Glastonbury had a "fallow" year in 2018 to allow the land to recover, so we had a year off (we did WOMAD instead...but we'll not talk about that...). So, we submitted our application to trade in October last year, and heard late February 2019 that we'd been accepted. That was the starting gun for our preparation. My daughter Anne Zilpha made an analysis of the previous two years sales figures and we drew up a schedule of the stuff we had to make and buy-in. The daunting prospect was that we reckoned that we needed to to take 100 guitars and 50 amps with us to be confident that we could meet the demand.
A couple of weeks to go, and here are 50 fretless guitars ready.
It was a really tough couple of months making so many guitars and amps, but we managed it it in time. We'd already lined up Hollowbelly to help out, but felt we needed to up our game in terms of presentation, so that involved making a full plywood floor for the marquee, overhauling the guitar hanging racks inside the marquee, arranging a proper electrical installation inside the marquee, with new lighting and 16 high-level power outlets, a cotton muslin lining for the marquee, new signage and making some new display racks for outside, with roofs over them to keep off the worst of the weather.
Preparation for an event like this is very serious - we have to be ready for 8 days on site, totally self contained and ready for any weather conditions, rain or shine. With one very wet and one very hot Glastonbury behind us, we were confident that we could cope and that we knew how to deal with it. Little tweaks such as a groundsheet under the timber floor of the marquee, a tarpaulin awning fixed to the side of the van for rain protection and/or shade can make all the difference. As we had so many more guitars and lots of new product lines, we needed to pack down really tight, so we made sure our guitars were neatly packed in cartons in batches of 20 rather than individual boxes in order to make the most of the available space in the van, and even then it meant that we'd be carrying 96 guitar kits and 40 amps on the roof, together with various display racks.
New display racks and the all-important travelling cocktail cabinet being prepared.
We ordered in a fair bit of new stuff, such as shakers, harmonicas, tee shirts etc so that was quite a serious financial commitment on top of the other stuff such as site fee and electrical supply. There's also a lot of documentation to get ready - public liability insurance, employers insurance, PAT electrical certificates, health and safety assessment, sustainability statement, so if you are thinking of doing this sort of thing, be warned, you need to be on top of all this sort of stuff.
We'd been watching the weather forecast for 2 or 3 weeks, and we were worried that it might be a wet one, as there was lot of rain for a couple of weeks beforehand, and Glastonbury is notorious for not coping well with rain, but as time drew on, it looked like we might have a couple of days of rain during the set-up and decent weather for the event itself.
On Monday morning before the weekend we were loading up, and en-route we dropped by our printers to pick up some new tee shirts, then we were on our way to Portishead just outside Bristol where we'd arranged to pick up Hollowbelly at a midway point. I drove very steadily, as with a full load on the roof rack and the back of the van absolutely packed to the roof I didn't want to take any risks at all.
We had an uneventful journey, although fitting in Hollowbelly's gear was bit tricky, and we ended up having to spread his sleeping bag across the seats in the van, and ride with his merch box in the footwell of the cab.
After a couple of Glastonburys, checking in and finding out pitch was fairly routine for us, so by around 7.00pm on Monday evening we were at our pitch and ready to set up our tent and our trading marquee.
During Monday night we had a bit of rain, but Tuesday was dry enough, so we managed to get completely set-up. It took us quite a bit longer than we expected, as we had a lot of new stuff to set up. We were all totally exhausted by the evening, and were looking forward to a good night's sleep before having to face the public on Wednesday morning.
After a leisurely breakfast, me and Hollowbelly took a brief walk round the neighbourhood of the Silver Hayes area and the Gulley Blues, watching thousands of visitors dragging their possessions with them to try and grab a prime camping spot.
One of the advantages of trading, is that you get a decent spot to pitch your tent, and your own toilets and water supply - hardly luxury, but much more civilised than fighting it out with 200 000 other people.
All set up and ready for business.
So, the actual business of Glastonbury itself, well, we traded from Wednesday morning to Sunday night, working about 14-15 hours a day, as we were open from around 10am until midnight most days. This year, none of us saw any acts at all, as we were just so busy, and too tired after shutting up shop to do anything other than have a beer and go to bed. This year it seemed much quieter than previous years, and none of us had any difficulty sleeping. It's all relative, as there was a continuous powerful bass from various dance venues that was more of a physical force rather than an audible sound.
Anne Zilpha looking pensive and proprietorial
My daughter kept a very accurate sales ledger, and it was apparent that on Thursday and Friday sales figures were well down on what we had hoped, so that was tough one to deal with, but we soldiered on, and had decent enough trade on Saturday. Saturday was particularly hot, so Hollowbelly and myself had to take it in shifts to do the demonstrating out front in the unrelenting heat, and Anne did her best to clean off the dust off everything that was constantly kicked up by tens of thousands of tramping feet.
Open all hours..playing music for 15 hours a day!
We'd had a few musicians who were playing at the festival drop by, DJs Acido Pantera from Colombia, and a band from Taiwan, who came back the following day and bought two of our best guitars!. We spotted a few celebs, including Fat Boy Slim and Martin Roberts from Homes Under The Hammer, who'd bought a guitar from us at the last festival. We also met a lot of previous customers, and a few old friends such as Chris, the owner of one of our favorite venues, The Chambers in Folkestone. I also gave a short interview for Radio Shepton - in my experience it's almost inevitable that I'll end up giving at least one interview at a festival like Glastonbury.
Hollowbelly...illustrating an article on Music Radar about the 13 best guitar acts at Glastonbury!
Sunday, our last day of trading was going to be a busy one, we knew that, but it exceeded all our expectations, and more than made up for a couple of relatively quietish (by Glastonbury standards) days. The people looking after security to our service area were on their last shift, so I offered them a glass of Jack Daniels and Coke, as we were also indulging and feeling a bit "demob happy" by late afternoon. After closing up I headed over to the John Peel Stage backstage crew lounge for an hour or so, but I was too tired to stay and play onstage, so I headed back to camp and slept the sleep of the just.
Monday was simply a day for breaking all the gear down in an orderly manner and getting it into the van and onto the roofrack. We were all very tired, so we didn't rush things and tried to be as methodical as we could. We offer a service where customers can leave their purchases with us and collect at the end of the event, so we had a few customers arrive to collect their purchases, but by mid-morning all that was finished, and we steadily broke the gear down and packed it away. At least we had a lot less to take back with us, so that made things a bit easier, and by 6.00pm we were off and away - nothing left on our pitch, and just a few empty cardboard boxes for the recycling. It took about 50 minutes to get off site,and then a steady drive back to Bristol to drop John off at a friends where he picked up his van and made his way home. For me and Anne we had a couple of hours steady dive, and we took a leisurely stop at Gloucester services (the best coffee I've had at any motorway services...probably because its a family run business not a chain or franchise) before arriving home at about 11.pm.
We even took our own stage - an 8 x 4 sheet of plywood!
After the event we found that images and videos had started to crop up on the internet, including the official Glastonbury website photo gallery, which is quite flattering.
Taiwanese band members making their purchase at the counter
So will we do it again? Maybe - it is profitable, but it is hugely demanding in terms of time and energy, particularly in the pre-event organisation and preparation. We are still recovering, so we'll see how it goes, but I'm sure the date for us having to apply again will soon roll round...and we'll have to make a decision.
Saturday, bringing in the customers - it was a long day, and a long week!