Thursday, 26 June 2014

My Top Ten Festival Songs

Two Top Tens in one week? Wow... it's like the good old days! Actually, most of this one was compiled ages ago... back when I had free time in which to properly research these things. I've just been waiting for the appropriate time to run it. And as Glastonbury heralds the official start of the UK summer festival season this weekend, now is that time.

I will be watching Glastonbury - I'm particularly keen to catch John Grant (but which numpty decided to put him on at the same time as the Pixies?) - though this year's headliners leave a lot to be desired. Many people are whining about Metallica's headline slot, but while I'm hardly their biggest fan, I reckon they'll be a damn site more interesting than Th'arcade Fire or bleedin' Kasabian. I must be getting old. Where's Stevie Wonder when you need him?

10. The Waterboys - Glastonbury Song

More about the location and its mythic and mystical history than the festival itself, but I bet there's a fair few festival goers who reckon they found god at Michael Eavis's farm...

9. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Coma Girl

Joe goes to a festival "way out west" (Blackpool?) and takes some acid. It starts raining, then things get weird...

8. David Bowie - Memory of a Free Festival

Back in 1969, Bowie was among the organisers of a free festival in Beckenham, South East (that-) London. This was his rather trippy tribute, a great album track that never should have been released as a radio single... even back in 1970 when the radio was a lot kinder.

Many years later, Dario G would steal the hooky chorus from the song's second half for his woeful dance-pop dirge 'Sunmachine'. You have to question why the Dame would ever allow such a travesty... but he does move in mysterious ways.

7.  The Velvet Underground & Nico - All Tomorrow's Parties

Not actually about a festival, but they named a festival after it so that's good enough for me.

Plus, it led to the creation of Knee Deep At ATC by Los Campesinos, which is about the festival in question.

6. The Animals - Monterey

The summer of love began here...

Young gods smiled upon the crowd
Their music being born of love
Children danced night and day
Religion was being born
Down in Monterey

The Byrds and the Airplane
Did fly
Oh, Ravi Shankar's
Music made me cry

The Who exploded
Into violent light
Hugh Masekela's music
Was black as night

The Grateful Dead
Blew everybody's mind
Jimi Hendrix, baby
Believe me
Set the world on fire, yeah!

5. Aphrodite's Child - Altamont

...and died here, two years later.

Aphrodite's Child were a Greek band made up of Demis Roussos and Vangelis (plus some other bloke). This somewhat satanic response to the Altamont tragedy featured on their final album, 666, considered by some to be a precursor to the prog-rock concept album that lumbered through the 70s like a bilious diplodocus and eventually spawned punk as a direct reaction.

Echo & The Bunnymen also did a pretty cool song called Altamont, but I think that's more metaphorical.

See also An Array of Passionate Lovers by Pete Atkin (and Clive James) which tells the story of this fateful day in far more detail...

    That big-mouthed dude in the flash duds
    Preached fighting in the streets
    But the crowd of kids held an angel with a knife
    Who carved himself a slice of another guy's life
    And the blooms of blood unfolded from the buds
    And the bad karma came down in sheets
    And the troops of love got wise, they were paying
    Too much for their seats

4. Deep Purple - Smoke On The Water

If you've ever worked in a guitar shop, chances are you've heard this riff on a daily basis. And are now royally sick of it.

The titular smoke spread across Lake Geneva when Montreux Casino burned to the ground during a Frank Zappa concert in 1971. Although this wasn't part of that year's actual Montreux Festival (the fire happened in December, the festival in June), it did force the festival to change venues for the next few years while the Casino was rebuilt. A tenuous link, but good enough for me to crowbar it onto this list.

3. Joni Mitchell - Woodstock

The most famous music festival ever, and the most famous song ever written about a music festival... yet as Joni explains here, she never actually made it to Woodstock. More famous recordings of this record exist, of course, by Matthew's Southern Comfort, Crosby, Stills & Nash et al... yet only Joni can get away with singing "We are stardust, we are golden..." with a straight face, if you ask me.

