When The Wheels Touch Ground

It is an obvious truth that none of us has ever been older than we are today. But do we always feel our age? Over recent months I’ve been ill a fair bit, and have been feeling way short of my best, but that had never made me feel old. But, last Friday, I did. The reason for that is shown in this post from my Instagram that evening:

For anyone who doesn’t know of it, Glastonbury is the biggest music festival in the UK. It began in 1970, when it was more of a hippy trip than a fully blown extravaganza, but has grown to the point where it sells out 200,000 tickets at around £200 each, within hours, and without having announced any of the acts who will be playing. I guess the punters want to be there so much that they’re happy to take the risk that over six stages and four days there will be something to make the financial investment worthwhile, not to mention the privations of living in a tent in what are usually fields of mud – though not this year, as the weather gods smiled.

In all honesty, I’ve never really been a fan of music in the open air. Call me a boring old traditionalist, but there is something about an indoor venue with good acoustics which I find unbeatable – for me, it isn’t the same when the music just wafts away into the air. The nearest I’ve ever got to a festival was the Isle of Wight in 1970 – the UK’s answer to Woodstock from the previous year. A group of us had planned to ride our motor scooters to the festival but in the end it didn’t happen. I think it was something to do with our mums finding out! In the mid 70s the local council in Harlow, where I lived at the time, ran several free concerts in the Town Park. I remember seeing Thin Lizzy there in 1975, Fairport Convention and (ahem) Mud in 1976 – we only went to see Mud as the DJ between acts was the guy who we’d had at our wedding the previous year, honest! After that, memory is a little hazier, though I think we saw the Glitter Band (without the disgraced one) and the Real Thing, amongst others – my ex-wife’s musical taste was a lot more pop-oriented than mine! There were also rumours that an up and coming band called AC/DC were going to play, but that may be apocryphal and they didn’t show up anyway. It may have been the acts we saw, but for most of the shows I found myself people watching, and as the music was far from memorable my view of open air concerts had been set in stone in the canyons of my mind (bonus points if you get that reference!)

But I digress. Back to Glastonbury last weekend. Although I’ve long felt that the festival has moved miles from its roots and is now no more than a giant moneymaker, paying the bands far less than they would get elsewhere because they know it looks good on their CV, the television coverage by the BBC has expanded too, and I usually enjoy some of what they offer. So, as usual, I tuned in last Friday. My first thought was that the presenters were awful. Firstly, there was Jo Whiley, who was wearing a dress made out of those silver wraps they give marathon runners after a race, set off by a pair of off-white baseball boots and black ankle socks. She’s only 51 after all, so maybe she hasn’t fully developed dress sense yet. And I found her giggly school kid act too much to bear. With her was a guy who looked like the love child of Julianne Moore and Mick Hucknall – to my eyes he was a bearded hipster twat. I couldn’t find a sick bag, but was relieved when they actually stopped gushing and telling us how ‘awesome’ everyone was (how I hate that word!) and played some music. Firstly, Kris Kristoffersen, whose songs I’ve enjoyed for many years. Sadly, he was showing every one of his 81 years, and looked and sounded awful. I tried their other channel, which was showing the band Elbow. To be fair, I’ve never understood their popularity, and this performance did nothing to change that: feeble vocals, over tuneless dirges which all sounded the same and dragged interminably. But Jo and the Bearded Twat told me that Elbow were, you guessed it, awesome – so I began thinking that maybe it was me. It was at that point that I took to Instagram. Maybe you can see how I felt, and there were still two days of potential disappointment to come!

