Mud and circuses

Friday 13th July 2012

CLAN Alba played the Acoustic Tent at Glastonbury in 1994: one of the best ever live performances by any band anywhere, in my opinion. No, I wasn’t stoned.

Mary Black was good too. I was into Celtic music at the time, having, the previous year, stood awhile under a fierce sun, hypnotised by Van Morrison and the whole Pyramid Stage scene, which I usually avoided.

I’d eased my way through the crowd to the side of an ice-cream cart; found the only bit of shade on the field under its umbrella; helped the pretty girl serving by passing her long sticks of cones from boxes; concluded this was close to knocking on a heathen’s heaven’s door.

I never minded the mud, the sloshing about in wellies, the waking up to find your sleeping-bag dampened by drips seeping through the skin of a lightweight tent: mild inconveniences compared to digging trenches in pyjamas on long-ago family holidays, camping in Scotland.

Besides, inclement weather reduced the crowds, making it easier to get about, shortening the queues at food stalls and toilets. It was only water and the bands played on.

You learn a lot about people when they’re faced with such adversity: those who moan when the planet fails to suit their private convenience; others wallowing in its eccentricities; many too smashed to notice anything.

A Stroud crew ran the Acoustic Tent. I’d wander back-stage, find a beat-up sofa, eat a proper meal. I envied their encampment, but not the long shifts. All I had to do was recite a few poems.

Jugglers, clowns, buskers; curls of smoke from a thousand camp-fires; structures in rough wood and fluttering pennants; sitting on the grass atop the top field, in awe and wonder.

The only YouTube clip of Clan Alba has the citation:

‘Great but unfortunately shortlived Scottish band who excellently combined bagpipes, fiddle, jazz percussionists, electric harps, contemporary and traditional songs in Scots and Gaelic with wonderful waistcoats and cycling shorts.’

Notice the swaying harps, three minutes in.








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