from the FPG Chronicles / Glastonbury

Updated on June 16, 2020
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Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

Glastonbury

No, we weren't booked to play the pyramid stage, nor any other stage at that point. We were hired on as one of the mingling natural theatre acts and left to do as we saw fit.

For us this meant night patrolling, which had the added advantage that I was free to catch the rest of the festival during the day (I hardly slept at all) and, for me, this meant re-finding all my old heroes and many new ones in the fringe theatre and circus areas. I rarely visited the big music stages which were usually too loud and trying too hard for my tastes. I went for the nooks and crannies and small cabaret stages where I felt the truly mesmerising stuff was happening.

Glastonbury was and is the mothership of the multidisciplinary outdoor festivals. It was already large and getting larger. Some of the regulars on the festival circuit felt it was too big and that it was becoming more like a small crime-ridden city than the more natural, peaceful, optimistic events we’d fallen in love with. But for me, it was a shining example of how far you could go with the basic Albion model - stallholders paying rent to support the arts and punters, drawn by the arts, paying through consumption of stallholder goods and services. It was demonstrating the perhaps infinite scaleability of that model. Organisationally, it was really a collection of smaller festivals, with different teams entirely in charge of their own physical areas, their own budgets, and their own order of events. The better a team performed in terms of punter attraction and satisfaction, the larger their budget grew in the following year.

My feeling was that this model of nomadic temporariness could and should be used to replace some of the more permanent and crass fixtures of the outside world, such as shopping centres and theme parks.

Our small part in this vast panoply of human creativity and syndico-anarchy was, as touched upon above, to patrol. We would wander around in the dark (surprisingly invisible considering we were wearing white boiler suits) whilst keeping an eye out for likely settings. These might be small campfires with just two or three people or a crowded late-night bar or, best of all, a cluster of festival staff and performers we would recognise as having blown us away previously with their ingenuity and talent.

The format was always the same. We would observe a target site for visual and other qualities and, if it stood “the indefinable test”, we would switch on. Standing in the distance, we would simply start playing a few introductory chords, carefully observing the target site for signs of acoustic awareness. People would collectively pause, and then peer around in all directions through the darkness like a tribe of meerkats. We would then advance slowly, watching as the meerkats, attracted by the little red lights from our electronics, gradually focussed in our direction as we hove into view. Playing, we would stroll to the edge of their light and break into the first gentle song. Mouths agape, they would carry on staring us up and down until the last strains of the first song disappeared into the ether. There would be a moment of silence as they stared at us and then each other. And then, inevitably, uncontrollable smiles would break out, often followed by outright rolling laughter and calls for more. We would respond with four or five more songs, interspersed with witty exchanges of chatter and general quiet proclamations about how, yes, we were the world’s first rough terrain band and, yes, were “responsible for security on the entire site”. We would then fire up one of our more haunting “Goodnight” songs and, with the meerkat faces silent and staring, fade backwards into the darkened periphery of the night again.

As time went on, of course, many campers became familiar with us and would resort to inducements to get us to stay longer. These were usually in the forms of abused substances and beverages which meant we might often end our patrols, as the dawn began to light the eastern sky, wondering where the fuck we were. I distinctly remember one large campfire scene which held us on the promise of a joint. We played but the joint didn’t appear. We were beginning to feel a little miffed and about to back away when Nick pointed and said, “Look.” I followed his direction and spotted a heavily bearded guy rolling a magnificent spliff about a foot long, and, sure enough, it was fired up and passed over to us.

One late evening at that first Glastonbury, Des didn’t appear at suiting up time. Nick and I waited for a while but then set off on our own. The advent of Nick had slightly sidelined Des, but he was encouraged to play in the lower registers and was bringing in a sort of bass end. I’d been thinking perhaps I’d ask him to switch to bass properly, but, as we patrolled that night, it became evident that Nick’s playing was plenty rich enough to not require any further elements. Nick was also, in spite of the age difference, much more in tune with my mindset and my perhaps idiosyncratic existential sense of humour. In the absence of Des, a much more fiery form of at times very dark humour set in as we staggered about in hysterics between performances. Des, to his amazing credit, did actually suit up that night and did set off to find us. No mean feat given the night and the enormous size of the Eavis farm site, he did manage to track us down before dawn and joined in fairly seamlessly. But it became evident that he was a bit of a damper on the escalating abstract hilarity between gigs. Also, being in full time work, he was generally less flexible than us layabouts, and, apart from some limited studio sessions, didn’t really play with us again thereafter.

So the die was cast and Nick and I, being both much more of the same mind and without “jobs”, really hit the road. In addition to the fayres and festivals we loved, we did loads more demos, blockades, and the occasional stoner’s private party. We’d honed our systems down to the bare essentials so the Transit van became a model of militaristic economy and efficiency. Suits and webbing on hangers, guitars in sturdy cases, guitar amps and effects pedals in dedicated lidded wooden boxes (which also doubled as seats), and poles and canvas strapped on to the steel rooftop carrier. The van itself was multi-coloured - black and white on the sides, blue and red and white on the front and back. Very confusing for police who frequently stopped us and variously reported over their crackling radios that they’d apprehended a blue or black or red van. With a fairly modest flying FPG logo on the sides, even our fans rarely figured out who we were in the light of day. I recall exiting one festival site and being held up in the traffic. A seated group of hippies were relaxing and casually watching the confusion when one of them happened to spot the FPG logo. I saw his eyes focus, frown, and then widen and swing towards me on the driver’s side. I smiled as we gazed into each other’s eyes momentarily, and suddenly a broad grin of recollection broke out over his smoked campfire face. As he turned to his pals, pointing, the traffic lurched forward and we moved on.

The van

We didn’t just play the larger groups around the larger fires. We might be passing a two person pup tent with a torch inside and evidence of movement as a couple nattered and prepared for bed. I would say, imperiously, through my reverb’d head mike, “Do not be afraid. This is the Flying Patrol Group.” The movement and nattering would stop immediately and there would be a moment of impeccable listening stillness. Then we would play some gentle opening chords and notes and break into a soft song. Meerkat heads would appear at the pup tent door, wondering what on earth could be going on. If there was no campfire, it must have been even more disorienting as, I’m guessing, they could only see vague white shapes and three or four electronic red lights, but they would soon relax and enjoy. A few times we would offer them “the world’s smallest indoor concert” and crawl in with them to play, horizontally, a couple of numbers and score a spliff.


© 2020 Deacon Martin

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    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Anya Ali 

      4 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      'The van itself was multi-coloured - black and white on the sides, blue and red and white on the front and back. Very confusing for police who frequently stopped us and variously reported over their crackling radios that they’d apprehended a blue or black or red van.' Hahahaha!

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