from the Fpg Diaries / Elephant Fayre

Updated on February 24, 2020
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Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

EF Base Camp 1
EF Base Camp 1

Elephant Fayre

Towards the end of that really wet Glastonbury, we noticed a completely sodden note under a wiper on the van’s windscreen (good thinking guys!). It was barely legible, but we could just make out it was from the “Elephant Fayre” stage. I went over there as they were packing up and found their team boss who said, “Yes, we posted that note days ago. We wanted you to play here.” Their stage was bigger than the Acoustic Stage in those days so I was not a little pissed off, but he offered us a contract to play at the Elephant Fayre itself, a few weeks later. I’d heard of it but never been. It seemed so far away, but immediately said Yes.

It became another of our favourite venues. Located just the other side of Plymouth in deepest Cornwall, it was a beautiful beautiful site. Clearly maintained and manicured when it wasn’t being used for the festival, it belonged to elements of the junkie end of the UK landed ruling class. A geezer by the name of “Lord” Perry had inherited it (and presumably the associated seat in the pathetic and ridiculously anachronistic “House of Lords”) from a long line of noble peasant killers. He had, however, been sufficiently influenced by the 60s to want to mix it with the “swinging” counter culture.

Organisationally, it was a shining, if slightly militaristic, example to all the festival administrators on the circuit. To protect Perry’s mansion, security was pretty tight. There were not one but two lines of high metal fencing, with a good 20 yards of DMZ or “no man’s land” in between, which separated the main body of campers from the central entertainment areas. The mansion itself was allegedly protected by off-duty elements of the navy’s SBS (Special Boat Service).

Occasionally there were small gigs of the less rowdy acts in one of the grand ground floor rooms of the house. One early morning I happened to be off my face (again) after an all night patrol and incapable of sleep. I was standing mesmerised outside this grand room watching / listening to a gentle guy playing exquisite hammer dulcimer. A couple of hippies approached me to ask if they could look at the tattered programme I was holding, half-stuffed into my jacket pocket. “Sure,” I said, passing it over. As they handed it back with thanks, I sensed movement off my aft port quarter. I turned to see a slightly muscular clean cut guy in straight civvies making his way towards me. Staring straight at me but without asking, he reached for the same tatty programme I was again holding, half-stuffed into my jacket pocket and yanked. Staring back into his steely blue eyes from the depths of my enstonement, I refused to let go. “May I see your programme?” he now asked, looking no less steely. I simply stared into his eyes without letting go of anything. For a few moments we stood there, staring into each other’s eyes, him probably thinking of the one hundred and thirty seven ways he knew how to kill me; me thinking, wow, those are incredibly blue eyes and wondering vaguely if there was consciousness behind them. Still staring, he tugged once more, then shrugged, turned and stalked back to the door he had, I guess, been guarding.

But, ruling class security aside, it was always a wonderful event. Although not usually attracted to the big music stages, I wanted to see Linton Kwesi Johnson who was there one year. And I was not disappointed. I was totally uplifted. Those pounding words. That rock steady rhythm. That tight cohesive unit up there, looking out over us like a small dark forest of magnificent trees. Being a rhythm kind of guy, I was especially drawn to the rhythm guitarist. This guy was unswervingly unsmiling, clean-shaven and short-haired, no rasta locks, and wore what I would have called conservative white boy college grad clothing. But he was so clearly zoned into what he was doing that I’m not entirely sure he was with us at all, let alone being the driving force of that heavenly pulsing assembly. Despite eyes cast off into the middle distance and looking as though his mind was anywhere but here and now, he held down that off beat mmm cha mmm cha like an immaculate possessed living metronome, pausing absolutely spot on cue at regular intervals to give occasional additional emphasis to Linton’s blisteringly evisceratingly critical but shining and inspirational spoken lyrics.

We became known to the volunteer security guys on the campsite side of the aforementioned DMZ. They would often switch their walkie-talkies on so that our sounds were transmitted to lonely night shift staff all over the site. The campsites, as was so often the case at these festivals, were themselves hugely entertaining. Organisationally illegal bars and clubs and small stages would spring up all over the place and we would dutifully try to get round to them all. We might occasionally be gently infiltrated by the more intoxicated elements of the viewing mini-throngs in those unregulated settings, but never enough to interrupt our stoned but self-induced “professionalism”. At least one completely naked bearded acid tripper made it up on to one of the improvised stages to dance like an unbalanced spider between us as we played Cajun Moon or Along the Watchtower. People would often, long afterward, reflect on how perfectly these interventions worked as we dodged and pirouetted around the more flamboyant gesticulations.

One of the small bars on the main site was run by a couple of the regular staffers from the site crew bar at Glastonbury. They were ardent supporters and often had our tapes playing, but when we appeared in the flesh they would inevitably ply us with copious amounts of whatever they had in stock to keep us on location. One time, due to some rainfall, we were outfitted in our black suits and staying under cover longer than usual. Nevertheless, as we finally took our leave and backed off into the night playing “There’s a long distance train, running through the rain, tears on the letters that I write”, they were, literally, on their knees, following us, begging, imploring our little black guitar amps to stay, stay, just a little bit longer.

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    © 2020 Deacon Martin

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      • Bushra Iqbal profile image

        Aishatu Ali 

        6 weeks ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

        Always a great read!

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