Back in the smoke

Straight back into London life today but it feels unusual, somehow as if the normal state of affairs is to be woken up by the sun in a tent, and then to spend the day wide angle, surrounded by beautiful things and shiny people, under the sky. I’ve essentially been living outdoors for most of this month. I haven’t managed a night in the bivouac yet, properly under the stars. Maybe Thursday, temperature permitting. I’m feeling pretty light now, and pretty grounded too. And very relaxed. This month has been a glorious opportunity to depressurise.

I’m doing laundry right now and sending invoices. Considering there’s no tumble drier I barely have time to get everything washed and dried before I’m off again- this time to Northamptonshire and Shambala Festival. Surely the last one of the season. I’m going to pack smarter this time. I brought no warm clothes to Green Man, and could’ve been in a pickle if the weather had turned. I also had no portable light sources outside of the obligatory glow sticks so I was stumbling around in my tent at night, throwing things hither and yon, losing glasses and contact lenses and stepping on puddles. I’m going to aim for a more organised pack, so that’s what tomorrow is for – if the clothes are dry by then. I also have no idea how I’m getting up there. It’s not far to Northamptonshire but I don’t want to carry all my festival stuff on the train…

Considering how much tickets cost if you buy them, I’ve been very fortunate this summer to be asked to do such a variety of interesting things at festivals and to get all my expenses back. I won’t finish this month smiling about my bank balance, but I won’t be cursing it either. I don’t even fully understand what we’re doing at Shambala yet. I’m totally relaxed about it working out fine, as it is certainly within my skillset. I think it involves being energetic and quick thinking in character for much of the day. The hours are comparatively long, but there’ll be a big group of us together and I reckon it’ll be entertaining work.

I was invigilating this morning, but I’ve invited a friend for dinner as she is going to Shambala as well, and we have something we want to build for the festival circuit next year so we can pitch a complete experience and see if we can get paid. We might as well makeshift something and scratch it live at Shambala.

Before I go I also have a chance to check out a performance space in London and think about whether we can build a show into it after Carol. All of this starting to kick off and I still need to earmark a month to do Camino. I think I might start on my birthday. All the festivalling has woken up the idea circuits again. It’s lovely to act in things you believe in, and what better way to ensure that you believe in the thing than to make it yourself.


Green Man Out

They burn the Green Man at the end of the festival, in a nod to our pagan past. It’s after the last band cuts out at midnight. A huge crowd gathers to see it blaze. There are no virgins inside it, but there are fireworks which make as much noise and are much easier to find.

There’s a strong ritualistic aspect to the burning. People have walked around inside him, and filled him with wishes and regrets on little pieces of paper. He burns and your wishes fly to the heavens, or your regrets vanish in smoke. It feels cleansing, but to me it has another meaning – it somehow feels like the official end of high summer. We need rituals to mark the turns. I’ve watched previous Green Men burn, and then felt the world grow incrementally colder as we slide towards winter again. I have that same expectation now. Although it’s always nice until my birthday is done, dammit.

Last night I stood with the crowd, warm-faced and tired. Happy but melancholy. Full of the past, full of what might have been, full of the future, full of what might be. Watching another year burn in a circle of opened hearts at the end of the season.

It’s been a hell of a summer, even if I feel no closer to my elusive dreams. But maybe that’s because I keep getting distracted by silly fun stuff…

I’ve agreed to do yet another festival next weekend. A small rate of pay and free meals. Here we go again. I’d better eat loads of kale for the next few days. I’ve barely got time to turn around. I’m physically exhausted, emotionally splintered. Being inside buildings feels oppressive. I don’t understand why everybody looks so drab and boring. Nobody is smiling or shining. They’re all heavy and slow. Where’s the glitter? Where’s the joy? Why are their shoulders so high, their eye contact so fleeting, their faces so closed?

The last day was a little less of a party for me as I had to drive the van onto site at 7am to load up the fucking heavy mini golf courses that my friends had built. I woke up at ten to six fully dressed in my sleeping bag, and swore my way onto site, carefully driving past little pockets of people who had forgotten to go to sleep and were staggering haphazardly through the light wondering if they should sleep now or just give it up as a bad idea and work out how to get home through the fog.

We loaded up and then momentum took us to break up the campsite and drive dammit drive, back through the sheepy mountains to the places where the heavy people flump. At first I was worried, behind the wheel droop-eyed, tired and angry. So I stopped and filled myself with sugar in a sad lumpy place called Leigh Delamere, where we pumped the van with fossils and I ate food that wasn’t food but was pretending to be from West Cornwall. And had regretful caffeine so we could be safe.

