What follows is a precursor to our main article, currently being compiled and nearly there and featuring contributions from many of the artists who played this year. Due in a week…

 

Sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

 

One of the most beautiful things I ever saw in my life, was driving over the backroads to Kelburn (completely sober at this point) en route to the festival, with something poetic like Pink Floyd on the stereo, and up ahead in the pitch black there was a white dot, seemed to be a carrier bag hovering in the air, but as we drew nearer and our headlights cut a swathe into the darkness to shine upon the object, it was revealed to be a divine-looking alabaster Barn Owl. The beautiful thing is, in the split second my retina communicated the information to my brain at ten million bits a second, it was gone, but I knew what I had seen – a barn owl, glimpsed at that precise moment, rarely glimpsed by anybody, where it is hovering above prey, completely motionless, stock-still on the eddies of air, seemingly frozen in time, I’ve never seen anything exude stillness quite like it! It stuck in my mind.

 

Focus on the owls; Kelburn Garden Party 2011, my French compadre Loic and I are sitting in our Psychedelic Beach Pad in Fairlie (before it even became the PBP), just down the road from Kelburn Garden Party as it was happening. We became acutely aware of the fact that we were sitting on a couch tripping and listening to albums when we could be at a music festival, our natural habitat, experiencing some exceptional live music not fifteen minutes away. The only problem was a serious lack of money, I was actually at one of the most impecunious points in my life at that point, this was pre-journalist days too, so passes weren’t even a thought.

 

We did however, have an iron resolve and an overwhelming urge to experience the lights and sounds of the hill behind us, I was also armed with an esoteric knowledge of the land around Kelburn, having spent much of my childhood playing there, so we donned black clothes and it was on.

 

Between us lay the perilous journey (at least for someone peaking on mushrooms), down the Main Road, through the scheme, over the muddy fields, through trees, and only then, we would hit the perimeter, and its orbiting security guards. I had worked out that I knew at least a dozen different routes into the centre of Kelburn Park from the surrounding forest, and that if we just kept trying each and every route we would either break on through to the other side eventually, or get arrested for persistently being caught sneaking in – seemed like a reasonable plan.

 

I decided we should try the most direct route first, round the side, in at the back, and over the roofs of the owl sanctuary, into the petting zoo, then out into the main nerve of the festival. We arrived at the owl sanctuary giggling uncontrollably from the shrooms and barely managing to walk in a straight line. The owl huts are about head-height, so normally they would be a breeze to bolt over, but as we all know, even making a glass of water can be difficult in these mental conditions.

 

Every time we stood on the fence it just moved down elastically with our foot until we were standing on the floor, this went on for quite some time. After, perhaps an eternity I managed to heave myself up, Loic is pretty short (and even shorter when he is tripping) so I pulled him up and made my way sniper-crawl across the roof, I realised our mistake when I got to the middle, it had took time for my tripping brain to distinguish between the bending of space-time and the bending of the roof beneath me, we were on a flimsy corrugated plastic roof and Loic was about to…oh shit, ‘Loic wait!’.

 

Too late, we collapsed into the owl sanctuary, the ferocious feathered brute started going insane, understandably, we had just gatecrashed his slumber, quite literally, the only saving grace as he clawed and gnashed for our soft white throats with talons like dragon’s teeth, was the tether, holding him inches from our face! Nobody should be asked to handle this scenario, never mind while under the influence of a potent fungi! With a burst of adrenaline I leapt clear, rolling down the hill outside, colliding with a rabbit hutch and laughing uncontrollably as Loic scrabbled, unsuccessfully, to escape the owl’s cage. Our commotion attracted the security and even the owl keeper came running, ‘You’re freaking out my owls!’, ‘Freaking out your owls!? They’re not the ones tripping!’. We were carried, giggling uncontrollably, by security and hoisted out.

 

**no animals were actually harmed during this**

 

Our second route, across the gorge, was dangerous, but proved fruitful. Note: When a torch light shines on you as you’re crawling through the trees trying to be surreptitious, it’s a lot easier to become one of the trees when you’re connected to nature on psilocybin. Once we were inside the festival, for fear of being recognised we plonked ourselves next to a huge throbbing speaker among the crowd, and danced like bellends to some banging beats for the rest of the night. A great night!

