It might be the sweetcorn?!

The summer eventually had to come to an end, at least the travelling at festivals did, and after 8 festivals, lots of cheap cider and plenty of weather we had finally arrived at Shambala 2008. This was the only festival that we had to travel north for, and it was being held on the part of a country estate in Northamptonshire. Despite rumours of it being grim up north, we arrived to some fine weather and were looking forward to a festival that I'd heard so many good things about. The previous year some of friends attended Shambala and put on a bit of a performance under the Lazy Gramophone name of excellence. This year some of them would be back, but this time just to work and have plenty of fun at the same time. Amy and myself were working for Green Stewards, three six hour shifts over the weekend leaving us plenty of time to enjoy ourselves. I was as excited about Shambala as I have been for an festival I have ever been to, I didn't care that I hadn't heard of most of the artists, I could just tell that his was going to be a weekend full of laughter and happy days.

The weather was a bit soggy the first night, and by this point only Amy and myself had arrived out of our group, we were expecting Danny, Phil and Esther to turn up the following afternoon, but it nothing serious had so we enjoyed spending most of the Thursday relaxing outside the tent knowing we had no shifts until 7am the next day. Of course, relaxing would have been a whole lot better if a dirty big lorry hadn't suddenly decided to parked itself right in front of our tent. Taking this as a sign to have a bit of an explore I decided to try out the compost toilets, which were really nice, albeit a little drafty. The Shambala site is pretty small, but there is still plenty packed in without it feeling too cramped. There's a beautiful lake just by one stage, unsuprinsgly called the Lakeside Stage which is also powered entirely by renewable energy.

Just away from here was a man made beach, with beach huts, hot tubs and a sports field. Among the activities to take part in were five-a-side football, crazy golf and a spot of cricket. There were also some great pubs, one of which Danny and Esther were working in that was more comfortable than 90 per cent of the pubs in Britain. Sofas, fire pits out side, a piano, and whats more a healthy selection of local ale. Ideal! One stage called the Dome looked like a giant football, and there was even a rumour of a secret Disco that only appeared very late at night. There was still a bit of work to be completed before the site was ready, and we were forced to retreat to our tent after some serious prolonged rain hit the site. Sat in the tent it literally felt like someone was pouring a bucket of water over the tent, but eventually it subsided and we were able to stretch our legs for a bit. Cue a phone call from Esther, they had arrived but were camped in the other crew camping on the opposite side of the site, this news brought another downpour, so we hid in our tent until things improved. Once things had settled down we all met up, decided that their campsite was much better, so rather than pack up we just threw everything in the tent and carried it across the whole site, bringing some strange looks - except from two bloke who were doing exactly the same thing but heading in the opposite direction!

We were all finally settled into our little patch of home, and after a couple of ciders Danny and Phil kindly offered to share some pasta that they were cooking. or some reason the pasta had a lue falmbe aura surrounding it, and it seemed to take an age to cook but in the end it all looked half decent with some sweetcorn and sausage added to bulk it out a little. Danny got to try the first helping, but after the first mouthful he looked slightly concerned, something didn't taste quite right. Complaining of a metallic flavour Phil tried some and then Esther, noone looking particularly pleased with the whole experience. Maybe it was the sweetcorn? Phil suggested, trying some from the tin he had opened. Danny had a couple more mouthfuls before Phil finally realised what he had done. In their haste to eat the pasta hadn't been cooked using water from a bottle that they had, but instead Phil had used some of his Gran's 30 year old vodka that he had distilled into a plastic bottle. It was concentrated, flambed, vodka pasta. By now noone was left standing due to laughing,, and although he tried one last mouthful, Danny decided it was best to throw it away. It was a hilarious start to the weekend, and I still laugh when I think of Phil blaming it on the sweetcorn!

