My Festival Life... Robin Ince

The stand up comedian talks about his two decades of experience of music festivals


United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Chris Swindells | 24 March 2011

My first ever festival was Glastonbury in 1990, the headliners were The Cure, Happy Mondays and Aswad. At that point I was such a festival idiot I didn’t realise the best place to camp is not directly opposite the Pyramid stage. As you get older you start going to one of the more quieter nooks and crannies or weird ditches. That was in an age as well where people still openly urinated and the whole thing just stank of digested enzemes of cider whereas now at Glastonbury you very rarely see open urinating. Sometimes people go "oh the toilets", but then I didn’t have a poo for the four days I was there. Every time I nearly needed a poo you'd see the toilets weren’t emptied every day, so by the end of the first day they’d be a half digested Happy Mondays poo.

There’s that wonderful experience you have in your teenage years when you learn always stop off at the second Little Chef and not the first one on the journey back from Glastonbury. You're having that poo and thinking: 'my entire body up to about my esophagus is just excrement now'.

I remember just being very surprised by things, Sinead O’Connor was on and she sang ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’ and loads of people started shouting if you don’t like it here go back to your own country and I thought this was a very un-Glastonbury moment. Watching her, and I think she was wearing a ‘Fat Slags’ t-shirt - and people say she’s humourless!

My favourite festival set of all time would be PJ Harvey at Camp Bestival about two years ago. Everytime I’ve seen PJ Harvey she’s been phenomenal. She's the most charismatic, wonderful performer. I remember seeing her a few years ago and she was performing an album which hadn’t been released and she was doing an all new set. What I loved was the audience didn’t care that they didn’t know the songs, no one was shouting: "Sheela na Gig".

At Camp Bestival 2009 she did a set, which was just her on her own with a selection of instruments, playing her favourite songs that she’d ever done and it was just mesmeric and wonderful - everything you hope you can see at a festival.

The best festival set I've played was at Reading, the first summer I got the time to do a full set of festival shows, one per weekend. I don’t think I’ve had that same feeling of enjoyment again and strangely enough I was expecting a lot of flak. I was expecting people to make the noises that Ricky Gervais used to make at me whilst we were on tour and I just went on and did 40 minutes and came off and it felt like such a victory. At Latitude and Glastonbury you hope you’re playing to a certain number of beat-nicks whereas at Reading it’s the young and the drunk. I came off thinking 'that worked'. I probably swore a bit more in the way you do when young people want to see an old man saying "fuck".
My worst festival experience was having 20 minutes of booing at Glastonbury and people trying to attack me on stage and deciding to stand my ground. This was back in the nineties and everyone had gone off early but I had decided to do my time and everything was going fine, well not fine, but I was surviving and then you say one word which is a trigger and someone hears it and they haven’t understood what you said and there’s a sudden moment of insanity. One third of the audience were trying to get on stage and I remember thinking I just want to get off but thinking: 'I’ve got this contractual obligation and if I go off then the next acts buggered'. Even at the end of that I thought: ‘that was kind of a good gig’ because a third of them were going "this is great, this is an event" and another third were so angry. You really enjoy creating that.

My strangest festival experience would be when my son at the age of two, who is a Nick Cave fan, was upset he didn’t play ‘The Sorrowful Wife’ which was his favorite song at the time. Also, at last year's Latitude, we got a caravan because it was me, my wife, my son and my mother-in-law attending. And this woman - I think it was Keith Allen’s girlfriend - just walked in at ten in the morning and it’s still my son’s favourite story, he’ll always go “Let me tell you about the caravan because this lady came in and she looked strange and daddy said ‘where are your friends’ and nana said ‘do you want a cup of tea’ and muma said ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!’” It was just this strange moment of telling this two and a half year old she was just lost and looking for the loo. The next day everyone was saying she sleep-walks a lot and I was like 'yeah there’s a lot of people that have been sleep walking for like 36 to 72 hours at this festival'.

Robin Ince will be performing his award-winning 'Bad Book Club' show live at a run of shows across the UK starting at Great Budworth Village Hall on 25 March. Click here for full details.

Robin will be then curating the 'Uncaged Monkeys' 2011 tour celebrating "the universe and the many wonders that lie within it". Each date will feature live sets from Ben Goldacre, Robin Ince, Professor Brian Cox and Simon Singh. Guests on various nights of the tour will include Dara O'Briain, Helen Arney, Chris Addision and Alan Moore.

Click here to see the full run of 'Uncaged Monkeys' shows and buy tickets.


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