Festivals are a lovely thing. Again an artificial frame. A safe place for pretend anarchy, where if you track the money back you probably discover that the landowners are collecting all the “hippy money” they make and donating it on purpose to the “Kill the Whales Foundation,” or “Climate Change Deniers for Fracking plc”.

Now we can go back to our consuming lives with glitter still on our faces and pretend that by paying ten quid for a falafel and watching someone fall over on purpose while playing guitar we are somehow enlightened.

But we did see the Green Man burn. We had a shared experience of something rooted in our ancient history. Different reasons for the same thing. Thank you summer, for your gifts. Let us each carry this warmth and light into the winter that’s coming, and share it with those who are cold and lost.


Green Man 5


This festival is full of bubbles. There’s a very active shop on site that blows smoke bubbles all day and all night, luring people in to buy their bubbly goods, and those people, armed now with bubbleguns, go and spread their bubbliness into the festival. Often you see big fat bubbles insolently drifting past the front of the main stage. It all adds to the atmosphere and is something I associate particularly with Green Man.

I spent a lot of time at the main stage yesterday. It’s called The Mountain Stage because behind it rises the peak of one of the beacons. Apparently it’s a four hour walk there and back, which is tempting but I’m not sure I’ve got the energy. There’s a big area in front of the stage for people to crowd in and dance, and then there are tiered grass banks for people who prefer to chill out and watch it in wider context. We sat there for much of the day, while people wove musical stories for us.

Seamus Fogarty was great as a starter, and built up our appetite. My friend had somehow found a Guardian, and read it from cover to cover before going off to break his vegan with as many cheeseburgers as he could manage. I honked a Mac and cheese. You can eat well in this field if you’re willing to shell out all your worldly wealth. I get breakfast and dinner covered at the crew catering, but I still have to pay for lunch and it still hurts. I wouldn’t be able to go to so many festivals if I had to cover the tickets. I probably wouldn’t go to any. As it is I’ve just agreed to go to another one next weekend. So much for this being the last blowout of the season.

We watched John Grant and Fleet Foxes as the dark came. The Fleet Foxes guy spoke of a storm coming, which concerned me considering my paper tent. My friends went to bed, leaving me floating around the festival like a bubble, and no rain yet, so I blew into Simian Mobile Disco, and danced until they stopped. Then I found Snapped Ankle, telling me that Herefordians get everywhere – something I can corroborate from my experience. I wasn’t particularly bothered about being on my own, which I noticed because in the past it has detracted from my enjoyment. But I was fine. I eventually found my way into Nathan Wylde, which is clearly where I wanted to be. I cracked two green glowsticks and went mad for it at the front. Inevitably that brought me into a friendship group that I knew from Wilderness. “Look at that guy – he’s going for it. Hang on its Al.” But I was on a solitary tip. I continued to blow around solo until, walking past the Ferris Wheel that was pumping out drum and bass, I was popped. A small person excitedly chased after me. “It’s only three pounds!” Pop. Natalie had served me a round earlier when she was working. All her friends have gone to bed and she’s just finished work. She’s in tech support up in Manchester. She is looking for the party, and the glowsticks imply I might know where it is.

We go on the Ferris Wheel. We pretend to be twelve. They eject us after about six rotations because they start playing airy music and she is shouting “Drop the beat!” every time we go past the bottom. They don’t like it. The guy looks at us like we stink as he opens the cage. We don’t care. We go for a drink and laugh a lot and I’ve made a new friend. Eventually I go back to my tent which is still upright, and sleep beautifully. It’s never been that cold again. Tonight is the last night in this bubble, and then it’s back to the real world for about 4 days before it all kicks off again…


Green Man 4

The serendipity lottery is in full spin. I was walking through a field and I ran into an old mate from drama school. We used to go to Glastonbury together back in the day. We immediately slipped into old festival shorthand, and it felt like the perfect company. We also hooked up with a friend from Wilderness, who was working artist liaison round the back. She’s considering going full time into festival work when she leaves university. So she knows all the bands and has strong recommendations for the whole evening.

The four of us spent hours together, moving quickly from band to band, settling where the vibe kept us.

The whole site is lit up at night in all the colours. Music competes with music, and every few steps at night the atmosphere changes completely. One second you’re underwater with long sustained notes, then you’re in a breakbeat rainbow, then it’s a patch of grass where a man in pants with a pint mug is imitating an orang-utan, then it’s a tree with glittery fire and unexpected nocturnal children. Unlike Wilderness they have a license that permits fire, so they build massive bonfires and people spin fire poi, and juggle fire batons. We had a lot of bands to see though. We started at Beak, who was grinding out evolutions of the keyboard madness that first hit the Bristol scene with Portishead. Then King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard for half an hour, in which time my university friend expressed great disappointment that “he didn’t play his aggressive flute. He’s the only man in the world I’ve ever seen make a flute aggressive.”