So we spent the first night hanging out in the Kamikaze Kaberet tent, where Phil was going to be doing some walkaround stuff dressed as a geisha during the weekend, but for tonight we settled in with some good cider and a small stage invasion that saw Amy and Phil busting some shapes on stage. Sadly the photos of this have suspiciously disappeared from Amy's camera so I can't show you the evidence, but believe me it was a good night! I think the experience of the poor dinner left Phil a little hungry as at one point he appeared to be trying to eat a bauble tree:

With an early morning shift the next day we didn't have a particularly crazy night, but in the morning I still felt I'd had a good time. We had a pretty easy first shift patrolling a market area, and mostly we were just giving directions, though we did acquire an umbrella that was incredibly useful! I found it behind an amusing seaside photo board of the like that ou often see in Blackpool:

It amazed us that we never actually got around to buying an umbrella the entire time we had been travelling around the festivals. After we had done our shift we hooked up with Phil and decided to take part in a little crazy golf. Danny and Esther were working in the pub nearby, so we after playing a little golf we enjoyed a pint and spent the afternoon relaxing and just enjoying the festival atmosphere. Once Danny and Esther finished we took in some circus treats from the Kamikaze Kaberet tent, before exploring what we called 'The Wilderness'. This was essentially a woodland area set slightly aside from the main festival site that had a variety of art installations, wood carvings and best of all, netting suspended from the various tree that you could climb into. It was a perfect place to come after the music was done and spend a few years trying to scramble around the netting like a 5 year old.

The following day we were expected to work an afternoon shift which meant that we got a bit of lie in, but because Phil needed his make up sorting we didn't hang around for long, and Amy was busy helping to paint his head for his reverse geisha look:

However, once the look was finished, Phil was certainly in character:

The vast majority of Saturday was spent working in a small tent throughout the afternoon, though we did get to see some goood spoken word performances, and Esther joined us for a few hours to try and recover. Danny hadn't stirred, and ended spending the entire day in his tent sleeping. A classic case of going too hard too early at a festival! By the end of our shift we ready to watch some musci, and after a bit of tea we went and saw Dr Meaker who played a decent set on the main stage, and then we went to catch MC Xander play in the football stage. The only problem with this stage was its size, as it seemed like half the festival was trying to get inside. Xander still put on a good show with some wicked didgeredoo underneath his multi-layered beatboxing, and it had us all in a good mood for some dancing. After plenty of grooving in a nearby bar, we were taken to the secret disco by Phil, something that he had found the previous night. It was essentially a small tent, hidden away behind one of the other stages that kept going until the small hours of the morning. The interesting thing was it seem to collect only the most outrageous and brilliant costumed people that you had seen throughout the day. Needless to say it was great fun!

The next day everyone felt a little bit ropey, but the one thing that stuck in our mind's was that Amy, Danny and myself had managed to book a sit down meal at Malinkys. Somehow at around 4am we'd decided that a meal of roasted salmon and sugar snap peas was exactly what we would want the following night. Esther and Phil were both impressed, but Amy wasn't looking very well at all and ended up spending most of the day resting and sadly missed the meal. We were working the evening shift, finishing at midnight, but luckily there was still some music playing. I had been looking forward to seeing Smerrins Anti-Social Club since seeing them earlier in the season at Glastonbury. We even got to see a bit of the fire display, as we were working nearby.

Watching Smerrins play on the Lakeside Stage had to be the highlight of the festival as far as music was concerned. They had everyone jumping and seemed to have half the performers for the weekend on stage as they kept on bringing on special guests. After what seemed like an age they finally finished, but it was a brilliant act to sign off watching on our festival summer.

I'm sure it was a combination of things that made Shambala so good. The weather wasn't great, but with a umbrella (finally) things were pretty good. Fantastic company helped as well, and Danny, Esther and Phil provided us with such good entertainment that it would have been difficult to top Shambala even if it had fallen earlier on in the festival calendar. It was also a combination of a great atmosphere, loads of good but not particualrly well known bands, and the 'Wilderness' would have kept me entertained all weekend just by itself!

The best was definitely saved until last.

I am a cider drinker!

Relieved to be away from the Bloom we only had a couple of days off before heading to Beautiful Days, our penultimate festival of the year, and our last working with Oxfam. This was going to be another first festival for, but it felt nice going to the south-west for a festival, somehow traveling that way always feels like going downhill.

