I was 23, living in Berlin at the time. I’d flown home to Yorkshire for two reasons: to save a dying relationship and to attend Tramlines Festival in Sheffield.
The former endeavour went tits up, naturally, and as a consequence I spent much of the festival desperately putting on a brave face – skanking like a madman, quaffing horrifying amounts of booze, hoovering powders and dressing in increasingly outlandish outfits. On the day of the Primal Scream I was clad in tiny swimming trunks, several beaded necklaces, a floppy lumberjack shirt, and Converse so knackered that you could see my yellow-socked toes poking out of the ends. Looking back it seems quite comical how blatant my mental implosion was. At the time I rather fancied I was keeping up a strong exterior image.
Our story begins in the late afternoon of that fateful day. It was the height of English summer, which meant it was pissing down with rain and blowing a gale. I’d already hooned my way through several litres of beer, and was sitting with my friends in a pub at around 7.30pm, waiting patiently for drugs. The deal, apparently, was this: you order a certain drink at the bar, and the barmaid takes your cash, and then she brings you your receipt and there’s a wee baggy in it. We handed over the cash, but the bar staff took their sweet time bringing the gear over.
It was 8pm by the time our parcel was delivered, by which point I was fuming: Primal Scream were playing 8-9 on the main stage (the festival takes place at several venues and stages across the city), twenty minutes away by cab. My friends were fannying about finishing their drinks, and as my mental state was already one minor inconvenience away from pulling a Jason Russell, my younger brother and I opted to sack everyone else off and head to the stage on our own.
The taxi dropped us off at around 8.30 at the Ponderosa, a giant field just outside Sheffield’s centre, which during Tramlines was transformed into an enormous, fenced-in main stage. My brother and I, pelted by rain but in high spirits to have finally arrived, sprinted around the snaking fences of the empty queue. So giddy was I that I slipped in a puddle and seemed to bounce straight back upright, now covered head to foot in glistening mud. And so it was that, dressed in hotpants and half a dozen bead necklaces and caked in shit, I reached the entrance to the arena.
I could hear Primal Scream playing Rocks. Fuck, I could see them onstage, a hundred metres away. All that stood before me and the closing party of the festival was a pair of stewards in fluorescent jackets. One of them was old, one of them was young. As we approached, our festival wristbands held aloft, they shook their heads.
“Gate’s closed, lads.”
I stopped just short of them, my brother beside me.
“What do you mean it’s closed?”
“Last entry was at 8.30.”
I checked the time.
“Alright, it’s 8:34. Can we come in, please? We’ve paid for tickets!”
“Nothing we can do. Sorry lads.”
“Nothing you can do? I can see the band over your shoulder!”
The field was barely even half full. It seems that most of the crowd had already left to escape the rain.
“Health and safety I’m afraid. Nobody gets in now.”
“Health and sa– what do you think will happen if you let us in? There’s about twenty bloody people in there!” I snapped.
More festival-goers had arrived behind us in the queue by now, and I could hear their disappointed groans over my shoulder.
“Nothing we can do,” said the older steward, with a shrug.
It’s all a little bit of a blur after this. Finally, after holding it inside all festival, all that sorrow and heartache and frustrated passion, I snapped. And not just snapped either – I crackled and I fucking popped, too.
“Alright then steward mate, tell me, what’re you gonna do?” I barked, walking between the pair of stewards, arms flung out to either side in possibly the only ‘u wot m8’ pose I have ever pulled.
They didn’t touch me, and suddenly I found myself through, inside the arena. It was an odd sensation – I hadn’t expected it to work. I waved my brother to come and join me, and he jogged hastily after. To my surprise, everybody else began to do the same. Around thirty people poured in past the stewards, who simply stood looking vexed in their anoraks.
This victory filled me with a sudden mad thunder. My head was spinning, all notion of what constituted a good or bad idea was totally gone, and I had no clue what I was expecting to happen but fuck: I was leading this lot. People were laughing and following; I’d started a rebellion. I was Steve McQueen and Paul Newman rolled into one, I was Spartacus himself, I was Hercules, no, ZEUS-
– and then a short man with a very thick neck stepped out of a portaloo and strolled to block my path. There was a black band around his arm, and he held out his hands as if to greet me.
“Alright mate,” said the bouncer. “What’s going on here then?”
“Oh, hello there,” I said, before diving forward to escape his reach. If I could just get past him, I thought, I could out-pace him to the stage and lose him in the crowd.
I slipped again and went down, and in one second I felt a great wrenching sensation as I was heaved to my feet by a hairy forearm clasped around my neck so tight I could barely breathe.
“You knob-head,” yelled the bouncer, heaving me along by my throat, “I was going to let you in as well if you’d asked nicely.”
To this day I’ve always wondered whether this was true, or he was just twisting the knife a little. The latter, I assume.
“Here, stop, let’s talk about this,” I rasped, as he dragged me back towards the exit.
In my peripheral vision, I could see the scores of people who’d entered after me rushing on into the festival, now that the lone bouncer was distracted. Arse.
I was dragged back past the stewards and tossed out like a soiled pair of underpants – from a gig I’d paid to be at and spent the whole damn weekend looking forward to. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so angry, so completely blinded by scarlet fury. Certainly, I’ve never been so blisteringly stupid: barely taking a breath between shrieked obscenities – “You bald steroid BASTARD!” – I dropped to my knees beside the entrance gate and made to crawl under the fence, roughly three metres away from where I’d just been hurled out, in full view of the stewards. I’d just managed to wedge my head under and was working on my shoulders when I felt a hand tugging me back.
“Dan, don’t be a tit,” said my brother, sagely. “Follow me.”
I don’t know what I looked like at that moment, writhing around in the mud trying to slither under a fence clad in tiny swimming trunks, but from my brother’s expression when I arose, it wasn’t great.
I followed him around the perimeter fence, ranting and raging all the while. I could still hear the band; they’d begun to play Come Together, and it was quite obviously going to be their last song. Further enraged, we pressed on.
Halfway around the arena, we found a section of fence that backed onto a street, well out of sight of any stewards. A police car rolled past slowly; we leant on the fence and tried to look innocent. The moment it rounded the corner, we hopped up – me first, my brother second. We hauled ourselves over the fence and dropped down inside the arena. By some miracle, nobody had noticed us. We were in some odd cordoned-off area which we soon realised was a VIP section. Tits.
Thankfully, it turns out people only check for wristbands on the way in to VIP, not out. We fled the wealth-pen and raced down the grassy hill towards the stage, and then it hit – we were in! Properly in! We’d done it! I was suddenly ecstatic. We were in, and not three minutes after being slung out in the dirt. I was whooping and howling with joy, skipping as I ran. We both slipped and fell over a couple of times as we ran towards the stage, and sprang back up as if the ground was made of rubber.
Covered in mud from head to toe, hair plastered to foreheads, we reached the front, our precious baggy held aloft like a trophy. I pulled my keys from my pocket for a victory honk, and hugged all the topless blokes around me, lost in euphoria as Come Together built to a close and the rain came down over everyone.
We only saw five minutes of it, but it was the best gig I’ve ever been to.