Sunday, January 22, 2017

Glastonbury 1999. My Sixteenth Glastonbury. (Reasons To Be Tearful)

After all the rain and mud in 97 & 98 the sunshine returned for 99. It was a fabulous year with lots of great music which I will get to in a bit. It was tinged with sadness though because it was also the year that Jean Eavis passed away. Jean died on May 15th only a few weeks before the festival gates opened. That was a big shock to Kim and me because when we met her at the festival a year earlier she looked the picture of health. We had no idea that she was ill. Although we only met her twice briefly, we thought of her as a friend, especially since 92 when she was kind enough to phone us up and say she had saved us two tickets. That is what Glastonbury is like, even though it is huge it feels like a big family and Jean was the mother of the festival. We knew that Michael would be devastated and wondered how he would cope, especially with the festival being imminent so we decided to send him a sympathy card. Inside I put a copy of the photo that I took of them both the previous year along with a little note. We didn’t expect a reply because we knew Michael would have received dozens if not hundreds of cards. Imagine our surprise when a few weeks later a letter arrived from Michael thanking us for the card and photo. He also included two tickets to the Extravaganza that he had organised later that year at Glastonbury Abbey which was really kind of him. That turned out to be an unforgettable evening which I’ll tell you about later.

It was too late to cancel the festival at such short notice. I think when Jean died their daughter Emily decided to give up her studies at teacher training college in order to help Michael run the festival. As the years have gone by Emily has become a driving force behind the festival just like her mum. When the festival got underway, in memory of Jean I think they burned a wicker bird up near the stone circle and on Sunday morning the London Community Gospel Choir sang and a minutes silence was observed across the site. Also, if I remember correctly I think REM dedicated a song in their set to Jean called Sweetness Follows. She will never be forgotten. I think all the nice little touches around the site such as the hanging baskets of flowers are little reminders of the influence of Jean.
There was another reason to be tearful in 99. The wonderful Ian Dury had been booked to appear but sadly Ian was too ill to appear. He died the following March. Ian will never be forgotten either. He was one of the greats.

Unlike the previous two years when we spent half the time sheltering from the rain, the problem in 99 was trying to get some shade from the sun. Me and Kim found a nice Bacardi bar and sat in there for a while guzzling Bacardi drinks with lots of ice which was great. They even had an American Cadillac car parked outside to add to the coolness. Kim was always good at spotting celebs. She spotted Sinead O’Connor one year sat in the back of a beer tent having a quiet drink and in 99 we were in a beer tent and Kim said, “That’s Rick Stein over there”, she recognised him immediately because she watched all the cookery programmes on the telly. I wasn’t so sure so when we were leaving I said to him, “Hello, is your name Rick?”, and he said, “No”, and grinned smugly at his companion. I know it was though because I’ve seen him on the telly loads of times since.

Anyway, to the music. The first band we saw that year on the main stage was an Abba tribute band called Bjorn Again. They were good fun and made me think that if the real Abba ever reformed they would go down a storm at Glastonbury. Later that afternoon we went to see the legend that is Marianne Faithfull. I had heard Marianne interviewed on the radio a few days before and she said, “ Glastonbury is going to be great this year”, the interviewer asked her why that was and Marianne replied, “Because I’m on, of course”. She was already on when we got to the Acoustic Stage and it was so crowded that we could hardly squeeze in the tent, in the end we gave up and sat on the grass outside to listen. It was great to be in her presence though.Another legendary lady was up next on the main stage and that was Debby Harry with her band Blondie. They had recently returned to the top of the UK charts after a long absence with a song called Maria. A band called Bush were on next but I can’t remember anything about them. After that was Hole featuring Courtney Love. She almost caused a riot by inviting the audience up on stage. The security did allow about twenty people on stage but it was very reckless of her doing that, from a health and safety point of view. The Beautiful South were on next but we went back to base for a bit of a rest.

The last band on that night were REM and me and my brother Paul went down to see them. We managed to wheedle our way right to the very front. REM were fantastic, although I have only ever had one of their albums. Michael Stipe must be one of the greatest front men for any group ever. They did all their really famous songs such as What’s The Frequency Kenneth?, The Great Beyond, The One I Love, Losing My Religion, Everybody Hurts,Man On The Moon and many more and ended with It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. I would put that performance by REM in my favourite five Glastonbury shows of all time.

