After last year's success selling cigar box guitars at Glastonbury, we decided to have another shot at it. My sales manager (and daughter) Anne completed the application in October of last year...and early in March we heard that we'd been offered a place. We accepted it, although there was a fair bit of email ping-pong to sort out the exact size of the pitch, as we'd been moved across the other side of the trackway from last year, and we needed to finalise how much space we needed for the marquee, van and tent. It still looked like a good pitch...between the two biggest stages, the Pyramid and the Other Stage, right in the middle of the action with plenty of footfall. As my younger daughter Liz was in Tokyo, I needed to call in a 3rd team member, so who better to help sell cigar box guitars than Hollowbelly? With that all agreed, we set to with a will, ordering in stock and components, planning what items we needed to carry more of, new lines to stock and so forth. Having been there before really helped, as it meant that we could focus on making stuff that we knew would have a good chance of selling strongly.
New stock ready for Glastonbury
As well as making guitars there's a whole load of stuff to be done before trading at a major festival - submitting our public liability and employers insurances, preparing health and safely plans, fire prevention checklist, getting the van serviced, MOT'd, ordering staff clothing, getting all our electrical gear PAT tested, ordering the on site power supply...all this in addition to running our online shop day to day.
As the day drew ever nearer, it looked like it might there might be a chance of a fair weather festival, and indeed when we set out on the Monday morning it was HOT! We'd arranged to meet Hollowbelly about 40 minutes drive away from Glastonbury, so we picked him up in a lay-by on the A39, crammed his gear into the back of the van, said a fond farewell to his wife and family and made our way towards our destination.
Turning off the main road we drove along some winding country lanes and then started encountering the various ticket and security checks. Once we were on the metal trackways that run like a spiders web all across the site we knew we were well and truly getting closer. This year security was much stricter than before - we had to get out of the van and open it up for inspection twice (with loads of stuff falling out as we lifted the tailgate and having to be re-packed). They also inspected the cab of the van, and took great interest in a cigar box that I has stowed in a door pocket, although it only contained spare bulbs. We got our vehicle pass issued, the number of passengers was written on the windscreen, photo IDs checked, health and safety notes read out to us, and tickets inspected three times before they finally ripped off the counterfoils. The massively high steel fencing, huge and strange looking industrial vehicles shuttling about and dozens of staff wearing dust masks added to the strangely distopian feel to the process of getting on site. Once we'd driven past Worthy Farm itself we dropped down Muddy Lane (this year it was bone dry and dusty) and the panorama of Glastonbury revealed itself, with the Pyramid Stage and the Tor visible through the trees and hedges as we drove down towards the central markets and arenas. We were held for a few minutes as the marshalls radioed ahead to confirm we would be arriving at our pitch. This time we knew where to head, and Anne navigated us accurately along our route, past weird and wonderful constructions, sculptures, stages, bars and traders emporiums being established and fitted out. We found our pitch quite quickly, dropped off the van and headed to the market office to check in and get our wristbands - a friendly and efficient process and we were all now officially on site and ready to get set up.
It took us a few minutes to figure out exactly where we were supposed to put the marquee, as we'd been given a quite bit more space than I'd expected, but we managed to figure it out, and I had a quick word with the neighbouring trader. The marquee went up first, then the tent and finally I shuffled the van into place. I walked back to the office to ask about when we'd get our electric hook-up, but we were told that we could plug in ourselves, so we returned, found the correct cables (no regular 3-pin plugs here, you need the industrial 16 or 32 amp connectors). All powered up, we were ready to set up the stall, which meant unloading the whole van so that we could unload the big plywood sheets that were in the back of the van. These would form our floor that we would be working off, then the tables could be set up, and the sign and banner bolted together and hoisted into place.
Back of House and all set up.
At Glastonbury this passes for 3 Star accommodation compared with what the ordinary festival goers have to contend with. Nobody camped on your doorstep, space to put out a table and chairs and a cooker, our van right next to us, private water supply, our own electricity and loos (composting, not flush), totally fenced-in and gated with 24 hour security staff.
We cooked dinner and had an early night, ready to set up the shop properly on Tuesday, in readiness for the arrival of the public in Wednesday. The next day dawned sunny and hot...way too hot to work, in the 30s before noon, so we took it very slowly, drinking plenty of water as we went. Early in the afternoon Dermot and Dawn, old friends from Birmingham turned up to see us. They work every year as volunteers, and we spent a couple of hours chatting and trying to find some shade...this was a fortunate interruption, as it was still really hot when we got back to work at about 2.30pm. By early evening we were all ready to go, set up, everything on display and price tagged. Lighting, PA and amps plugged in and tested, electronic card readers charged and checked.
