Free University #2

This improvised sign was the doorstep of the Artist Liaison office (i.e. Portakabin) and backstage door for bands performing on The Park stage at Glastonbury festival. It made me think of the artist Bob and Roberta Smith.

On the train down to Castle Cary I’d read John Harris’s excellent article on Ian Hunter’s Diary of Mott the Hoople in the Guardian Review (which I’d recommend), so maybe I was primed to enjoy a bit of backstage scruffiness.

I was there to do a ‘lecture’ at the Free University of Glastonbury, ‘the festival’s very own literary tent’ as the blurb said, which was put together by our affable-unflappable host Mathew Clayton ably assisted by the equally unflappable Kal. It was great fun and I’m really pleased that I was invited to participate. Other speakers included Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson, Matthew De Abaitua, Peter Hook and Rob Chapman, author of this summer’s brilliant Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head.

Also sharing the bill with me on Sunday was Hamish Skermer, who this year was piloting a sustainable, well designed and user-friendly composting toilet design at various locations around the festival. Hamish had only recently returned from Haiti where he’s been working on similar initiatives to replace an infrastructure that was strained even before the terrible recent earthquake. Hamish has been teaching people to rebuild more sustainable sanitary facilities for the more than two million internally displaced people forced to live in improvised settlements across the country. He is an inspiring man who can and does talk about shit for hours, here is a link to his website Natural Event.

My presentation included a reading from ‘Albertopolis Disparu’, a story that I wrote for the Science Museum during my stint as writer in residence, and which they published as a free give away last year on their vintage imprint A Science Museum Booklet which we had resurrected for the purpose.

‘Albertopolis Disparu’ uses the science fiction and fantasy staple of the found manuscript to invoke an apparently lost work by Michael Moorcock pseudonym James Colvin called Terminal Session. The story riffs on Moorcock’s work with legendary space rock band Hawkwind, particularly the Moorcock-penned spoken word civil defence parody ‘Sonic Attack’. It’s the latest in a series of (authorised) stories I’ve been writing since around 1999 which create a kind of commentary or correspondence-by-fiction with Michael Moorcock and his works.

I was down at Glastonbury with my 18 year old son, and the night before my gig for the Free University he stumbled upon Nick Turner’s Space Ritual setting up for their gig in the intimate Rabbit Hole stage. I’m glad he did because it was this stage rather than the Pyramid which seemed to be the psychic centre of this year’s festival running as it was a series of acts that reflected the festival’s 40 year history.

Space Ritual was by far the best gig I saw all weekend, and I’d imagine that the other hundred or so people in the Rabbit Hole would agree. J and I had been watching George Clinton with Parliament/Funkadelic (as the billing put it) on one of the larger outdoor stages, where their energy was dissipating slightly, so the idea of catching a good Space Ritual line up was enough to see us abandoning the last half of Clinton’s set with a shrug and racing back to the Rabbit Hole as fast as we could. But from Clinton’s opener Maggot Brain to Nick Turner’s Brain Storm does seem like a logical psychedelic progression: space funk to space rock.

Space Ritual members vary but the line up for this Rabbit Hole gig was the principal members listed on wikipedia (so apart from Jerry Richards, Chris Purdon and Miss Angel, if you’d seen Hawkwind at Glastonbury in 1970 you’d have seen this lot):

  • Nik Turner – vocals, sax, flute (Hawkwind 1969-77, 1982-84)
  • Mick Slattery – lead guitar, vocals (Hawkwind 1969-70)
  • Thomas Crimble – keyboards (Hawkwind 1970-71)
  • Jerry Richards – bass guitar (Hawkwind guitarist 1995-2001)
  • Terry Ollis – drums, percussion (Hawkwind 1969-72)
  • Chris Purdon (a.k.a. Chris Mekon) – audio generators, FX, analogue synths
  • Miss Angel – Dancer

I should have tried to get hold of the set list to reproduce here, but it included various Moorcock era tracks including ‘Sonic Attack’, also ‘Ritual of the Ravaged Earth’, ‘Otherworld’, ‘Walking Backwards’, ‘Brain Storm’, ‘Sonic Savages’ and many more. The gig was energising, exhilarating and an absolute tour de force, and if on that other stage Parliament/Funkadelic were struggling slightly to invoke the Mothership, Space Ritual drove that mother into the ground.

To be continued…