In the first of a regular series, Simon Friend from The Levellers speaks about his Festival Life...
My first ever festival was Glastonbury actually. That was 1984 and I remember it being wicked. I had a really good time. I remember hitching down to Bath to see a mate, getting a bus from Bath to Pilton and just walking in, I think I paid a tenner to get in. I took a fly sheet with me and just wrapped up in that. I just dossed about everywhere. Back then there was no big walls or anything like that. It was like a free festival in a lot of ways. Lots of people parked up everywhere, it was brilliant actually and it really got me into the whole scene. I didn’t actually watch a lot of bands at Glastonbury the first few years of going there, it was more for the experience and being with a lot of mates who were travelling and being in various scenes.
My favourite festival set was Neil Young with Booker T. and the M.G.s as his backing band and that was over in Rock Werchter in Belgium in 1993 and it was just amazing. He made the space seem tiny and they just sat around. I’d been a Neil Young fan and it was just a magic moment for me.
My favourite festival is Beautiful Days to be honest. It’s obviously a different thing for me, but it just ticks all the boxes for me. I can be a punter but also know I’m working. There’s always good people there, good acts and good sideshows and performers, they’re good fun. That’s good for me and there are not many festivals that can tick those boxes. I really liked Boney M in 2007, I had a real dance to Boney M in the rain and it was brilliant. I seem to remember it being quite a good cure for the particular hangover I had that day.
My worst festival experience could be getting strychnine poisoning one year at Glastonbury and that was rotten. I was just in a real state and had to go the showers, had to find new clothes and had to wonder around basically naked until I found new clothes. That was back in about 86/87. I found the communal showers and that was a bit strange being in there in the state I was in. That was probably the last time I took LSD, it didn’t really agree with me then.
My strangest festival experience was in Austria a couple of years ago, going up to set up, there was a problem with a mandolin and I was on stage trying to fix it before we went on. I remember thinking that guitar is really vibrating through the stage. I was thinking that’s really strange and then the stage started moving a bit and again I was thinking that’s really strange because it was just us checking the bass drum for the sound check. Then the lighting rig fell off and landed just a foot in front of me and I turned and when I saw the entire back of the stage had been blown off I decided to leave the stage, which I promptly did.
My favourite Levellers festival performance would be the first time we headlined Glastonbury. It was all quite sudden. I remember personally thinking ‘Christ I’m about to go on stage at Glastonbury’ and we walked out on the Pyramid stage and saw the audience, which I think is still the biggest audience, and it was just huge. Just an amazing feeling of emotion, not so much that we’d made it but just to look out and see so many t-shirts with our names on it for a start. We never thought we’d get from there to here. In a couple of years from playing the Travellers Field at the edge of the festival to headlining it was kind of a wow moment, just a big moment.
My dream festival line-up would include Neil Young and Led Zeppelin, I’m a big Led Zep fan. I would love to see Sabbath back in its day, I’m a bit of a metal head really. As far as Beautiful Days is concerned there are loads of bands but being a small non-cooperate festival it’s hard to afford some of the acts you’d really like. I’d love to see Paolo Nutini and people like that up at Beautiful Days, but he’s probably too big. Richey Haven’s is another hero of mine and I met him at Guilfest a couple of years back and spent a couple of hours with him and thought what a brilliant guy, I’d love to have him at Beautiful Days.
My advice for a festival first-timer would be dry socks, always a good’un. Make sure you bring a dry set of waterproof clothes in a waterproof bag inside your rucksack or whatever. If you’re going to take anything funny make sure you know what you’re doing with it and what it is.
The Levellers will headline Beautiful Days 2011 alongside Carter USM, Big Audio Dynamite and Gogol Bordello at Escot Park, Devon from 19-21 August.
Click here to buy Beautiful Days tickets.
The band are currently on their Levelling The Land Tour with support from Dreadzone and Back To The Planet.
They will play Leicester O2 Academy (12 May), Sheffield O2 Academy (13 May) and London’s Brixton Academy (14 May).
Click here to buy tickets.