A Food Lover’s Guide to Music Festivals:
My Twitter and Facebook feeds are starting to be full of adverts for this year’s music festivals. Being a bit of a rock-chick at heart, I really love the idea of combining a great music festival with good food and preferably some other cultural pursuits. It used to be that the only festivals on the scene were Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, Reading & Leeds, V, and Download. All of which, let’s face it, were all about the music; but were renowned for mud, poor toilets, lost tents, and basic food.
V was the very first festival I ever attended. I found it overwhelming; it was huge with so many people, and it took ages to move between the stages. I’m 5ft tall, and I still vividly remember being taken off my feet in the crowd trying to get back to the main stage. It was really rather frightening.
For a couple of glorious years Ben & Jerry’s put on a small 2 day festival on Clapham Common, just one stage, but loads of things for families to do, and all the ice cream you could eat for free. We saw some great bands there; some up and coming, and some acts making a comeback. There were plenty of clean toilets and free drinking water. The tickets were very reasonably priced and the atmosphere fun and friendly. It ceased running the London Olympic year, rumoured to be caused by a shortage of portaloos, and has sadly never re-appeared. (The theme in the photo above was Pants to Poverty, with a song or two from Billy Bragg)
In its place came the Jamie Oliver and Alex James Big Feastival; firstly on Clapham Common, and now on Alex James’ farm in Oxfordshire. In 2015 we were invited as guests of AEG and attended on a day pass. This is a very family orientated festival, with lots of arts and crafts things to do for the children. It was my first experience of the phenomenon of children being pulled around in carts, which I found rather bizarre. There were good bands, and the Cuban Brothers in particular were fantastic (although needed to be past the watershed for their risqué banter and end of set striptease!). Given its name and ownership, it’s no surprise to learn that there are also cookery demonstrations and classes, and some really good food stalls with a lot of choices including healthy. I can’t comment on the camping facilities as we didn’t use them.
Feeding the middle-aged need for nostalgia there are several festivals providing us with blasts from the past. Rewind is probably the best known of these. We went to the Henley site a couple of years back and paid to stay in the ‘Glamping’ accommodation; this consisted of a ready erected tent, blow up mattresses in place, showers on site, an area with hairdryers/hair straighteners and loos for that area. By the Sunday the loos were as horrible as they could be, and the showers ran cold from the start. It featured one stage, a fun fair area, silent disco, and a small selection of retail outlets. We were glad that we’d taken a camping stove and kettle and food, as the selection on site was pretty basic. The acts were fabulous and we had a great time, lots of people get into the spirit and don fancy dress. The downside of this location is that the proximity to the Thames meant that even on the one nice day weather wise that everything was damp by the time we returned, getting into damp PJs in a damp sleeping bag isn’t nice. Also, the geese follow their normal routine, and at 6 in the morning make their way nosily to the water!
For more nostalgia, a smaller scale and non camping alternative is Happy Days at Imber Court in Surrey. When we attended last year there were some really good fun nostalgic acts; Kid Creole may be pushing his moniker a bit now (although I don’t think that he was all that young, even in the 1980s!), and Marc Almond was fabulous. But, they have 2 tier ticketing; the 2nd tier ones mean that you are at a diagonal to the stage keep apart from the 1st tier people by a fence. The food and drink offerings were pretty basic, but the ticket prices are reasonable.
I’m more drawn by the line-ups at festivals than by the ‘festival experience’, and as a result asked for accreditation for London Unattached at 3 festivals in 2016.
The first was to see the National at Latitude (my favourite band at the moment), and we were very happy to be given day passes – these do allow you to camp, but outside of the main camping area. This was run like clock-work; we were directed to park, told where to pitch our tent (about 10 metres from the car), and there were 2 loos provided for the day camping – both which had toilet roll and sanitiser throughout our stay. I thought that the location was stunning, there were stages set into the woods, swimming in the lake, and lots of nooks and crannies. There was so much to do here that I really wished that we had more than day tickets; there was a talk from Louis Theroux, poetry, an exhibition from the V&A, storytelling for children, and of course the bands. There were plenty of food vendors, but I think it would be a struggle to eat very healthily here if you were here for the full thing. There were also very drunk young people and I went into protective mum mode worried about how they’d find their tents, that is, if they managed to stand! It rained a little at the end of the night after the National had finished, but we were snug and dry once back in our tent and able to drive off happy in the morning for breakfast at the nearest cafe. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Latitude.
