I really am not a festival person. Don’t even say the word “glamping” to me. I did once get sent to Glastonbury and behaved appallingly – not in any kind of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll way but by demanding a television in the luxe yurt.
“Where am I meant to get a telly!?” asked the man running the campsite.
At night we lay in the yurt listening to the Rolling Stones in the distance but watching them on the telly. Because it’s all made for telly anyway.
And at Latitude, after a debate with Owen Jones (why?), I slept in what they call a “pod” which proved to be a shed with shelves with duvets on them. Just no.
But there’s one festival I love with all my heart: the annual Laugharne Weekend in south Wales. It is books and music and comedy and somewhat random acts. Laugharne, an hour in a car heading west from Swansea, is the township in which Dylan Thomas lived, and Browns, the hotel you stay in, is where he used to drink.
That’s right: you stay in a hotel.
The township (there are only a handful in the country) itself is magical. At one end are some old, old churches and the cemetery where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas are buried; at the other end there’s a castle, and then it all goes out onto water – the Taf Estuary. The boathouse in which Thomas used to live (pictured top) has a selection of pictures on the wall of famous visitors (including … Pierce Brosnan). It is a thing of perfection.
This year I was there to interview Cosey Fanni Tutti and the Labour MP Jess Phillips on stage, but really, I was there to hang out. Within a few hours of arriving at Laugharne you meet all sorts. One year Charlotte Church was outside the pub smoking a fag in her flip flops. Patti Smith has played in the local church, persuaded to make the journey to south Wales by the enigmatic and charming co-founder of The Laugharne Weekend, music and literary promoter Richard Thomas. For reasons that are never clear, Richard seems to know absolutely everyone. He also once managed The Fall. But hasn’t everyone?
I have seen Thurston Moore wandering around looking for food, clutching a forlorn Spar carrier bag. Now they’ve even shut the Spar
The great Dr John Cooper Clarke is a regular at the festival. On the hazardously inscrutable road signs in Welsh he once mused: “Why do so many people have to die to keep a language alive?” This year Jah Wobble did his holy dub thing, and every night Keith Allen hosted an anarchic talent show where we are promised anything could happen, though usually it involved him taking his clothes off. I wasn’t so keen.
Other things sometimes go amiss. One year I had gone to see David Icke but he didn’t show, so Bez from The Happy Mondays – who happened to be in the audience – got up on stage and talked about his own political ambitions. These, as far as I can tell, mostly involved bees. And this year David Soul cancelled at the last minute. David Soul!?
I won’t lie: if you don’t like pub culture, this is not for you. And if food is your thing, your options are limited. After Scritti Politti had finished playing one year, we literally had to beg the chip shop to stay open after 9pm to feed them. I have seen Thurston Moore wandering around looking for food, clutching a forlorn Spar carrier bag. Now they’ve even shut the Spar. Laugharne does its own thing.
But somehow this doesn’t matter, because you’ll still hang out with fabulous people and encounter stuff you didn’t know you liked. When Cosey arrived, she was delighted by the lemon drizzle cake left over from the Laugharne Bake Off (a big success this year). Cosey is disarmingly lovely, normal and very Hull. You have to put that together with a life of extreme “art actions” as she calls them in her book Art Sex Music. She can casually write about a gig ends that up with her inserting a lit candle in her vagina, and there you are talking about gardening. On stage, I asked her about Genesis P-Orridge, with whom she was in an abusive relationship with for many years, and whether she could forgive them (Genesis’s desired pronoun). “No,” she said, bluntly. I was relieved.
Jess Phillips was also a joy. An MP you can relate to. Every year she gets up in the Commons and reads out the names of women murdered in that year. Inevitably someone in the audience asks “What about the men?” It happened again this time. Her reply: “Get a f––ing list, get f––ing elected and read it f––ing out. Go right f––ing ahead.” Also, she used to own a scratch and sniff belly top. I love her.
My highlight this year was meeting the 80-something Peggy Seeger, an extraordinary woman who blew me away. A life lived. A laser-like memory. The light pours out of her. Here is a woman you don’t meet every day. Ewan MacColl wrote The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face for her; Bob Dylan begged for her autograph. She left MacColl for another woman, who she wanted to bed as soon as she set eyes on her. She showed me a small retractable blade she keeps in her bag. You wouldn’t mess with her anyway.
What I love about Laugharne is the alchemy of the place and the people and the unlikeness of it all. On the train back to London the gorgeous Jake Arnott recited to us The Ballad of Reading Gaol, comparing its metre to that of the Walrus and the Carpenter.
When you return from Laugharne you always feel you have been somewhere far, far away. And you have. C