Castle Pillock and the Birds of Paradise

My little Princess is planning her first Glasto.

Not this year, next year.  Last year, when the tickets came out for this year, she wasn’t poised over the computer with her fingers ready to ‘apply’ within ten seconds.  This year, for next year, she and her friends will be hunched over the keyboard with the whole thing on a trip wire.  However quick you are with your application, there’s still no guarantee you’ll get a ticket.  Before long you will have to attend a full day interview and pass a tent erecting test to get a sniff of the short list.

    If she does get tickets, she will have the advantage over me.  Despite my age, I can never be counted as a true child of the sixties and seventies, because I never went to a music festival.  Even in my wild and carefree youth, I had an aversion to mud and tents and queueing for unspeakable lavatories.  Gigs, yes.  A weekend up to my arse in a reconstruction of the Somme, no.

    The Princess is not bothering with the minor leagues, she’s going straight for the premier division.  Her brother did pay his dues at Leeds and Download, and others whose names escape me now, throughout his teens.  He was at Leeds in 2005, when the riot police were called in.  I can’t remember if he actually had a mobile phone back then, but if he did it would have been the cheapest money could buy, with sod all battery life and on Pay As You Go, so bloody useless in an emergency.  I didn’t know if he was dead or incarcerated until the smell of music-festival-boy arrived at the front door about five minutes before he did. 

    I saw some decent gigs when I was younger.  Neil Young, supported by an unknown band called The Eagles.  Lou Reed, although not much of him because it was so bloody loud I spent most of the gig trying not to be sick.  Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Tom Robinson, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees.  The New York Dolls, for some reason.  I saw The Clash outdoors, I think it was at a Rock Against Racism thing, I do remember my feet were hurting and I was busting for a wee.  The Jam.  An unknown band in a pub somewhere where I passed out and was handed over the heads of assorted Hells Angels until I reached the door.  Plus many others I’ve forgotten now, some of them intentionally.

    In 1980, twenty-five years old and with no administrative or business experience, I blagged a job as the senior member of staff for the Students’ Union at my old university.  This was not particularly impressive, as you could count the other members of staff on one hand and have a thumb left over.  However, it did come with one bit of heady power; any cheque signed by a student officer had to be countersigned by me.  It was therefore my responsibility to stay sober enough to see bands were paid the right amount of money at the end of SU gigs. 

    In this capacity I saw The Troggs, one of my favourites since the sixties, enthusiastically beating each other up backstage.  David Essex, already past his prime and a little blurry round the edges, invited me to a party.  (No, I’ve no idea why we booked David Essex.  Both sides must have been desperate at the time.)  Barbara Dickson demanded of me, ‘Do you know who I am?’, to which I could honestly reply, ‘No.’  It was my sad duty to stand in front of a baying crowd and inform them that neither the Sensational Alex Harvey nor his Sensational Band would be appearing, due to ill health.  The Sensational Alex was bereft of all sensation at the time, being pissed off his face on the dressing room floor, not an uncommon occurrence at that particular period of his life.  He did come back and do us a proper gig, and he truly was sensational, as he had been the three previous times I’d seen him.   

    It was also my responsibility to spend two days sitting at a table refunding hundreds of punters because Paul Young, may the bird of paradise fly up his nose, had soared up the charts since we first booked him, and gave us a load of bollocks about having flu when we knew perfectly well he was doing a better paid and more prestigious gig elsewhere.  I was also present when Bob Geldof, may two birds of paradise fly up his rectum, with his effing Rats, destroyed any hope of financial stability we had. 

    It was a small university in those days, with a small Students’ Union, and we didn’t have a Union building.  Our gigs were held in dining halls (universities had them then) or, if we did manage to bag a reasonably sized name, the University’s Central Hall.  There were drawbacks to using Central Hall.  Firstly, we had to pay the university for the pleasure.  Secondly, the acoustics were crap.  Thirdly, it was built on a lake.  Over the actual water, on piles of something.  Roughly twenty years of students boogying their bits off had damaged the piles, and the whole thing was slowly sinking.  There was to be no more dancing.  Any dancing, and we would lose use of the Hall altogether.