The second was for me to see Bastille and Hot Chip for my partner at Festival No 6 in Portmeiron. We’d been asked to feature the festival in 2015, but had been engaged elsewhere. It looked right up our street; a stunning location, a good mix of music, arts, and dance, with great food to boot. In retrospect, September in North Wales was always going to be a bit risky weather-wise. It was beautiful when we left London, and I did actually say out loud, “Am I being stupid packing boots?” It was quite a long drive, and we arrived a bit tired and stiff to the festival car park in the grounds of the local rugby club. Holding press passes meant that we didn’t have to join the long queues for the transfer coaches. Arriving at the site we found the camping site, which to my dismay was on a hill and looked very full. We were not allowed to take cooking equipment, and I do like a cup of tea first thing. We eventually managed to find a not too steep bit and set up the tent. On day one the loos were already vile, and the advertised showers were nowhere to be seen.
I was really keen to see the village itself, and it was just as wonderful as I’d hoped. There were some great quirky acts, a Welsh male choir singing New Order’s Blue Monday, John Cooper-Clarke reciting his poems, and John Bramwell singing were all fabulous in the village itself.
But then the rain started, and it stopped being such fun – that hill to the tent became a mud slide, and so did the field with the main stage; we heard Roisin Murphy ask if it was safe for her to perform. A few (well probably a lot) bales of hay/straw being laid would have helped. As would wifi that worked, as changes to schedules were announced via the App, but no-one could access it! We missed the carnival parade as a result. The loos in the Castell press room had been a Godsend, but by Saturday afternoon these too had failed.
We thought about paying for Dinner at Cloughs (£70 a head) in as a way of avoiding the rain and having something nice to eat, but overheard someone in the Press room saying that it had been over-booked. I subsequently spoke to someone who did go, she said that they were served sparkling wine in plastic glasses, there weren’t enough ice-buckets, and that food was served ‘family style’ and there simply wasn’t enough of it, plus no loos.
We had intended staying until late Sunday afternoon, I wanted to see the Everely Pregnant Brothers, but when I woke up and looked at the mud (that’s our blue tent on the right of the photo) I couldn’t face walking down and up and down again, so we packed up the tent and headed to the transport point. We walked past a stall selling bacon sandwiches, which turned out to be a huge mistake. It seemed that a lot of people had the same idea, many of them intending to load up their cars and return to the festival so that they could just drive away after the last act. As we got nearer and saw tractors in the field it became apparent that there was a problem. The parking was in a flood plain, and guess what happens when it rains in North Wales in September? With no direction and no obvious system we made our way to the car and waited to be pulled out. 6 hours later we were, our tractor being pulled by another – this is my car in the photo below (remember we’d had no food or drink at all). We were lucky; others had to spend the night on the floor of the local leisure centre. After a jet wash and a very cautious drive home we showered and got gratefully into bed. The damage to the car was considerable, and we were relieved when the festival insurers admitted liability. There are still a lot of people waiting to be re-imbursed for rail fares, accommodation and other expenses.
This year there is also a 2 tier ticketing system, which means that parts of the village and the Castell will be off-limits. This is a good move to protect the environment, but will lead to people missing out on what makes this place so magical. I would say, visit Portmeiron, but give Festival No. 6 a miss unless it reduces audience capacity to make it more enjoyable for everyone, not just tier 1 people.
The following weekend we went to On Blackheath, and what a difference! Many of the acts were the same as at Festival No.6 (Hot Chip, Rosin Murphy), but even when it rained it didn’t turn into mud, there were booster wifi points and free printed programmes. The gourmet food was by Theo Randall, and at £30 a head including drinks, a bargain in comparison to Festival No.6 . We would have eaten there, but the sitting clashed with James on stage, and I couldn’t miss that.
Primal Scream were absolutely brilliant. This is a well thought through festival, and very well run with plenty for children too. It doesn’t have camping so doesn’t offer the ‘festival experience’, but I’ve found I rather like going home to a dry and comfortable bed!
I know which ones I’m hoping to return to this year!