We had been pretty fortunate and had been quick to respond to a message wanting people to work the early shift signing stewards in as they arrived on site. This was a bonus as it would mean getting one shift out of the way nice and early, hopefully giving us some time to enjoy the festival a bit more. However, we were once again put on the late shift on the Sunday, but with some begging we managed to get this changed to a Sunday afternoon shift finishing at 6pm. So although the typical summer weather was once again looking poor, I was expecting a much better state of affairs compared to Bloom.

Beautiful Days is held at Escot Park in Devon and is organised by The Levellers, who headline the festival every year. This was going to be the first time that Oxfam had done the stewarding for this festival so it was impressed on us that all eyes would be watching. The site itself was extremely beautiful, with the large manor house overlooking the festival which was set in the middle of a valley. My only slight concern was that water tends to run downhill, so if it did get torrential then it might get quite deep in water. The festival focuses on being a family based event, with a good kids field and entertainment, as well as having performers out amongst the crowd. Possibly the best selling point was the fantastically cheap, blow yer head off cider that was only around 2:50 a pint. This was extremely welcome considering until now a pint was costing anything from 3.50 and upwards. There are a couple of nice bars, and we revisited one of Glastonbury haunts from earlier in the year by going to the Bimble Inn that was situated just past all the stages in its own little hideaway.

The main stage is set just at the bottom of a nicely sloped hill that makes it pretty easy to get a good view even when it’s busy, and I was walking along the hill in the afternoon when I ended up bumping into someone I went to college with that I hadn’t seen for eight years. To be honest I’m amazed he recognised me as I used to have short hair at college, and by now my dreads were past my shoulders. I also managed to make another Scilly connection later on in the Bimble Inn when I ended up chatting to someone who knew the Metcalfs on St.Mary’s – or was that at Glastonbury? Looking back it’s difficult to separate one from the other!

Having the Friday day off was pretty good and we perused the stalls and enjoyed the cider, a little too much in my case so I ended up having an early night but Amy carried on enjoying herself. The music began the following day though, and keeping up with tradition The Levellers opened the festival with an acoustic set in the Big Red Tent that was full to capacity. They played a pretty decent set, I saw them last at Glastonbury a few years ago and was impressed but this didn’t quite grab me in the same way. In the end I came away feeling that if you’ve seen one Levellers gig you’ve probably seen them all. We actually spent a fair proportion of the day hanging around the Big Red Tent, Amy was enjoying practising her hula hoping to the Tofu Love Frogs and I was happy finding money on the floor – £25!

Later on in the evening we wandered across to watch Nouvelle Vague who I was intrigued to see live as I was unsure as to how their sound would translate to the stage and I was pleasantly surprised. Despite being tiny, the two female singers dominated the stage and worked every song to perfection, pinpointing the emotive aspects of each song brilliantly.

Saturday brought a revisit of the rain that had afflicted Bloom so badly the previous weekend and we bravely ventured out to see if the slopes of the valley had turned into a treacherous death slide. We actually made a sensible decision and took a slight detour from our campsite to walk along the road that ran down into the site. This turned out to be a good idea as the hill coming down from our part of campsite was strewn with straw in a desperate attempt to stop the ground from breaking up too quickly. Backstage had turned into something of a quagmire, the backstage bar had become even more of a refuge for the bands waiting around or having just come off stage. Yet despite the rain, everyone was looking like they were enjoying themselves and this was something that kept the festival running to a good atmosphere. The rain did relent and began to only come in showers as slowly the arena began to fill up again as people flitted from stage to stage to catch the next band. I would say that Beautiful Days definitely impressed me as a festival, despite not being particularly huge, it catered well for a variety of festival experiences; families were more than welcome, the alcohol was good a cheap, entertainment went well into the night, and the line up was diverse enough to attract age ranges from 7 months to 70. We had an night shift on the Saturday, both of us stewarding in the dance tent until the early hours, ears plugs supplied. I’ve never used ear plugs at a gig, they’re mandatory for health and safety if you’re working in a stage area, but I have to say how impressed I was that they could keep the clarity of the music, and you could still hear people talking right next to you. However, once you take them out everything suddenly feels so loud and you experience aural overload. Terry was our shift supervisor for the tent, and being a great bloke he let me have a 45minute break so I could go and watch Supergrass play on the main stage. I saw the end of their set, and I was suitably impressed. The crowd was loving it, and in the cold evening air you could see a steady haze of heat rising up from the crowd down near the front. I got to see them play ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, my favourite song of theirs, so I enjoyed my break and then went back to dancing/stewarding in the dance tent. It was all pretty much uneventful work, although I did end up having to look after a Scottish bloke who had taken three tabs of acid and was a little worse for wear. I had to escort him to the Bimble Inn where I did the very English thing of getting him a cup of tea and we sat down and chatted rubbish until my shift was up and it was time to slide back up the deadly hill by the Bimble Inn and make my way back to the tent.

