Dirty loos and Robbie at his best; my V Festival memories

It sounds like a wonderful idea. You and your friends drive to a large open space to be entertained for a whole weekend by some of the biggest names in music.

For some, who should know better, it’s a way of harking back to their youth. For others, it’s a chance to experiment with illegal substances and swot up on their biology in a tent.

I didn’t know it at the time but my first open air music festival was also destined to be my last.

The date was August 22, 1998, and the venue was Temple Newsham, Leeds.

I was 26 years old, had no children, and umpteen rock concerts under my belt.

The line up that weekend included Green Day, The Verve, Iggy Pop, Feeder, James, Ian Brown, The Charlatans, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Chumbawamba, Lightning Seeds and our very own Robbie Williams.

It didn’t start well for us. Actually getting to the venue would have tested the patience of a saint.

Following a four-hour drive we were finally shoe-horned into a parking space after queuing for a further three hours.

Still, we had arrived at last, and leaving the camping gear in the car we set off to find the main stage and grab a decent spot to watch the various acts. That was when we discovered that traversing festival venues isn’t much fun. Indeed, it’s a fairly hazardous exercise.

Clinging on to my site map and my other half for grim death, I attempted to weave through the multitudes – taking care not to step in discarded chips, half-eaten burgers or someone else’s vomit.

It was a disorientating and pretty unpleasant experience during which I discovered that common courtesy had gone away for the weekend.

It also left me wondering how on earth I would find my way back to my Citroen Saxo in the dark.

Having secured a spot a few hundred yards from the stage we watched a succession of artists deliver what can only be described as lukewarm performances. At least it wasn’t raining.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I realised then that festivals bring together people who have many and varied musical tastes.

Hard core fans of one particular band or artist are hugely outnumbered by the great seething mass of people blowing whistles, throwing inflatables and getting merrily drunk or stoned.

It has all the atmosphere of a trip to the supermarket on a Sunday morning.

The one saving grace came as a genuine surprise to me.

R Williams esquire strolled on stage late in the afternoon – sparking real excitement in the crowd for the first time.

The food and merchandise stalls went dead for the only time during the whole weekend as everyone became entranced by the boy from Tunstall.

“You must be Leeds,” he said. The crowd went wild.

“And if you’re not, you must be Port Vale.”

“Yeah!” screamed yours truly, resplendent in his Vale away shirt.

A tumbleweed moment ensued.

Several dozen people turned to stare at me as though I’d just stepped off a spaceship.
My fiancé kicked me.

I went red.

Robbie, at the time was a troubled figure, still relatively early on in his solo career and rarely out of the tabloids.

I wasn’t a fan but he went on to deliver what can only be described as a virtuoso performance.

On his set list that day were Let Me Entertain You, Life Thru A Lens, No Regrets, Strong, Old Before I Die and Millenium – none of which had yet been played to death on the radio.

At his swaggering best, Robbie teased the crowd like only a great showman can and, for a brief time, all the festival-goers were united.

By the time the final chorus of Angels had faded away and the Robster had vacated the stage tens of thousands of people were on a genuine, natural high.

That, for me, was as good as it got.

Looking back, I like to think of V98 as the time I went to see Robbie because the rest of the weekend was eminently forgettable.

The toilets, when you could get into one, were positively disgusting.

My fiancé’s sister and her husband took one look at the campsite in the semi-darkness and, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, opted for the long drive home to their own comfortable beds.

Yours truly pitched his tent in the middle of the field and was kept awake all night by some herbert wearing a sombrero and plucking a guitar for the benefit of his spaced-out chums.

As I trudged back to my car on the Sunday I vowed ‘never again’.

I’d like to wish all those who have tickets for the V Festival at Weston Park near Stafford on August 21 and 22 a great weekend.

I can’t think of anywhere I’d less like to be.


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