I know, I can hear you saying it was my choice to watch and I could have switched over, but the event promised so much and there is that feeling of not wanting to miss out on the good bits. So, like a hapless victim, I tuned in again on Saturday. I saw some of the sets by the Kaiser Chiefs – always fun – and Katy Perry – one of those pop acts that I think shouldn’t be there. Not really my cup of tea, and not a patch on Lady Gaga when she played there some years ago – she really does know how to put on a show wearing silly clothes! For me, the main attraction was always going to be the Saturday headliners: the Foo Fighters. They aren’t to everyone’s taste, and you need to switch off the swearometer when Dave Grohl speaks, but boy do they put on a show! Two hours twenty minutes flew by in a flash, and suddenly all was right in my Glastonbury world again. Sunday was a bit of a let down, though – Barry Gibb was passable, the Killers a little off par, and as for the headline act – Ed Sheeran – sorry, but I just found him incredibly tedious.

I’ve looked at the BBC’s website to catch up on acts I missed, but there was nothing that really took my fancy. So, that looks like that for another year – well, two actually, as 2018 is one of their ‘fallow’ years when they give the Worthy Farm cows a chance to recover from their deafness. But at least I have the memories of Saturday night. They even played this one, which they don’t always do, and as it is my favourite of theirs that was a real bonus:

As the man says, ‘when the wheels touch ground’ you’re ready for another round in life. And as I’ve often said that music possesses restorative powers, I’m happy to confirm that I’m not feeling quite so old any more 😊

#SaturdaySongs No.9 – Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head

For today’s #SaturdaySong I’ve chosen a track from one of those milestone moments we all have in our lives. The album which included this song was released in late September 1972, a week before I made the huge step of going to university. Apart from holidays and school trips this was to be the first time I had ever lived away from home, and the magnitude of that moment is still etched in my memory. The album in question is Catch Bull At Four, which was the fourth album by Cat Stevens in his singer/songwriter career (he had to take a year out after his earlier pop career, having been very ill with tuberculosis). As I already owned the previous three it was a nailed on certainty that I would buy this one too, and I was in the record shop the day it was released.

Cast your mind back to those days. We consumed our music mostly by the medium of vinyl. Cassettes were becoming more popular, but still had some way to go before they were a main medium – many albums were still released on vinyl only. Vinyl albums were heavy and bulky, and I was travelling to uni by train, so it was impossible to take my record player and albums with me. It was a further five weeks before I could get a lift home for a weekend and pick up my music, and knowing that this separation was about to take place I played the album almost every waking moment before I left for my step into the wild world. Today’s song is this:

That has always been my favourite song on that album and for me is inextricably linked with going to university and taking a big stride into my future life. I never saw Cat Stevens play live at that time, although I would have loved to, but I did finally see him much later. His records were released on the Island label, and to celebrate 50 years of the label they ran a series of concerts for a week in May 2009. I was lucky enough to win a ticket in a newspaper competition and spent one of the most magical evenings of my life reliving all of those years. By then he had converted to Islam and was known as Yusuf Islam, but he had retained the connection with his previous musical life – it still made him money for his foundation – and when he sang the first of his early songs, Where Do The Children Play from the Tea For The Tillerman album, it felt like the whole audience was singing along with him. I found a cosy place to watch the concert, and was joined by a group of people who worked for Island Records. They were as surprised as the rest of us at an unannounced appearance of U2, who performed a four song acoustic set, and I came within 10 minutes of being asked to the backstage party: unfortunately, the spare pass they had was claimed late in the evening by the record company owner’s son for his girlfriend, who had lost hers. It was still a wonderful evening though.

If you’ve been following my #SaturdaySongs you’ll know that I said I would be devoting this month to seasonal songs, and may be wondering why I’ve chosen this one. Listen to the story told in the song and you’ll understand why: if this isn’t a modern-day retelling of the nativity then I don’t know what is! Granted, it isn’t a virgin birth, but the gift of a son blessed with wisdom and magical powers is unmistakeably linked, and I make no apologies for including it in my December selections.

Videos of the song are very hard to come by, and the one above is the best sound quality that I could find. As a bonus, here is a much more recent version, taken from a concert less than three months ago. It is wonderful that Cat/Yusuf is still performing this song 44 years on, and the respectful, rapt silence of the audience adds to the gravitas, I think:

“I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned, and Love is All, he said.”