The Eight Days Of Glastonbury
Glastonbury - the biggest greenfield music festival in the world. Way back in October 2015, me and my sales manager (my daughter Anne) decided we'd have a go at getting a trade stand there...why not?! Anne dowloaded all the forms - there was an enormous amount of info that they needed...a complete inventory of what we were selling, together with prices, where it came from, the percentage of recycled, local, fairtrade goods etc, together with our trading history, business ethics etc. They don't tell you how much it will cost, that comes with the offer if you are successful, so we set ourselves a budget of what we could afford to pay for a place (...hearing that food traders are paying £30 000, we were expecting it to be big money), and waited. Five months later, in February of this year, on the very last day of the deadline for being notified we heard that we'd got in, and it was within our budget. We got to work drawing up a schedule of things we had to make and buy, and got cracking. It became our main focus of work for months, and it was a hard slog, as I lost nearly a month's output because of other stuff I had to attend to with family and home commitments. Nevertheless, we reckoned we were sort of ready....buying a new tent, a roofrack for the van to fit on all the extra stock, making new guitar stands and racks, ordering in thousands of pounds worth of merchandise...and loads of new cigar box guitars to get boxed up and ready for sale.
We had a full four months to get ready, but it wasn't easy - our online business keeps us steadily busy, we had the house enveloped in scaffolding having the windows replaced, and I took 2 weeks out of my schedule replacing all the timber cladding whilst we had the scaffold to work off. My father died at the beginning of March, so that was stressful, emotional and just generally all-consuming...also daughter Liz was heading off to Japan for a week right at the time of the funeral: there was just lots of stuff happening all around me that was really difficult to cope with. Also I had a road trip with Hollowbelly to southern Germany for gigs and workshop and a couple of festivals, so time was tight to get things ready. Daughter Liz was due to finish university early June, so she jumped at the chance to come to Glasto to help.
As well as making guitars there's a whole load of official stuff to get through, submitting public liability and employer's insurances, health and safety assessment, fire risk assessment, site plot, making sure our first aid kit, fire extinguisher etc were up to the proper standards...it's a serious job getting ready for a big festival like this.
DAY ONE. Glastonbury is officially a 3 day event, but gates open to the public on the Wednesday, and we had to arrive on Monday. We were advised by the organisers to delay setting out as ground conditions were very bad due to the rain, so we loaded up during Monday morning and were ready to head off by mid afternoon. Every inch of the van was packed, and we had 96 guitars strapped onto the roof.
The van all packed and ready to go, with barely an inch of space to spare...and 120kg of guitars on the roof.
The weather forecast was looking pretty good, so off we set. A quick stop at the motorway services and we arrived at around 6.45pm, no traffic problems, but it had obviously been raining recently, with lots of standing water on the approach roads. We got through the initial ticket check, and then it was onto the temporary metal trackways laid across the mud. A few more checkpoints saw us issued with vehicle pass, health and safety induction sticker, windscreen marked up to show how many people we had onboard...then a final ticket inspection and into the site proper. That's where we started a couple of hours of panic...with no idea of our way round the 1000 acre site, we couldn't find our pitch, and nobody we asked could help...even experienced traders were getting lost. We parked up and the girls donned wellies and went out to try and find the office for our section of the traders' market. Half an hour later it was beginning to drop dark and I was worried..it was wet, muddy, bleak and dropping ever darker..and no word from the expeditionary force. I got a call on the phone to tell me they'd found the office (despite there being no signs to it), the map had wrong the wrong colour coding, so no wonder we got lost, but they knew where to go to find the pitch. I drove down to the office, got wristbanded, got back in the van, and slowly, slowly we crept around remote parts of the site to arrive at our pitch...which was basically a rectangle of muddy grass, reached by driving across 20 metres of treacherously sticky mud. We dragged the tent out and set it up, all of us getting thoroughly smeared in mud. After a bit of grief we also manged to get our electric hook-up sorted by the site electricians, so that was another worry resolved. At least we'd managed to get some protection against the elements for the night, and so settled down for some well earned rest.
DAY TWO. On Tuesday morning we set about getting the marquee up and setting up the shop. We'd had some overnight rain, and I spent a couple of hours shovelling wood chippings over the ground in front of our site and where the marquee was going to stand to try and soak up some of the mud. I'd had the foresight to bring a small shovel and it proved invaluable for this task, and lots of other stall holders were soon taking it in turns to borrow it, to scoop up chippings from a mound that had been dropped by a dump truck a few stalls away. After a couple of hours of back breaking work we were ready to put up the marquee and start setting out our stall. Anne is well versed in this, so I let her take over and direct me and Liz as to how she wanted things setting out.
