Glastonbury on the BBC Radio 1: Better off at home?

Pyramid selling.

Glastonbury
BBC Radio 1

“I’m not just saying this ’cos this is the BBC but I’m genuinely going to be catching up on iPlayer all week.” Huw Stephens is lounging in Nick Grimshaw’s Glastonbury tepee, comparing notes. “I saw someone at the Stones with a baby,” sniffs Grimshaw. “Newborn baby. And I thought, ‘Weird accessory to bring – a newborn.’” Children at festivals are but a heavy and inconvenient Anglo-Saxon affectation. “Who was that?” sympathises Stephens. “Dunno!” shrugs Grimmy, appalled.

Never has Grimshaw been so likeable – sucking his teeth about a day ahead of being professionally and relentlessly upbeat about bands like Noah and the Whale and possibly not being entirely honest about what he did after the headlining act last night. (“Went for a Chinese. Sweet and sour chicken with rice. Then came home.”) It made a pleasant change from Jo Whiley up in the bosom nookery smiling fondly at everyone on the roster, from Kenny Rogers to Bruce Forsyth. For some reason, it has long been the BBC’s unquestioning job to be enthusiastic and humble about everything to do with Glasto but this year the corporation plugged a tone of particularly unceasing middlebrow moral uplift. ] Even Mick was at it, tweeting pics of himself looking excited holding the door of a portable toilet or swaddled in cashmere on the helipad. Jagger – that old miser and icecold businessman – will not be taken for a fool and proved himself on Saturday yet again as a guy never to make mistakes. Only from the mouths of some was it more bearable than others. In between sets on the BBC Introducing Stage, Jen Long and Ally McCrae – both under 25 and easily the busiest and most interesting presenters delivering any radio commentary this year, sweetly cackling and melodramatic to cover their inexperience – confessed innocently that they may have seen the best of things had they stayed at home.

“I could just about catch the edge of the TV screen in front of the Pyramid Stage,” confided McCrae, “so I’m just gonna watch it all back on iPlayer.” Jen nods, feeling for a moment comfortingly together after three days snowblinded by BBC zeal and righteousness. That said, maths clearly isn’t her thing. “I was up in the tower and looking out over the sea of . . . 2,000? Six thousand? I dunno how many people were there. But lots.”

Unhappy campers: BBC iPlayer provides a festival in a box. Photograph: Getty Images.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

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David Keenan's new novel is a dizzying recall of adolescence

This Is Memorial Device vividly recalls the teen years of the post-punk generation. I'm just not sure I wanted to remember.

Imagine dropping down the ­metaphysical wormhole to the scene of your adolescent self, with all your mates; with all that immortal music, sex, drugs, madness and tempestuousness. For some of us it’s a place we would rather not revisit. For the post-punk generation, David Keenan’s debut novel sends us plunging into that era anyway – violently, viscerally, surreally – in this “Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986”. Keenan’s real-life west coast Scotland is the home of a fictional dissonant, radical group called Memorial Device, whose underground misadventures are transmitted through a constellation of eyewitness accounts and psychedelic reveries from the damaged, delirious misfits in and around a band that sounded, as the narrator Ross Raymond describes it, “like Airdrie, like a black fucking hole”.

Such were the post-punk provinces across the UK, vividly realised here, populated by John Peel apostles transcending dead-end reality in bedsits wallpapered with pages from the NME and Sounds, romantic young minds consumed by Johnny Thunders and Iggy Pop, Jack Kerouac and H P Lovecraft. These are murky everytowns where, as Ross writes, “music deformed my life rather than just changed it”.

Keenan – an author, journalist, jazz critic, obsessive scholar of psych-folk – has a febrile imagination and his fiction debut is a fantastical meander in intense, magical-realist prose. Much like in youth itself, you’ve no idea what’s happening, or where you’re going, each chapter a crunching gear change of new characters who fizz in, dazzle, disappear and reappear. The chapter headings are filled with unfathomable imagery:

 

22. Ships Rising Up and Passing Through the Water Full of Sunlight and Memory the Tricks That It Plays: Bruce Cook on Autonomic Dreaming with Lucas and Vanity and all the baggage that comes back to haunt you like ghostly ships at the bottom of the ocean in a graveyard beneath the sea breaking free and rising to the surface.

 

This is the breathless style that dominates the book. Full stops are sporadically abandoned for chaotic streams of consciousness (Paul Morley’s sentences are tweets in comparison), like being trapped inside the amphetamine-boggled brain of Spud in the celebrated job-interview scene from Trainspotting (a struggle at times, with none of the daft jokes). With each new voice comes more forensic musical analysis, lurid recollections – of a barbaric scalping, of wanking on acid, of porn, puke, piss – and densely packed rushes of salty information. Ross’s co-author Johnny McLaughlin recalls his sexual exploits as a 17-year-old: he was “a collector . . . a gourmet, a pussy-eater (a body-gorger) (a piss-drinker, a shit-lapper), a woman-lover, a tit-biter, an auto-asphyxiator (an ass-lover, a panty-smotherer), a heel-worshipper (a hose-hugger)”. There’s as much sex here, it turns out, as music.

There are inevitable echoes of those fellow countrymen of Keenan’s, the literary dark lords Irvine Welsh and John Niven, yet little hilarity. But, mercifully, there are also passages of surrealist beauty: through prison bars, a main character is hypnotised by the moon, bathed in its “strange silver glow that made it seem like it was on fire, like ice on fire”, feeling “like a crystal ­being cleansed”. The last chapter is stunning, a soaring, existentialist, cosmic crescendo.

Memorial Device’s lead singer, the charismatic, amnesia-blighted, journal-writing Lucas, has his writing described as “a walking frame or a wheelchair, a crutch, which when you think about it is what most writing is, something to support the figure of the writer, so that he doesn’t fall back in the primordial soup of everyone else, which is no one”. Ultimately, This Is Memorial Device uses post-punk merely as its skeleton frame. It is a meditation on memory and perspective, on the magical forces of language, on the absurdity of existence and the dreadful thoughts bubbling like toxic fluid below the fragile surface of every human brain. Despite its black-humour set pieces (and a comically colossal, micro-detailed appendix, the undertaking of a madman), it’s a serious, disturbing book, free-form literary jazz for agonised over-thinkers, perhaps like the minds of intense young men.

In these creatively risk-averse times, it’s heroically bizarre, if more admirable than lovable. By the end, you’re exhausted, and happy to file it away for ever, along with the young life you no longer wish to live.

Sylvia Patterson is the author of “I’m Not With the Band” (Sphere)

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan is published by Faber & Faber (298pp, £14.99)

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times