Survival guide to the English music festival season

26 Jun

The pub is a staple in almost every English person’s lifestyle. Much like it is to Australians (when we first arrived, introducing ourselves as Australian we would usually receive a ‘ah… crazy drinking Australian’ or similar remark). Although us Aussies do love to sit back and relax with a nice drink and great mates, I personally think the English have this one up on us. London is filled with pubs – you can’t turn around on the street without coming face to face with an old English pub with a beer garden that is full to the brim in summer. It’s almost like a birth right to visit the pub on a Thursday or Friday night (or any other weekday for that matter), and then again on Saturday and Sunday (don’t worry, we don’t visit the pub THAT often!). The words ‘English people’ and ‘pubs’ go hand in hand.

I find it’s a very similar tune with the English and their music festivals. They know how to put on a good music festival. They are hard-core. The most famous one – Glastonbury – has a line up of bands that lasts for five days. Compared to Australia, and I know there are festivals that last for longer than one day, but the UK has literally hundreds of festivals that run over the summer months (450 in 2010 to be exact), all at least a day or two long. I was lucky enough to be able to afford £180 for the three-day Isle of Wight (IoW) festival in early June. The price tag for this camping ticket (all BYO) is extrordinate, but it was reported that 90,000 people attended this festival alone (do the sums!), so it has to say something about how crazy for festivals the English really are. Come to the UK in summer and try to get to at least one festival. They are worth experiencing and after having the pleasure of experiencing one for myself, I can now pass on some wisdom to others:

  • Be prepared for four seasons – winter, summer, autumn and spring variations of weather will crop up at some point during the festival. At IoW, we had cold nights; one day was hot and dry; it was windy at another point during the weekend and on the last day, the heavens opened up and it rained. Actually, it poured! I’m surprised that it didn’t snow as well.
  • Cheap tents will survive, just – our £30 tent from Tescos worked like a charm. Although we did think that the missing fly was actually due to a manufacturing fault, not the fact that our cheap taste in tents actually meant that we only got one layer to protect us from the four seasons we were likely to encounter. But, it didn’t leak and that’s all that matters!
  • Pack appropriate wet weather gear – this includes Wellies and a raincoat, not just street shoes and a plastic poncho. The poncho did the trick, but it wasn’t the most comfortable feeling being wrapped in plastic while the wind and rain battered down on you. The same couldn’t really be said for my shoes, which were thrown the minute I got home. They were OK – I didn’t slip over on my bum in the mud (there were a few close calls), so they did the job. They were initially white, but came home brown and wet (and a tad smelly). What’s worse is it wasn’t until when we were half way home on the train that I was able to change into a pair of dry thongs.
  • Learn the bands – another country = different tastes in music and different bands that English people go crazy for. We saw all the main line ups – Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters, Tom Jones, Eliza Dolittle, Joan Jett – but there were many, many others that we just didn’t know who they were. We also got a little distracted by all the other festivities put on – the market stalls, the silent disco (so much fun by the way), the beach, the free hair styling… the list goes on, but we didn’t see as many bands as we should have.
  • A home away from home – a tent is essential, but bring your whole camping kit – camping chairs, BBQ, shelter, and (more importantly), an Aussie flag. It was tent city at the festival and some people came incredibly prepared. I’m guessing they didn’t have to take public transport to get there!
  • Prepared to go without a shower – this is something that we probably couldn’t do in the sweltering Australian summer. But, with the cooler UK summers, going without a shower for three days wasn’t too much of an issue for us. We had ‘baby wipe’ showers in the privacy of our own tent. It certainly beats waiting literally hours of standing in line for this luxury like some people at the festival did. Personally, I wouldn’t want to waste a minute of my £180 ticket to see the festival on lining up to have a shower.
  • Portable loos – not much to say about these that people don’t already know. Next time, I’ll be packing a gas mask, disposable gloves and spray disinfectant to prepare for the ugliness that is the festival portable loo!

It may sound like the English summer music festival isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, but it’s an experience, like everything else that we’ve done living the English life. It’s got to be done at least once in a lifetime and although I can’t afford to spend £100 plus on another festival ticket this summer, bring on English summer music festival season 2012!

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Liv Hambrett

I write about Germany + Culture + Motherhood + the Meaning of Home

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