The great music continued on Saturday. Billy Bragg was the first person on the main stage and Billy took the opportunity to mock the Manic Street Preachers who were headlining. The reason was that backstage, Billy had spotted a sign on a portaloo which said, ‘This Toilet Is For The Exclusive Use Of The Manic Street Preachers’. This attitude offended Billy’s socialist sensibilities and he ripped the sign down and brought it on stage to read to the crowd. Billy is a Glastonbury legend who has appeared there for over thirty years. There was another legend on the main stage in 99 as well which was the late great Joe Strummer with his band The Mescalero’s. Joe went to Glasto every year whether he was playing or not. He always camped with Keith Allen who brought his kids along who included the now world famous Lily Allen. I think Lily has been going to Glasto since she was two years old. Joe was renowned for the enormous bonfire that he would build every year. What I remember most about his performance in 99 was that Joe took offence at all the TV cameras. “I hate these cameras”, said Joe, “You can’t go for a dump these days without a camera following you”. Then he proceeded to attack the cameras with his microphone stand. I thought it was hilarious. I never saw The Clash live so I’m really glad that I got this chance to see the great Joe Strummer especially as Joe died only three years later. His legend lives on at Glasto with an area now called Strummerville and there is a stone in his memory. Ten years after this performance Bruce Springsteen would pay a tribute to Joe by starting his set with Joe’s song Coma Girl.

Another person who I am pleased I saw on that historic Saturday was Lonnie Donegan who played on the Acoustic Stage. Lonnie was one of the most important figures in the history of British music and an inspiration to everyone, from the Beatles, The Stones, The Who and many more. His career had fallen into almost obscurity until he made the Skiffle Sessions album with Van Morrison and he was enjoying a renaissance in popularity. We saw Lonnie once more that summer at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park when he actually joined Van on stage. Sadly, Lonnie also died in 2002 so I’m glad we got the chance to see him.
On the same stage that day was another performance that I’ll never forget and that was by Henry McCullough. Henry was the only Irishman on stage at the famous Woodstock festival in 69 when he was in Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. Later he was in Wings with Paul McCartney. Along with Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher Henry was one of the great Irish guitarists. Henry’s guitar solo on My Love by Wings is said to be one of the greatest solo’s ever. I wasn’t all that familiar with his work but I did know of him because at one time another of the Grease Band was someone who went to my school called Neil Hubbard, another great guitarist. Also, I really liked Henry’s song Failed Christian which had been covered by Nick Lowe. The other thing was that Henry was a friend of my brother Paul and had appeared a few times at my brother’s pub in County Mayo, Ireland. It was a shame that the audience was so small for Henry because he was great. After his set my brother went backstage to see him. They went on a bar crawl all over the site. I think it started with them raiding Lonnie Donegan's backstage fridge for a drink. Henry was blown away by Glastonbury, he hadn’t seen anything like this since Woodstock. I think finally a lady who worked backstage drove him back to his hotel. Sadly Henry is no longer with us either, he passed away in 2016 but he was a great man, that’s for sure.

The highlight for me on the Sunday was seeing one of the great soul singers of all time which was Al Green. He was fabulous, what a voice. The only thing that put me off was that he tried to turn his set into a religious Baptist revival meeting and kept asking the audience to put their hands in the air and let Jesus into their lives. I found that a bit cringe-worthy. I don’t mind religion but I don’t like it being forced on me, thank you very much. The other thing was that Al didn’t seem to know where he was. He kept saying that it was really nice to be here in Bristol which was about forty miles away. Apart from that he was great. The Corrs were on after Al. The girls were gorgeous looking. I had one of their albums when they first appeared on the scene but I think they were a bit over-rated actually. Later that night we saw some of the Fun Loving Criminals and finally Skunk Anansie. I don’t remember a lot about that evening though, I think I was bollixed.

That brought Glastonbury in the 1990’s to a close. It had been a decade of anarchy and the festival had been lucky to survive. A lot of people look back on Glasto in the 90’s with nostalgia and miss the edginess that it had then. A new millennium was approaching when the festival would eventually solve the problems confronting it and become the annual event we love today. Not immediately though, in 2000 I was to meet the dark side of Glastonbury full on for myself. I’ll tell you about that next time.