Synergy represented by:
L-R: Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison, Joanna L’Estrange, Heather Cairncross
“Two years ago, just after we’d performed at the Open’er Festival in Gdynia with Steve Reich and Ensemble Modern, Steve mentioned that that had been his first pop festival gig – at the age of 75. I suggested that 75 was the perfect age to start doing pop festivals and that we should aim for Glastonbury next, perhaps supporting Radiohead. Happily, Jonny Greenwood was on the Gdynia bill with us, playing Electric Counterpoint, so I asked him to put in a good word – and here we were, on our way to the biggest pop festival in the world! Actually, I take no credit for the practicalities whatsoever, because it was the administrative team at London Sinfonietta that made this happen (rounding up sponsors in a very short space of time to make our appearance possible), but I like to think that I put the idea out into the universe! Steve Reich wasn’t joining us on this occasion, but we did have Jonny Greenwood on the bill again, providing the Glastonbury kudos.
Rehearsing in Waterloo
Everyone on the London Sinfonietta/Synergy team had played Music for 18
before, so we just needed one refresher rehearsal in London. That worked out well in that some of the sponsors who were unable to get to Glastonbury could have their very own private performance.
On the evening before our gig, we all headed down to a Salisbury hotel. That was the only way we were going to be able to manage the early get-in for our midday slot on the West Holts stage. We couldn’t risk having anyone stuck in traffic, or missing a train. Music for 18 is so called because 18 is the absolute minimum number of musicians you need to play the piece. It’s often played as Music for 19 – or even 20 – but Music for 17 simply wasn’t an option. Most of the ensemble came by coach, but I (with Will) opted to drive so that we could stay another night and have an extra day at the festival. Dutifully displaying our windscreen pass “within 10 miles of the site”(10 miles!), we followed the coach to the Blue Gate, then we all transferred to a couple of mini-vans to take us down to the stage. The security was (understandably) very tight. Getting in to Glastonbury was a bit like crossing an Eastern European border, with its heavily guarded perimeter. It’s hard to conceive of the amount of fencing required to contain a festival of over 1300 acres – 6 miles of it, 15 feet high, dug 3 feet into the ground – but there are already SO many ticket holders and artists at the festival that a flood of fence-scaling/tunnel-digging gate-crashers would be a health and safety nightmare.
I have since discovered a few more impressive statistics about Glastonbury:
It is the world’s largest open air musical festival (180,000 people).
The electricity usage is the same as that of the city of Bath.
The Pyramid Stage alone has over 250 speakers.
Artists’ area of the West Holts stage
As we were performing in the middle of the first day, the back-stage area of the West Holts stage was still immaculate – and so beautifully decorated, it was a veritable work of art.
Regular black concert dress seemed a bit formal for this occasion, so we had decided on “trendy black” instead. We got changed on arrival, while they were still setting up. Then, as it was just starting to rain, we donned our wellies to get across to the stage. After the rehearsal, the gals (4 Synergites + Shelagh Sutherland) decided that our wellies were so comfy, we’d keep them on for the gig as well.
Jonny & John
Our time was very limited for the sound check, so there was no way we’d be able to play through the piece, which is an hour long. That said, it was imperative that we sorted out the foldback so that everyone could hear what they needed to hear. Fortunately, we had the marvellous Ian Dearden (Sound Intermedia) on stage with us, monitoring the monitors, leaving the inimitable David Sheppard on front of house. I know what a sacrifice this was for Ian because he really wanted to be out front too (“Hello Glastonbury!” and all that), but we were very grateful to have him close by in case of any on-stage crises.
Synergy girls with the lovely Ian Dearden – check out those funky wellies!
Monitor levels (and indeed sight-lines) can make or break a performance of Music for 18
. The piece depends entirely on visual and aural cues between all the musicians, so a break-down in either form of communication can be disastrous. Fortunately, all was sorted in relatively good time, while Jonny waited patiently for his chance to sound check Electric Counterpoint
Jonny’s guitar ready and waiting
During the short space of our sound check, the audience went from this:
… and then there were five
Jonny was up first (immediately after his sound check) and put in an excellent performance of Electric Counterpoint. He has performed the piece several times since that first time in Gdynia, and was noticeably more relaxed and “in the zone”.
Under starter’s orders
Jonny in action
Then, on we went for the Glastonbury premiere of Music for 18 Musicians. It was great to have such a chilled-out, open-minded, enthusiastic audience. Some people had come specifically to hear the performance, and some had just taken a punt and thought they’d give it a try. Happily, there was lots of smiling and jigging along to the music, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Spot the trolls
My favourite moment was in section 111a when the trolls turned up, bearing signs saying “hug a troll” whilst dancing exuberantly to the music. Ian Dearden was creased up with laughter in the wings, and Heather and I just couldn’t help smiling. Sadly for Jo and Mandy, it was all going on behind them so they were blissfully unaware.
Heather, Micaela & Jonathan Morton
It was wonderful to be a part of such a special event, and it’s certainly a gig we won’t forget in a hurry.
… and from the back
“Music for 18” bows
After the performance, lunch was laid on in the artists’ tent, then the coach headed back to London to deliver the players to the Royal Opera House for an opera performance that same night.
Will and I (armed with our camping chairs, waterproof trousers, jackets and brollies) then headed out into the delightful madness that is Glastonbury. Fortunately, the skies had brightened up, so we made our way to the Pyramid Stage for a chill-out on the grass during Rodriguez y Gabriela’s set. Then we went for a wander – and the heavens opened!!
A spot of camping, anyone?
Thank goodness for the artists’ tent, where we took cover from the torrential storm. It was so bad that they had to shut down all the electricity at the stages – which meant that all the sets were put back and/or curtailed. One band at the West Holts stage lost their set completely – I was gutted for them. They went on stage, huddled at the front, and played a few acoustic numbers, but that was their lot. The next band was already raring to go when the electricity came back on.
The skies cleared for Lily Allen, who I thought was great – an excellent performer and a very pithy song writer.
Lily Allen on the Pyramid Stage
I was delighted to see the trolls popping up at all sorts of other gigs around the site. They made me smile every time. I have to say that, for me, it was all the little random acts that I enjoyed the most. There were some young girls dressed as old ladies (hankies on heads / fake fags in mouths) pushing a tea-trolley around; a gang of be-stilted copper coloured people dressed like a gang from a dark sci-fi movie; Professor Twitchit with Tallulah the Psychic Midget; Captain Robert Scott covered in snow, roped to a fellow explorer, looking for the Antarctic. They were all crazy – but utterly delightful.
I can’t say I’ll be rushing back to camp at Glastonbury next year (nothing would persuade me to use the cattle-stall loos, for starters), but I’m so grateful to have performed there and to have enjoyed the Glastonbury experience in both sunshine and ankle-deep mud. I hope it’s not the last time we perform at Glastonbury. In the meantime, we shall treasure our 2014 memories, performer’s passes and wrist bands.”