Saturday, 2 July 2011

Glastonbury Festival - there and back again

Last year it took a week to get things and oneself back in order. This time there wasn't the intense heat (although it was pretty hot on Sunday) but lots of now-famous mud. I returned Tuesday afternoon, and still today - Friday - until lunchtime you think you're doing well and all the stiffness (from marquee pitching and unpitching, packing and unloading and then packing and unloading again, a full Transit van of stuff) has gone - until you realize you're practically falling asleep, everything seems soporific, and all you can think of is closing your eyes - the fight to stay awake till nightfall has begun. But it was worth it.
   We did a whole variety of things this time. We did Monster Walks (walkabout performance as the name suggests) where Il Vappo the Ringmaster took out different monsters for a stroll. It raised a smile with almost everyone we passed, many taking photographs and some following us with video. The Il Vappo mask on an old Venetian design is rather wonderful - long beak like nose, and frowning forehead in dark red, originally it was the kind of mask used to scare away plague! And I wore it with top hat and tails. Deor played the monsters, so the green faced Master of the North (from the Finnish Kalevala cycle) or the Hobyer/Hobgoblin all red and copper sparkles, all complemented with a flowing green cloak (an Anne Laverick, the historical costumier). We told plenty of Anglo-Saxon riddles by the large campfire in the Tipi Field, and people were (as always) amazed and delighted to be hearing and being performed poetic puzzles from over a thousand years ago. Deor got me doing Egil Skallagrimsson's (Iceland's greatest warrior-poet) 'Head Ransom' as a rap a few times to different sets of campfire audiences. It was nice that they all joined in the clapping, and many seemed to really get into it, so much so that I could leave off the clapping and just perform the last four verses while they kept the rhythm. Some looked bemused to be told that it was by a poet who lived from 910-990 AD, but most were just astonished and interested. Deor got countless people photographing the masks, bodymasks and sculptures arrayed outside the tipi (whenever it wasn't pouring with rain), asking him how they were made, admiring them, trying on their favourites, and asking whether or when he was holding workshops? It was good to hear the monster clan and Deor's making skills getting so much praise! Sometimes he hardly seemed to come into the tent for a bite of lunch, so many people were asking and talking to him about them. Oh and I did a unicorn dance/mime at one point. Our main scheduled show on the Ancient Futures Stage on Sunday (despite lots of folks who'd said they would come or wanted to, of course being too wasted/asleep/across the other side of the site by then) went really well. The audience wasn't large, but we gave it 'welly' and folks yelled, clapped, laughed and got into the spirit of things - again, amazed passers by who'd come in on the 'roll up roll up!' call, and just weren't expecting...well any of it! We were billed as 'Extreme Storytelling' (I think because of the physicality, energy, bodymasks etc. in our performance style) and I think we lived up to it!

   It was of course all hard work, not because we did a fair bit of performing, but in the trench-like conditions of a mud-filled Glastonbury, the vast site (the size of the city of Bath), the 175,000 people creating people-jams at major junctions, the reeking (if excellent, well-managed and miles better than they used to be) loos, the sinking into the mud twice in the dark and having to be rescued by strangers! the pitching the tipi the Friday before (left at 9, on site by 11, didn't leave till wind and occasional rain, if still lucky we got it up in a dry spell). The carting the stuff (a full van load) of masks, carnival heads, carnival poles, fabric, rope, canvas, camping gear like chairs, big iron pots and pans, the new brazier (made by Wayne of the Collective) gas cannisters, petrol and petrol cooker, book stall stock, signs, props, costumes, ladder (you need one to put up the door etc. in a tipi) the pitch, off the pitch, and taking the whole structure down again on Tuesday between being smoked out of the tipi (twice) by reeking charcoal, having to crawl in and out of the tipi for days on end (too damp to let the door be wide open most of the time), and just the sheer physical challenge of it that justify the 'I survived Glastonbury 2011' t-shirts folks were buying.

   We were however, lucky - lucky that Sunday was scorching (27 degrees C?) and windy enough to dry out most of the site, lucky that we met an amazing guy just as we'd were starting to despair of getting the Transit van out of the muddy hole in the Dragon Field Crew Camping we were parked in, as the wheels whizzed round to dig further mud marks. He looked at the route we were thinking of taking, saw the problem, insisted we take away the planks we'd thought of putting under the wheels, told us he thought it was possible to get out without the aid of a tractor or similar, and that he'd been doing this for thirty years! He had the missing teeth and accent of a Clash fan, it seemed to me, and the friendly street-wise smile and spiky hair, and we warmed to him. 'But,' he said, 'D'you mind if I drive?' 'Be our guest!' we said, and off he went, driving the van like a slalom, zig zagging over the mud, and around the ditches and trenches, until, to my amazed and delight, there stood the van on the hard road. We shook his hand and thanked him mightily - and despite him 'not being on the internet', I would like to thank Bertie, the trumpeter from the Powersteppers with green painted nails, publicly and with all my heart! A man who would have made a wonderful rally driver! I wish we'd caught one of his sets. What a hero.

   Other folks that need thanking are Mike the face/body painter from Cambridge who made us tea when we were at the end of our tether on the previous Friday pitching the tipi! And who was pitched opposite us and a charming neighbour, Clive Pig the Storyfella for coming to the Tipi Field to be our guest star for a short show - and who was as amazing as ever! A superb tale brilliantly told, with wit, wisdom and wonderful balletic movements for the character of the Wind! And Tara of Hearthworks for having us once again.

   Also to all those engineers, technicians, artists, performers, lavatory builders and emptiers, mud shifters and builders who make the whole thing possible! Especially to the Arcadia team for another night of bliss, and AnugreenDesigns of Cork for their exquisite 'Portach' metal and LED bog garden / cave sculpture chill out zone... Also to the folks from the church in Bristol who design and staff the Elemental tent for the best sofas and most welcoming chill space on site, and to The People's Front Room for the best open mike idea and one of the best 'surprises'. Lastly to the coolest walkabouts, the black Star Wars-style robotic stilt walker, the Anubis effigy stiltwalker and the Magritte Men! And the company who staged the divine 1920's Pimms' Party by the central campfire... And of course the Eavises for going through all the headache of permissions, legal requirements, pollution issues and the stupidly huge clear up operation just so that everyone can hold a massive art party on their lovely fields once a year! We love you all.

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