For part 1 (explaining how I got here), please click here
And with that, it’s game time. As I make my way around the arena, I take in the happy faces as they arrive and suddenly feel extremely proud to be part of it. I also feel pretty smug to be honest – in exchange for three 8 hour shifts I’ll do some good, meet new friends, get an insight behind the scenes and get to enjoy a weekend of great music for free. Not a bad deal really!
Although doors are now open, things won’t really get going until this evening and there is still some final preparation going on around me. Heading to the information tent, I am delighted to track down stage times for the bands and take photos to share with the Oxbox and other grateful stewards (keen to arrange shift swaps to avoid missing their favourite bands). The skies darken and with a night shift looming I head back to the camp to rest and and get to know the team.
Friday : Shift 1 / Day 1
With my first shift from midnight-8am, I had tried, but failed, to sleep a little so find myself heading off already pretty tired. I’m down as part of the “response team” but it’s soon apparent that most of us are. Rather than being some crack emergency unit, it turns out to be a catch-all term while Oxfam find their feet and work out what’s needed and where. I’m paired with Kate (a relative veteran as she’s done this once before) and we are sent down to the Arena entrance to keep an eye on the last of the crowd as they head back to their tents. It’s cold but thankfully the rain that was forecast seems to be holding off. We help a few people with directions but have plenty of time to get to know each other as it’s all rather quiet.
Around an hour in there’s a brief moment of excitement as we spot a fire the other side of our section and head over to investigate. Turns out that it’s safely off the ground and very much under control so we chat with the owners and then return to our post. I learn that Kate is a student at Nottingham university so we have some common ground to cover, albeit I graduated about 15 years ago! Over the next 3 hours or so we talk about pretty much everything, only interrupted by the occasional call from the radio. As the night draws on, heavy rain and a form of mania kick in so we’re grateful for the tea run and our half-hour break. We get swapped to a spot that’s later christened “Pixie corner” – it’s one of the busier junctions on site but not at 5am. As the sun rises and people start to stir from their tents it’s a much busier last few hours but we’re both pleased to see the next shift turn up and head back to camp exhausted.
I hit my bed around 930am hoping my trusty eye mask allows me a decent sleep but there is no such luck sadly and I’m awake 3hrs later. The rain is still tipping down so I’m reluctant to leave the tent but excited to start my festival proper and to see some bands. Armed with my first free meal token I check out the reviews board that’s appeared in the camp and I’m torn between the top two – a Paella and Buttermilk-fried chicken. Both sound great but I decide on Paella which turns out to be the perfect choice after last night’s exertions – tasty, filling and warming. As the skies clear I head back over to the main stage to take in Benjamin Clementine but it’s a false alarm as he’s been forced to cancel. Instead, it means my first real taste of music is a great one as Bear’s Den absolutely nail it and probably end up my favourite set of the weekend.
One of the joys of Somersault is how compact things are and the timing is such that you can wander from main stage to the Communion stage nearby. I take advantage of this and catch the brilliant Rukhsana Merrise and her gorgeous, husky jazz voice that I’m sure we’ll hear more of. Back to the main stage and the Staves deliver their beautiful harmonies and trademark but it’s all a bit dull for me and I suspect it works better in the sun. Grabbing some food, I dive forward into the crowd and get up nice and close for Laura Marling. She is absolutely captivating and her music sounds fantastic although, to my ears, her voice feels a bit overloaded with affectation these days. As the set goes on she seems to relax and a combination of this, some earlier songs and a surprisingly rocked up version of Devil’s Spoke win me over. Happy but tired, I decide to call it a night.
Saturday: Shift 2 / Day 2
I manage a much better and well-needed sleep but I’m up at 7 for an 8am shift. I’m posted back at Pixie corner and it’s interesting just how different the place is during the day. No Kate this time, but we have 5 of us plus a supervisor and it’s clear we need every last one of us as we’re surrounded by people, deliveries, artist transport and various farm vehicles. Around 2 hours in and get given probably my strangest job of the weekend – one of the Campervan guests’ sons has locked their keys in their vehicle and I need to accompany the AA man to break into it. It’s a nice change of pace and gives me a sense of how the other half live – in this case with their own kettle, toilet and shower. I enjoy a great cup of tea and head back to the team, making a mental note to look into buying a caravan for next time.