Although the weather had improved considerably by the Sunday, the mud wasn't going to disappear anytime soon, and our last Oxfam shift of the summer was going to be working in the Kids field keeping an eye out for lost children and making sure tents didn't get overcrowded. This was a pretty easy job and we spent most of our shift playing with all the cool stuff that was going on, the giant hula hoops, and loads of drums and percussion instruments.

Also just off to the side of the Kids Field was the Fairy Love stall which sells a wide variety of tutus, fairy wings and glitter. They're at pretty much every festival and we always see them advertising the glitter wrestling but until Beautiful Days we had never witnessed the spectacle, so we made the most of our work time to go and watch two girls in bikinis get into a paddling pool full of glitter and wrestle around in it. Personally I didn't see the need for the pool when there was plenty of mud to be wrestling in but it was still quite funny to watch and I think Amy was slightly tempted to have a go!

I think that by this point in the summer season we had pretty much had enough of the mud, and we knew that we had one last festival left before we had to call it day so we made a wise decision to head straight back to Bristol after our shift on the Sunday and miss out on the last night. The other advantage of this would be that the carpark would hopefully not be too muddy so our chances of escaping would be much higher! So when we were finally relieved of our duties we grabbed another free dinner, watched a little bit of Idlewild in the rain and then packed our stuff and attempted to escape the mud. Amy was ready and waiting in the Polo and I was scouting out the best route through the mud and when we were ready Amy kept to the plan and we managed skid and slide through the mud until we were safely onto the road that would take us away from Beautiful Days.

Despite the weather Beautiful Days was a really good festival, with plenty of good bands, none of them particularly groundbreaking, but good music none the less. The atmosphere helped and everyone was smiling despite the mud and that's all you can ask for really. It would be a festival that I would probably return to, but maybe in ten years (if it's still going, and if it is I expect the Levellers will still be playing the same set) and I would just hope that it hasn't changed too much in that time. So with our penultimate festival behind us we were looking forward to getting to Shambala, heading north for a change up toward Northampton, and seeing out the summer season in style.


After having a mighty fine weekend at the Big Chill being entertained by the likes of the Might Boosh, we left in high spirits, and even though it rained a bit on the Sunday, we didn’t end up getting caught in a flood as we drove through Tewkesbury! Our next festival was a youngling on the circuit, its inception being in 2007. From what we could gather it was going to be like a smaller version of Glade, and the fact that it was only 45 minutes from Bristol made it all the more appetising.

Our trip to 2000 Trees earlier in the summer had made us realise how beautiful the Cotswolds were, and Bloom was going to be situated not far from that site, although we found the site quite difficult to find. After making the correct turning we managed to drive straight past the festival and into Cheltenham, but a quick phone call later to Oxfam put us on the right path and we rocked up to a damp site that looked like it would only get worse if the forecast weather came through. Initial impressions of the site were that it really was quite small, in fact the tents for the music were more the size of small catering tents and didn’t seem to live up to any notion of an electronic dance festival. The main stage was quite an interesting design and the awning struck out over the stage like an arrowhead. Well, it would have done except that the stage wasn’t built yet, and the festival was supposed to be opening the day after. It didn’t quite have the same feeling of organisation that all the other festivals we had been to had, even 2000trees was more set up at this stage of play. There were no catering facilities for staff arranged, no running water and it wasn’t even worth asking about the showers. I had a bad feeling about this.

