Monday, 10 November 2008

Glade Festival 2007: The Review

Not even the deluge of rain on Friday morning could dampen the spirits of the revelers set for a weekend of mayhem and madness in the Berkshire countryside. Yes, the July storms did cause chaos, but not even 90-days-worth of rain in five hours could sink Glade.

But five inches of the wet stuff in as many hours did wreak havoc, slaughtering the Overkill tent and putting it out of action until Saturday. Some who had arrived on the Thursday and camped behind the ISpiral stage, woke up on Friday morning in their sleeping bags with their legs wet from their knees down because their tents hadn't held up to the tumultuous downpour.

Even before the festival had officially begun on the Friday, the main entrance was flooded. But this didn't deter some though, who were so fed up of waiting for hours to be let into the site on Friday evening that they waded through the lake-like puddle at the entrance, their camping gear raised high above their heads as the brown water crept up their midriffs.

Due to the flooding, the nearest train station was submerged and there were twenty mile tailbacks on the M4. It took some people seven hours to drive down from London on the Friday once the storms dissipated at around midday, and even those who lived half an hour away from Aldermaston had to sit in traffic for five hours before they could get near the festival site. Although the organisers were doing their best to get everyone in, as the country-lanes around Aldermaston became more snarled up, the police re-diverted everyone down one road, adding to the chaos.

But once under the pink and purple flamed arch that heralds the entrance, the festival vibe was well underway. It was 10.30pm and just dark when we found a semi-dry patch to camp, and no sooner had we pulled the tent out of the bag than a festival-goer appeared with a large free-standing torch, and kindly offered to help us make our home for the next few days – and a welcome hand it was too, as the music pumped away in the background, drawing us in.

Glade is fairly compact compared to other festivals, with each stage nestled close to one another, so the array of musical talent is far more accessible than at larger festivals - and if one set isn't doing it for you, you can skip off half way through and find something a bit more banging.

Neither the music, the d├ęcor, or the site's decorative adornments could be faulted. Arthurian flags lined the path ways, and an assembly of suspended, spangly, multi-coloured spirals and 3D inflatable stars floating high in the air around the dance tents dazzled the senses. There were giant disco balls, rainbow-roof interiors, and a rabbit hole-tunnel from one tent which took you to the Mad Hatters tea-party in a secret room, with the animated Alice in Wonderland film playing on a large screen.

Back outside mock-trees shot flames out of the tips of their trunks intermittently, and an inflatable church, pelted down by the rain on Friday, was resurrected in time for Sunday’s loved-up revelers to make marriage vows and dance in.

Music wise, the neo-rave experience at Overkill was talked about by many, and set alight by Tippa, The Ragga Twins, Chris Clark, Bass Cleff and Beardyman among others. The Breaksday tent, my personal favourite and where I could always be found if lost, was mashing it up the whole weekend with the likes of Adam Freeland, the Plump DJs, Rennie Pilgrim accompanied by the unsurpassable MC Chickaboo; and play-with-the-bass Freq Nasty – who did the same mind-blowing set that he had done at Glastonbury last month.

Sunday's highlight had to be Squarepusher, the last act on the Glade stage and the one who got everyone going one final time, in a lucky patch of sunshine that Sunday evening, on an otherwise rainy weekend.

As always, the psytrance antics at the ISpiral stage were going on well into the early hours, in spite of the thick mud around the stage which made the little white seats seem like toadstools emerging from the forest floor. This was the best place to see in the sunrise, with a cup of the cafe's soothing, sanity-saving, milky chai.

Of course the mud did not deter anyone, and there's a certain abandon, reminiscent of childhood, to sloshing ankle-deep through swirling mud the consistency of chocolate mousse. And the reassuring and sublimely surreal sound of thousands of pairs of wellies stomping, sploshing and splashing to the bass throughout every tent.

Although everyone I spoke to was having a fabulous time, parts of the organisation was poor and it did feel as if the management were more concerned about making money than ensuring everyone had the best time they possibly could.

Programmes were hard to come by, and it seemed that only those who went on the Thursday had been given them free, but anyone who had arrived amongst Friday's mayhem weren't. There were rumours that you could buy them for three quid, but when we investigated early on Saturday morning, they had apparently sold out - which was ridiculous considering the festival had only officially begun the day before. There was a general feeling that no one knew who was playing and when - and sadly, there were no line-up listings pinned-up outside the tents.

After paying £110 for a ticket, it isn't right that festival-goers should have to fork out more cash to know who is playing when.

The other lucrative decision the organisers made was to ban booze from the festival site. Alcohol was not allowed in, and rigorous searches meant that anyone attempting to enter the site with anything alcoholic had to hand it over to the Gestapo at the gate, along with anything else they considered banned - which included legal balloon canisters and king size rizla. A pint in one of the bars was £3.20 - which might be an 'acceptable' price to pay in a trendy London bar, but not at a festival, when you aren't allowed to bring any alcohol in. That said, there is something surreal about being in a place where booze and wellies become a commodity.

Glade 'officially' finished at 8pm on Sunday, and signs were put up advising everyone to leave that night because the Met Office were forecasting more rain and flooding, but those who took their advice had a night of hell. No aluminum runways had been placed around the edges of parking fields (was this to save cash I asked myself?) so consequently, the car parks became mud pits. Almost everyone had to be towed or pushed out - and some unlucky people parked on the wrong side of the field beside a flooded lane, found their vehicles, thick with mud, bathing in three feet of water and unable to start.

The organisers had asked independent tractors to come and help tow vehicles out, but on the Sunday night this became an absolute free-for-all, with people paying anywhere from a fiver up to twenty quid for the privilege. Someone I spoke to packed up after 8pm Sunday evening, got to the car park at midnight and were still waiting to be towed out at 10.30am the following morning.

In spite of the problems the mud caused, as always, the crazy wonderful people you meet, your camp-site neighbours and the hedonistic festival madness made it a superb weekend. And as many revelers pointed out, Glade is still in it's infancy at only four years old. But I do hope the organisers gain a little more festival etiquette – ensuring programmes and aluminum runways around car parks are prerequisites, so that Glade continues to attract the brilliant, crazy crowd it did this year.

Roll on 2008!

Rachael Hannan: 2007

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