Politicians dressing like rock stars annoy Aidan Smith, especially when his favourite music festival is in peril
Fans of popular beat music, I have a question for you: how concerned should we be that Scotland’s biggest festival won’t be happening next year when Phil Collins getting the venue of his wedding wrong in his memoirs – and being sued by his ex-wife for this vile calumny – counts as the most rock ’n’ roll thing he’s ever done?
How bothered should we be that T in the Park’s future is now in doubt when Kate Bush – stopping just short of “Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow – unbelievable!” – declares Theresa May to be “rather wonderful” and “the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time”?
How worrying is it for the rebelious spirit of rock that the Prime Minister wears leather trousers, a look once thought exclusive to musos which Debbie Harry could pull off, and Chrissie Hynde and even Suzi Quatro, but which no-one wore with the animal stealth of the breeks’ original owners quite like Jim Morrison, who you think must be birling in his grave at the thought of May so attired (that is, if you believe the Doors frontman is actually dead)?
And when Sting quits Britain claiming we’re envious of his success (Did you buy his lute album? Me neither) and when the Rolling Stones with their No 8 ranking on the Forbes rich-list are acclaimed for if not reinventing the wheel then certainly the rotating disc, with a record of the old blues standards they ripped off in their youth (me neither), then you have to wonder: maybe it’s for the best that the annual shindig in the Perthshire countryside won’t be taking place in 2017.
Except, is it? No T in the Park will send out the wrong message. The PM despatched one of these with the wrong trousers – £995 strides unveiled as a new report about economic division detailed the extent of London overheating while the rest of the country simply stewed – but in our case it would, rather alarmingly, be this: Scotland is too dreary a place to have a rock festival. We don’t do hedonism here. Try somewhere else.
It cannot be helped that the first generation of rock stars has gotten old, boring, too rich or started spouting questionable opinions. No-one in their formative years ever thought they would be any good at carefully thought-out career strategies; that’s why they ended up becoming rock stars. But this is no reason to give up on T in the Park.
It’s very easy to reach the stage – e.g. when you have five different versions of Jethro Tull’s Stand Up already – to think that you’re done with rock music. To think that you witnessed the best of it and that you view the latest re-packaging of this album as cynical and mildly desperate. I’m not that person and really hope someone gets me the remastered, three-disc boxset for Christmas, complete with every wonky out-take swept off the studio floor, plus companion book. I don’t want my children to ask, “Dad, what’s a rock festival?”, and when old enough, not be able to attend one.
I don’t want to turn into the smug git moaning about the charts being full of posh kids who view being in a band as an aimless indulgence like a gap year, only affordable with a trust fund. I mean, I wholeheartedly believe this to be the case, but don’t want to rain on my kids’ parade any more than Perthshire in July would.
Nor do I want to hang around them like a bad smell, or an even badder one given how skanky T in the Park can be. They don’t need their old man chaperoning them with wet-wipes in one side-pocket of his camouflage cargo shorts and a bar of Kendal Mint Cake in the other. They need to make their own mistakes, including those of musical choice. They’ll never have their father’s innate good taste but should still be smart enough to know that when confronted by too much lumpen lads’ rock from the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, the correct thing to do is launch an ocean-tested distress flare.
I’m a nine-times veteran of T in the Park and know it not to be perfect. But, while still nursing the ache of disappointment that David Bowie had to call off in 2004 after being hit in the eye with a lollypop stick in Oslo, what would constitute the perfect festival anyway? Wouldn’t that be a contradition in terms? Too young for festivals when no corporate-entertainment provider would have gone near their chaos, I thrill to stories from that hippy age. My favourite concerns 1975’s Watchfield which took place at an abandoned Oxfordshire airfield and remains the only state-sponsored fest there’s ever been – under the quizzical eye of Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, no less. “Men and women took their shirts off,” writes Andy Beckett in his political history of the Seventies, When the Lights Went Out. “The encampment thickened with vans and teepees ... shelters made out of corrugated iron or sheets of polythene. Zorch played a set that lasted from 11pm to 5am. Poltergeist played as a couple had sex under the stage to cheers from the audience. A dog fell into the toilets, and volunteers struggled to pull it out. Someone painted a huge smiley face on the control tower. The Bishop of Reading, Eric Wild, held a service of Holy Communion. Chewy free bread was baked in an oil drum. Black-painted spaghetti was offered for sale as acid.”
Don’t you wish you could have been there? Don’t you wish Nicola Sturgeon would save T in the Park for the nation? As Donald MacLeod of the Scottish Music Awards warns, without it we risk becoming a “cultural backwater”. Something has to be done, and definitely before Theresa May releases her debut album.