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» Festivals

A long time ago in a century far away...
If your parents were born in the 1930s and never quite "got" The Beatles or The Rolling Stones (because they were already pushing 30 by the time those bands hit the big time) then they were hardly prepared for the tastes and attitudes of their 1960s-born kids.

Being born in the 1960s was a weird journey on its own: cutting your pop teeth on the likes of Slade and T Rex, getting to big school when Mike Oldfield, Led Zep and Pink Floyd were the coolest things on the planet only to find within 2-3 years that this was a load of old shite and we should rush out and buy The Clash and Never Mind the Bollocks...

But formative experiences cut deep and when it was announced that Led Zeppelin were playing Knebworth in 1979 (I was 16), this seemed like the the gig you could not miss, despite a couple of years of punk creating a major cultural divide in the country: either you were for Led Zep or agin 'em. Or somewhere perched on the fence in the middle where you owned Pretty Vacant as a 7" single but still couldn't imagine anything better than the drums cutting in at *that bit* in Stairway to Heaven and the idea that you might even get to see this happen live.

Remember that I was 16.

Context: I was old enough to have a summer job from school holidays, I had saved up enough for a ticket and a train fare.

"Mum, can I go to a concert?"

"Well, I suppose so. Have you saved up enough?"

"Oh yeah. Easily enough."

"Where is this concert?"

"Somewhere called Knebworth. In England."

(Did I mention that I'm from Aberdeen?)

"Who else is going?"

"Hamish and Keith."

Hamish and Keith were nice boys, geeky in their own way and patently trustworthy - much like the teenage me I guess - so this was deemed to be acceptable.

"I suppose so then," she said and we were off.

In more recent years I have asked 30- and 40-something parents from Aberdeen, "Would you let your 16 year old go to, say, Glastonbury?" and they give me that 'don't be absurd, you're not a parent are you' look. A 16 year old? All the way to the south of England? To a rock festival? With drugs and things? Now? No Way At All.

Of course, back in the day my dear old mum had no way of knowing what Led Zep at Knebworth would be like. The last major public cultural event she had attended was either The Corries at His Majesty's Theatre, or Paint Your Wagon (starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood) at the Gaumont cinema.

But why was Knebworth such a big deal? Given the longevity of rock bands now, people kind of take for granted that careers go on for decades. Even when someone has died, you can still pick up their work on iTunes, or for free. Back in 1979, Led Zeppelin had been off the road for a couple of years; the band had endured a few disasters, punk had come along and this was all before the era of CDs or MP3s. If you want to read more, check out the Wikipedia entry...


They had formed in 1968, had enjoyed an unprecedented run of success but towards the late 1970s were they washed up? Would a couple of major festival shows in Hertfordshire be a triumphant comeback or a cultural embarrassment? Had punk killed them off? As far as I can remember, they hadn't played gigs in the UK at all for several years; Wikipedia says this has to do with tax exile status - a lot was hanging on the Knebworth shows and these were bound to be big: six figure crowds, crucial for the band...

Into this jamboree stepped three teenage laddies from Aberdeen who had absolutely no idea what they were doing.

The overnight train ride from Aberdeen to London was Enid Blytonesque in its quaintness: three go mad on the sleeper. Drink? Drugs? No - juice and Jacobs Club chocolate biscuits. As far as I recall none of us had been to London before and we had a vague idea that we got off at King's Cross then had to get another train to Stevenage. Internet? Didn't exist. Maps? Hadn't bought any. GPS? LOL. Mobiles? ROFL. We made the connection then got off the train in Stevenage and worked out which way to go by following the crowd, essentially like following a football crowd to the away stadium except these were hippies and we were looking for the grounds of a stately home.

Somewhere we must have stopped to buy lager although just a few as we didn't have heaps of money: cheapo Heineken when it came in bland grey cans. Somewhere in Stevenage I seem to remember two people having a 69er on a bench. I tried not to stare.

The campsite seemed miles although when I look it up on Google maps now it can't have been too much of a schlep. We camped (two tents I think) then settled down, waiting for the gates to open the next morning. Other campers wanted to liven things up by throwing stuff around and a big section of the campsite turned into a two-ended adversarial throwing contest, a bit like a medieval football match. All kinds of crap was being lobbed from one end to the other, mostly just to pass time. Do I remember burning tents? Is that a trick of distant memory? It was pretty chaotic but eventually we tried to get some sleep...

