Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands

Tricky one this! Either see all five Ratdog shows or miss Bilston and go to Canterbury for the weekend. Both options have their plus points! Everyone raved about the Robin2 on the last tour but Canterbury has the Incredible String Band, Roy Harper and Robert Plant on the Saturday night.

In the end it was the fact that under 14's got in free at Canterbury, meaning that the kids could go, that made me decide on a weekend at the Canterbury Fayre - besides it was just down the road from my house - it would have been rude not to go! So after a great night seeing Ratdog at the Astoria I set off for Canterbury with Beth (Rhianna wasn't feeling too great so had decided not to go - I promised to come back and get her on Sunday morning if she was feeling better).

Once we arrived at the site it was obvious that every thing was in chaos! Nobody seemed to know what was going on we were told that there was no parking left and that there was no camping space either we were sent up and down country lanes by clueless security guards and people were slowly losing their tempers.

Eventually we drove in through what turned out to be an exit and ground to a halt. Fortunately for us we had ran into one of the few helpful security guards on the entire site and he set about finding places for us to park. There were about 4 cars in front of us and one by one he found them a space to squeeze into. As it was a hot day we had the doors of the car open and kept wandering out to see what was going on.

Suddenly we realised that we’d lost our ticket. We ripped the car to bits but it had gone, I thought that maybe someone had grabbed it as they walked past while we were out of the car talking to security. I had resigned myself to having to buy another ticket when Bethany walked back along the track and thankfully found it lying by the side of the road

Eventually the security guard showed me where to park. I wasn’t sure as I appeared to be blocking several cars in but he assured me it would be alright!! I was worried though what would happen when he went off duty so I left a note on my dashboard pointing out I’d been told to park there and leaving my mobile number (not that my mobile worked on site!!)

We set about putting our tent up but the ground where we were to camp was rock solid. Beth ended up borrowing a mallet off our next-door neighbours. I think this set the tone for the weekend – everybody at the festival was just so nice. While we were putting up the tent we could hear John Otway being introduced. I had wanted to see him but we could hear reasonably well from our tent.

Eventually out tent was up and we headed off to get wristbands and go and see some bands. The path from our tent to the arena meandered through the campsite and then through orchards before we reached the arena. We exchanged our ticket for a wristband (Beth was over the moon about having to have a wristband as she didn’t get one at Glastonbury).

As we walked into the arena John Otway was playing his second hit “Bunsen Burner”. We wandered around the market, which didn’t take long and got ourselves something to drink. I was pleased to see that Burrow Hill Cider had a bar there (the people who run the Cider Bus at Glastonbury).

Almost as soon as we were inside I started to meet Deadheads, some I knew some I didn’t. Almost without exception a conversation would be struck up – Stranger stopping stranger! After every meeting my daughter would ask – “do you know him” – the answer was invariably no! Also on site was a stall that sold bubble machines and almost every where you went on site huge bubbles filled the air.

The first act we got to see was the Deborah Bonham Band – Deborah is John Bonham’s (Led Zeppelin’s Drummer) sister. She played some blues but didn’t set the world on fire. Next up were the Incredible String Band and the first act I really wanted to see. Beth and I found ourselves a space on the hill midway between the stage and the mixer and waited.

I set up my recording equipment with my microphones attached to my bag and waited. I knew Robin Williamson wasn’t playing with the band anymore and I wondered what they would be like without him. In the end I need not have worried as they band were more like what I would have expected the Incredible String Band to have been like than the last time I saw them with Mike, Robin and Clive (who was also missing today).

Everything’s fine right now, Chinese white, Log Cabin home in the Sky, Maker of Islands, You know what you could be, Worlds they rise and fall, Water song, Painting box, Hedgehog song, Douglas Traherne Harding, Cousin Caterpillar, A very cellular song

Mike Heron sings the Incredible String Band may have been a better title but hey I didn’t care as they played their way through a load of my favourites. This was, as I said, what i expected the ISB to be like, slightly chaotic but grest. Not like the polished performance that i had seen at the Bloomsbury Theatre. The fiddle player Fluff (although she played a lot more besides) fitted in so well.

