Pretty Vicious and Let’s Eat Grandma – what it’s like playing a festival in your teens

For most school-age kids, they’re a chance to escape the constraints of home to watch your heroes. But, for a select few, it’s a chance to play in front of thousands

Declan McKenna, 17

I went to Hop Farm when I was 10 with my parents and siblings, for my dad’s birthday, and Bob Dylan was headlining and Ray Davies of the Kinks was playing, but I didn’t appreciate them as much as I would now. Back then I was probably more into the Tweenies. I camped at Reading last year, which was fun but a little grim. It was the dirtiest festival I’ve ever been to – it was full of teenagers. It was the end of a really long summer, so I was too exhausted to enjoy it. But I do remember this weird story, that has since become Reading folklore, about this boy, six foot tall, called Tommy C who apparently punched two security guards, was completely off his head, and was on the run, beating up everyone in sight.

There was quite a big security presence as a result, but I didn’t get into any trouble, although I did see a couple of people who did, close to me – there were a lot of tent inspections for drugs, and a lot of people got certain things taken off them. My parents don’t worry about me, though – they’re quite relaxed. When you’re the sixth child, after a while it gets to be, like, “Oh, he’ll be all right.”

Being old enough to perform at a festival but too young to get a drink can be a bit frustrating. Most British festivals aren’t too uptight, but going to America can be really frustrating, as you’re not able to drink there till you’re 21. But having older people in your band helps. I’ve learned to like beer more recently, because it’s cheap.

I’ve had a couple of stalkers at festivals, especially in France. They send you weird stuff, odd notes and letters. Then again, one of my friends saw Kevin Parker [of Tame Impala] backstage at a festival, approached him, and made him feel a bit uncomfortable.

Declan McKenna is appearing at Standon Calling and has played Latitude and Glastonbury.

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth of Let’s Eat Grandma, both 17

Let’s Eat Grandma performing at Latitude earlier this month
Let’s Eat Grandma performing at Latitude earlier this month. Photograph: Ben Matthews/Rex/Shutterstock

We’ve performed at Latitude, The Great Escape, Festival No 6, Camp Bestival. Camping’s great, but the toilets aren’t much fun. The ones at Latitude were a massive hole – that was quite an experience. This year will be our first festivals without our parents; it’s the first year they’ve felt comfortable about us going by ourselves. We won’t be calling home every hour, though – there’s no signal at Latitude.

Our parents haven’t given us talks about the perils of drink and drugs. They haven’t been that bothered. They’re more like, “Off you go – we’re having three days off.” Besides, we’re not really on that boat. We don’t really drink, so it doesn’t really matter that we’re “underage”. People might think we’re on drugs, but they don’t say it. Actually, that’s not true. They often say of our music, “Ooh, that’s very trippy for two 17-year-olds.” People try too hard to look for some hidden answer for why we make the music we do, at the age we are. We just make it. It’s not a big mystery.

We’re at Access to Music college in Norwich, but we won’t have to take any revision to the festivals – it’s all coursework-based. We might take a Scrabble board.

People are a little wary of us. We do spooky-looking stuff in our tent to freak people out, although we don’t have a book of spells. But Rosa might whip out her blond wig and hat. We’re not like typical teenagers, so we don’t really feel a responsibility to “behave”, because there isn’t anything we do that could have a “bad influence” on young people. Apart from the witchcraft …

Let’s Eat Grandma are at Visions in London on 6 August and have already played Latitude.

Ben Gregory (vocals and guitar) of Blaenavon, 19

Ben Gregory of Blaenavon perform during SXSW in March 2016
Ben Gregory of Blaenavon perform during SXSW in March 2016. Photograph: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

My first festival was Brainchild, a tiny one in Wokingham. It was the day after our school prom and we were all completely destroyed in the car, having had between zero and three hours’ sleep. I’ve had some sick times at festivals. In 2013 we played Leeds, which was wicked, and at By the Sea we hung out with Foals. Yannis from Foals got absolutely rinsed by our drummer Harris McMillan on the dodgems. We’ve been to Green Man for the last three years – that’s our favourite. We bumped into the comedian Rhod Gilbert there, in the dance tent. We were all doing these outrageous dance moves. Rhod asked us to control ourselves – he was quite pissed off.

