Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hydro Connect: appalling, unacceptable conditions, but great music, food and drink. Major surgery required!

Here's the deal: It's over £140 for a Hydro Connect weekend camping ticket, £20 for parking, an extra £75 if you want to bring a camper van. A programme's an additional £8 and Tangerine Fields charge a whopping £470 for a six-man tent, already erected, with air beds and sleeping bags (but no pillows). Ostensibly with special toilets and showers, which turned out to be nonsense. In other words, Hydro Connect, the way we did it, was an expensive treat (confession: connections wangled me a free parking ticket; still, this was a heavy investment). Would it be worth it?

The lineup (Sigur Ros, Glasvegas, The Roots, Kasabian (sorry, did I say Kasabian?) Elbow and of course Paolo Nutini to name but a mere fraction of the attractions) was superb, and I knew from last year (when I bused in for the Saturday) that the food and drink would be excellent. Surely it would be a splendid weekend?

Indeed, the music WAS great, the stages run with military precision, the food and drink (especially the Loch Fyne Whiskies - thanks Annabel!- and Argyll foods tents). Friends and family were there and socially it was really enjoyable.

HOWEVER: for the money, I thought we as punters were badly treated when it came to camping. Leaving aside our experience with Tangerine Fields, which for us is the subject of a possible legal claim for compensation, the site, lovely as it is, just doesn't work for a rock festival. And here's why:

Yes, Inveraray Castle and its immediate environs provide a wonderful setting for two stages (one in a natural amphitheatre, BUT access to the site is HORRENDOUS. The main parking area is TWO MILES away and only staff were bused to and from the arenas . Everyone else had to walk, along an increasingly swampy and dangerous path. The camp site, by early Friday evening, was a quagmire. This was unforgivable, as it must have been clear from last year what was likely to happen. The toilets were, as usual, overwhelmed almost instantly. Are environmental health regulations simply put into suspended animation during rock festivals? Answer, no, they're not: for evidence, try the much less ordure-enhanced Wizard and Belladrum.

On Friday there was a what some found an intimidating, neddish atmosphere, blamed by people I spoke to on the Kasabian day-ticket punters. Certainly, the all-night partying in the next door tent to ours was both intrusive and earsplitting. But the kids didn't even notice it; by morning I had the Trangia stove on for coffee and things were looking brighter.

Saturday was a good day in every respect but the grinding, horrible conditions. Grinderman, Glasvegas and P Nutini (plus OF COURSE his very excellent band) were impressive. And maybe it's good local politics not to allow the main food outlets to open for breakfast (sending us into Inveraray itself for an excellent cafe repast) but it felt cynical. A lot of the time, as a camper, I felt like an inconvenience for the organisers, but one from whom every last penny was going to be squeezed. Muddily and Squelchily.

I had to abandon ship on Sunday because I wasn't confident about getting to Aberdeen in time for the programme on Monday. Susan, James and Martha (the bairns, it must be said, seemed to love the experience, though James did count one toilet visitation as 'the single worst experience of my life'. And this from a boy who was brought up on (not all the time) a biological composting toilet. Mind you, he is reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy at the moment).

If you want to enjoy some of the music while thanking your lucky stars you didn't have to encounter such a loo, then you can visit our special and glorious BBC Radio Scotland festival website.

Anyway, back to that deal: value for money? Well, I'm going to blog more about my four festival experiences this summer, but let me just say this: Wizard, last weekend, was £65 including camping AND parking. You got a full lanyard-mounted programme free if you bought a copy of the Evening Express.

However, there were wonderful moments for me AND the family at Connect, and as one sympathetic policeman said: 'You won't forget it.' Uh-huh. Susan and the kids, as I write, are planning to head for Glasgow after Sigur Ros. Two nights of horrendous Tangerine Fields conditions is enough.

Next year? Unless the access, parking and camping is sorted out, punters will not pay this kind of money, 'boutique' labels notwithstanding. I most certainly won't. I can't help feeling that the site's limitations are insurmountable. Apart from that nagging, constant feeling that a gloating Duke of Argyll ('I am the most rock'n'roll Duke in Scotland')is sitting up there in his castle, protected by Gurkhas and men in Stalag Luft watchtowers, counting his cash over champers and laughing at the hapless punters down in the mud.

