Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Glastonbury memories - The Cure, The Family Cat and Tom Jones

I was thinking about the Glastonbury Festival today - as you do when it's June and this year's event is only days away...

I've been to 9 Glastonburys in total. The first was in 1984 I think, and the last was 10 years ago this year, in 1998. I've got so many memories of Glasto - some good, some not so good, and some completely awesome.

Having started to write this, I realise there's much too much to include in just one post, so I'll do a bunch of these over the next few days. Here's part one...

The Cure in the rain - 1986 and/or 1990

I've loved The Cure ever since I first heard A Forest playing outside Rock City nightclub back when I was at university in 1980, and I'd pretty much worn out my vinyl copies of Three Imaginary Boys and Seventeen Seconds by the time I graduated.

To see The Cure at Glastonbury not once, but twice, was a HUGE thrill for me. I can't remember whether it was 1986 or 1990 when we had the thunderstorm and the laser beams, but anyway...

The Cure was headlining the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night, and I was pretty near the front, standing on a bit of a hillock (which was great because I'm not exactly the tallest person in the world). It was getting dark, and just as the band was due to come on, a great big raincloud came floating over the fields and stopped right above us. As The Cure stepped onstage the thunder began rolling over the hills and across the festival site, and a gentle rain began to fall. Dramatic!

I remember the green lasers on the top of the Pyramid shining through the raindrops, causing them to appear to hover in mid-air for a second before continuing on their downward journey. It was quite magical.

Funny what stays in your mind. I don't remember any of the songs they played, I don't remember singing along, or dancing, or anything to do with the music, really. I just remember the raincloud, the thunder, and those bright green raindrops hanging in suspended animation in front of my face.

Afterwards, as we made our way back to our tents further up the hill overlooking the Pyramid Stage, they played the song of the humpback whale over the loudspeakers. It was the strangest (and most awesome) sound - 100+ decibels-worth of whale eerily calling us, surrounding us, guiding us home. Bloody brilliant.

The Family Cat and Tom Jones back to back - 1992

Sandra and Sean have known the entire Family Cat for years and years, having spent a good many of their teenage years getting up to mischief in Cornwall, where most of them are from. I met them some time in the late 80s, when we used to go to their gigs all around the country, leaping around at the front and singing along with all their songs at the tops of our voices.

In 1992 they got their big break, when the NME decided that they were flavour of the month/year, and wrote some very glowing articles about them. That year they were invited to play at Glastonbury and we were all thrilled to bits. We'd never had someone we actually knew play at Glasto before.

They were playing on the NME stage early on the Sunday afternoon, so we all headed over there nice and early so we could get a good spot. They were brilliant. Full of energy, did all their best songs, and the sizeable crowd seemed to really like them. I remember we got to talk to them afterwards (through a wire mesh fence) and they were all buzzing and very happy.

Immediately after the Family Cat had finished playing on the NME stage, the weekend's "special guest" was due on the Pyramid Stage. I don't remember there being a special guest in previous years, so maybe this was the first time. No-one knew who it was in advance - it hadn't been announced - but by the Saturday night the rumour was flying around the festival site that it was going to be Tom Jones.

Tom Jones? At Glastonbury?? You have got to be kidding me!!!

Sandra, Sean, some of The Family Cat and I all decided it might be good for a laugh, so we headed around the corner to the Pyramid Stage to join the 70,000 other crusty folk ranged all the way up the hill on that beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon. We approached the stage from behind the left-hand side, so we were able to push our way into the crowd right near the front, and gradually moved closer to the middle as time went on.

Imagine the scene. You've got 70,000 grubby hippies (for that was the Glasto crowd in those days) all standing there waiting to take the piss out of Tom Jones - a performer more used to entertaining our mothers - and we're all thinking how completely incongruous this is, and wondering what on earth was Michael Eavis was on when he chose Mr Jones...

And Tom comes on stage with his band, and starts up with the first song - and his band is so tight, and he's so bloody professional that they have the entire crowd in the palm of their hands before they've even finished the first verse.

It.was.amazing. Tom Jones was amazing!

He sang, he danced around the stage, he took the piss out of himself, he waved to his family watching from the backstage area, they played a whole heap of great covers, he did every one of his famous songs - and the crowd sang along with him for the entire set.

At one point early on he said something like "I gotta take my jacket off - it's so hot!", proceeded to take his jacket off with a wink and a smile and threw it aside with a flourish - and the whole crowd went completely nuts.

By the end of the gig there were crusty hippies sitting on each other's shoulders reaching towards the stage yelling "I love you, Tom!" and throwing their equally crusty knickers at him. It was completely insane. I'll never forget it.

I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Tom Jones at Glastonbury is the best festival set I have ever seen anyone play. Ever.

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