At this point I'll borrow from another account I found on the web:

"There was a huge build up of people outside the entrance on the eve of the concert. Twice they knocked the fence down and eventually a row of police with dogs and Land Rovers was needed on the park side of the fence to hold the tide until the arena staff arrived and they could be let in. Amazingly there were no accidents. It was impossible to visit the campsite that evening as the vast number of fans made it quite scary. At 3 a.m. we gave in and opened the turnstiles. Fans slipped through in the darkness and ran towards the front of the stage for an eighteen hour wait for Led Zeppelin."
Chryssie Lytton Cobold (one of the family that owns Knebworth House)

My own memory of the anarchy was that there seemed to be a lot of shouting, running and movement in the middle of the night; we got out of the tents and decided to go with the flow then promptly lost each other in the dark. After a bit of a wait and a bit of a crush, the entrance was opened, I was separated from my mates, and I was in a field of something like an estimated 210,000 people at Silly O'Clock wearing just a T-shirt and a light sports kagoule, clutching a four pack of Heineken and wondering, "What happens now?" The answer was, wait. Sleeping was hardly possible, I had no one to talk to, searching for my mates seemed impossible, so with the idiot stoicism of a 16 year old I settled down to the long interregnum between getting in (3-4am?) and the first act taking the stage in the early afternoon.

Chas & Dave.

Yes, Chas & Dave.

There were two gigs at Knebworth in August 1979 and we got tickets for the first, so the lineup went: Chas & Dave, Fairport Convention, The New Commander Cody Band, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes, Todd Rundgren, then the headliners.

I can honestly say that all these years later I remember precisely two things about the support acts. Firstly, there was a babe ten or twenty yards behind me dancing away for part of the day wearing a loose top and no bra. She held my attention better than some of the music. Secondly, this was 1979. In the previous couple of years both Saturday Night Fever and Grease had been massive movies and massive in the pop charts. In the middle of the evening, Todd Rundgren took the stage and introducing one song said, "Now we're gonna turn Knebworth into the world's biggest DISCO!!!" to the sound of 210,000 rock fans booing.

And then? Eventually? After the overnight train ride to London, the voyage to Stevenage, the barney at the camp site and getting in a good 18 hours before the main act took the stage, there were Led Zeppelin. And they were bloody good.

Set list for the 4 August show:

I remember Heartbreaker being the last tune, even now. I don't remember that they prefaced this with In The Evening (from their 'new' album), then Stairway to Heaven, Rock & Roll and Whole Lotta Love.

Some time later I found my tent again, found Hamish and Keith (after nearly 24 hours on my own) and we got a bit of kip before heading back to Stevenage, back to London, then back to Aberdeen. It was a long jaunt.

Nine or ten months later we'd left school and gone our separate ways to uni; we never really saw each other again. Do they read this website? I have my doubts. Also around 14 months after the Knebworth gigs, drummer John Bonham managed to drink himself to death one night, finishing off the Led Zep myth once and for all. He was 32.

No Quo, no mud, no rubbish sex. But that's the experience...
(Thu 4th Jun 2009, 22:07, More)

» Stalked

je m'appelle Therese
i live in ... well ... it does not matter where i live. this year i shall be 53 years old. shit. okay. i live in a small town near bordeaux. during the day, i work in the magasin of a local vineyard. no one comes in winter. in summer we have english and germans buying our wine by the case. some is okay, some is not. we are not a grand cru of any classification. some is okay. i get a case a month to take home. i live alone. no man. no children. people ask me now why and i do not know what to say. sure, there were guys, but no marriage. when i was young, i had fun. the late '70s, a little drugs, le punk rock, paris, nothing serious. but then i stayed in that life. other girls from school, they married. weddings with the local priest in small towns, but not me. i kept living like i was still 19. maybe for too long. i remember even now the year i was 30: 1985. maybe it should have changed that year. i worked in a foyer, it was easy. be a friend for the kids, clean up a little, make sure things never got crazy. sometimes i was bored. sometime i liked it. i was old, but not too old. some of the kids i lived with were maybe 22, 23. one night i remember a girl saying, 'let's go to the cinema.' i had nothing to do. i went. she had this english guy with her. he was different to the french students i met. he made me laugh. the movie was his idea and it was some crazy english thing about fascists and plumbers and i do not know what. crazy. i did not have energy to concentrate so i looked at him sometimes. he made me laugh. he laughed when i did not expect. i laughed too but i do not think he saw.
it was 1985 and many people were worried about the cold war. reagan was elected again. madam thatcher was in england. they argued with the russians. i was 30 and i lived with kids who did not think they would be 40 because there would be a war. the english guy made me laugh. i thought, why not? i kissed him later, then we fucked. more than one time. sure, i had a boyfriend but it was not serious. we did not love. with the english guy it was also not love, but it was different. my first time with a foreign guy. different.
he went to london, but when he came back he was in love, for real, with an english woman. i did not know how i felt. we tried to fuck but it was not the same. he left. i never saw him again.
i stayed at that foyer for six years more, then i thought i was getting too old to talk to kids about drugs and flics. too old for paris maybe. i went to my small town near bordeaux. there were no interesting guys. maybe one or two, in time, but nothing true. i am okay now. i have my apartment and my work at the vineyard. sometimes i think of the english guy from '85. he was different.
(Mon 4th Feb 2008, 20:36, More)

