Greenbelt Blog - day 1
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Date: August 2007


 

'This year, the site changes have made a great difference, with lots of venues and features really clicking into place.'

 

Philip Purser-Hallard, surefish's Greenbelt blogger, feels like he's never been away

I’ve been at Greenbelt just under 24 hours, and already – sitting in the press office listening to a few thousand people singing praise songs in what might possibly be Gaelic on the grandstand just outside – it feels weirdly as if I’ve never been away.

This is odd and slightly unnerving, as if the rest of my life were a bizarre illusion.

But am I a Greenbelter dreaming I’m a science fiction author, or an author dreaming I’m a Greenbelter?

Yesterday afternoon was the usual hectic mixture of logistical hassle and annual ritual: arriving at my B&B and unpacking; walking onto the festival site and buying a programme (to be pored over obsessively later, at leisure, in a café or the real ale tent); joining my wife at the campsite (where she ill-advisedly persists in staying despite my protestations that camping is uncomfortable, messy and very probably unbiblical) for a late picnic; heading back on site for the now-traditional early rush to be among the first attendees wearing this year’s T-shirts; wandering around orientating myself on the map, identifying the new locations of the various essentials – the bookshop, the pizza tent, the aforementioned beer emporium; and finally attending my first actual event.

This was the inspirational, heroic and (these days) very nearly sainted Billy Bragg, in his second appearance at the Greenbelt mainstage.

Plethora

Somehow, despite the plethora of talks, panels, concerts, services and workshops on offer, Bragg’s concert and his talk this morning would seem to be the only events I’ve actually managed to get to so far.

Regular Greenbelters will be familiar with the frequency with which one’s best-worked-out daily schedules are overtaken by reality. Already today I’ve missed seminars entitled ‘Jesus Was a Liar’, ‘How to Ensure Your Funeral Is Well-Attended’ and ‘Hope Is Where Your A*se Is’.

I have, however, decided that the unexpectedly – in fact, given the climate of the British summer so far, the borderline miraculous – hot weather is serious enough to warrant buying myself a pair of shorts. As those of you who’ve seen my legs will imagine, this isn’t a decision I entered into lightly.

Last night’s concert was the first time I’ve seen Mr Bragg live, having unaccountably missed his now-legendary ‘Jerusalem’ gig at Greenbelt 2005, and he was marvellous.

Whether treating the audience to new songs based around his current musings on Britishness and its place in the current world order, reprising old favourites, or making a brave – if somewhat surreal – stab at an obscure Carpenters song before launching into a more expected Bob Dylan cover, Bragg is a consummate showman, an inspired wordsmith and a passionate political thinker.

He was equally rousing (and entertaining) in his talk this morning – entitled ‘Can Britishness Be Defined in a New Bill of Rights?’, in which he argued the need for political progressives to reclaim constructs of nationality from the depredations of the far right.

He insists that identity is personal, not corporate, and that in proudly owning the symbols of Britishness (or indeed Christianity) we should be concerned with what these symbols means to us, rather than the uses others may put them to.

Bragg’s encore last night – an attempt to cover the entirety of his first album in the space of ten minutes – was sadly foiled by a snapped guitar string, but that didn’t stop him finishing with a crowd-pleasing rendition of ‘A New England’.

I don’t think anyone believed him any more when he sang that he didn’t want to change the world – and good luck to him with it.

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