HERE I GO AGAIN The Spirit Of Fes­ti­vals

What­ever the weather, you can’t beat the feel­ing of an out­door fes­ti­val, says Whites­nake leg­end Bernie Mars­den

Guitarist - - Opinion - bernie mars­den

Iwrite this col­umn af­ter re­turn­ing from a very mem­o­rable week­end at the Steel­house Fes­ti­val in Ebbw Vale, South Wales. Fri­day night saw bi­b­li­cal weather con­di­tions that al­most re­sulted in health and safety clos­ing the stage down. Luck­ily, this didn’t hap­pen, and my acous­tic set on Satur­day af­ter­noon of­fered up some fleet­ing sun­shine, although it didn’t stick around for long – the heav­ens opened again af­ter I fin­ished my set. The del­uge on the Welsh moun­tain con­tin­ued.

I was plan­ning to drive home af­ter the gig, but the pro­moter ap­proached me back­stage. Un­for­tu­nately, Alan Nimmo, a mate of mine, had lost his voice and so his band King King had to can­cel. The pro­moter asked me to stay and play an­other set on the Sun­day af­ter­noon with my pals Hand Of Dimes as we had on Fri­day. By Sun­day af­ter­noon the stage crew (who were mag­nif­i­cent all week­end) had la­belled the week­end ‘BernieFest’ and the hash­tag #BernieFest soon ap­peared in my Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions!

The crowd were as­ton­ish­ing. On all three days I wit­nessed the Bri­tish rock au­di­ence to­tally ig­nore the ap­palling rain and sim­ply en­joy the mu­sic, but most of all, em­brace the spirit of the fes­ti­val with wel­com­ing arms. Mud, more mud, along with rain and then more rain sleeted against their faces con­tin­u­ally. The cold af­ter­noon turned into a very cold night, and back to their tents they all went. Said tents were most def­i­nitely all erected in ham­mer­ing rain af­ter a two-hour wait on the hill to the fes­ti­val site. My hat goes off to each and ev­ery one of them.

Be­ing in a band, whether open­ing the bill or head­lin­ing it, means noth­ing with­out the crowd. The peo­ple are the fes­ti­val, yet I was treated like a King on that moun­tain. Out­door fes­ti­vals are en­joy­able for me for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Shar­ing a cabin with the other artists is un­usual but fun. We might be op­po­site each other across a muddy path­way, but we are all ba­si­cally to­gether and the back­stage vibe is al­ways very good. Watch­ing Biff By­ford from Saxon wan­der­ing around with a pair of mud-crusted wellies on is a sight you sim­ply don’t see back­stage at the O2 Arena!

Fes­ti­vals give me the chance to see a few bands I would prob­a­bly usu­ally miss out on. Mon­ster Truck from Canada were very good, as were Toby Jep­son’s new band Way­ward Sons. My point is that, de­spite the weather, fes­ti­vals work. The com­bi­na­tion of the artists and the au­di­ence make the work of the or­gan­is­ers to­tally worth­while.

“A White Snake Of Limos”

I was re­minded of the Don­ing­ton Park Mon­sters Of Rock fes­ti­val I played with Whites­nake in 1981. AC/DC, Whites­nake, Black­foot, Slade and Blue Oys­ter Cult on the bill. I do have some strange mem­o­ries from the gig, though. Although AC/DC were the head­lin­ers, we al­ways felt that at least half of the crowd that day, es­ti­mated at 80,000 pun­ters, were purely there to see Whites­nake. I had one of the most mem­o­rable gigs of my ca­reer that night. Ru­mours abounded that the ac­tual num­ber in at­ten­dance ex­ceeded six fig­ures that day. I re­mem­ber the play­ing and I re­mem­ber the an­tic­i­pa­tion as the Back In Black bell started the AC/DC set. The ex­cite­ment was elec­tric. One great mem­ory I have, which still makes me laugh to this day, is Whites­nake’s en­trance into the fes­ti­val grounds. Each of the us en­tered the site in our own white limou­sine, and so the spec­ta­cle was a lit­eral white snake of lim­ou­sines slowly en­ter­ing Don­ing­ton Park for ev­ery­one to see. Over the top much? Of course, but great fun.