Anybody have a nice, dry, spare airfield on the sunny east coast somewhere? Funnily enough, I know of one...and it's nowhere near Kinross.


Try Gigwise ('I have never seen such chaos')

and Jim Steel ('Darfur if it had been hit by Katrina and the REd Cross had only managed to deliver crates of cider')


Tonykaku said...

wow, what a story, what an event! and i thought i had bad sitting in the glorious sun trying to concentrate on Steely Dan music while bikini-clad girls walked by.
oh, and i think i got some tan lines on my feet because of not re-applying suntan lotion while
wearing my flip flops/sandals.

Laura Scott said...

I read this, this morning about 6:30am and I was just about rolling about! Tom, stop doing this to yourself! Just visit the BBC's website and save yourself the money, the mud, the stress etc. Frankly, I thought your comments about the Duke of Argyll were the best in the post and believe you may not be allowed back! Hubby and I laughed on Friday when you asked the good Duke what he was looking forward to and his answer was so contrived, it was obvious that he was reading the list off a bit of paper.

Have a good week back on the radio.

Kindest regards
Laura Scott

Anonymous said...

were you at the same festival I was at?

Anonymous said...

If you want a festival that is value for money the go to Merlefest in North Carolina....200 US Dollars for 4 days of great site parking with buses driven by volunteer scout troops throughout the alcohol....clean toilets and calm atmosphere...good's worth the trip over...we've been 4 times so far and are looking forwrd to returning next year...the lineup will be announced in late October.

Tom Morton said...

Re the comment by Anonymous Numero Uno...I'm willing to admit that had we NOT been camping on site, and had been staying in a hotel or even camping elsewhere, we would have felt very different. I have no quarrel with the lineup, the organisation of the stages, the food or the actual events in the arena. Musically it was superb.


Camping conditions and access were the worst of any festival I've been to, and by Sunday, according to those who were there, things were even worse than I have described.

Anonymous said...

the conditions in the campsite for punters with their own tents was appalling. concerned about the rising water level of the many large puddles forming on the sunday we returned to check on our tents mid afternoon, to discover one of them with nearly a foot deep in the ever-expanding puddle. event management staff were nowhere to be seen.

but music, food and all else was brilliant. will be back, but will find a b&b.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, We travelled up for the Sunday, so thankfully missed the "Kasabian crowd", although we weren't camping, we had to suffer the two mile walk in near knee deep mud from the car park and witnessed the campsite. It's been a few years since I camped at a festival, and any nostalgic memories of camping were wiped out there and then.

The walk apart, the festival was thoroughly enjoyable, with several trips made to the Argyle Foods Tent! Sigur Ros were the highlight for me, simply breathtaking, also enjoyed The Moth & The Mirror and Endor on the new bands stage!

I've got quite a few photos on my flickr site if you fancy a look the quality isn't great as I decided to leave the good camera at home.

All the best

Dave Taylor

Anonymous said...

Tom you are clearly a bit long in the tooth. I wont deny it was muddy but are we forgetting it was an outdoor festival in scotland at the end of Aug? what did you expect. i stayed three nights in the campsite and i thought it was adequate. it was my third festival of the summer and i thought it was no better, no worse than the others. i agree with you that the music and the food were amazing! i will goback

Anonymous said...

I am confused by your blog as I was there first thing on Friday and watched Kasabian and saw none of this ned element you talked about - are you actually talking about 5 people that you saw as I think that has to be the extent of it?
I agree Tangerine fields seemed quite over priced for what you get, (I got a 4-man and it was over 300 squid) but what can be done about the mud? We have had one of the worst summers on record and there are thousands of people treking through a field... Just get involved and be prepared, it is a festival and stop being an old stick in the mud!!! hahaha

Tom Morton said...

NO MORE ANONYMOUS COMMENTS, please! Critical or supportive, I'm going to have to reject them...I'm detecting repetition and the activity of folks associated, one way or another, with Hydro Connect. While that may be understandable, it's bad blogging etiquette.

Put your name where your mouth is, folks!

Rachel Fox said...

I still have nightmares about a Glastonbury portaloo visit from some 18 years ago. Who needs Britart?