    We reasoned, we pleaded, I think we even cried.  We pointed out that we relied on the revenue from the Central Hall gigs to subsidise chunks of other stuff, and no-one would come if they weren’t allowed to move.  We would never attract any decent names to play in a dining room.  We also had two concerts already booked for the Hall, one of which was Bob and the Rats, a guaranteed banker.  The university was implacable. The concerts could only go ahead if we guaranteed there would be no dancing.

    The Union’s book-keeper, another ex-student and a close friend, whom I’d employed in a blazing act of cronyism, stood beside me surveying the cursed hall.

    ‘We’re fucked.’

    We spoke very slowly and very clearly to a member of Mr Geldof’s entourage (the man himself didn’t consort with minions), explaining our situation and pleading with him to convey to Mr Geldof how very important this was to us.  On the night, the student Entertainments Officer refused to go on stage and tell his peers to stay in their seats, so I had to do it.  The book-keeper and I plonked ourselves at the back, and waited. 

    After the first song Bob raised his hand above the clamour and yelled, ‘We’ve been told you’re not allowed to dance.  What the FUCK is that about?  We say, FUCK THAT.  Show the man who’s the FUCKING boss here!  Everybody up!  C’mon, everybody up!  Show the FUCKERS we mean business!  Let’s DANCE.’

    A few of our Students’ Union stewards looked at the book-keeper and me, shrugged their shoulders, and joined in the general festivities.  I closed my eyes and waited for the university tecchies to pull the plugs and leave us with a riot on our hands, but thankfully they didn’t.  They at least had some empathy. 

    The next day I was summoned to the University Bursar’s office.  I dragged the Entertainments Secretary along by his ears and made him listen to the nails being hammered into our financial coffin.

    Make that three birds of paradise up the rectum.

    Still, it expanded my skill set.  During the rest of my time in the job, I learned increasingly creative ways to say ‘The cheque’s in the post’ to assorted creditors.  It stood me in good stead in later life. 

    In 1985, the then President of the SU suggested that we all book for that year’s Glastonbury, a kind of works weekend away to relax and forget our troubles for a bit.  I politely declined.

    ‘Oh come on, you’ll enjoy it.  The Boomtown Rats are playing.’

    ‘Only if I can bring my birds of paradise.’

    Of course, over that summer, Bob Geldof was elevated to sainthood via Live Aid.  OK, grudgingly, the bloke done good on that one.  But there’s still three birds of paradise waiting here for him, should he happen this way.  He can share one with Paul Young.


I'm impressed! Both by you and your daughter. I have worked as an Oxfam Festival Steward at the Beautiful Days Festival in Devon. Stewarding for Oxfam- I did it for three consecutive years a few years before today's truly horrible information about the conduct of some of their aid workers abroad -gives you free entry, free hot drinks in the stewards marquee and your pay for three shifts of eight hours at minimum wage goes to Oxfam. But Beautiful Days is little, only 15,000 tickets. If I went to Glasto I'd be afraid of getting lost!

Well done you for booking the bands for the student concerts. 'Interesting times.'

They were indeed 'interesting times' - for all the bother, it was a great job.  I didn't appreciate it then.  

Made me laugh as always (not easy to achieve first thing in the morning) - so thank you. Also, if you want the email details for stewarding to pass on to the Princess, let me know. I think I have them somewhere (I think you get actual money too)


Might well take you up on that, insert!  Well, she might.  Not me, obviously smiley

I sometimes think of stewarding for Boomtown. My little pillock did not allow me to go when she went as a festival goer. But these days my left hip sometimes aches. Can I face 4 nights in a tent?

No.  I mean, it's none of my business, but four nights in a tent even with no aches sounds beyond the limit of endurance to me.  I have only ever been in a tent on one occasion, for three nights.  It was in the Lake District.  I was in love.  It rained all the time and there were sheep. Even with the love - no. 

no interest in music. but really enjoyed reading this. the rats being rats does't surprise me. Nor does saint bob being an arsehole. what surprises me is so many folk wanting to live in a shitty tent and listen to dross. Then again, anything to do with fitba and the shoe is on the other foot. 


Thanks celtic.  The fitba does nothing for me.  Neither does most of the dross these days.  I'm trying to grow old disgracefully but by God, a settee and a cup of tea and a nice BBC 4 documentary is what really floats my boat now.