Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 10
So now we’d come full circle. Once again, Rob and I set off, heading South from Bath via the Two Tunnels. As before, we navigated the niggly hills and lanes of WeIIow and Shoscombe, then followed the disused railway path to Radstock.
But, this time, we stayed East of the main road towards Shepton. This is a route I only discovered after several trips battling it out with heavy traffic and HGVs. A steep climb out of Radstock rewards you with a lovely stretch up among the hills. There are wide, open views, quiet lanes and one particularly well-placed food opportunity, just before the Mendips properly kick In.
Rob and I grabbed this chance and rather over-indulged in a carb-heavy lunch. Thus refueled, we made our way up and over. There’s then a welcome long descent back down towards Shepton. Then a few short hills, before joining the carefully-controlled queue of traffic heading for the festival.
Being performers, we have the luxury of getting on site before the hordes. Nonetheless, the line of stationary vehicles stretched for a good mile or so. With oncoming traffic also intermittently halted, we relished the opportunity to coast the long downhill approach on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
This – coupled with the familiar buzz of catching glimpses of the site for the first time – made for an exhilarating final stretch. Marred only slightly by the fact we were unsighted by a waiting truck, just before the traffic lights at Red Gate. As cyclists who are routinely appalled by others that wantonly ignore red lights, we were horrified to realize we’d inadvertently done just that.
In!… Except We Weren’t
So, with our metaphorical tails between our legs (and the traffic Marshall’s yells ringing in our ears), we pedaled on towards the cycle compound at Bronze Gate. Here, we were met with the most helpful and welcoming reception you could imagine. And we were in! Except we weren’t.
There’s a bit of a hike between the cycle park and the gate to actually penetrate Fortress Glastonbury. To go through which – of course – you need a ticket. Which – of course – we had. Or rather I had. Or didn’t.
I’d expertly packed to facilitate a quick transition from cycling to walking. And I’d been especially careful to stow the tickets in a safe place. But – no matter how many times I looked – they weren’t there. Impossible.
Fortunately, our guitarist, Stephen, had yet to leave Bath for the festival. So I called to ask him to pop round to mine to look for the missing documents. Having dispatched Stephen on this mission, I immediately remembered moving the tickets to a hidden pocket. And there they were. Sorry Stephen. Stand easy.
Obviously, what happens at Glastonbury stays at Glastonbury. So, there’s a limit to how much I can report. Suffice to say, we found ourselves a great spot to pitch our tents, among other musicians and crew from The Bandstand, on which we were booked to perform.
It transpired we also had an en-suite reggae band, led by the charismatic ‘king’ Dave. They were together for the first time, so we were treated to lengthy dub jams. Later, we were also joined by a lively bunch from Nottingham. They were performing in various configurations, making up 2 ½ bands between them. And engaged us on their arrival in an energetic (if potentially ill-judged) game of frisbee among the tents.
Rob and I’d originally been booked to appear as part of Wise Wound. This was the band with which I made my first Glastonbury appearance, back in 1993. The visionary behind Wise Wound was Sue Chewter. Her pixie-like appearance and punkish performance energy – coupled with the all-acoustic, multi-layered instrumentation – transfixed many an audience, both at festivals and all over London, where we were based.
Sad to say, Sue now has a serious illness. But she’s not beaten. Oh no. In defiance, we’d arranged to have a Wise Wound reunion at Glastonbury – the band’s spiritual home. Unfortunately, Sue’s energy took a downturn during the run-up, which meant she wasn’t able to see it through.
Wall of Emotion
Instead, Rob and I – accompanied by the irrepressible Stephen on guitar – stepped in. We worked out a version of one of Sue’s songs, Blue Room, which has particular resonance for me. Rob and I had made this part of our regular set throughout the tour. So we were well-prepared by the time we got to Glastonbury.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the wall of emotion that hit me as I introduced the song. My plan was to ask people in the audience to film this and share it via social media. In the event, I messed up explaining who to tag. Fortunately, however, a member of the crew – who has since been away (on a cycle tour!) – has promised to send me his footage. We’ll see, in due course, whether it’s worth sharing.
Apart from that, we settled into the slow, mellow vibe of this year’s festival. Highlights for me were: ADG7 from South Korea (who describe themselves as Korean shamanic folk-pop); Ezra Collective (mercury-nominated London jazz geezers); and The Master Musicians of Joujouka (who play multiple drums and reed instruments in trance-inducing shifting layers). And then, on Sunday afternoon, Usef/Cat Stephens had the whole Pyramid Stage audience in tears when he finished his beautiful ‘Legends’ set with Father & Son. Hugs all round.
Oh – and a bloke called Elton played his last ever UK gig to quite a large gathering on Sunday night. Rob and I foolishly arranged to meet Stephen ‘by the tree’ (if you know Glastonbury, you’ll know the one). Us and about 2,000 others. Needless to say, we never found him.
If I’ve learned one thing over the many years I’ve attended this event, it’s that you should never waste your time trying to meet a specific person in a specific place at a specific time. If you’re meant to find someone, you will. Just not when or where you expected.
So, That’s It
So, that’s it really. We also played a backstage gig in the much-coveted Theatre & Circus green room (now inexplicably renamed ‘Sunny’s Bar’ – yuck!). This was well-received and we acquitted ourselves pretty well for early on the fifth day of the festival.
Monday morning, Rob packed his tent and delivered his gear to the cyclists’ luggage collection point. I’ve failed multiple times to meet that deadline. So, I opted for a more leisurely morning. But would consequently need to carry everything on my bike back to Bath.
I did – of course – get up to see Rob off. He was cycling up to Bristol, to take a train from there to Sheffield, from where he’d cycle to his home in the Peaks. I’m never great with goodbyes. And after such an epic journey, things tend to feel a little anticlimactic.
Much To Celebrate
But there was much to celebrate. Despite interruption and bereavement, we’d proved to ourselves that this thing works. And works well. And we’ve no doubt we’ll do it again before long.
We’ve met some amazing people along the way. Made new friends. Forged new connections. And all this under our own steam. Fueled – quite simply – by food, fun and friendship.
Until next time…