What I still re­mem­ber most to this day, though, is Blue Oys­ter Cult’s an­tics back­stage. The pro­mot­ers of the gig had pre­sented each in­di­vid­ual mem­ber of each band on the bill an en­graved metal poster of the gig; it was a nice ges­ture. I reckon Blue Oys­ter Cult had ex­pected to be higher up the bill, or had a bad gig. I don’t ac­tu­ally know or care, but I re­mem­ber them mak­ing a com­plete spec­ta­cle of them­selves by smash­ing their me­men­tos to pieces out­side of their car­a­van. The thing is, only the rest of us mu­si­cians and crew saw them do it. We sim­ply shrugged shoul­ders and walked away mouthing com­ments. I re­mem­ber Med­locke apol­o­gis­ing on be­half of the USA! Al­ways loved Rick from that day, folks.

As far as in­ter­nal fes­ti­vals go, I was priv­i­leged to be at the Stam­ford Arts Cen­tre in 1999. I was there to film and record the late Larry John­son, a fine blues singer from Alabama and then New York. I had ar­ranged to meet Larry there with my good friend Michael Roach to make a live record­ing; we both took our video cam­eras. What I didn’t know was I was go­ing to be at the equiv­a­lent acous­tic ses­sion of Clap­ton, Beck, Hen­drix and Page! Also booked on the mid­dle day of the fes­ti­val were Martin Carthy, Bert Jan­sch, John Ren­bourn and Davey Gra­ham – a real gem of a line-up if ever such a thing ex­isted.

I saw Martin Carthy’s sound­check and I asked him if I could record and film a lit­tle of it as a test for later. Martin was great and said yes. He then in­formed me that the other guys were go­ing to be ar­riv­ing dur­ing the af­ter­noon. I later saw and chat­ted to John Ren­bourn and he in­tro­duced me to Bert Jan­sch. It was only then that I learned the leg­endary (and I do mean leg­endary) Davey Gra­ham was go­ing to be there as well. I wit­nessed the first meet­ing of Jan­sch and Gra­ham for a long time and even now I can feel quite emo­tional about it. Out of those peo­ple, only the great Martin Carthy is still with us. I made a good film and record­ing with Larry John­son, but I still shud­der to think what I could have recorded that day in Stam­ford. But I have the mem­ory and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

I’m play­ing some town fes­ti­vals later this year. I’ll be in Whitby, Clitheroe, Work­ing­ton, Troon, Dar­ling­ton, Carlisle and New­bury. The lo­ca­tion doesn’t mat­ter. If the au­di­ences are half as com­mit­ted as the peo­ple I played to last week­end the shows will be great.

When I show up for fes­ti­vals from now on in Por­tu­gal, Spain, the south of France, places where you know you can wear your shorts and a t-shirt, I’ll think of the mud and rain and the sheer spirit of those folks on the moun­tain at the Steel­house Fest at the end of July 2017. See you next month.

“I wit­nessed the Bri­tish rock au­di­ence to­tally ig­nore the ap­palling rain and em­brace the spirit of the fes­ti­val with wel­com­ing arms” bernIe mArs­den

Bernie at Don­ing­ton’s Mon­sters Of Rock in Au­gust 1981 where Whites­nake played to a crowd of 80,000 fes­ti­val go­ers

Bernie used a Watkins Dom­i­na­tor amp in his for­ma­tive years Bernie was at “the equiv­a­lent acous­tic ses­sion of Clap­ton, Beck, Hen­drix and Page” in the com­pany of Martin Carthy at Stam­ford Arts Cen­tre in 1999

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