Fear and loathing with Liam Gallagher, Novi Sad, 2017

Liam Gallagher - 1

‘Old rockers never die, see, they just flag a little after 2am, when the ‘antibiotics’ start to wear off…’

I’M STANDING about as close to the front of the stage as you can without being part of the First Aid corps at Exit 2017, a music festival in the ancient Petrovaradin Fortress of Novi Sad, Serbia, when suddenly Liam Gallagher pauses, looks me dead in the eyes, and says: ‘You look old enough to remember the 1990s. Well, you might remember this,’ before launching into ‘Morning Glory’.

Of course, I do what any 50-year-old would do at a festival of 54,999 twentysomethings. I look behind me to see who the hell he’s talking about, stick out my bottom lip and shrug. “Speak for yourself,” I grumble under my breath. “I hardly remember anything about the 1990s at all.”

Truth be told, my last musical memory of that decade was another festival, Féile, in Semple Stadium, in Thurles, Tipperary, otherwise known as the ‘Trip to Tipp’, the weekend-long event that once prompted the notorious newspaper headline ‘Teenage Mutant Binge in Thurles’.

Fallout at the Féile Festival, Thurles, Tipperary, 1991

Call it coincidence, but rather like Serbia, Tipperary might also have been considered ‘a long way to go’ at the time.

More relevant, perhaps, is the fact that a three-day ticket for Féile back then could be had for £29.50. Convert that from the rather weird-looking sheets of Irish pounds we used back then to today’s money, and not even accounting for inflation, that’s €38. A full four-day ticket for this year’s Exit Festival was €75, so sometimes it pays to go a long way, even as far as Serbia. Just sayin’.

Anyway, notwithstanding Gallagher’s rather presumptuous remark (I could have been a slightly overweight, prematurely greying college student, after all), there’s a lot to be said for being a festival-goer at 50, and some possibly interesting comparisons to be made between my experience of being, ahem, a rather more ‘mature’ music fan, and my days as a tent-toting, twenty-year-old.

One of the biggest differences is security.  Back when we went to Féile [cue wavy lines] it was probably the biggest music festival in Ireland, yet it was easy to slip your mates in. You just needed two people with tickets, exchanged them for wristbands on entry, cut one off, lashed back out, taped back on your mate’s wrist, and ferried them in like an underground rail road.

Back at age 50, security is much tighter. At Exit, I approach the security line nervously, only to be rejected by the female guard, who refuses to perform a body search. I have to admit, I feel rejected. Her male counterpart has me empty my pockets, only to spot a couple loose aspirin and some heartburn tablets I’d brought (yeah, 50, remember?),

That’s it, I thiink, it’s the full Spanish Inquisition now (which, a little ironically, makes me feel quite ‘rock ‘n’ roll’).

When the chief is called over, however, he takes one look at me and waves his hand. “Probably antibiotics,” he scoffs. This may seem lax (even a little insulting) but, in fact, once inside there seems to be more high-vis vests about than punters. Clearly, control and the overt appearance of control is paramount in 2017.

Compare and contrast with Feile 1991, when the crowd spent time between acts forming human pyramids to rival the Castellers of Catalonia. At one point, people even ripped up the ground-covering to make trampolines, firing each other 20 feet in the air and prompting a horrified Nanci Griffith to drawl: “Y’all better quit that now, afore someone gits hurt.”

Try that at a festival today and see how far you get. Out the door, is where it will get you (which, I couldn’t help noticing, at Exit Festival, is helpfully signposted ‘Way Out’, something discovered only after following signs reading ‘Exit’ in circles for two hours).

Festivals at 50 are no longer all about the alcohol. What you really want is a good feed. Back in the Feile days, this often entailed wading through a two-foot-deep sea of rubbish to a mystery-meat burger stand. Now you have to be watchful of the prefix ‘Vegan’.

How rock ‘n’ roll is hypo-allergenic falafel?

Back in 1991, I’d have eaten my mate’s empty cardboard burger container (I may well have). At 50, I’m quite okay if festival fodder prompts a cholesterol check at the doctors (it may well have), and was actually so happy to find an actual burger at Exit (and a damn fine one, too) that I had the entire staff line up for a photo, which they were happy to do, because, as one of them told me: ‘You remind me of my Dad’.

‘Dad’ moments aside, being a 50-year-old festival goer, has its merits. The crowd parts as I make my way forward, probably because at six feet and 100 kilos, they think I’m ‘security’. Hell, I can live with that. I got to lock eyes with Liam Gallagher, listen to a couple songs, casually check the time and shuffle back to the hotel.

Which leads me to a final point. You will never find this 50-year-old festival-goer in a tent. It could be worthy of a Bedouin prince, complete with belly dancers in feather boas. I want a room with a door, a double bed, shower and mini-bar, and a pass to the steam room in the basement, while we’re at it.

I don’t care how uncool that sounds. Look, you won’t find the bands peeing into an empty beer can and slithering into a moist sleeping bag. No, you’ll find them back at the hotel residents’ bar. With me.

Old rockers never die, see, they just flag a little after 2am, when the ‘antibiotics’ start to wear off.


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