Greenbelt Festival 2014

What an awesome weekend. Great ideas articulated well. Something to chew over, think about. A wonderful DIY community. All taking place in one location. Yes The Jesus Arms. Premium beer from the dark, full flavoured hoppiness of “Bad Christian” to the citric edge of “Jonah and the Ale” with the most expensive being 4 quid a pint, which certainly isn’t bad at a festival, indeed far much better than watered down Carling at a sponsored event. So what about the music? Well, probably it was designed to keep the riff raff out. No threat, no edginess but at times, if one could bare the banality, glimpses of wondrous excellence (Josephine and The Artizans, Dizraeli and the Small Gods) could be found. But then maybe even a pearl could be seen as a clam in artificial light. The riff raff could however creep into the gated community as was evidenced on the Roots Stage (aka the open mic stage or bandstand ) where folk could sign up for a slot but obviously only the sanitised would get into the festival programme. There were indeed some fine DIY moments on The Roots Stage, mainly of the acoustic variety. The said Gated Community was gloriously mirrored by Yurtsville where a Yurt could be hired for just £2m a weekend. The wonderful world of Glamping complete with parlours and servants. The Christian anarchists amongst us did toy with operating a direct action by cutting their water supply off but decided this would just increase the work load of the servant class.

The Jesus arms was wonderfully situated opposite The Glade Stage (aka The Main Stage) so some pleasure had by yours truly in the form of watching Sinead O’Connor in good company whilst drinking Gem (another fine ale). Sinead did a fine set of well crafted, fragile, assertive songs but whilst verbalizing her displeasure with the music business. I would suggest that if you stand on the quicksand which is the music business then do not be surprised when it pushes you down, or in other words if you are going to sleep with the dog which is corporate whoredom then do not be surprised to be bitten by syphilitic fleas. There were other precious moments upon The Glade. Some nice world music ( Tinariwen ), some unthreatening folk (Lau), some abstract gospel choirage and Desmond Tutus daughter. Some top notch talks on justice, equality, peace and forgiveness. Loads of other stuff not suitable for those looking for anything exciting or challenging. The contemplative area which hosted Forest Church etc was situated right next to The Glade stage thereby making a supernal, meditative experience almost impossible. The waning moon ritual conducted by East Midlands Forest Church was a wondrous experience but soiled by the volume of a band who reminded me of The Smurfs. I did not even see Father Abraham listed as a speaker. No metal, Goth (although there was a packed Goth Eucharist on a different stage late one night which I never made it to due to inaccessibility for those with disabilities (as was most of the festival) so I continued to converse in The Jesus Arms. No punk although Greenbelt did put on a token “punk” band who were like a safe version of Bad Religion meeting The Beautiful South jamming out riffs and drum beats stolen from The Proclaimers whilst the main guitarist and vocalist struck a Joe Strummer pose. Tight but bland. Followed by an equally bland indie band billed as radical psychedelia or the new William Blake. Fuck it looks like a book burning session coming on.

At times I wondered if the people responsible for booking the music had been to a college where they learnt to extract the excitement out of music. Probably the same college as hospital caterers go to, to learn to take the flavour out of food. Possibly do a joint honours? Which brings us to the £7 hog roast and other ridiculously expensive cuisine one could chew on whilst listening to a seminar about poverty. Then throw your tent in the skip because you can’t be arsed to take it home (thank God for the Franciscans who take discarded items and give them to people who need them). Recycling is obviously not the latest trend in environmentalism as evinced by the non existence of separate bins in which to dispose of things which every day folk leave behind. You could also charge your phone which cost £5.

I guess it’s partially my own fault. I had always had great hopes for Greenbelt. I believe in its proposed inclusiveness but whilst at the same time feeling like Jude the Obscure. I am a working class punk after all. I believe in its attitude for change although find this prescriptive. The middle class will change the world for us without our consultation. The ticket price excludes most of those on benefits and the few of us disabled people who actually made the festival had extremely limited access to a lot of bands, speakers etc. Sure there was spaces where disabled people could be but often the access to these “viewing points” were impossible to negotiate for visually impaired folk like myself. I have heard reports of it taking some people five hours to access the site due to insufficient “taxis” (golf carts and trailers) to get them to the camping area. None of these “taxis” had access to the festival village itself. Disability scooters had to be handed back early on the Monday so disabled people lost even more festival time. They were £25 per day to hire.

The Sunday morning service was spot on. The Blue Grass worship with a Bruce Cockburn cover lit my fire. Whilst the talk/preach stuff by Mpho Tutu and other redeemed females was inspiring.

There were major cock ups with organization. Some of this was to do with the festival having a new home (hopefully it doesn't turn out to be a watery grave) and therefore access problems may or may not be sorted in the future. However there were major problems with passes. Some contributors/performers/press ended up not receiving any passes at all, others received the wrong passes, others were given the wrong wrist bands on arrival. These issues were nothing to do with the new site. I guess I was cheesed off even before I set off from home due to feeling messed about.

So overall a pretty negative review which suggests I did not enjoy the festival. The bizarre thing is I did. It was great to meet up with friends old and new. It was great to spend time with like minded people, Christian anarchists etc. It was great to experience some solidarity in adversity. It was great to catch up with some of the Franciscans who had been so loving and kind to us two years earlier when my wife was hurt in a gas explosion inside our tent. It was great when relatively new friends fed us wonderful meals as our BBQ was impossible to light (Mrs Spits is understandably very reluctant to use gas and I struggle with my vision) and we couldn’t afford to buy food on site. It was great to make friends with the guys I blagged some baccy off (it wasn't available on site and it was impossible to get off). It was great to network with others who want to see positive change in our world. Unfortunately it was not Greenbelt Festival which was responsible for my positive experience over the weekend. It was the attendees, a little of the music and some talks. I am pleased that so many of the speakers have put their actions where their mouths are but as a whole Greenbelt tends to offer corporate whoredom rather than an alternative life style or community. It has been argued elsewhere that if your theology does not on occasion bring you into conflict with the law then your theology is probably wrong. There were those participating in the Greenbelt line up for whom this is the case. However I feel as a safe corporate festival it stops any possibility of a counter cultural community developing from its talks, seminars etc ,therefore it cannot be a viable opposition to power and must therefore be condemned to “fall short of the glory of God”, or that it offers anything towards building community. Sadly our governments crack down on any alternative communities outside of the system. Hence the ruling authorities using violence to stop Stonehenge Festival in the early eighties and the authorities in Indonesia arresting punks in Aceh and sending them away for corrective behaviour for putting on/attending a concert in aid of an orphanage. So maybe it’s the safety of the Greenbelt Zeitgeist which allows the festival to continue, unlike the early church which was stamped on by the authorities.

So to echo the words of Emma Goldman give me a revolution I can dance in. But please give me a revolution.
‘I didn't try once to drop out I just couldn't get in from the very start’ (Zounds)

review by Gary Eagling (1 September 2014)