I’m not the man you think I am.
I’m not exactly sorrow’s native son…but I’m close.
If I were to slip inside the eye of your mind I would probably find a very specific image of me that you have created from reading these ramblings of mine.
Handsome, charming, charismatic, raconteur, bon vivant, the life and soul of any given social occasion, party animal, wit, a man who lives life at the very edge.
You’re not even close.
I’m not handsome, if you were being generous and if the lighting was kind then I could pass for ordinary. No more. Possibly less.
Charm is not something that comes easily to me and I’m almost certain that nobody else has ever found it in my presence.
Charisma is the ability to walk into a room, say nothing, leave and still be the only person anyone remembers. That’s really not me. I can walk into a room for sure. I can say nothing definitely. Nobody notices. Maybe the kid from “The Sixth Sense” would notice. I’m a social ghost.
I don’t tell a story well. I’m not boring exactly but even dead Peter Ustinov has nothing to worry about.
I’m the opposite of a bon vivant. I don’t enjoy a sociable life. I can’t even spell luckzurioos. I’m anti-sociable. I have a threadbare existence.
The life and soul of a social gathering? More like the death and arsehole of any social event.
I’ve never really been to a party. Not the sort of party you are thinking of. Although in the last six weeks I’ve seen two magicians and one balloon modeller at parties my 5 year old daughter has attended. The balloon dog I received is the only animal at any of these parties.
I’m a half-wit.
The closest to the edge I’ve ever come was owning a copy of “The Joshua Tree”.
I’m over egging this particularly foul pudding but what I’m trying to say in my overly verbose way is that I’m not the sort of person who you would normally find at a festival. My own distorted image of a festival goer is someone who loves life, loves people and who enjoys the vibe. That really isn’t me. It’s always been that way. I doubt it will change now. Quite how I came to be in attendance at the V Festival in 1997 then is a bit of a mystery. Gigs in small venues with a group of people I have, at least, one specific thing in common with is one thing but to dump myself into the middle of a field with thousands of people with whom I may have nothing in common was just not me.
It’s easily explained though, just look at the line-up.
V97 was the Britpoppiest of Britpop live experiences.
Over two days you could see (deep breath)…blur, Kula Shaker, Dodgy, Reef, Ash, Mansun, The Supernaturals, Divine Comedy, Embrace, Gene, Geneva, The Bluetones, Echobelly, Longpigs, Hurrican #1 and the mighty Oasis.
It wasn’t Oasis?
Are you sure?
It was who?
Sorry about that.
It was No-way-sis.
The prospect of two days in a field and a night in a tent was more than my tremulous heart could bare so I only bought a ticket for one day. It was Saturday the 16th of August. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The grass was green. It really was a picture perfect day. You have to remember that here in “bonny” Scotland the sun is something one finds only in the newsagent. People who have never been to Scotland will think that that is a very poor joke, those who have been to Scotland will know it is a statement of absolute fact.
The first band I saw that day were Welsh boys in a band, Stereophonics. I hadn’t heard them before but their commitment to big verses, bigger choruses and monstrous melodies made them the perfect start to the day. It must be a very daunting prospect to be the first act on stage at a festival, you know that the field will be sparsely populated, most of the crowd are not here to see you and some may well already be under the influence of mind altering substances that could lead to a less than welcoming response. On the other side of that coin though you have the chance to make an impression and that’s what Stereophonics did.
Hurricane 1# were next on the bill. “Step Into My World”, “Just Another Illusion”, “Faces in a Dream”, “Chain Reaction” and “Lucky Man” all received a hearty response from the crowd. Alex Lowe sounded fantastic, a combination of Liam and “Tricky Dicky” Ashcroft. Andy Bell, it goes without saying, delivered each of the songs in a manner that highlighted exactly why he deserves to be considered alongside John Squires and Bernard Butler as one of the finest guitarists of his generation.