Stall all set up and trading for the first official day. That's our personal security team by the little hut on the right of the stand...there were 3 teams of them doing shifts in rotation, all really friendly and helpful folk, staffing that spot 24 hours day, rain and shine.
We took it steady, and by the end of the afternoon everything was sorted and we were ready to trade. During the course of the day we made quite a few sales to other traders and musicians.
Typical Glastonbury ground conditions, just round the corner from us (OK, just round the corner is about a mile away at Glasto) at the Left Field stage.
DAY THREE. Wednesday saw the first proper day of being open to the public, so we decided on our team uniform for the day - Plague Doctor Tee shirts and hoodies. Glastonbury's own radio station, Worthy FM dropped in to interview me and got me to play a tune. This turned out to be a very handy bit of publicity, as lots of people over the next few days told me they'd heard me on the radio as they were queuing to get in. We'd heard reports of 12 hour tailbacks as festival goers waited to be admitted to the car parks...it sounded pretty grim. A bit later I had Ulster FM at the stall, asking me to provide them with some live music while they did a report...2 broadcasts in one day, not bad! We had a decent day's trading, and I was doing a fair bit of playing and "barking up" in front of the stall, and continued to do this until around midnight, when we decided to shut up shop.
Just in front of our stall...the machine in the background was delivering barrels of cider.
The arrangements for traders are a lot more civilised than for the general public - we were camped directly behind the stall, with our van acting as our stock room. In the secure compound behind the stalls are traders' camping, rubbish skips and toilets, for the exclusive use of traders. The frontages are all secure - a team come and fence the gaps between the stalls to ensure nobody can get "back of house", and the service access to the compound is manned 24 hours a day by some really friendly and helpful volunteers, who did a sterling job. We were right next to the service access gate, so we had our own personal security staff look after the marquee, literally on our doorstep.
DAY FOUR. Thursday's uniform was hickory stripe prison shirts and denim work aprons. Our day's trading was was pretty much the same, a long long day, some decent sunny weather and some showers. We sold out of ukuleles - I was setting them up as quickly as I could, and they were selling as soon as they were ready. One thing which was really nice was that the setting sun shone directly into the front of our stall....as if we were magically aligned to catch the last rays of the sun, bathing the guitars in a soft golden light.
Customers jamming at the stall - from Manchester and Bulgaria.
Electro stomper board in the mud..and it still worked after days of being submerged in liquid mud.
We packed up around 1am after entertaining revellers in front of the shop with some live music. I started to reflect that this really was an endurance event...Thursday and the music hadn't started properly - we had three serious days of work ahead of us to get through. Just getting through the day at Glastonbury is a real effort, every step through the mud is hard work, and you simply cannot get away from it. The mud gets everywhere...on your skin, clothes, tent, amps, cables, even on the money! We sat up quite late, drinking whiskey and talking about the prospect of what tomorrow would bring, as it was the eve of the referendum.
Muddy cables, muddy amp, muddy PA system...
DAY FIVE. Friday was a gloomy start all round with rainy weather, and a general feeling of apprehension of what might be to come with the announcement that the UK had voted out of the EU. It was a bit weird, as we felt in a sort of bubble, just picking up scraps of news via our phones about what was happening in the real world outside.
Woke up this morning, mud all around my shoes....
Still, there was no time to dwell on that as we had a job to do. Sales were fine, but not as strong as Thursday, as it was raining on and off for a large part of the day. Anne was keeping a ledger of the sales, so she had a running total, and also logged when the sales were, so we could see what part of the day we were doing the most sales. We had one little lad of around 9 years old come by with his mum and dad - he's been busking with a uke and earned £140, so he bought himself a little cigar box amp with his takings! He also came back the following day to buy a lead and a slide...from another £90 which he had earned.
DAY SIX. Saturday was a pretty busy one, but I managed to get an hour off to see ZZ Top at the Pyramid stage. It's a festival, and of course people get a little, er, relaxed with drink and various substances, but one bizarre thing we noticed was how many people were so far gone, they came into our stall and asked for cigars, cigarettes, or Rizlas. It seemed in their befuddled state they saw "cigar" on the banner outside, and they didn't get to read the whole "Cigar Box Guitars" thing..and the fact that there were dozens of guitars on display seemed to pass them by. This wasn't an isolated thing, dozens of people did this...one posh boy even complaining to Liz that "it was misleading" to have that on the sign....jasus knows what he was on. Another thing we observed was that we must have had the air of being well-organised, because we had regularly had people dropping by to borrow the shovel, ask if we had pliers, or cadge plastic bags and elastic bands. Fortunately we'd gone pretty well tooled-up and equipped and we were happy to help people out. I thought that perhaps I'd overdone things in terms of tools etc that we'd brought along, but I soon realised that once you are on site, it's pretty much every man for himself. You have to be resourceful and well-equipped to cope with a week at Glastonbury - if your patch is swimming in liquid mud, it's up to you to sort it out, if you need a bit of wood, you have to have it in your van or be able to scrounge it.