2. The Hold Steady - Chillout Tent

Probably my favourite Hold Steady record, I love how Craig Finn's vocals mix with guests Dave Pirner (from Soul Asylum!) and Elizabeth Elmore (of The Reputation... who I've never heard of either, but should investigate), playing the parts of the young lovers who have a one night stand in a rather extreme festival chillout tent.

She looked just like a baby bird
All new and wet and trying to light a Parliament
He quoted her some poetry, he's Tennyson in denim and sheepskin
He looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin

They started kissing when the nurses took off their IVs
It was kind of sexy but it was kind of creepy
Their mouths were fizzy with the cherry cola
They had the privacy of bedsheets and all the other kids were mostly in comas

1. Pulp - Sorted For E's & Whizz

As Jarvis explains in his introduction during the song's first public performance at Glastonbury '95, this song was originally written about outdoor raves. Yet it became synonymous with festivals in my mind for a number of reasons, not least because it was this show that cemented the band's reputation as the greatest of the Britpop era. The public spat between Blur and Oasis, arguing over that crown like spiteful schoolboys, sullied both their reputations. Meanwhile Pulp snuck in the back door, stepping in as final night Glasto headliners after the Stone Roses pulled out at the eleventh hour, and history gave them the prize. (Earlier this year, during Britpop's 20th Anniversary celebrations, it was Common People that was voted the nation's favourite anthem: not Country House or Roll With It.)

But the real reason this is my Number One Festival Song is that it reminds me more than any other of my own festival-going days - of watching Pulp live at Leeds ('96?) and experiencing a moment unlike any I'd ever had before... or would again. That was in the days before music festivals became TOO big and corporate... it wouldn't be long before the magic was stolen by giant screens you could only watch from half a mile away, sponsored wellies, beer tents and portaloos, and drunken crowds of idiots who'd never even heard of the headliners. I'd rather watch a music festival on TV these days... I really must be getting old. Still, back then, in that moment, I was one of just 20,000 people standing in a field... and it felt alright.

Those were my festival favourites... which one gets you lining up on the front row?


  1. I went to Glastonbury in '95 and managed to completely miss Pulp. I didn't get into them until just after Glastonbury and probably couldn't have named any of their records at that point, so instead I wasted the evening stuck in a human traffic jam, trying to get into a tent to see Portishead, who I also missed.

    '95 was one of the last years that a lot of people managed to get in for free and it was horribly packed. As a genuine agoraphobic, I didn't enjoy it at all, but I always enjoy watching it on telly.

    I didn't have any song suggestions until a minute ago, when browsing through my music library, I noticed an old bluegrass song called 'The Fields Have Turned Brown', which given the state of the toilets the year I went (I crapped in a bucket in the tent!) seemed quite appropriate.

    1. Ha! I've never had the pleasure of Glastonbury in person... perhaps when Sam grows up, I can be one of those cool dads who takes their kids to stuff like that. He'll probably want to watch Vibranium Throat Slitters (or whatever the hip band is in fifteen years time) and I'll want to watch Huey Lewis and the News... you can guarantee they'll be on at the same time on different stages.

    2. The worst thing about it was the crowds and the toilets, which were pretty much unusable by the second day, presumably because they hadn't allowed for so many people being there. It might not be so bad these days, now that they've tightened up the security, and I occasionally think that it might be fun to give it another go, but then I remember what I'm like and realise that I'd probably still hate it.

    3. That's the attitude!

    4. It's that attitude that's got me to where I am today.

  2. Killing Joke - "Feast Of Blaze" for the lyrics "Banner and festival / Where the wine and plenty flow". Not sure what festivals they went to but they had wine instead of beer. So probably not Glastonbury. That's cider, isn't it?

    1. Ah, I lost my bet. I was sure you were going to suggest Harvest Festival by XTC. Still, good to have some KJ again, I've been missing them.

  3. Rol, you've stumped me again. I can't think of anything apart from Woodstock, although unlike the pirates list, I think there must be some in my collection. (and I think I might have missed another of your posts too) I will keep thinking about this one, cheers.


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