Back to the Future with Scott Adams

As the Festival season winds down in Europe, it's lumbering into gear down under. Scott takes a break from his year-by-year reminiscing to remember festivals past...

And so, as we wave goodbye to a wet n’windy winter, we move inexorably closer to Summer, the sound of leather on willow, and uncrontrollably loose-faced young people vomiting copiously in portaloos... Yes! IT’S THE FESTIVAL SEASON!

Of course, as a man safely ensconced in middle age I’ve been to hundreds of the buggers, as a punter, performer and ‘support worker’ (sorry, ‘roadie’), and, as excitement over the upcoming Soundwave Festival inexorably reaches fever pitch, I thought I’d look back over the last 25 years of festival-going and try to rake up a few highlights… Excuse me for a moment whilst I stare into the middle distance, stroking my chin… OK. Thank you. So, in no particular order, here are Back to the Future’s most magnificent festival moments…

(1) Pist.On – I was ‘involved with’ the band’s bassist – the very lovely Val Ium -  at the time (well, at least I was in my mind), and joined them on tour in Germany where they had the opening slot at the legendary Bizarre festival in Cologne. I was put in charge of filming their set, an honour I took very seriously. After setting up the tripod and pressing the red button, I repaired to the complementary artistes and crew’s bar, positioned at the top of a tower in the middle of the arena. Little did I know I’d forgotten to take off the lens cap. A shame, since their performance was what we know in the trade as ‘incendiary’. Later that afternoon, Valerie flew into a rage, trashing my bunk on the tour bus whilst uttering all manner of vile oaths. I made my own way home to England...

(2) The Sex Pistols – They may not have topped Massive Attack at their first reunion show at the Phoenix Festival, but when they headlined their own show in London’s Finsbury Park they were untouchable. I was too young to see them the first time ‘round, but this was good enough. John Lydon was in suitably caustic form, and the band simply smoked – especially guitarist Steve Jones. I walked home through the streets of North London inspired that night.

(3) Venom – the reformed black metallers were enticed over the water to headline Holland’s Dynamo Festival in, I think, 1998, and in one of the great Tapesque moments of all time the band blundered on manfully as their drummer, Abaddon (real name Tony) was enveloped by the bottom part of their backdrop midset. Flailing around like a gauze-covered octopus, the man simply refused to give up, and received a huge roar of approval from the 60,000 crowd when he was finally freed. Marvellous.

(4) Iron Maiden – Maiden were the biggest band in the rock world in 1987, and in 1988 they finally headlined Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival. It absolutely shat down all day, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the 107,000 headbangers in attendance. At one point during Kiss’ staggeringly good set, I turned round to see the mother of all bottle fights taking place. The sky was literally black as thousands of plastic bottles, many filled with piss, hurtled through the late afternoon sky. I nudged my mate Mark’s elbow and shouted in his ear.

“Fucking hell, look at that!” I pointed for him to see. Grinning and nodding in that way that people at concerts do when they pretend they’ve heard you but don’t actually have a clue what’s just been said, he turned, and looked up. A look of surprise came across his face at the scene. At which point, from the melee, describing a graceful arc, appeared what looked like an uncooked meat pie. It looked like that because that’s what it was. And then it hit Mark, with full force, in his still surprised-looking face. Great stuff.

(5) Scit Scat Wah – I don’t often mention my past as a fourth-division heavy metal vocalist, but hey, this is my column, so why the hell not? We’d been asked to open proceedings at the ‘prestigious’ Bulbourne festival in deepest rural England, and the promise of a crate of lager (per man!) gave us all the incentive we needed to put in  an appearance at an event that also featured the Bulbourne Silver Band, the South Midlands Ceilidh Champion Dancers, and some Performing Dogs. Of course, when we go there, nobody had heard of us, much less wanted us to play, and the coachload of fans that turned up to see us were viewed much as you’d think lepers were greeted in the middle ages. The ‘prestigious’ Bulbourne festival actually took place in the beer garden of the village pub, and the look of horror on the faces of the locals as we plugged in and laid into Back and Burning was a joy to behold. Three minutes later the plug was pulled on the PA, but we kept going until local heavies mounted the stage and dragged us off. A full scale scuffle broke out, raging backwards and forwards across the car park until the local constabulary arrived on his bike to restore order. We didn’t get our beer.