Rainbow above the Pyramid Stage...view from the side of our stall.
The girls cooked and supplied me with tea regularly, but occasionally we celebrated a good day's sales and bought a takeaway. There was some excellent food on offer: we had Thai, French Provencal, some great steak pies & chips (with gravy!! mmm), pulled pork, burgers, and though not cheap, many of the food places gave us a traders' discount. We'd brought plenty of our own food, so didn't have to rely on takeaways, but sometimes you need a treat when you are tired and hungry. We never bought a drink either...bringing plenty of juice, water, beer, a bottle of whiskey and Coca Cola meant that we were self sufficient.
DAY SEVEN. We'd made it to Sunday morning, and been told by our friendly security volunteers that it would be really busy, and they were right. There's a large influx of one day ticket holders on top of the 150 000 full weekender tickets, and this was reflected in the general hubbub and sales. Before it all kicked off I woke early and decided to have a stroll round the neighbourhood, so I was able to see the army of volunteers litter picking and emptying bins by the thousand. I walked in a large loop and went past two of the largest stages, the Other Stage and The Pyramid, and saw some parts of the site which were literally a sea of mud, so reckoned we'd been pretty lucky. Liz and Anne said they'd seen one stall where the mud was half-way up the table legs, and their display of clothes were trailing into the filthy gloop.
Typical sea of mud in front of traders stands.
Trashcans and mud...it's like this everywhere.
Even the baker's van is prepared for the mud.
Part of the army of volunteers picking litter in front of the Other Stage, 7.30am Sunday
Sunday 8am at the Pyramid stage, rigging for the final day.
Welly graveyard...a common sight at Glasto. We watched dozens of people in front of our stall succumb to the dreaded welly-eating mud...some poor folk loosing both boots and toppling over full-length into the mud. Liz was on hand to rush over and bring the victims into our tent for a sit down and and clean-up with our industrial strength wet wipes.
I got a coffee and danish pastry from the coffee shop which was conveniently located right next to our stall, then started getting ready for the onslaught of punters.
There had been a load of dry straw dumped by one of the dance tents, so lots of us traders rushed off to get some to help mop up the mud in front of our stalls. We were warned off by one of the workers telling us to put it back as it wasn't meant for us...so I went back to my stall, donned a hi-vis vest to make myself look like a contractor, hid some bin liners in my jacket so I could take some straw away in and went back and helped myself. You have to be resourceful and determined to survive and look after yourself at Glastonbury.
Trade was fairly brisk, but I let the girls go off and get some lunch...but however, popping out for lunch isn't a 10 minute job at Glasto..they were gone for an hour and a half when they turned up with our lunch of gourmet burgers, and the shop was over-run by customers. It was packed, and people were waving money and credit cards at me..it was like the Black Friday sales! The girls arrived back in the nick of time, although Liz starting shouting at me to ask why I was on the phone in the midst of all the chaos, but one lady was in the middle of buying guitar for her boyfriend and wanted me to speak to him on her phone to discuss which was the best model for him. The rush of sales continued until around 5 o'clock , and we sold out of amps and our budget line fretless guitars. We tried to keep the sales ledger up to date, but we got so overwhelmed that afterwards when I checked the figures, there was several hundred pounds worth of unaccounted sales that we hadn't managed to put in the book! Utter madness, but a great day's trading. For the rest of the evening I didn't do any more playing at the front of the stall, as I was so tired, but we chilled out, and we could hear Coldplay from the Pyramid state, and stepped out to watch the firework finale.
Sunday evening...time to reflect and break out that special Havana cigar and enjoy a glass of Jack Daniels and Coke. I felt strangely proprietorial standing at front of the stall surveying my enterprise and what we'd achieved over the course of the week.
I'd felt a bit bad about bringing my daughters along and them not seeing any of the acts, but they got so into the work, and there weren't any performers that they felt they really didn't want to miss, it hardly seemed to matter. They went off and caught part of Adele's set, but the rest of the time they were so supportive and hard working it could hardly have been better.
DAY EIGHT. We knew that on Monday we couldn't leave site until 6.00pm, so just took it steady packing down. We still had customers dropping by to make their last purchases of the weekend, but by early afternoon we were well on with the break-down. Traders around us were saying they wouldn't get off site until later that week, which began to worry me, so I started to figure out our exit strategy. I reckoned I could use the plywood boards that we'd floored-out the marquee with to drive the van over to get to the temporary roadway, and then I spotted the timber which had been used to block off gaps between the stalls. It had been taken down and discarded, and I reckoned the rough-sawn timber panels could be laid over the mud as a trackway and give me a fighting since of getting to the road. As Anne packed away all our camping gear, me and Liz hauled some really heavy pieces of timber to start forming our route out. As quickly as we could, we stowed all the gear in the van - this time we'd sold so much stuff the only thing on the roof rack was the frame for our sign and the guitar hanging rails from inside the marquee (remember, we'd arrived with boxes containing 96 guitars on the roof).
