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Big Stinking Music Festivals

Every festival needs cigarette girls
Every festival needs cigarette girls

It’s officially the summer which means festival season is upon us.  This is an occasion when otherwise normal people trudge off to a weekend length music festival which pretends to be Woodstock.  Since this is England it usually rains, which means you tramp around in the mud, spend the night in a waterlogged sleeping bag in a flooded tent, drink vast quantities of alcohol, smoke mother nature and sleep with someone you just met.  You go home at the end of the weekend with grainy pictures of thin young men performing on stage and a genital wart.

In the part of of the world where I grew up, most of the happy people live a festival experience every day.   I’m quite content not to share in the discomfort.  However, I have many friends who do attend festivals and they persuaded me to attend the House Festival, which is a day long music festival in the bucolic middle class pastures of Richmond, London, organised by Soho House.  For those of who you who don’t know because you don’t care, Soho House is an achingly cool private club for beautiful creative types.  They famously prohibit bankers and men in suits from entering their venues in London, New York, Berlin, Istanbul, Beverly Hills etc.

I’m now a veteran of two Soho House festivals and this is my report.

Manicured grounds, historic homes. blue skies
Manicured grounds, historic homes. blue skies

Festivals are a sort of middle aged mud bath for failed rebels.  I don’t know how other festivals work but the price of admission to the House Festival covers all food, drink and entertainment.  On entry we all made a beeline for the drinks tent – cocktails by Grey Goose and champagne by Veuve Clicquot.  Suitably sustained we spread out to obtain manicures, hair treatments and massages.   It was all rather metrosexual.  Oysters and lobster to follow.

If you were a first time visitor to London, you would be forgiven for thinking that every day is cloudless and sunny, and that all of our inhabitants are thin and good looking with perfect teeth. The men all had their trousers rolled up to show off a bit of ankle and the women were perfectly depilitated, with just the odd hint of Botox.  I don’t get Botox. I figure that the whole point of beauty treatments is to make you look better.  Why then do women want to walk around looking like they’ve just been smacked in the face, with swollen lips that don’t move when they speak?

The undercover Grey Goose "bread" van
The undercover Grey Goose “bread” van

The music, which is the main point of these festivals is mostly of the moment (Kaiser Chiefs, The Feeling, Dizzee Rascal, Kelis, Sam Smith, Paloma Faith) except when it obviously isn’t. Somehow, Soul II Soul managed to build a 20 year sort-of-career out of one hit song. All credit to them for being able to sing the same song every day of their professional existence without losing the will to live.  We heard the 14 minute dance version 0f “Back to Life, Back to Reality,” the hip hop version, the drum and base version….Hey, it was all danceable, delivered with a high energy stage show and the crowd was in a good mood!

I had more trouble deciphering the hip hop star Dizzee Rascal and his team of good looking angry black men.  I listened hard to their lyrics:

I’m a bass line fan,

big stinking bass line.

Bitch, innit?

Get freaky yeah!

Jump! Jump! Jump!

I have no idea what it means, but repeating the lyrics seemed to agitate the men on stage.  They were now jumping around in evident distress, left hands grabbing their gonads; right arms outstretched and jerking up and down, palms facing down, fingers reaching out.  I really didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve seen Mick Jagger grabbing his crotch on stage, but I figured that when you are 70 years old and jumping around you kinda need to hang on to your bits to keep them from falling off…

The crowd seemed to get it however, and people were jumping.  Fists were pumping in the air in the classic expression of white middle class rebellion.  The woman in front of me got so carried away that she threw her plastic champagne flute in the air, drenching us all in bubbles.  Wow.

Absolut master bartender Franco at work inside the bread van
Grey Goose master bartender Roberto at work inside the bread van.

I escaped for a cocktail to the Grey Goose van.  A classic 1947 Citroen bread van, our hosts at Grey Goose had cleverly transformed the interior into a tiny air-conditioned jewel of a bar with just two seats.  I spent a blissful half hour sampling martinis with Starkers, the famous nude swimmer from Cannes.   Our bartender Roberto gave us a lengthy discourse on using salt in a martini (we sampled ours with black lava salt, citric acid and smoked salts) and the importance of Ph balance in a cocktail.  I didn’t understand all of it but a dry martini with a pinch of smoked salt and a pickled gherkin is a treat – the salt adding a softness and a smokiness to the clean flavour of the vodka.  Starkers likes her martinis dirty and Roberto riffed on it with a Grey Goose Citron Vodka mixed with raspberry cordial, Somerset apple brandy and citric acid.  This was an enormously complex drink with the citric acid fizzing in your mouth, bursting with citrus flavours.  We also tried a cocktail which mixed Grey Goose Le Poire vodka with whiskey bitters and smoked salt.  Light pink in colour this drink combined the sweetness of pear with the peatiness of the whisky bitters and the brine of the smoked salt for a heady concoction.   I have since acquired my own selection of salts. I must now invite Roberto home.

So what’s my verdict on festivals?  I think they are a bit like cocktails.  It’s not about the ingredients or the weather or what clothes you wear.  It’s about spending serious down-time with good friends, enjoying each other’s company and toasting good times past and those still to come.

I still hate mud.







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