Then we wandered over to The Walled Garden for Alex Cameron. “If you had an estate, would you have a walled garden?” I’m asked. Yeah. With a maze. And roses. And a hot air balloon. And a secret bit of the maze where there’s always a party. I’d need a pretty big walled garden. Best get working on it.

We went back to catch Mount Kimble. They were extraordinary, or it could’ve just been the state of mind I was in. I mostly remember strobe lighting, and a moment when he told us all his daughter was in the crowd, and she was off to to university in Wales. By the time Kimble was done, two of us had gone to bed. Another old friend emerged from the crowd. I was tired by now though and on survival mode. Most conversation was burnt out of me, but I still wanted to dance a little. I ended up back in the walled garden with all of her university friends. I danced a bit, sat a bit, looked at my watch. It was after 2 so I figured it was legit to crash and said my goodbyes. Excellent random festival night. Things were nicely aligned.

The tents for the performer area are very well placed, right behind the stages that you tend to arrive at last. I wrapped myself up properly this time, and didn’t knock the cork out of my mattress with my feet, so it stayed inflated. And I slept beautifully, warm and happy.

Then this morning, as I was staggering to my morning wee, another old friend first-name-last-named me. He has set up tent right by me, and is here with his wife and daughter, neither of whom I’ve met before. Another lovely bit of convergence, and one that satisfies me that coming to this hilltop field was the right call. Two more nights, and I’m going to enjoy them.

Oh, yes! And I played mini golf. Course of life mini golf. You can’t choose the ball you are. And then various lifestyle choices either help or hinder you as you go on your journey. Here is a young man diligently steering his ball towards consuming apples, instead of donuts or cigarettes. But watch out for the beer!


Green Man 3. If it posts

Last night was the coldest I can remember being. I had a sleeping bag, a blanket and my deflatable mattress, which in theory should’ve been plenty. But my mattress did its usual trick of gently softly lowering me onto the grass as I slept. And the beautiful cloudless sky sucked all the heat through the holes in my tent, and left me curled into a shivering ball on a little bit of rumpled rubber, with a terrible terrible headache.


Occasionally I was sucked into mad dreams, only to be woken by my bladder, the cold, or – once – the loudest sustained fart I have ever heard, about 5 foot from my ear. For a second I thought it was an air raid. At about 4 in the morning I rolled out, stumbled to the loo shivering and mumbling, found it in a delirious semi waking state, audibly berated my prostate for being too big (the beer wouldn’t have helped). I did the deed, successfully navigated back to my tent, crawled in, dragged up all my clothes, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, and unceremoniously dumped the entire contents of my wardrobe on top of my shivering body. They immediately fell off to either side so the whole exercise was pointless. I lay there trying to reclaim any warmth left over from before I succumbed to my bladder, and tried to find the delirious dreams of arctic.


Then the dawn broke and transformed my tent into an oven. I was ejected onto the damp grass with my headache, in order to try and have fun again before a repeat performance tonight. I’m wiser now though. I’m going to sleep in my clothes, in my blanket, in my sleeping bag, in my bivouac, in my tent. Oh yes. Many layers of warmth. And hopefully the headache will be gone by now. It’s caffeine withdrawal, and it’s deliberate. Next week is detox and I’m getting the hardest part out the way early. Coffee is lovely until you stop drinking it, and then it attacks your brain like no other craving I’ve known. I don’t want that going on when I’m post-festival season and having to stop myself on everything else. Booze sugar meat dairy and gluten is plenty to be craving without adding caffeine to the mix.


I’ve had breakfast, which comes with the ticket, school canteen style. Now I’m lying in the entrance of my tent. The only painkillers I’ve got have caffeine, which defeats the object. I’m going to see if I can find an ibuprofen fairy in the campsite, then try and post this, then see about going in to listen to some bands, and do some cards. I’m worried this won’t post. I haven’t been able to get online all morning, so I’m writing this in docs. I’ll try for a photo, but I don’t hold up much hope.

I went around the tents asking for paracetamol and got thoroughly ribbed. “Mate, I know you’ve heard that you’re supposed to wander from tent to tent asking for drugs but you’re missing the point.” But someone came up trumps with codeine eventually. And I was offered some horse tranquilizer…

It’s 11am but I’m gonna try and post. This internet – You get what you’re given.img_20180817_114724-969343576.jpgimg_20180817_114724-969343576.jpg

Green Man 2

The wind is whipping in over the beacons, which is worrying. No rain though. That appears to have passed with no more than a desultory trickle into my tent, miraculously landing directly on top of my TP-link power bar. Incredibly it still works absolutely fine. That thing has now survived being dragged behind a car, being run over, and lying for hours in a puddle. I feel a little bit like it must feel though. One of my tent poles snapped just now collapsing the sleeping section entirely. I have mended it with gaffer tape and hope. I’m having a 1pm beer, relaxing after a cosmic massage, horrified at the prospect of 4 more nights in that canvas disaster area, but too stubborn to get my other tent from the van. Oh Al.