But then suddenly into my dreams staggered Loony Bloke. He approached my daughter waving a Canterbury Fayre flyer and holding 8 cans of Younger’s tartan (Jesus do they still make that) and asked who was playing. We politely told him who it was and he went on and on telling us how he used to see them in the 60’s etc. Despite all attempts to ignore him he rattled on and on expounding on everything from Barry Mannilow to the quality of the dope around him – not that he had any himself!

Meanwhile ISB were playing some of my favourite songs: Painting Box, Hedgehog song and finally joy of joys A very Cellular song. The three-piece band was very good especially someone called Fluff who played most of the instruments. After they finished we foolishly decided to stay where we were for the next act, which was Roy Harper. Drumkits and amps were being set up on the stage which made me wonder if I was going to see Roy with a band for the first time in 23 years but no they were just setting up early for Robert Plant.

Tom Tiddler's Ground, Don't You Grieve, Pinches of Salt, Highway Blues, Old Cricketer, Me and My Woman, Girl from the North Country, One Man Rock and Roll Band

Roy came on wearing a white shirt and white trousers. I set off my recorder and it was at that point that Loony Bloke decided to ask us to look after his stuff while he went to the loo. However Roy too was obviously away with the fairies as well but he was putting on a good show, between song banter included complaining about the noise from the other stage (that’s probably my son over there), asking if the stage was sloping, pointing out dragonflies and taking the piss out of Robert Plant (who had appeared at the side of the stage) as well as those trivial subjects like was Judas Jesus’ best friend and the garden of Eden!!

The continual drivel coming from Loony Bloke eventually came to an end during Old Cricketer. This is one of my favourite songs and like during a very cellular song his voice drifted through my enjoyment of it. Unfortunately this time he picked a very sore subject and the look I gave him must have scared him because he didn’t speak to me again all day. However we now had a woman behind us who obviously was under the illusion that if she stopped talking her mouth would heal up, she also saw pausing for breath as some sort of weakness. Beth and I decided to move before Robert plant came on!


Beth decided to go off for a wander before Robert Plant came on and we agreed to meet over by the bacon sandwich stall after he had finished. Off she went and I waited for Plant to come on. I got a text from Beth saying that it was too busy by the bacon sandwich stall and she would meet me by the doughnut stall instead. However 2 or 3 songs into the set Beth suddenly appeared by my side.

If I ever get Lucky, Four Sticks, Morning Dew, 7+7 is, Going to California, Girl from the north country, Gallows pole, Hey Joe, Ramble On, Tall cool one, Babe I'm gonna leave you, Encores, Darkness Darkness, Whole Lotta Love

At least Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation were loud enough to drown out any chatter around us and by this time everyone was standing up. I had my microphones mounted on my sunglasses on my head this time, which made for a much better recording. The set itself was great with old Zep numbers mixed with stuff from Percy’s solo career and cover versions of such diverse songs as Love’s 7 and 7 is, Morning Dew, made famous by the Dead and Girl from the North Country (introduced as a Bob Dylan song to no doubt piss Mr Harper off).

By the time they got to Babe I'm gonna leave you I needed to go to the loo. Unfortunately I’d run the microphone lead down the back of my shirt so getting it out mid song was tricky.

I hopped about from leg to leg cursing the idea I’d had earlier to buy a 2-litre bottle of cider and cursing the fact I’d lost the empty bottle even more!! Eventually the song finished and I pulled the microphone cable out, changed the minidisc for the encores, stuffed the whole lot on Beth’s head and ran for the loo’s leaving a rather bemused looking daughter behind me!!

I have to confess I didn’t wait in the queue!! I ended up relieving myself up against the chain fence behind them. Sheer relief!! Then I had to find Beth again. When I did find my way back to her through the crowd she wouldn’t hand over the microphones until the end of the first encore – bless! Mr Plant finished with Whole lotta love – Nice one Percy!!

Beth and I headed off to bed winding our way back through the crowds probably talking to more Deadheads on the way. Our tent seemed even further away than it had that morning but eventually we got into our beds and went off to sleep. Ratdog tomorrow!!

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Pictures before Robert Plant section © Kevin Shewan
Crowd picture in header © Nick Pound
Campsite photo courtesy BBC
ISB picture courtesy of Phil Bull and e-festivals
All other pictures © Virtual Festivals