Back at Pixie corner and the job is basically a combination of crowd control and traffic officer but with the sun finally blazing down it’s a real pleasure. As the shift goes on we all come to realise that the we’ve caught the sun but a generous punter lends us some sun-cream. The sun also seems to energise everyone and we’re also met with cheery greetings and people stopping to talk and thank us for what we are doing. We work really well as a team and by the end of the shift we are a pretty slick operation. As we head back to camp, we decide to stop off at a perfectly placed ice-cream van. I “accidentally” flash the Oxfam badge as I ask the owner how much and he kindly gives us 3 for the price of 2.
Later that evening, with batteries recharged, I set back off to see Rae Morris who I caught earlier in the year supporting Tom Odell. Feeding off the crowd, she’s much more animated this time and her voice and songs are just as good as before. Like yesterday, I cross over to the Communion stage to catch Pixel fix, a bunch of young guys from Oxford, belting out some pretty good electronic indie for a smallish crowd. Back on the main stage and Imelda Mae is clearly impressing the crowd but is not really my thing so I head off to grab a burger. Shaking off some pretty drunk girls from the queue I meet up with some of the others for tonight’s headliners, Bombay Bicycle Club. It’s a fantastic show and the crowd is incredible but I still don’t love them as much as I feel I should. As the crowd disperse we head over to Amber run (good but a bit too glum for a Saturday night) and then on to the Forest party for a slightly more upbeat option. Sadly, the lack of sleep and today’s shift catch up with me pretty quickly and with the threat of more rain I leave the guys to it and head back to the tent.
Sunday: Shift 3 / Day 3
Sadly, Sunday is another wet one. I wake up during the night for a trip to the loo and it stays raining on and off all day. As had become my routine, I head down to my reception spot to download the weather and make the decision to pack up and leave immediately after tonight’s shift. Hanging around the marquee let me catch up with some of the guys I hadn’t seen since the briefing – albeit there are some tired faces. In one of the glimpses of sunshine during the afternoon I pack up my tent and take some stuff to the car and to check out the car park. It was not so bad where I was parked and I scouted a decent route out for later. I caught some last snippets of music and then it was off to my final shift which would be from 4pm til midnight.
I was a bit disappointed to be back at Pixie corner again and my new team and I did our best to keep the smiles and energy levels up despite the cold, wet weather and tiredness. But my spirits were lifted when I did a deal with Vivian, my supervisor, who wanted sushi (from a place next to main stage) and which would give me the chance to catch a few songs by Passenger along the way. I opted for some poutine (chips, cheese and chicken gravy) on the way and got chatting with the owner about the weekend. When he learnt I was a volunteer he gave me the meal for free. Passenger was fantastic but I tore myself away to be fair to the others and headed back. Finishing the shift at midnight we made the long walk back to camp to sign out for one last time and to hand in my tabbard. In exchange, I got some warm thanks and a button from the Oxbox and then popped to the marquee to collect my stuff, say some goodbyes and set off for the car.
Sunday’s rain and the sheer volume of traffic meant that the car park had got pretty “interesting” so dumped my stuff in the car and helped push a couple of people out of trouble. I then scouted a route out (with a marshall’s help) and nailed it first time by myself. Feeling tired but proud I set off home.
Epilogue: Get involved
So now I’m home and recovered, how to sum it all up?
First and foremost, volunteering for Oxfam was fantastic and I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great way to do some good, meet people and experience a festival for free. And the great news is that they still have some spaces for 2015 including Reading, Leeds and Bestival (at the time of writing) – check out http://www.oxfam.org.uk/stewarding/festivals for more details. Next time, I just hope I get a bit more variety from my shifts, remember to take some alcohol and invest in some better waterproofs!
And as for Somersault? I really enjoyed it but it definitely suffered from the weather. The focus on activities and outward bounds is obviously a risk but the vibe and line up of the festival also seems built around lazy summer days and with relatively little contingency for what happened. That said, it was a great choice for someone to dip their toe into festivals and I for one will be looking to experience it again – I just hope the sun is shining.