At Leeds, about 30 of our mates were in the dressing room that we were sharing with Jon Hopkins. We severed the door between the two of us and got absolutely hammered, there was writing all over the walls. We had to issue a lot of apologies.

Buying beer can be difficult when you’re underage. You have to have an older mate, otherwise you’re screwed. I remember at Reading in 2012, waiting to get our GCSE results, our older mate had to go down to Tesco and buy 15 crates for everyone.

I’m meant to be going to Oxford to study German and English, but I’ve deferred to be in rock’n’roll. The other two [drummer Harris McMillan and bassist Frank Wright] are also deferring, but it’s all good because we’re doing what we love. My parents are really stoked. My dad said: “It’s all good, mate. I’d have loved to have been a rock star.”

I don’t take drugs – just loads of Red Stripe. My friends normally get completely destroyed on mushrooms and I never see them again. I’ve also seen some people have some horrible times on acid recently – that’s been pretty gnarly. I don’t really do any of that stuff, just a mixed bag of debauchery. Everything you wouldn’t want your parents to see, basically. The stuff you do at festivals. We like getting a box of wine – we call it saq du wine – taking the bag out and drinking it straight out the bag through the little hole. You can blow up the bag afterwards and use it as a pillow, which is really useful.

The first time I went to Reading I was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna take some amazing food and loads of changes of clothing.” Then, after you’ve been to a couple of festivals, it’s just like, bring one T-shirt and 20 quid and you’ll probably be fine.

Blaenavon are at Truck and Reading and Leeds.

Brad Griffiths (vocals, guitar) of Pretty Vicious, 19

Pretty Vicious rocking Latitude in 2015
Pretty Vicious rocking Latitude in 2015. Photograph: Ben Matthews/Rex/Shutterstock

We actually formed at a festival. Well, a campsite, in our hometown of Merthyr Tydfil, by the river – a lot of people we know around Merthyr Tydfil are in shit bands. You can smell the jealousy on them. The first festival we played at was Isle of Wight last year. There was a brilliant atmosphere. I was 18 and Elliot Jones, our drummer, was only 16. We also supported the Manic Street Preachers at Cardiff Castle, which was funny because, that morning, Elliot had to sit his GCSE music exam and in the afternoon he was playing in front of 10,000 people.

Elliot and Tom’s [McCarthy, guitarist] dads are our managers. Not that they monitor our behaviour. No, they’re far worse than us. They always drink before our gigs and, by the time we come offstage, they’re smashed. And our crew is so big that by the time we’ve finished playing, our rider is all gone.

We played Glastonbury last year. We came in a shit van; it kept getting stuck in the mud. That’s a problem with drinking at festivals – you get smashed and start driving and there’s no toilet and you have to piss every two minutes. We just piss on the floor of the van. I once did it in a bottle. Then the door was opened at a petrol station and I threw the bottle out and it went all over the seats.”

Pretty Vicious are at Truck, Kendal Calling and Bestival.

Billie Marten, 17

Billie Marten at the Citadel festival
Billie Marten appearing at the Citadel festival, Victoria Park, London, this month. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

In 2014, I played the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading and Leeds. I brought my whole family – my parents, older brother, uncle, cousin – which was super-exciting. It was a bit strange, though, because we were walking through security and my uncle had a bottle of vodka in his wellie and my mum was eating jelly babies so she had all this white sugar on her lips and looked super-suspicious, like she was some crazy cokehead, so we had to wipe it off her quickly. Bless her. Can you imagine?

I’m not very festivally. My music is quite quiet and boring, but I am trying. At Leeds, I had the whole of my sixth form down the front, and they were all completely fucked, heckling, and that kept me going. Later, I got really sunburned. I was on the verge of being super-ill – I’m really pale and weak.

I have camped; it was just so grim. No human should live like that for five days. On Thursday, you’re all clean and everybody smells nice and it’s fine but, day by day, you lose all sense of hygiene. A horrible food fight broke out on the last day and baked beans were everywhere – and I hate baked beans. Then somebody bought over this watermelon. Not sure how it got there, but it got destroyed.

My mum gives me an emergency kit before I go to any festivals. In fact, she does it before every trip. Every time I go to London, she gives me a little bag and it’s got tea in it, paracetamol and plasters. I can’t believe I just said that.

Billie Marten is at Standon Calling and Bestival, and has already played Latitude.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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