22 June 2011
'Stripped Down Festival Thing'Glastonbury festival. Set up day.
Knowing that a late night awaited us, we approached this morning at a walking pace. My colleagues were going through various jet lag routines, though I confess that at this point I no longer have any significant grasp on what time of day it’s supposed to feel like. We breakfasted at our delightful country hotel whilst watching the rain pour down outside. All was lush, green and beautiful but we could only imagine what this was doing to the festival site. I spoke to one of Damien Hirst’s people who was down there and the word ‘apocalyptic’ was used.
Helen, our production coordinator had arrived so the first task of Hercules was to sort out the tickets, passes and wristbands that we’d need for the weekend. We have our own minibus and driver for the duration, as our hours will be unpredictable and traffic, of course, a nightmare. Heading in around 5pm we got our first glimpse of the awaiting mud bath, and very special it was too. There are already an enormous number of people on site, the gates having been opened first thing this morning, and the ground is significantly chewed up and swamp-like.
Wellies were donned all round and we squelched out for a look. The main stage at Glastonbury is called the Pyramid Stage (guess what shape it is?) and this is where U2 will perform on Friday. It’s a fair size by festival standards though absolutely miniscule by U2 tour standards, so much rethinking has had to go into our strategy here. After much deliberation on the various possible approaches, what we eventually decided to do was go for video. The Pyramid stage has two small side screens of its own, which we are augmenting with another five large screens that we’re bringing in ourselves. I’ve had this ongoing joke that we are coming to Glastonbury to do the stripped-down festival thing, “we’re just bringing guitars, backline and five trucks of video”. Which, in fact, we are.
We’ve also been pontificating about the set list for Glastonbury for about eighteen months now. In essence, we’ve known for some time what the stance will be. Had we played the festival last year, we would have played the set-list that we rehearsed in New York. This was a three-act show, the first of which was a rash of 80’s festival greats, opening with Where the Streets Have No Name, then Follow, New Year’s Day, Pride, Found… all of them. Act two was going to be the re-mounting of the first 30 minutes of the ZooTV show, complete with all the original video sequences, then act three was ‘the present’, with a chunk of the 360 set list.
I loved this set list but in the intervening year things moved on and besides, there was so much public speculation about the band opening with Streets that we revisited the idea. After much deliberation we now have asimilar kind of set but with acts one and two swapped. This means we now intend to open the Glastonbury set with five songs from Achtung Baby that are staged with all the accompanying ZooTV visuals and I for one am psychotically excited about it. The one exception is Even Better Than the Real Thing which opens the show. The new version of the music demanded a new visual idea, so none other than Damien Hirst was commissioned to make a video piece to accompany the song.
Tomorrow night we’ll get to see the video visuals in situ, but tonight is all about lighting. Once it had got dark, we got to work and carried on pretty much until it got light. The festival has its own lighting rig that we have augmented, so there was an amount of fussing and re-jigging to do before settling into lighting programming. Ethan and I got set up at the mix position and worked through the show on iTunes, as is our custom. It was a cold, damp night but that didn’t seem to be diminishing the party spirit on site. At this point the Pyramid stage area is fenced off to keep the punters out and let us get on with our work, but the whole stage is completely visible for a great distance. As we progressed through the set list programming the various lighting states, a crowd gathered of festival-goers off their faces on a range of alterants. Much to our amusement, every time we’d put a light on or flash a strobe a great “wooo!” would go up from them, as if they were watching fireworks. I can only imagine what they’ll do when we start running Damien Hirst’s burning butterflies tomorrow evening.
The night went well and all will look fine though it was very strange to be sitting in a field in the English West Country knowing that U2 were doing a show without us in Baltimore. It’s curious the way that, as soon as you are removed from it, a tour seems to become a distant memory. It was very hard to imagine that the 360 tour was still going on, so far away. I’m not worried though, we have left good people in charge over there - I think my spaceship knows which way to go.
There was a slight claw in the flan when we finally tried to leave as, apparently, at 10pm the festival goes into ‘night mode’ and all the passes change, so our driver couldn’t get back onto the site. Poor chap was beside himself but eventually the necessary ramparts were breeched and we were able to go home to bed.