(6) Bad News – Bad News was a ‘spoof’ metal band put together for British TV show The Comic Strip Presents… and featured, playing real instruments, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson of The Young Ones fame. Somewhat improbably, they were invited to play at the 1986 Donington Monsters of Rock fest, where, even more improbably, they appeared on the bill above ‘proper’ German band Warlock. Prior to launching the band’s signature track, Vampire Spunk Merchants from Hell, Edmondson, in his guise as band throatsmith Vim Fuego, addressed the crowd…

‘Does anyone here play guitar?”

A huge, throaty roar of affirmation from the 50,000 or so assembled bedroom guitarists – this was an era when bands frequently dragged fans onstage to play with them, so you couldn’t leave a question like that unanswered – surged forth from the throng.

“Well you won’t fucking like this one then!”

And that, as they say, is pure comedy gold. Though it’s true you had to be there.

 (7) Bar Towel Man – All throughout the 80s there used to be a bloke present at every festival – the same man, mind… there could be only one - Who would stroll around the site clad in a three piece suit tailored immaculately entirely out of the towels you find on bars to mop up the spillage. He strode, colossus-like, a walking billboard for Fosters, Carlsberg and Theakston’s Old Peculier, tipping his hat cheekily at the ladies, shaking the proffered hands of the gents like a latter day lord of the manor. I wonder where he is now. BTM – I salute you.

(8) Cradle of Filth – After its initial tiny beginnings in the Dynamo rock club’s car park in Eindhoven, Holland, The Dynamo Festival went on to become a festival circuit staple and one of the biggest metal gatherings of the year. By 1999, thirteen years after its inception, Dynamo Open Air was one of the biggest European metal festivals of all, and that year English Black metal legends Cradle of Filth were booked to play as special guests to American loincloth-clad lunatics Manowar, who by this point in their career had decided that a good way to start the encore section of their show would be for the whole band to arrive onstage on customised Harley Davidson motorcycles – very metal.  1999 had seen the festival site moved to an old landscaped junkyard just outside the city, adjacent to a recently opened golf course. Eagle-eyd CoF frontman Dani Filth had spotted the golf buggies that were pottering around the course in the afternoon sun, and hatched a suitably fiendish plan. Minions were despatched and, as the Manowar entourage entered the backstage compound shortly before Cradle were about to take to the stage, they were confronted with six golf carts parked neatly near the ramps leading to the arena. The Filth’s tour manager was summoned by Manowar’s ‘Minister of Security’.

“Do you know why these golf carts are here?”

“Yes, mate. The band will be driving them onstage before they start their encore.”

Cue various ‘Why I oughta!!” type noises from the aggrieved American. Manowar immediately started to threaten all manner of dire retributions on our plucky English pranksters. The upshot of this was that sixty thousand European headbangers were denied the opportunity of splitting the sides of their leather waistcoats as they chortled happily at the site of our corpsepainted heroes trundling onstage like a set of retired badgers enjoying a leisurely round of skins. Manowar? Humourless? Certainly not.

(9) Volunteers for America. About a week after the 9/11 bombings, rumours came up on the interweb about a series of benefit concerts being staged in the US to raise funds for the New York fire department. The putative bill featured several of my favourite artistes of all time – Journey, Kansas, Styx, Bad Company, REO Speedwagon, Survivor – plus a variety of other smaller attractions. I had to be there. Understandably, plane tickets were extremely cheap at the time, so for the princely sum of 165 quid I was on a plane bound from London for Dallas, Texas and quite possibly the best day’s music viewing of my life.

Of course, the reality was not quite as exciting. A real siege mentality hung over the whole country, understandably enough, but the show itself, which formed part of the Texas state fair, was an absolute corker. By the time Journey rounded off proceedings late on the Sunday night, the atmosphere was electric, and most people had managed to consume enough Coors beer to start throwing off the shackles of Islamist oppression and enjoying themselves. It’s got to be one of the oddest trips of my life – my pump action toothpaste tube was confiscated by US authorities as a possible ‘weapon of dental hygeine’, but ultimately it was one of the best, and certainly the most memorable...

That’s enough festival reminiscence. Next time, normal service will be resumed, when it will be 1988! Til then amigos...