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

NANCY JO IACOI/GALLERY STOCK
Show Hide image

There are only two rules for an evening drink: it must be bitter, and it must be cold

A Negroni is the aperitif of choice in bars everywhere from London to Palermo - and no wonder.

The aperitif has the odd distinction of being the only alcohol that can always rely on a sober audience: it is the opener, the stimulant, a spur to the appetite for good food and good conversation. This preparatory beverage is considered the height of sophistication, and certainly nobody labouring in field or factory ever required a pep to their evening appetite. Still, to take a drink before one starts drinking is hardly clever behaviour. So why do it?

One reason is surely the wish to separate the working day from the evening’s leisure, an increasingly pressing matter as we lose the ability to switch off. This may change the nature of the aperitif, which was generally supposed to be light, in alcohol and character. Once, one was expected to quaff a pre-dinner drink and go in to dine with faculties and taste buds intact; now, it might be more important for those who want an uninterrupted meal to get preprandially plastered. That way, your colleagues may contact you but they won’t get much sense out of you, and pretty soon they’ll give up and bother someone else.

The nicest thing about the aperitif, and the most dangerous, is that it doesn’t follow rules. It’s meant to be low in alcohol, but nobody ever accused a gin and tonic or a Negroni (Campari, gin and vermouth in equal portions) of that failing; and sherry, which is a fabulous aperitif (not least because you can keep drinking it until the meal or the bottle ends), has more degrees of alcohol than most wines. An aperitif should not be heavily perfumed or flavoured, for fear of spoiling your palate, yet some people love pastis, the French aniseed drink that goes cloudy in water, and that you can practically smell across the Channel. They say the scent actually enhances appetite.

Really only two rules apply. An aperitif should be bitter – or, at any rate, it shouldn’t be sweet, whatever the fans of red vermouth may tell you. And it must be cold. Warm drinks such as Cognac and port are for after dinner. Not for nothing did Édith Piaf warble, in “Mon apéro”, about drowning her amorous disappointments in aperitifs: fail to cool your passions before sharing a table, and you belong with the barbarians.

On the other hand, conversing with your nearest over a small snack and an appropriate beverage, beyond the office and before the courtesies and complications of the dinner table, is the essence of cultured behaviour. If, as is sometimes thought, civilisation has a pinnacle, surely it has a chilled apéro carefully balanced on top.

The received wisdom is that the French and Italians, with their apéritifs and aperitivos, are the experts in these kinds of drinks. Certainly the latter are partial to their Aperol spritzes, and the former to such horrid, wine-based tipples as Lillet and Dubonnet. But the English are good at gin and the Americans invented the Martini. As for Spain, tapas were originally snacks atop a covering that kept the flies out of one’s pre-dinner drink: tapa means lid.

Everywhere, it seems, as evening approaches, people crave a drink that in turn will make them salivate: bitterness, the experts tell us, prepares the mouth to welcome food. The word “bitter” may come from “bite”, in which case the aperitif’s place before dinner is assured.

I like to think that a good one enables the drinker to drown all sour feelings, and go in to dinner cleansed and purified. Fanciful, perhaps. But what better lure to fancy than a beverage that exists only to bring on the evening’s pleasures?

Nina Caplan is the Louis Roederer Pio Cesare Food and Wine Writer of the Year

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times