corner, but in order to turn the copy around “overnight” (ie. deliver it by Monday morning in time to go to press), for the first time ever, the reviewing duties for the entire three-day event were split between myself and David Quantick. We had a good time, but had to stay up all night on the Sunday at my flat, deciphering our notes and typing it all up. The coverage, in glorious black and white (you couldn’t print colour at that stage in the olden days), was impressionistic, to say the least. It almost got our editor sacked, because Select, new kid on the block, managed to turn around a full-colour supplement within a week. It made us look like amateurs.
In 1993, I was working for Select. Again, I was involved in covering the entire festival – from Velvet Underground to Lenny Kravitz – and we were all at our computers by Monday, laying it all out, but it remains one of my favourite Glastonburys, not least because Stuart Maconie, who was there to review the food, hightailed it out of there in the back of the Tansards’ minibus after one day on duty, with half his face sunburned and the other half under his famous fringe. I felt like a real old veteran, who could handle anything. I slept in a hire car backstage, now my preferred VIP method of camping.
In 1994, another hot one, we had a great weekend, watching Manic Street Preachers, Orbital, Galliano – although I gave the editor of my new employers Q a fright when I appeared, live, on Channel 4’s inaugural TV coverage, very late at night, and gave a “refreshed” interview to Mark Radcliffe, during which I asked him to touch my hair. Fortunately, they captioned me as “Andrew Collins, Radio 1” and not Q. Not my finest hour.
In 1995, the weekend was dominated by Pulp’s magnificent appearance on the Pyramid Stage, replacing the Stone Roses. By now, I’m afraid to say, I was spending the majority of the time backstage, in the ever-friendly paddock, where Robert Sandall of the Sunday Times would have his picnic basket, and a jolly time was had by all. No rain. Slept in the car again.
And that’s it. There was no festival in 1996, which was probably a good thing for my health, as Glastonbury can be a punishing experience; I was in my thirties now, and ready for retirement. I felt I had done my time by 1997 – six Glastonburys in eight years, and a number of Readings – and opted not to take the usual free ticket and car pass. And it pissed down that year, the first of the real horror stories, so I must admit I was relieved to be sat in front of the TV.
And now, 14 years later, I’m going again. Voluntarily. Part of me is looking forward to going back, seeing if I recognise the old place – I’m certainly happy to be seeing Kasabian and Blur and even Bruce Springsteen, someone I’d never normally pay to be in the same room as. Another part of me is dreading the deprivation of it all. I’m 44. I’m not reviewing it for anybody. I don’t have a backstage armband, nor am I seeking one. I don’t have a car pass. I won’t be picnicking with Robert Sandall. And, due to the admirable commitment of my travelling companions, I’ll be heading down there on the Wednesday and leaving on the Monday morning. Must buy some wellies and some waterproof trousers too.