20 years ago in 1996, myself and fellow house-mates Elaine and Jon ventured North to Scotland for T In The Park, held at Strathclyde Country Park in the summer of ’96.
This is another event in my life that still remains very hazy in my mind of what actually happened.
To start with, what on earth possessed me to ride 199 miles on a 200cc Honda CD Benly from Leeds to the outskirts of Glasgow. Especially when there was the option of sitting in comfort in Elaine’s Ford Sierra. Mind you, there probably wasn’t room for me in the car after packing the tents, sleeping bags, clothing and enough alcohol open our own pub for the weekend. The poor Sierra did look a bit rear-heavy.
I guess I fancied a road trip in the spirit of the iconic biker movie ‘Easy Rider’. I spent the week leading up to the festival checking and double checking everything on the Honda. I even refrained myself from riding the motorcycle to work, resorting to catching the bus. All the maintenance checks in the world wouldn’t have prevented the outcome of this warped-sense of an endurance test.
We departed from the Burley area of Leeds on the morning of Friday 12th July 1996, around 5am. The weather was overcast, dull and a little misty which only continued to get worse the further north we went. The route we took was along the A65, taking and headed towards the Lake District. Although it was technically the middle of Summer, it felt like a damp, wintry day in November. It rained solidly for 2 hours and yes, I did get a tad wet. In fact I was in danger of developing webbed feet. The black dye from my leather jeans soaked through to my legs, so basically it looked like I have severely bruised legs. My fingers were in similar state thanks to my black leather biker gloves.
As we hit the M6, the sun burst through the clouds and my mood instantly lightened as my leather’s started to dry out – a bit. Things were looking up and was quite enjoying my road trip. Just me with my thoughts and my motorcycle. Got passed Gretna Green when my motorcycle developed a serious problem in the engine department. In a matter of seconds I went from the UK National Speed Limit to an embarrassing full throttle, top speed of 40mph. Lost all compression. There was no loud noises, no crunching, no warnings. Nothing. After taking the next junction off the A174(M), pulling up in a layby then spent 15 minutes swearing very loudly and having what I would describe behaving like a small child in a supermarket having a tantrum. I calmed down, had a cigarette and tried to diagnose what the fault was. I soon came to the conclusion that the Honda was fucked. Through sheer determination or maybe stupidity, I limped on with my epic journey to Strathclyde Country Park, some 80 odd miles away. It took me 3 hours and God knows how I managed not to become roadkill courtesy of Eddie Stobart and his trucker mates.
Luckily, Elaine and Jon had gone on ahead and the tents had been pitched. Being in the foul mood that I was in, I abandoned my motorcycle in the car park area and proceeded to get hopelessly drunk – which seemed to be my main plan for the whole of weekend. I must have spent the Saturday intoxicated to the extent that I have very little memory of watching most of the bands. I hang my head in shame for missing out on such acts like Placebo, Lush, Mazzy Star and Frank Black from the Pixies. I vaguely remember The Prodigy as I recall the stage lighting was as vicious as ‘Firestarter’ and made me nauseous and dizzy (or was that the alcohol and other substances stronger than Pro-plus that I had taken excessively throughout the entire day?).
This was one band I was not going to miss. I had accidentally stumbled across these about 6 months back prior to T in The Park thanks to Elaine’s boyfriend Jon who brought home their album ‘Heartworm’. It was a gift from the Gods that saved me from a barren music-less wasteland I endured during the 1990s. I had so fell out of love with the Goth/Alternative scene. By 1996, a lot of alternative club nights had gone, the majority of bands I liked had either gone mainstream or disbanded and new bands were a pale imitation of the good stuff. I didn’t get into the rave/dance scene and hated BritPap with a passion (although I had a soft-spot for Suede and Sheffield under-dogs Pulp). People I had known on the scene had gone too, disappeared along with the club nights. I felt abandoned and lost. I certainly was not ready to settle down into domestic bliss at the tender age of 24. At least I still had my beloved Mary Chain throwing me a lifeline of sanity and hope.
I had no expectations or back story with Whipping Boy. I didn’t know their history or their back catalogue. I took ‘Heartworm’ with an open mind. I fell in love with every track on that album and I felt it was so relevant to my life at the time having gone through a messy breakup from a long-term relationship that left me questioning everything in my life without any positive answers. But for the duration of Whipping Boy’s performance everything in my head temporarily made sense.
The passion and the raw emotion of Whipping Boy came alive from the ‘Heartworm’ album on to the stage. I clung onto every word and note as I stood there in the audience with hands clamped on either side of my head, trying to stop the world from spinning out of control as the day before’s drinking binge manifested itself as a hangover.
I have to confess I went to see Dogstar not for musical appreciation but for visual content. That sounds very fickle basing a band on its content and not its musical ability. But you are talking about the adorable Keanu Reeves here. I had a serious crush on the guy. Plays bass, rides Norton motorcycles, likes The Mary Chain and is just a really nice, sweet, genuine guy.
I couldn’t say what songs Dogstar played as it was hard not to be transfixed by the presence of Mr Reeves. I felt sorry for the rest of the band as most of the female audience had all squashed themselves (including me) to the right hand side of the stage for a better view of Keanu.
Dogstar themselves weren’t too bad but they didn’t wow me either. What I did like about them was the fact all 3 members of the band really enjoyed playing in a band. They weren’t pretentious. They weren’t trying to be something they were not. They were just a bunch of guys who enjoyed being on stage and rocking out together. Oh and they had a tent-full of screaming women.
I had been wanting to see these live for so long and it was again the case of not having the funds or being unaware of any gigs at the time. I fell in love with Cocteau Twins back in 1985, along with a handful of other bands at the time, after seeing the video to ‘Aikea-Guinea’ on UK music programme ‘The Tube’ (that programme introduced me so many amazing bands back in the day). Bought their records but never saw them live until ’96, which with hindsight I was lucky to see them with this probably being one of their last UK performances.
The Cocteau Twins performed undercover in one of the large marquees, and the unique sound of the Cocteau Twins had no problem filling the space and my head. Now that was special but it would have been totally sublime if I had shared the experience of the Cocteau Twins with that special someone. Sadly I was unable to locate Keanu at that precise moment in time, so it was just me, myself and I.
I was just so overwhelmed with emotions during their set that I just crumpled to the floor and cried. Whether this sudden outburst of sobbing was a result of too much alcohol infused with recreational substances and lack of sleep, I will never know. The Cocteau Twins were just heavenly.
Post – Festival Blues
Nursing one mother of a hangover on the Monday, I was glad in a way that my motorcycle had died. I don’t think I could have endured riding back home in the state I was in. Probably one of the most sensible things that I had done, at that point in my life, is I had taken out roadside recovery. I spent the 4hrs journey back to Leeds in the cab of the recovery vehicle feeling like death warmed up as my dead motorcycle was safely strapped up on the back of the flatbed truck.
Within the week of getting back I sorted myself out with another motorcycle after raiding what pitiful savings I had in my bank account. It had not gone unnoticed the gradual pain I was getting in my left ankle. On the day I was due to pick my motorcycle I was unable to put my left foot flat on the floor. During my lunch break at work, I hobbled over to the A&E at Leeds General Infirmary to get it checked out and strapped up. I came out of A&E with my leg in plaster and on crutches. I had sprained my Achilles tendon.
My local friendly motorcycle dealer kindly dropped off my new motorcycle – a Honda CM250 and I spent 3 gloriously sunny summer weeks off work with my leg in plaster, admiring my new motorcycle and drinking beer in the back garden.
Worked out quite well, did that, although I spent several weeks convincing my mum I had not come off my motorcycle.