It was time to leave the cosy confines of the NME stage where I had been all morning and head to the wide open spaces of the main field to catch Echobelly on the main stage. That meant missing Veruca Salt, but I was fairly confident that in a little over twenty years time from then nobody would be asking me where I was the day they played the NME stage of the V festival. That’s a little mean. I’m sure many people remember Veruca Salt with great fondness. People like Mrs Veruca Salt and her husband. Maybe some of the people in the band too…although I doubt it. I’m sorry. As I write this it’s the end of a long and largely unfulfilling day at work…I’m feeling spiteful.
Geneva were one of the few bands from Scotland to be swept up in the Britpop frenzy. The Gyres, Whiteout, The Supernaturals and Travis were the only other bands to trouble the scene in any meaningful sense. Geneva were slightly different to the rest of the Britpop world. They had more in common with the likes of the Cocteau Twins, Joy Division and, possibly, The Smiths than their contemporaries. Shimmering guitars, the beauty of Andrew Montgomery’s vocal and the maudlin lyrical themes all gave them the air of genuine indie band than pop stars. They played their three best known songs in “Into the Blue”, “Best Regrets” and “Tranquillizer” but the moment that has stayed in my mind was when they played “Temporary Wings” with Montgomery standing on the barrier, held in place by the grasping hands of the crowd and the glory of his voice being matched only by that of the sun itself.
Few people would argue with you if you boldly proclaimed Ian McCulloch to be the coolest of cats ever to prowl across the stage as the leader of a British band. It’s a statement of fact that McCulloch is cool. Really cool. I’ll tell you exactly how cool he is. By the time Echo and the Bunnymen took to the stage it was hotter than the surface of the sun in Leeds. All around me other Scottish people were screaming to the Heavens like Edward Woodward at the end of “The Wicker Man”.
“OH GOD! OH JESUS CHRIST!”
I managed to maintain my decorum only by virtue of the fact that I don’t partake of alcohol…a bit like Edward Woodward in “The Wicker Man”. Is that irony? I think it might be.
Anyway. McCulloch strolls, saunters, struts, sashays onto the stage wearing a three-quarter length (fake) fur coat, black shirt, black jeans, black boots, black shades and simply stares at the crowd.
Someone throws a lit cigarette and it lands at his feet.
He looks down.
Thinks for a second.
Picks it up.
Takes a long draw.
Drops the cigarette and before it hits the floor he drop kicks it back in the direction of the poor fool who had thrown it in the first place.
What did they play?
The first memory I have of Longpigs is of hearing “Jesus Christ” on a free tape that came with the NME. “I’ve been up here, almost too long.” it sounded like it might be a bit blasphemous and that made me feel like I was doing something naughty by listening to it. They had released “The Sun is Often Out” the year before and it had been a huge success, cracking the top thirty and spawning four top forty singles. Not bad going for a band with a genuinely manic energy and a bruised heart.
We need to talk about Gene.
As you would expect from someone with a Smiths habit but who was too young to have caught them when they were a functioning entity I fell head over heels for Gene. I heard “For the Dead” on the Chart Show one Saturday morning and was in the record shop before the song had ended. I was utterly convinced I had heard the natural heirs to the throne that Mozzer and company had left empty following their split in 1987. I was nearly right. They were a good band with occasional moments of brilliance. Martin Rossiter was an interesting and charismatic frontman, Steve Mason was the most Mod of any of anyone in a Britpop band…he looked he should have been in some sort of Weller covers band. Between them they played the crowd like seasoned professionals and, much as I love Mansun, it was a mystery to everyone why Gene were not on the main stage in place of them.
The Bluetones brought the days festivities to an end. What do you say about The Bluetones? Perfect pop songs, wit, humour, a certain little style, craft, guile and the ability to flip your heart upside down in a second. Seeing them here at the end of a day that was the live version of all those mix-tapes I made for girls from 1994-97 was one of the greatest live experiences of my life. It just felt right. The sun was going down, my heart was soaring and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
That was it.
My first, and still only, festival experience. Part of the reason why I’ve never gone to another one was because I know that nothing could ever match this. The weather was right. The bands were a wish list. Perfect. If I ever win the lottery I think I’ll try to get all of those bands back together on the same bill once more.
Of course you’re invited.