We went for a stroll , going past the Other Stage and then wandering along the service road which runs through the wholesale markets area - you really get to see the working of this festival from such a viewpoint. We ended up on the main backstage trucking route, and it felt that we shouldn't be there, but with the Traders passes it seemed we weren't going to get into any trouble, we were just directed by marshalls to a pedestrian route which brought us through the interstage area at the back of the main Pyramid stage. Even backstage the camping facilities for the roadies and tech crews looked pretty grim - hundreds of tents and vans and trucks really packed together, right next to the loos...living the dream.
The Pyramid stage before it all kicked off. Even at this late stage, we were surprised that they were still building up the sound system and excavators were trenching out for installing underground cabling.
Wednesday we were up early, breakfast prepared and another hot day in prospect. We had visits from the market manager, recycling people and the fire officer...so by 10.00am we were ready to trade.
First official day, ready to go.
Within the hour we'd made our first sale, to a TV personality no less, Martin Roberts of Homes under the Hammer and I'm a Celebrity.
We traded steadily on Wednesday, and on Thursday fortunately the weather cooled a little and we had a very good day, exceeding last years sales figures by a good margin - things were looking good.
Friday was another good day's trading. Hollowbelly was pulling a bigger crowd than the official open mic bar just a couple of hundred of metres away. I think what people liked was the spontanteity and being able to get right up close to a live performance, which is difficult to do at any of the proper stages at the festival. We also did some inpromptu dueting, riffing on John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillun" and Status Quo's "Sweet Caroline", both of which seemed to go down very well with the crowd. Every time after these short demo sets, the marquee would get packed with people, and these folk weren't just coming to look, they were buying. We offered a "Guitar Creche" lay-away service, and the van was filling up with guitars that people had bought and would collect later that day or at the end of the festival.
Demo by Hollowbelly
We had a little drizzle on and off throughout Saturday, hence the polythene over the PA speakers, but nothing to really affect things
Photo credit Festival Flyer
As well as the polythene over the speakers, we had to drape a cloth over the mic and harmonica, in order to deter people coming up the the mic and having a go. We managed to cope with this, and a request to "Can I get on the mic. mate?" was met with a firm "No, we're working here". We didn't have too many "tyre kickers", but we had to develop a way dealing with people who were just hanging around and fooling with guitars for far too long. Most people were great, very polite about asking, and grateful to be invited to have a go on a guitar. There were just a handful who outstayed their welcome, so we had to shuffle guitars around to a new customer, or somehow discover that unexplainably the amp had a problem, or the wireless mic system had run out of batteries. Speaking of which, the SmoothHound bluetooth wireless guitar transmitter system worked great. It meant that we could hand guitars around with no worries about customers tripping over leads, easily switch between guitars and walk out into the festival site still playing.
I tried to fight my way across the crowd at the Other Stage in a vain effort to go and see Toots And The Maytals who were on at West Holts, but it was sheer madness to try and get anywhere..I reckon it would have taken me over an hour to get there, by which time they would have been off stage. Getting anywhere in Glastonbury takes ages...it it impossible to comprehend how busy it is unless you go there.
We seemed to get attention from various film crews and accredited photographers, one of whom asked if I could play the backstage hospitality suite at the John Peel Stage. A couple of text messages later and I left Hollowbelly and Anne to run the shop while I hiked round to the John Peel tent lugging an amp, a guitar, a stomperbox and a few leads.
Ready to go at the John Peel Sessions Bar
I did my spot, had quick pint with Oz Cahill who was running things, then headed back to the shop. We closed at around 10pm, as after that it can get a bit too lively (i.e. too many drunks out on the spree), and we sat back of house and finished of the best part of a bottle of Jack Daniels. I suggested to HB that we might try and get into the hospitality suite again, as it was a cool place to hang out, so we wandered over, strolled up to security looking like we knew we were doing, name dropped and walked right in. We found a nice comfortable leather sofa, ordered up some more Jack Daniels and chilled out for a couple of hours. It was great to get out of the hurly burly and be somewhere relaxed before facing up to our last day of trading.
Sunday saw us with very few guitars left, and the last of the budget line guitars were snapped up, quickly followed by the last of the Blues Box kits. Me and Anne went to the Other Stage to see Rag And Bone Man, but the press of people was immense. We could only get to the edge of the arena, and the sound wasn't too great, so after short while we decided it wasn't worth trying to get to a better spot, and went back to the stall. On the way HB phoned me to say he'd sold a guitar so we got back as quickly as we could, took a card payment and sent off another happy customer.
