Are music festivals better with children? | James Delingpole

July 24th, 2011

‘Dad, later, shall we go and see the Vaccines?’ says Boy.

‘Yeah, er, sure,’ I say, trying not to sound as enthusiastic I feel. It’s not the Vaccines I’m interested in; all their songs sound the same, a louder variant on the three chords which open Blondie’s ‘Denis’ (Denee). Rather it’s the joy of realising that, at 12, Boy is still young enough — just — not to feel totally embarrassed at being seen to enjoy rock music in the company of his lame old dad.

We’ve come to the Latitude Festival at Henham Park in Suffolk, me, the Fawn, Boy, Girl and a whole posse of friends, and it’s a very exciting moment for all of us. Two years ago the kids found it a terrible drag. This time, though, they’ve finally hit the age when they’re totally up for it — eagerly scanning the line-up, relishing being allowed to run loose amid crowds of perhaps 35,000, digging the amazing hippy tat on the stalls and discovering that in festival world no one judges you for the way you look, that on the contrary the weirder you look the better.

For us parents it’s an experience too. Sure, it does rather rule out any of those exotic, irresponsible things we might have done at festivals when we were younger. But on the other — such is the way with kids, as you know — it’s like seeing the whole world anew, through their eyes this time.

I’ll give you an example of this which, if you’re not a parent, will make you sick. Boy wants to see the comic Omid Djalili. I want to see Omid Djalili too but can’t because I’m squatting in the mud outside the comedy tent, waiting for all the other waifs and strays in our group to turn up because nobody’s got any juice left on their mobiles so we’ve had to resort to more primitive meeting technology — just like we had to in the Stone Age, before modern telecommunications were invented.

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Half an hour later, Boy comes out of Djalili with a big smile on his face. ‘Was he good?’ I ask. ‘He was great,’ says Boy. And the strange thing is, because Boy’s happy I don’t feel remotely like I’ve missed out.

Tonight the kids want to see Paolo Nutini. I’d personally rather have my testicles gnawed off by giant killer scorpions than see a jumped-up Paisley ice-cream salesman primping himself slickly before a crowd of squealing pubescents who know no better. But parenting’s not about ‘me’, is it?

This is confirmed ten minutes into the set. Relishing my offspring’s new-found independence, I have allowed Girl to wander with two of her ten-year-old friends, and a seven-year-old, deeper into the crowd to try to find a better view. ‘Oh don’t worry,’ I tell the mildly concerned parents of the other kids. ‘Girl is so capable. She’ll find her way back to us easily.’

Sure enough, Girl does soon find her way back to us. The only problem is, the other littlies aren’t with her. Somehow they got separated and she doesn’t know where they are. And now we’re stuck here, in the third circle of hell, unable to move even if we wanted to because then the lost kids will never find us at the end. Worse still, Nutini is being exceptionally generous with his extended set of jazzy-reggae-lite-zucchero crooning in a way that suggests he could happily go on for all eternity.

Then: a miracle! A call from the Welfare Tent. The lost kids have been found! Better still, we no longer need endure a millisecond more of Nutini. We trudge through the mud to collect them. I take care not to go inside, in case I have another run-in with the well-meaning social worker types within — like I did earlier in the day, when Girl was detained there by security for apparently having the wrong pass.

I’d love to be able to educate Boy and Girl by taking them to watch John Paul Jones (‘He was in Led Zeppelin, kids!’) do a bluesy bass duel with Seasick Steve on guitar. But I know it’s not even worth trying because of a terrible and sad thing which happened on the first day, not long after Boy asked if I’d come with him to watch the Vaccines.

We all went to watch Caribou, a Canadian maths PhD whose album Swim was one of my favourites of last year. ‘Like a distillation of the very essence of classic, rave-era dance music, condensed into nine brilliantly realised tracks of thought-provoking, intense, infinitely subtle, textured, techno genius,’ I said in my review.

Live, he doesn’t disappoint. It’s like being back in the Summer of Love ’88 again, all sorts of wondrous chemicals coursing through my body, as I seek oneness with the crowd jigging in unison to the throbbing baseline with a smile that goes from face to face to face as the strobes come on and I raise my hands in the air in that imploring gesture that says ‘Come on Mister Deejay! Really, pump it up now!’

Then I notice Girl, watching me in horror. ‘DAD! NO!’ she mouths, wagging her finger from side to side. I gesture towards the adults dancing all around me as if to say: ‘No, darling. It’s really quite normal and healthy what Daddy’s doing. You see…’ ‘NO,’ repeats Girl.

Afterwards Boy comes up for a quiet word. ‘No offence, Dad. But you’ve got seriously shit taste in music and dancing and everything. Would you mind if, like, I go off and watch bands on my own in future?’

(to read more, click here)

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