We were rudely woken the following morning by the sound of a van parking right out side out tent. Opening the tent doors I peered out to be confronted by a bright pink catering van, around fifteen yards away that was going to be running its generators all day from breakfast at 7 until late at night. At least we could finally get some free food though! It was actually a lovely day, and we didn’t have any shifts to do, although once again we had be scheduled down to do the final shift on Sunday night 12am – 8am. For now though we were happy to enjoy some sunshine and instead of hanging around the festival we went out for a walk along part of the Cotswold Way. It was actually a perfect walk to go on as it basically circumnavigated the festival and we got see some good aerial views out across Cheltenham and into the distance. We even got to see a limestone rock formation called the Devil’s Chimney. According to Wikipedia the Devil used to chill out up here and throw rocks at the Sunday churchgoers, until in a surprising moment of religious violence resulted in the Christians stoning the Devil until he retreated back down the chimney. There was no smoke coming out the chimney on this day so all I can say is that the Devil can’t have been home.

The walk took us through some woods, where Amy and I found what looked like a little hobbit hole, either that or a tramp’s mansion, and we briefly got attacked by some wasps before retreating to a nearby pub for a few pints and some dinner. It was actually quite nice to get away from the festival for a few hours as over the last two months I was beginning to feel like I was living inside a festival cocoon.

Friday morning meant having to go to work, and we were supposed to be looking after the Buddha Café that was open 24hrs situated in the campsite. It didn’t sound like it would be too bad, the only problem was usually having to stop people from smoking inside and the guys tat ran it would probably give us some free tea. However, once we got there we were approached by Clive, one of the supervisors who was talking about deploying us as the café wasn’t open yet. We just so happened to mention that we’d parked cars at the Big Chill the week before and in the blink of an eye we found ourselves in the car park getting shouted at by aggro drivers. It became quite clear that no-one who had been assigned to the car park really understood what was expected of them so Amy and I had to take charge and get the team working properly. Eventually it was all running fine, and we only had one annoying person in our group who seemed convinced that he was the supervisor of our team. He even tried to report me back to HQ for being 5 minutes late from my break – I’m sorry John but before I turned up you didn’t even know what the front end of a car looked like so just Jog On! Towards the end of my shift I even had my obligatory Scilly moment when I helped Paul Simmons get his car parked.

Thankfully our shift parking cars finished eventually, and we pretty much filled the field we were working and Clive was very pleased with our work and thanked us enough times to make it worthwhile. Having the Friday evening off meant we could explore a bit of the festival, although it wouldn’t take long, and maybe see some good music. The arena was small enough to walk around in about fifteen minutes, but there were a couple of quirky bits of entertainment along the way, especially the games tent. They had a bicycle linked up to a projector screen that you could play Frogger on – cycling made you move forwards and turning the handlebars made you go left or right. They also had Asteroids, and Space Invaders, possibly one of the greatest arcade games ever! They had a bit of a fairground, with a big wheel that would have probably have given some great views during the day, but not much else in terms of entertainment aside from the music. It was a pretty cold evening and it was getting quite windy, one of the disadvantages of being on top a great big hill, but we still stuck around to try and watch Beardyman, a former UK beat box champion. It’s the second/third time I’ve attempted to watch a set of his and every time I’ve been extremely disappointed and this was no exception. There’s only so many times he can say “I am fucking Beardyman” before it gets a bit boring, yes I know who you are, now do something that impresses me. For my money MC Xander is twice the performer, and I’m sure there are many like him who are equally impressive, and one thing’s for sure I wont be going to see Beardyman ever again. The overriding atmosphere at Bloom felt a little underage, and it soon became apparent this was a smaller version of Glade in every aspect, age included. The rain started falling and feeling uninspired we swiftly retired to Bedfordshire.