 

That was five or six years ago, since then things have changed drastically, as the NHC Gonzo Division we have covered every Garden Party since. It’s a miracle really, that we’ve had passes four years in a row…and now that we might well have blew it, I gain carte blanche to mention everything I missed out over the years…so I’ll tell you why it’s a miracle…

 

There’s a reason we’re called the Gonzo Division, it’s not something we self-professed despite our shared admiration of Hunter S Thompson. 4 years ago, in the particularly foul year of twenty thousand and twelve, two of my friends, Uriah and Will Johnstone, approached me after discovering I could write, and that I had a prodigious knowledge of music, asked me to join their team at Hellfire, the Ayrshire division of NHC, I said ‘sure, sounds great’, ‘we don’t get paid or anything,’ they said, ‘it’s a non-profit sort-of charity for musicians, but we get to go into gigs for free and meet really cool people’ Sold!

 

Up until this point I had just been writing away on screenplays and novels that have still never seen the light of the day or even went near a publisher, due to most of them being half-finished and the rest needing rewritten, so the opportunity to write on a platform and actually be read by others was a golden one for me indeed.

 

Our very first foray into the world of music journalism was a big one as well, with some strings pulled by Uriah we gained access into the increasingly-popular fledgling Kelburn Garden Party…we embarked upon that journey, armed with hallucinogenic Hawaiian Baby Woodrose seeds. Which wound up being our downfall, those seeds are perilous things, some fire blanks, and some are especially potent, so eating bags of them is like playing Russian roulette with psychedelics. Needless to say, not much was produced from that venture…’cept some crumpled notes that Uriah put together into a half-page article I suggested calling ‘Inspecting For Carrots’, a term I had toyed with for the title of my autobiography; meaning walking past vomit on a train platform, not wanting to look at it, but doing so anyway, like a car crash…Inspecting for carrots, I contributed little more to that article than a half-remembered scrawling paragraph written under the duress of hallucinogens, and a bagful of seeds, that wound up sewing our destruction that year anyway…

 

By the time we had covered a couple of gigs with this kamikaze approach to journalism, it had been termed gonzo, and as NHC swiftly realised we were maybe a tiny wee bit over the edge for them at times, we decided to create a division, flying the flag of NHC but also carrying the umbrella to catch the shit (as getting sued or arrested was quite likely). So a unique team of controversial journalists was born, out of the minds of three warped individuals – I branded this the NHC Gonzo Division, ‘an instant disclaimer as it were’, a name which came naturally to us all, I got Will to design a Facebook page, linking us up with NHC, and we were off…

 

Never expecting of course, to ever get press passes for a Kelburn event ever again. And yet, a year later, and with a few more gigs under our belt and brandishing a very small following, we were invited back…

 

Kelburn Garden Party 2013; Another washout for us as far as doing a job was concerned, (though later salvaged by a quirky video from Will) this time we failed initially due to vast alcohol consumption and Uriah’s almost non-stop continuous consumption of mushrooms. I had elected on the morning of the first day to refrain from getting too drunk, and to completely stay off hard drugs until at least Sunday evening, I failed on the former, succeeded on the latter with spectacular results on the Sunday.

 

Wearing my green ‘journalist jacket’ with the multifarious pockets and the Rancid backpatch, I had politely refused any drugs offered to me…not by knocking the generous offer back, but by discreetly depositing each and every pill, capsule, shroom, tab, bag and blot into a specific discreet pocket among the many on my jacket…a pocket not to be touched until the Sunday…

 

…In the meantime, I got roaring drunk on straight, cheap bourbon, supped straight from the teat of the sacred Alpaca (later found shaved, wandering the surrounding woods). So drunk were we, in fact, that we interviewed a few bands in a wild and unruly manner, and Will the wily reporter caught it all on his smartphone, which he periodically charged up through gruelling sitting sessions at the pavilion, Uriah wandered nebulously and whimsically, surrounding us most the time, but at one point I had to drag him kicking and screaming from the medical tent where he guzzled water like it was the last drops on Earth insisting he was dying, ‘Come on man, what? No, this man doesn’t need medical help, he’s a professional journalist’, I tell the nurses as they rub sun block on my peeling skin and I drag the protesting patient outside the tent, ‘Come on Uriah, last place you want to end up is in a fucking ambulance in your condition, come with us, we’re interviewing Esperanza! They’re waiting’.

 

At one point, I was so drunk during an interview with Post Orgasmic Sunshine Band I fell in the pond, but somehow managed to make it look casual…

 

…At another point I was so drunk I waded through sewage to retrieve a giant lily-pad flower ornament floating there, and hand it to a girl, stinking of shit but holding the ornament aloft like a prize trophy, complete with chain and brick weight dangling from it…

 

…Another time I was so drunk I casually and deliberately pissed my pants on camera and proceeded to dive into the gorge for a wash…

 

…At this one bit that weekend we were all so drunk we went down to the gorge and……..well, you get the picture…

 

By the Sunday, I had been abstaining for too long, especially difficult when surrounded by the patrons of this psychedelic forest carnival, chewing their jaws, gnawing bark, having deep theological discussions with rocks, walking with peculiar gaits, wild-eyed and hugging trees as they went – so I made an executive decision to eat everything in my pocket all at once, in a moment of reckless and irresponsible abandon. This turned out to be a mistake, but only at first, at first the weasels were definitely closing in…in the words of HST “Panic! It crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of an acid frenzy”. I staggered from the nerve of the gig and sought the security of the campsite, specifically, in the foetal position beneath the first parked car I came to, as a light drizzle of cool rain began to float down from the paisley patterned firmament overhead and caress my twisted features.