A miracle worker called Rose gave me a holistic massage to die for earlier. I was breezing through the healing fields seeing what’s what and wondering if they had tarot and how much. Check out the rivals… She wanted to get started and offered me a first day deal. I took it, and good God I’m glad I did. Time stopped. I lay face down, occasionally grunting as her hands located all the crap I’ve been storing up and magically dissipated it. Time went weird. As I lay there, entire civilisations were born, prospered, were infected by hubris, and crumbled to nothing. My only conscious memory of the time on that table was to notice she has her festival wristband on her ankle. It was bliss. Apparently it was only half an hour that I lay there. In that time she reminded me how to fly. It’s why the collapsing tent isn’t bothering me right now. What does it matter, now I have wings? If it blows down I can shelter beneath my wings, yes?

I take a moment to speak to the palmist. Jake, I think. He seems still, solid, sad. His wife died recently. I can see they used to be a partnership in this. He has a little gazebo and still works the festival circuit alone. “I can see your yesterdays and your tomorrows,” the sign proclaims. Bold claim. We talk for a while about how people crave the human part of this sort of interaction. Is it necessary to dress it up in oojie-boojie? I mean, yes there are more things in heaven and earth. But…

We compare favourite festivals. He seems sad. There’s a gap next to him. I find myself wondering if his wife did cards, but I decide not to ask.

IMG_20180816_114037.jpgThe sun is trying. Try little sun, try! I’m in line for a relaxing day today. The party starts properly tomorrow, but now it’s the end of the season and I’m running low on party so the plan is to take care of myself, as much as possible whilst living in a field. Despite the lunchtime beer. I might go into site, put a cloth on a table and talk to some strangers for a bit. It seems the time for that sort of thing. I’ve just got to hope that my tent is still here when I get back.

Green Man 1

On the Al Barclay scale of not really thinking it through, I’ve got a strong 8/10 for this one. I’m in Wales, in the Brecon Beacons near Abergavenny. I brought my gargantuan tent. The one that I didn’t bring to Wilderness because it was fucked. I just this second put it up as the rain started. It’s fucked, but it’ll hold barring wind, more rain, someone sneezing, a drunk person tripping on the guy rope or me moving in my sleep. I’ve sort of stuck the thing together with tape and string. And now I’ll be in it for 5 nights fearfully wondering.


Thankfully the van is ten minutes walk from my tent, so worst case I can go crash in the van, wake refreshed, realise I can’t open the door from the inside and cook to death slowly.

Last time I was at Green Man, I was in woolly jumpers and a Yorkshire accent, infecting people with a disease that would turn them into llamas. I made BBC TV Wales – the local news – with an interview both in and out of character. Be still my beating heart. It was a science piece about antibodies. We had had lots of very serious meetings with laptops and scientists. I’m here with the same crowd, only this time…

This time I’m… well… I have a performer wrist band. So I can go backstage and use the decent loos. But I’m… well…

I’m the driver. They had a big van. I’ve driven it. So now I’m just going to the festival. With a posh wristband on that gets me free beer.

I just blew the doors off at Wilderness. I’m not craving hard party. This festival is very far from Wilderness in character and purpose. It’s more cider than campari. More burger than baba-ganoush. When I go I usually think of it as the last festival of my season. I’ve done the dancing. I’ve had the party. Now I can just chill out. Most of the punters are terrifically grounded compared to the Oxfordshire “woke” crowd.

Weird though not to be working. I like to have a focus. I’ve brought my tarot cards. Doubtless they’ll come into play. But I can just relax now the van is up and unloaded. So I’m taking a risk with the blog. Can’t make things too easy for myself.

I have always preloaded blogs for festivals. This one has the worst mobile phone reception by far of all the ones I go to. But I haven’t preloaded anything which means I run the risk of breaking my absurd streak through bad technology. But I’m gonna try.

But there’s no music tonight. Probably no bars open. I unloaded the van which is full of the heaviest mini-golf courses imaginable. While I’ve been writing I’ve gone and sorted my wristband. And now, as the sun is setting, I’m going to wander on site and see what’s what. The whole festival site is surrounded by mountains full of dragons, which makes it beautiful but a rain trap. I’ve never been here and not got drenched to the bone. Here’s hoping…

This would normally go out at 6am Thursday. I’m publishing immediately for the next five days because I haven’t fixed the problem with the Facebook share yet. Screw you Zuckerberg.