Saturday brought some biblical weather, possibly an attempt to drown all the little kiddies who were pilled up and chewing cow pats. In fact it was raining so hard that we barely left the tent apart from running over to Pink Ladies van to grab some food and then retreating quickly back under canvas. We had to work until the early hours of the morning, and this time we did end up in the Buddha Café for a while trying in vain to stop people from smoking indoors. It was beginning to get pretty packed in the café as it was the only thing open after midnight, and because of the wind and rain everyone was trying to pile in. We also had to swap positions occasionally with people on the entrance gate to the arena and it was here that we got to see just how many people were trying to get in the festival for free. They had three security guards checking for wristbands and they were pulling people with fake bands over with alarming regularity. Punters were not allowed to take their own alcohol into the arena either, an attempt to encourage people to spend money behind the bar. This meant that punter were just throwing bags of booze over the Heras fencing into the arena before casually walking through the gates and then picking up their bags. We did briefly get posted down near the main stage during Roni Size’s set, but I left feeling slightly disappointed. The set at WOMAD had been really good, but here at Bloom none of the Reprazent seemed that interested, and because the weather was so bad there wasn’t even that much of a crowd so it all fell a little flat. The rain didn’t stop all night, and when we finished our shift we couldn’t wait to get dry and go to bed.

Sunday was a mild improvement on the wetness, but it was still blowing a gale, and by the time we got up to walk around most of the market and food stalls had gone. Pieminister, our favourite festival pie shop from Bristol, had left on Saturday night and other market stalls had been blown over in the wind. On the plus side I managed to get a free toasted sandwich by accident from a very busy sandwich van. Word on the ground was that many of traders were unhappy with the organiser for delaying the opening of the site for an afternoon, obviously cutting back on their trading time but still having to pay their employees. In the end most of the traders decided to cut their losses and go home on the Saturday night, or early Sunday morning. Thoroughly disenchanted by the whole Bloom weekend we spent much of Sunday chilling out in the tent reading and occasionally getting some food. The weather did improve slightly and we went out to watch Tunng who turned out to be the highlight of the weekend by a Cotswold mile. Tunng play highly original alt-folk that managed to seem as English as the weather we’d endured. There were plenty of toys being used on stage to create sounds, a wind-up bird in a cage, the percussionist playing wind chimes with his feet. The whole set was mesmerising, and the small crowd by the stage all enjoyed it massively. Amy decided to do some hula hoping for most of the set and one of the official photographers took the opportunity to take plenty of photos. I think the mud is still on the hula hoop!

Our final shift was working the 12am-8am and once again we were supposed to be in the Buddha Café, but low and behold it shut at midnight, so instead we got redeployed elsewhere. Amy got stuck out by a car park pointing people who were leaving in the right direction, but in the cold it didn’t offer much shelter. I was charged with making sure no one was trying to get in the Buddha Café, the positive aspect of this was getting a massive plate of free food and some tea from the guys who worked there. However, after an hour or so things became quiet and I was lucky enough to get posted on the tea buggy. Leigh, who was the head honcho with Oxfam for the event wanted to go to bed at 4am, so I was being left in charge of delivering tea to all the other stewards still working through the night. Brenda was Kawasaki Mule, and perfect for the muddy conditions and great fun to drive. I forgot to mention to Oxfam that I didn’t have a driving license and I subsequently spent a fun four hours pelting it around the festival site in the mud. Of course, my real duty was to deliver tea regularly, and the only downer of the night came when I turned up to the campsite and found out I’d just missed out on a race with the security guards in their vehicles. I’m sure Brenda would have won!

Eventually it was all over, and instead of grabbing a couple of hours kip before leaving we made the decision to get out of the site sharpish as the car park was only going to get muddier. We quickly packed our stuff away before trudging through the mud to car park. My last memory of Bloom 2008 will be seeing through into the back area of the Buddha Café and seeing the owner going absolutely ballistic at his staff, screaming at them and then kicking a bin at them. I think he summed up the weekend quite well.