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Tales From The Conference League : The Abbey Park Festival

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Leicester recently held a festival to celebrate 125 years of Abbey Park, and they called it, logically enough, The Abbey Park Festival. This name, however, has a far greater historical resonance for those of us who were around and ROCKING in the city 10 years ago.

The Abbey Park Festival was the one time in the year when people in Leicester actually went to see bands. The scale of it varied - some years it had marquees, lorry stages, mini-Pyramid Stages, children's areas and fairgrounds, other times it was just one tent with a stage at the end. The only thing that never changed, however large it got, was that there were always more bands who didn't get to play it than did, and they moaned about it all year long.

I know because was in several of these bands, until I discovered the best way to get on any festival stage: know the person running it. It's a sordid fact but as true today as it's ever been. The Sorted Stage was run by Sorted Records Supremo Dave Dixey, and as I was at that point a regular in his pub I had ample opportunity to persuade him that we should play. He also managed to persuade me that running the stage with him would be a good idea, and so in 1999 that's what I did.

The day of the festival dawned fine, bright and extremely early as we had to be on site at 6am to dig the trenches for the electricity cables that would power our stage. The night before we'd agreed that we'd be very careful with our drinking. We were responsible for a full day of musical programming, featuring delicate equipment and electrical connections, and I especially had to be careful as myself and The Validators were the headlining act!

I should say at this point that "headlining" at a local bands festival is exactly the same as "headlining" at a London Showcase gig - it's a polite way of saying that you're on last, when everybody else has gone to catch the last bus home and/or is too drunk to stand up. People who've travelled to the metropolis from afar will know how upsetting it is when the first band goes on to a packed room, leading you to think "This is it! This is where we get discovered - drugs and money AHOY!", only for the room to empty after the second band leaving you to play to the promoter, the soundman, and the bass player's parents. Sage Advice: if it ever looks like this is going to happen to you, go over to the dreary ballads band with the expensive gear (there's always one) and tell them that you think they deserve to headline instead - they always fall for it because they always think they DO!

Anyway, with that in mind I'd resolved to not touch a drop of alcohol until at least 4pm. Unfortunately I'd not reckoned on the effects of being up and working that early in the day. By 10am I was panting for BOOZE, at 11am I was first in the queue at the Beer Tent, by noon I was tipsy and by four o'clock I was, quite frankly, drunk.

This may explain my actions later that afternoon, when the weather took a turn for the worse and the canvas roof over our stage started to leak. I didn't really see the problem until the band Johnny Domino pointed out that water was pouring in right on top of the four-way plug that was powering all the amplifiers - if it wasn't fixed there would be explosions and DEATH so, full of boozy courage, I volunteered to climb up to the roof and fix it. This year our stage was on the back of a lorry, so it took me quite a while clamber up there, and when I did I found that the canvas had been held in place by scaffolding poles which had rolled around in transit and left a large section free to flap away in the wind. I splashed across through puddles, looking down to notice that a large crowd had gathered, watching me in amazement. "Aha!" I thought, "They think I am GRATE for doing this - let's give them a show!" so I picked up one of the poles and started waving it around above my head shouting "I DEFY YOU AGELESS ELEMENTS!" It was BRILLIANT and it was only an - inexplicable - bout of feeling a little bit sick and needing a wee that made me climb down again.

When I got back to earth I found a lot of very pale faced people glaring at me in astonishment. Apparently standing in a great big puddle on top of a lorry in the middle of a flat park waving a ten foot long steel pole in the air during a thunder storm when you're meant to be organising a festival is not, as it happens, GRATE, but really rather stupid. You could get struck by lightning and KILLED, or at least have all the hair on your head burnt off - just ask Michael Eavis!
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