Sunday, August 31, 2008
Hydro Connect: appalling, unacceptable conditions, but great music, food and drink. Major surgery required!
Here's the deal: It's over £140 for a Hydro Connect weekend camping ticket, £20 for parking, an extra £75 if you want to bring a camper van. A programme's an additional £8 and Tangerine Fields charge a whopping £470 for a six-man tent, already erected, with air beds and sleeping bags (but no pillows). Ostensibly with special toilets and showers, which turned out to be nonsense. In other words, Hydro Connect, the way we did it, was an expensive treat (confession: connections wangled me a free parking ticket; still, this was a heavy investment). Would it be worth it?
The lineup (Sigur Ros, Glasvegas, The Roots, Kasabian (sorry, did I say Kasabian?) Elbow and of course Paolo Nutini to name but a mere fraction of the attractions) was superb, and I knew from last year (when I bused in for the Saturday) that the food and drink would be excellent. Surely it would be a splendid weekend?
Indeed, the music WAS great, the stages run with military precision, the food and drink (especially the Loch Fyne Whiskies - thanks Annabel!- and Argyll foods tents). Friends and family were there and socially it was really enjoyable.
HOWEVER: for the money, I thought we as punters were badly treated when it came to camping. Leaving aside our experience with Tangerine Fields, which for us is the subject of a possible legal claim for compensation, the site, lovely as it is, just doesn't work for a rock festival. And here's why:
Yes, Inveraray Castle and its immediate environs provide a wonderful setting for two stages (one in a natural amphitheatre, BUT access to the site is HORRENDOUS. The main parking area is TWO MILES away and only staff were bused to and from the arenas . Everyone else had to walk, along an increasingly swampy and dangerous path. The camp site, by early Friday evening, was a quagmire. This was unforgivable, as it must have been clear from last year what was likely to happen. The toilets were, as usual, overwhelmed almost instantly. Are environmental health regulations simply put into suspended animation during rock festivals? Answer, no, they're not: for evidence, try the much less ordure-enhanced Wizard and Belladrum.
On Friday there was a what some found an intimidating, neddish atmosphere, blamed by people I spoke to on the Kasabian day-ticket punters. Certainly, the all-night partying in the next door tent to ours was both intrusive and earsplitting. But the kids didn't even notice it; by morning I had the Trangia stove on for coffee and things were looking brighter.
Saturday was a good day in every respect but the grinding, horrible conditions. Grinderman, Glasvegas and P Nutini (plus OF COURSE his very excellent band) were impressive. And maybe it's good local politics not to allow the main food outlets to open for breakfast (sending us into Inveraray itself for an excellent cafe repast) but it felt cynical. A lot of the time, as a camper, I felt like an inconvenience for the organisers, but one from whom every last penny was going to be squeezed. Muddily and Squelchily.
I had to abandon ship on Sunday because I wasn't confident about getting to Aberdeen in time for the programme on Monday. Susan, James and Martha (the bairns, it must be said, seemed to love the experience, though James did count one toilet visitation as 'the single worst experience of my life'. And this from a boy who was brought up on (not all the time) a biological composting toilet. Mind you, he is reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy at the moment).
If you want to enjoy some of the music while thanking your lucky stars you didn't have to encounter such a loo, then you can visit our special and glorious BBC Radio Scotland festival website.
Anyway, back to that deal: value for money? Well, I'm going to blog more about my four festival experiences this summer, but let me just say this: Wizard, last weekend, was £65 including camping AND parking. You got a full lanyard-mounted programme free if you bought a copy of the Evening Express.
However, there were wonderful moments for me AND the family at Connect, and as one sympathetic policeman said: 'You won't forget it.' Uh-huh. Susan and the kids, as I write, are planning to head for Glasgow after Sigur Ros. Two nights of horrendous Tangerine Fields conditions is enough.
Next year? Unless the access, parking and camping is sorted out, punters will not pay this kind of money, 'boutique' labels notwithstanding. I most certainly won't. I can't help feeling that the site's limitations are insurmountable. Apart from that nagging, constant feeling that a gloating Duke of Argyll ('I am the most rock'n'roll Duke in Scotland')is sitting up there in his castle, protected by Gurkhas and men in Stalag Luft watchtowers, counting his cash over champers and laughing at the hapless punters down in the mud.
Anybody have a nice, dry, spare airfield on the sunny east coast somewhere? Funnily enough, I know of one...and it's nowhere near Kinross.
....AND IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME...
Try Gigwise ('I have never seen such chaos')
and Jim Steel ('Darfur if it had been hit by Katrina and the REd Cross had only managed to deliver crates of cider')