Saturday, 21 May 2016

Festivalized - R2 (Rock 'N' Reel) Review

Boff Whalley reviews 'Festivalized' in the new issue of R2 (Rock 'N' Reel) magazine:

Ian Abrahams & Bridget Wishart
Gonzo Multimedia

I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book, to be honest. The cover, typesetting and general layout are a computer-generated mess of fuzzy images and jumbled styles. But I sat down and started reading, and reading, and I was quickly drawn into a warm mud bath of circled tents and vehicles, guitar noise everywhere, smoke, fire, and all-night conversations.

It’s a great book, in fact. With little running commentary it gathers the words of a huge cast of people, - famous, infamous, and not-at-all famous – and allows them to tell the fascinating history of the UK festival scene from its first stirrings (hippies, tipis, and bits of scaffolding pole), through its wayward, unexpected and shocking journey (countercultural takeovers, Hell’s Angels, punks, media fame) and eventually to its fizzling-out, slumped in a corner of a field on a horrific come-down after a night where nobody was sure if Hawkwind actually turned up and played or not. Or, in the case of a particularly nasty festival at Telscombe Cliffs in 1990, whether Hawkwind had managed to get out alive.

It's an amazing narrative, a classic tale of rise and fall, and the way it’s told by all the different voices makes it hum with the truth. When I was a kid in Lancashire I went to the annual Deeply Vale festivals, firstly as a cynical young punk but gradually recognising the love and effort – chiefly put in by ‘the hippies’ – that went into building the festival scene, in creating an outside phenomenon that could be fun, wild and beautiful whilst being everything that parents and politicians were scared of… let’s hear it for live music, fires, drugs, and sex!

This is a book whose story is ultimately sad, since its punchline is a summerful of ‘boutique festivals’ fleecing huge amounts of money from the wealthy end of the middle class in their fancy wellies hoping to catch some American R&B diva on the main stage. But within this history of the festival scene there is a huge amount of love, of community, of defiance, and of hope. And that’s a story worth telling.

Boff Whalley

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