We still kept selling regular guitars, with several workshop and high end ones going out, with a final sale of a top-line licence plate guitar late in the afternoon. Anne went to bed around 11, and as we knew it would be noisy until the small hours, I suggested me and HB go for a stroll to catch the last of the festival. We wandered over to The Blues, where there as bone shaking DJ set going down, then passed Silver Hayes, where Shaggy was playing.
Photo credit Hollowbelly
After being thoroughly blasted with bass we followed the crowds heading towards distant balls of fire which were shooting up into the sky. The trackway cut through one of the big camping fields, and to be honest, it didn't look like a good place to camp...tents packed together with no space between them, with people sleeping inches from the roadway. It was apparent that many people were heading off, and leaving pretty much all their gear on site - tents, gazebos, sleeping bags, airbeds, folding chairs..that side of things is all a bit depressing.
Heading over to Arcadia we could feel the heat of the flame-spitting mechanical spider from hundreds of metres away, it truly is an amazing sight and sound experience.
We then wandered through The Park area, which was a lot more chilled and relaxed than what we had encountered previously, traversed the hillside by the Tipi village - far more packed together than I'd expected, down by the Avalon area and into the Greenpeace club site. It's a very cool and groovy spot, under the trees, with raised boardwalks and some banging dance floors..all lit in green..and weirdly, artificial snow drifting through the air.
By now were were looking for signs to the Pyramid stage to lead us back to base, so we headed off though the circus area through another big market area with plenty of places still trading, and then ended up at the front of the Pyramid Stage. They were already breaking down the lighting and sound rigs, and the whole arena apron was a wasteland of paper plates, plastic bottles, cans...and the odd wrecked individual sitting in a camping chair in splendid post-nuclear apocalyptic isolation. Some of the food stalls were still trading despite it being the wee small hours, and we got back to our place thankful that we didn't have to run a business with those sort of demands.
Monday morning saw another clear day, ideal for breaking down, so after a coffee from the local coffee shop we set about packing things down, ready to be away from site as early as we could. Anne told me that contractually we were not supposed to break the front line of the trading area until noon, so we broke down and packed away everything except the marquee roof frame and front panel. We were not supposed to be off site until 6.pm, but our previous year's experience meant that we know it could be a real ordeal getting away, so I went down to the crossroads of the main trucking route, told a marshal we were ready to move, agreed on which route to take and hurried back to the pitch. The last of the gear was loaded into the van, one bag of rubbish put into the skip, we jumped in the van and drove off the grass onto onto the metal trackway. I'd heard a another marshal say that they'd been reminded that traders could not leave until 6.00pm, but it was 12.30pm and I was having none of that. We drove up to the trucking road, indicated left for the "Red Route" and were waved out onto the road. Our progress didn't last long, as after a few minutes we were soon caught behind a queue of articulated trucks, landrovers, cars and vans. I was determined that we were not going to have any nonsense about being allowed off site, but my worries were ill- founded, and we had an uneventful if very slow drive off site. After a wait of about half an hour we started to inch forward, stopping for ten or twenty minutes of a time, and moving an agonisingly short distance between stops. After another hour or so we were very close to the exit, by the main coach station. The traffic marshalls were very friendly and good natured, and told us that the coaches had to have priority, and that there would be 2500 of them going off site that day! Another wait, and we were waved forward, got the green light I gunned the motor and we were out onto the open road. Well, not quite open, as there was a lot of other festival traffic coming out of the carparks, with temporary traffic lights, police and marshalls waving cars out into the stream of traffic. Hollowbelly had already phoned his wife to meet him at the place where we'd originally picked him up, and she had already arrived well in time. A steady drive through the outskirts of Glastonbury to our pre-arranged drop-off, transfer his gear to his van, and we were on our separate journeys home. Every motorway service station on our route home (and we stopped at three of them) was overwhelmed by festival goers..there were hardly any people who weren't wearing Glastonbury wristbands.
We were home by around 7.30pm, and loaded out the valuable stuff from the van straight away. I had a bite to eat and a beer...but I was too tired even to count the takings! So that was Glastonbury 2017- the first time for Hollowbelly, and our second, but we won't be doing it next year. 2018 is one of the "fallow years", so the next Glastonbury will be 2019... and it's time for me to start making some more guitars.
- John Wormald