I’ve been coming to the Greenbelt festival – held at Cheltenham racecourse since 1999 – for about ten years. It’s a place that I’ve built up so many connections to that it’s almost impossible to give any sort of meaningful explanation anymore to those that haven’t been and experienced it for themselves. For a brief intro for the unfamiliar, I’ll defer to these words that I wrote a number of years ago for what-was-then Artrocker.com.
I’ve had issues with Greenbelt in the past, some of which I’ve articulated elsewhere. These disillusions about what exactly the festival had become and what it actually meant to me came to a head last year, and I opted to skip a year to go back to being a regular punter. This wasn’t something I relished, as it can be hard to go back to being in front of the barrier after you’ve spent a while behind it (so to speak), but it turned out to be a good thing.
Over the years we’ve built up a rag-tag sort of community that makes its way to this place annually and sets up camp for a long weekend. We’re very different people with very different lives and homes, but people who’ve managed to find some sort of common ground in our beliefs and perspectives.
…even if those beliefs and perspectives come through a fuzzy alcohol-induced filter.
Waking up in the morning hangover-less to continue on with the beverages separated the professional drinkers from the amateurs.
I haven’t really spoken much to Lea in the past 4 or 5 years. Life gets in the way sometimes… I was kindof taken aback when I realised how long it had been. It’s good to be back in touch.
As I tend to find at these sort of things, I spend more time in the company of other people than I do actually going to much of the stuff that’s actually on – something I’m fine with. It’s also partly why I’m not too bothered about how fantastic or otherwise a lineup is, because that’s not the reason for attending in the first place.
Having said that, there was a fairly significant representation of Scottish artists this weekend, one of which was Calamateur. He’s released a pile of experimental, often ethereal tracks… been included on the soundtrack to the BBC’s Lip Service series, and most notably of all, collaborated on some stuff with my musical alter ego unexpected bowtie. It’s nice to see people you know in a different context, away from home, and even nicer when they dedicate a song to ‘a young Scottish gentleman with brightly coloured hair who’s probably wearing a kilt.”
There was utterly torrential rain over the course of the weekend, as well as thunder and lightning. It was so ridiculously muddy at one point that those of us without wellies resorted to going barefoot. Not ideal, but bizarrely liberating. This sort of monsoon weather is where our seasoned campsite came into its own, with our big expensive bell-tent things the perfect place to retreat, drink wine (lots of wine), and play Uno. Sure, Hannah’s tent may have collapsed on the last day, but that’s partly her own fault (!).
With a fairly inoffensive and folky music line up overall, the Scots came out in force for the Proclaimers, with what turned out to be the highlight of the weekend. Standing chin-up and at an angle, the brothers positively belted out tune after tune that had people singing along to words that they didn’t even know. It’s probably just as well, given that ‘Cap in Hand’ includes lines such as ‘But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land, cap in hand’. After cheering this down the front in our kilts, we managed to get a knowing smile from the stage.
National identity issues aside, to pause for a minute and look around at the bizarre assortment of people on display… a gay married couple, a Baptist minister, some wee guys, a tattooed law graduate, a Government press officer… all with their arms round each other singing at the top of their lungs and sneakily drinking wine out of smuggled in bags… was a fairly poignant moment that I don’t think I’ll forget in a while.
Old friends; new friends; mud-in-everything; lightning; whisky, wine and drunken theological musings; faith; hugs, tears; kilts… that was Greenbelt for another year.