What with corporate sponsors now taking over better-known music festivals, often ruining the get-away-from-it-all vibe, and with Glastonbury taking time out next year to allow its’ stomped-over fields time to recuperate, this year there are lots of emerging small festivals looking to get a foot on the now-lucrative festival circuit. One such newcomer is Gottwood festival set in the beautiful Welsh countryside of Anglesey. Example went to check it out.
On board were Festival Virgin Joshua and Old (S)Lag Al Baker. We started our journey out with good omens. We missed our booked-ticket train, but a guard simply let us board the next one along. Good start. As we travelled west I regaled Joshua with tales from an illustrious past, different festivals I’ve attended over the years & characters met long the way. From each corner of England every discernable age, race, faith or belief-system you can imagine. Festivals do tend to bring out the Freaks as well as giving the more straight-laced a chance to let their hair down.
The weather was looking good (and promising better). The guard from Llandudno Junction gave us a Welsh language lesson too. Outside Holyhead train station a row of taxis knew exactly where we were heading. Now then, here I thought we might get stung by over-zealous taxi drivers out to make a buck (and who can blame them), because if you were arriving by other means than by car you basically have to go all the way to the end of the line, before coming back on yourself by taxi to get to Llanfaethlu about 10 miles out of town.
Big Ups to (our taxi) Will Hagan then for not taking the piss: £19. I wisely took his card for the return journey. There was a quick search for excessive booze (there was an allowance for alcohol brought on-site, but you could bring as much food as you liked) and cooking stoves which, considering our proximity to the woods I thought was fair enough. Once we had pitched our tent (not an easy task when you’ve not thrown one up in years) to face the “road” through the campsite so that we could better view all the beautiful creatures passing by whom, strangely, all seemed to know one another. As we sat by our tent you could hear people calling out to each other as they arrived. The clipped southern England accent seemed omnipresent.
We saw someone being escorted out who had obviously peaked too early. Though Security had his hand firmly behind his back he still whooped with drug-induced joy. He did attempt to resist eviction by rolling around on the ground but only succeeded in bringing down his jogging bottoms, so was escorted the rest of the way in his boxers, shame! Someone was spending their Gottwood experience in the car-park. An amusing interlude, until a four-wheel drive announced the arrival of more Security, intent on searching his & all his friends’ tents & bags. It was all a bit excessive if you ask me. By all means stop people breaching the site perimeter. Stop people bringing spirits on-site if you must. Stop people injuring themselves, or ruining the event for others, but leave people alone enough to have their fun. I saw Security picking roll-up butts up to check if they had cardboard ‘roaches’. Bit heavy handed really.
Festival Virgin joined an impromptu game of footie, scoring almost immediately, a good enough way as any to meet your neighbours. Even if they all shouted out rugby instructions as they played. Early evening intrepid Example set out. A quick site ‘reccy’ commenced. A winding path through a small wood brought us first to the Space Station (Igloo) where constant techno boomed. Impressive indeed it was beneath 360-degree projected graphics but sadly devoid of people. I took a few unsuccessful photos & left, vowing to return. Onto the Aztec Tree-house! A bit of a disappointment here as it wasn’t a tree-house at all but a tent. No-one here either. Gottwood had been undone by the one thing you cannot book or control, British weather. It was such a gorgeous day the campsite was full of people socialising and very few Ravers littered the various stages before sundown. I took a few photos of graffiti; bumped into Maggot (Off Putter / Goldie Lookin Chain) coming out of a Portaloo (literally, his cubicle door nearly knocked my camera out of my hands). Aaaha! ‘Celebs’!
We walked through into the sun-trap grounds of the (landowners?) house. A sliced-in-half caravan turned DJ booth providing perfect hip-hop soundtrack for a lazy afternoon. We chatted to Mr. Scruff for a bit (a reassuring face amongst the gathering beautiful people) & promised to attend his Friday headline set on the Mixcloud Stage (a barn) later. Our fickle attention then turned to our stomachs.
Little moan here; two or three (locally sourced I have to say) roast pork sarnies & burger stalls; just one guy doing proper meals; with rice; enough to fill up two hungry travellers from Manchester! And though his Chilli-Con-Carne was good, his Caribbean Chicken was from no part of the West Indies I’d eaten before! We passed on our culinary opinion to a fellah who turned out to be DJ Format, next DJ up in the Boxford Caravan. We pretty much stayed there, both of us well up for a DJ battle, Format vs Mr. Thing. What a wicked way to start a festival! We both reckoned Mr. Thing had the edge (if there needed to be a winner) but as the light faded & night fell, some traditional Chilean drumming and a bonfire finally brought strangers together.
Walking back through our decorated forest we saw features not-so noticeable in daylight. Little two people tee-pees dotted around, big enough to skin-up or canoodle in. Trees lit from below created added drama. There was definitely some thought & consideration gone into dressing the forest. Five spherical projector screens with a human eyeball in the centre, that was pretty cool too, watched over proceedings. It, as well as I, saw the young people slowly gather for evening shenanigans.
I saw lots of Indian fabrics, easy flowing hippy clothes; or people dressed up as animals, or simply sporting an animal tail. There was a lot of that. What was that all about? They were confident & aloof mostly (signs of a good education) and only spoke to us to ask if I was selling drugs. This was funny at first.