Yay!! ready to roll and go home. You can just see the "corduroy road" of split logs to Lizzies' left that we put down, but then had to take up before being towed onto the metal trackway.
Reversing the van out over the plywood boards proved to be futile...we managed to get the back wheels onto one board, but the ground was was so slippery, the boards skidded about under the tyres and I ended up with the tyres firmly back in the mud. It looks like that getting towed out was going to be the only option, and I wasn't optimistic about how long this would take, as there were thousands of traders all in exactly the same situation. The girls went down to the market office to see if we could book a tow, but came back downhearted, as the office was deserted. There was a paper on the table with a list of stallholders booked in for towing, but nobody about...the place was left unattended...laptops and everything, like the Marie Celeste. One of the guys dealing with getting vehicles towed shouted out to ask who'd put the timber trackway down, and I said I had. He told me that there were nails in it and would cause problems...the neighbouring stallholders started getting into an argument with him saying that we'd had to resort to looking after ourselves, I told him we were stuck and there was nobody in the office to help, and asked why we could do to get a tow. He calmly said, move the timber and we'll come and get you towed out...so I did what I was told, shifted the timber (probably about half a tonne of it) and left him to continue towing other people out. We stood around looking helpless, then he came up and asked if we were ready - we were. I'd already figured out where the towing eye was, but the guy in charge didn't need telling, he knew exactly where the tow point on a Merc Vito was, so he hitched us up to a massive tractor, told me to put the van in neutral and just cover the brakes to make sure I didn't roll into the tractor when it stopped. One minute later after skating through the calf-deep mud, the van was on the solid metal roadway. The girls jumped aboard and we settled in for a long slow crawl off the site. The prospect of a long wait didn't bother us - we were out of the mud and on our way home. It took well over two hours to get to the public highway, but other's weren't so lucky - we'd watched one trader's VW camper drive easily into the trackway as their patch was pretty dry, and we ended just behind him on the trackway, queuing to get out. Their van sounded pretty rattly and noisy, like old VWs always seem to sound, but after about 45 minutes the traffic marshalls directed us around him as his engine gave up the ghost. Further on up the road we saw an AA van on there way- I reckon they must be permanently stationed there over the festival to cope with this sort of thing.
Part of the aftermath of Glastonbury that we saw on the drive out - abandoned tents and camping gear.
It was remarkably calm and unfrustrating in the cab of our van whilst inching along toward the exit and the public roads. We'd done a good job, got off our pitch without too much drama and were headed home. Once onto the road we crawled along following an articulated lorry and two roadsweeping trucks for a couple of miles, trying to get rid of the mud being tracked out by all the traders vehicles. We had a steady drive through the glorious Somerset country side, our road gilded by the setting sun..through Bristol and onto the motorway. We stopped off at the first services we came to ...aching and caked in mud...but glad for a rest. I washed my hands five times in an effort to get rid of the ingrained dirt....but what luxury...hot running water! We gorged on fried chicken and ice cold Coke, trudged wearily back to the van....and arrived back home after a final bit of diversion due to a motorway closure around half past midnight.
What a week it had been...it had all seemed like some kind of strange dream. Did we really spend 7 nights in a tent on a patch of mud? Had the UK really voted to leave the EU? Did we really sell over 100 guitars? I can't really say that we saw much of Glastonbury Festival, but we were pleased and proud to be part of it. We'd prepared as well as we could have beforehand, and gave it our best shot while we were there. It was a full-on experience, we made good money, and more than merely surviving it, we enjoyed it.
Anne and Liz in the glowing red marquee....none of this would have been possible without their dedication, love and hard work...it was your week, not mine.
- John Wormald
Only just read this, and I can’t believe I didn’t see your stall. Mind you, with the mud the way it was, I didn’t do quite as much wandering as usual. Where on the site were you? And will you be back this year?
What a family of troopers glad it went well for you.
I did Glastonbury in 1997 with a small band I was in plus a couple of solstices at Stonehenge. I can still see the sea of mud :)
Great blog John! Wish I could have gone, but my daughter saw you there. Let me know if you and Hollowbelly come back to The Oxford in Bristol again :)
What a great report John, glad you had a great week sales wise.
Hope to see you at the next Southside Blues Night.
Great article and pretty much happy I wasn’t there. Had a similar experience with mud at a Jimmy Buffet concert here in Ohio years ago. Have hated mud ever since.