» The worst sex I ever had

Never answer your mobile when someone's sucking your cock
they will hit you - and you will have deserved it
(Mon 18th Jun 2007, 10:48, More)

» The Dark

I was driving up the wrong side of Loch Awe ...
... not the main road, the sensible A819 that cuts up, cross country, from Loch Fyne before hitting Awe's north end, nor indeed the B840 that goes alongside the loch's eastern shore ... but the single track logging road, full of potholes, that runs from the tiny village of Ford to the hamlets of Dalavich, Inverinan and Kilchrenan among others, seldom visited places, quiet always except for the rumble of forestry lorries and the exclamations of affronted sheep ... the road does eventually wend its way back to something that might be marked on a map ... eventually

it was a curious route but i was heading from the old neolithic stones in Kilmartin to the hotel at Ardanaiseig and main road options would have added many, many miles to the journey ... the pitted, holed, single track was the best and shortest bet and since it was night time there was no need to worry about the view; this was an issue of time and efficiency, not aesthetics

i tempted fate with the hire car's suspension on several occasions, bouncing and crashing through unseen potholes, and was most of the way to Ardanaiseig when a thought occurred ... if i slowed down and turned the beams off on this lonely road, i would be in perfect darkness... so i did

there were clouds scudding by in the winter sky but stars were clearly visible: bright, faraway, tempting stars ... sky gems for tales and projections, fantasies of old gods and future, empirical possibilities ... they were beautiful, so i thought i might get out of the driver's seat for a moment, stand on the tarmac, smell the trees and the heather, damp at night, and witness the speckled sky at first hand rather than through a pane of safety glass ...

as i stepped out, i felt a sudden unease ... as if i was immediately vulnerable, naked outside my little metal bubble ... although i could see the stars and the cloud shapes, the land around was as dark as can be imagined - ancient, boreal darkness ... and perhaps my unease reflected a deep-seated genetic memory of beasts and predators crashing out from the gathered gloom to trouble our less fortunate ancestors; perhaps i'm just scared of the dark ... i was thinking about this, telling myself i was a grown man, not to worry about childish anxieties then the noise came ... like a dog suddenly running close by, panting, it was all so fast ... one moment i was standing by the car, the next a pure adrenalin rush of fear-flight-fight flooded through me ... i had no idea what was coming but it reached me in seconds, very few seconds, hot breath and wetness on my face, something hairy, unknowable and muscular, a capable, maleficient agent of the night come for me, oh christ it had come for me ...

my hand span out, blindly, to strike it away .. i turned, i shrieked like a woman, i had never felt so alive or so endangered, so present but so aware that any second could bring pain ... and still i heard the pad of its feet right by me, the horrible panting sound, and i did not know which way to turn to defend myself - and then i heard the voice, oh my god a voice ...

"Sheba! Dinna bother the man Sheba, come here now, he's probably hae'in a pee, come here, come here..."

Yes I had nearly shat my pants because a fucking collie - being walked by some bloke from one of the houses at Coillaig – had bounced up on me from nowhere and licked my face...
(Fri 24th Jul 2009, 0:13, More)

» My Greatest Regrets

it was ...
over two feet long and nearly five feet wide at its largest extent ... elegant, long-legged and with a long neck ... the bill was long, thick and a beautiful yellow, while the black legs and feet contrasted ideally with the snow-white plumage ... when i saw it fly away with that graceful neck curved in an S shape, i thought to myself, 'that was surely my greatest egret.'
(Sat 7th Oct 2006, 23:36, More)
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