We wandered the site taking in (ahem) the sights ‘til it was time for Mr. Scruff. Twice we wandered out of his marathon DJ set to poke our heads in the Tree-house or the Igloo (where techno reigned supreme) but returned each time for more Scruff. Our Festival Virgin was converted. An impeccable, roof-raising, genre-defying set. Highlight.
Then it all went sour. Taking a piss in a Portaloo, there were thumps on the side, before I was tipped over, immediately covered in other peoples piss & shit. I was so angry I punched the door open. We saw two girls laughing nearby & went over to remonstrate. I was livid. A small crowd of jump-the-fence locals, (the ONLY ones we’d met here) with no tents to go to, stood close by. When I touched one girl on the arm to reassure her I wasn’t blaming her personally, she began to scream “PAEDO!” at the top of her lungs, and I was quickly surrounded by faces.
Now, I’m old & wise enough to know when you’re being set-up for a kicking but I had to drag Festival Virgin up the hill away from certain trouble. You gotta know when to walk away. You also gotta remember to pack plenty of hand-wipes for when you get covered in other peoples piss & go to the shower block on a promise; you discover no hot water at all, nothing.
It gets better. My companion had had enough for one night & turned in but I stayed up, suddenly awake. I walked up & down the length of the site in fresh clothes, looking for our ‘local friends’ & chatting to Security (who, unsurprisingly were nowhere to be seen when we needed them). Half an hour goes past before someone comes to my tent saying that his friend who had witnessed what had happened, had also overheard me violently cursing from my tent and was now locked inside his tent, (paranoia safety zone), refusing to come out, convinced that I was coming to kill him.
Now I’m a nice guy, and let’s say I have plenty of prior experience with pharmaceuticals, so I kind of understood what needed to be done. I went over to their little circle of tents and sat, early morning sunshine, talking to his fried friends & sharing ALL my herb with them. I sat just inside Paranoid Guys’ tent carefully explaining to him that I wished him personally no harm, and that neither I nor “my people” were coming after him. He didn’t really believe me. I told him over & over again. He vibrated with fear as I sat before him, very strange. Then –get this- one of them suddenly says “Yah, mate, really, we’d like you leave now. Thanks”. I had been dismissed. There was nothing more to it.
Insulted, I kicked over a chair, called them out, left. The morning sun was blazing now & so was I. It wasn’t easy getting any sleep. My sunbathing/sleep kept getting interrupted by guys called Dan or Ben coming over to ask about drugs. Note to Self: when you’re the only person on-site over 30 & when you’re tent is the only one facing outward, everyone will think you’re a drug-dealer. This is only good news if you are a drug dealer.
Our ‘friends’ came over later with a half-arsed apology but reasoned that I had to understand where their heads were at, especially their frightened frigid friend! I didn’t sell him his stupid white powder, or tell him how much to take, and I’m certainly not responsible for his fragile state of mind. Now if your friend wets himself that’s your look-out mate not mine, feck off.
Unable to get sleep or food we waited to be allowed back onto the festival site. I thought a bit of breakfast might lift our mood but even with our bellies eventually tickled by bacon butties it failed to lift the spirit. Our mood had changed, the vibe of the festival felt different, but really we just couldn’t shake off our evening experiences. Even though we sat in the beautiful Welsh sunshine Festival Virgin had a face like a wet weekend. There’s a point of no return & we’d reached it. We had had enough.
Everywhere I looked I saw things that irritated me. I’ve never been to a (so-called) festival with such a narrow demographic. Where were the old hippies, the Rasta, the festival freaks? Everyone I spoke to the day before over 25 was a DJ performing. Everyone else came from London. Where were all the people from Liverpool or Bristol? Where were all the cool kids? Where were the Welsh?
A decision had to be made about how best to alter our general mood and, since I wasn’t about to drop acid, decided “fuck it. Let’s go”. Once decided, our tent was down & packed away in less time than it took to put up. Our Welsh Saviour (Big Will Hagan) was called (in the middle of his tea, bless) and came to collect us & take us back to Holyhead.
We waited for a train. We then had to change carriages because, well, half a dozen fully-grown men on their way for a night out, casually reading from a BNP leaflet, makes me kind of feel uncomfortable. It was Rosa Parkes in reverse! There is a time to sit on a bus & refuse to move, but this was definitely one time to get up & move to another carriage! Get me out of Wales!
Now I can see what Gottwood are trying to achieve. I wish them all luck in building their event year upon year. I think they made a sterling effort arranging a lovely site in a beautiful spot; I think the line-up was good enough (even though A Guy Called Gerald and Jack Sparrow both cancelled): But I’m sorry, it was peopled by too many identi-kit tossers on a jolly from University. You can wear all the hippy-chic you like but six hundred tranquilised toffs in a field does not a festival make. And if I never see another pair of MC Hammer pants again I’ll be a much happier man. I’m sure there were plenty of nice people there too; but I didn’t meet (m)any of them. Would I return to Gottwood? Sadly, I’m going to have to say the chances are not good, Gottwood.