 

After an indeterminable amount of time in this casualty position, I had a word with myself – ‘You’re at a festival, live music, your natural environment…your friends are probably looking for you, get to your feet, do what you have to do, get in there and have a good time…this is the last night…kick these drugs’ asses! This is nothing…remember that time you O’D on 300x the dose of Mexican Mushrooms…get to your feet…come on man…you can do it! CLEAN YOUR SHORTS LIKE A BIG BOY!!!’

 

It was the right decision, pretty soon my team encountered me stumbling down the gravel path and we went to the Main Stage where Tinderbox Orchestra became my vehicle for a flight to another galaxy! One of those music-meets-drugs moments that I will never forget, Tinderbox Orchestra seemed to be playing so fast that my head was exploding in shards of rainbow coloured sugar glass…

 

Who knows what I ate, but it was certainly a concoction of potent potions that would have dropped a gorilla? So by the time I was having my second freak-out from my umpteenth come-up and peak, Will decided it was prudent to get me back home…who knows where our lost lamb Uriah finally wandered off to? So Will gently escorted my fragile carcass out of there, but not before two pixie girls stopped us while they covered us in paint and glitter…we weren’t sure if this had really happened until we got back to my flat!

 

You see, at the time I shared my flat with a friend of mine, a violent football hooligan named JD. A Rangers supporter so staunch he wouldn’t step foot in an Asda and would drive the extra miles to a Tesco purely based on the colour scheme, he would not drink out of a green mug, he would not…well, you know the type – personally, I hate football, if I wanted to watch dumb animals run around a field I’d take my son to a farm…so I am blissfully unaware as I enter the flat that I am painted head to toe in gold, green and white (from these pixie girls, who turned out to be real!)…having a drunk, psychotic football hooligan physically attacking you while you’re riding the vicissitudes of multiple psychoactive compounds is a trip no-one should be asked to deal with… Will and I evacuated the flat, walked back to Kelburn, and went to sleep in his car as the festival wound down and packed up around us…

 

 

So it was doomed to fail then, or so we thought, but weeks later in a last minute stroke of genius Will produced this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4Dchoclkuk half hour video, complete with live performances he had filmed, interviews we had semi-conducted, and even some of our wildest moments, captured right here on film! Inspired, we all threw a bit of creative writing into the cauldron, Uriah reviewed some toilets and it was done, a little late, but done. Was it enough though?

 

Well it must have been, as the next year, while covering a Culann gig with Will, I ran into a now shaven-headed Dave Boyle (Kelburn Festival founder and chief organiser) while I was outside having a joint before my interview with Culann. ‘Love your works guys, loved the Kelburn video, you coming again this year aye? Gotta’ go, bye!’ and he rushed off. To say the least we were quite surprised by this, but Will soon emailed him and we were confirmed –  we gained press access once again – this time though, we were steeled – determined to do a good job, slightly less gonzo, slightly more pro, that was the attitude for 2014’s Kelburn venture.

 

Kelburn Garden Party 2014, and this time we all felt a little guilty, well all two of us, by this juncture the mobile riot that is the Gonzo Div. had all proved a little too much for Uriah and he had deserted ranks (a pattern that would soon emerge with many others that were to come and go, it takes a special breed to cope with our antics, we need our “Ralph Steadman” [apply within]). This just left Will and I, but we didn’t give a shit, we were gonna’ do a fucking great job…

 

…Unfortunately, our strange and ungovernable instincts done us in once again, wild ketamine trips through the bellies of dragons with our long-time friend, local musician David Spence, and an unending rollercoaster of drink, drugs, music, repeat, saw to it that by the time we came to, we had done very little actual coverage, and lost an entire weekend, we had however, managed to unintentionally pull a few rabbits out our hats, almost literally. And on top of this, every one of us felt like we had had one of the best fucking weekends of our entire lives, and we’ve had some pretty fucking good weekends!

 

Not one of us realised it at the time, but our journey through Kelburn that weekend with Spence and narcotics and the music, was Spence being unknowingly ordained into the Gonzo Div., a move that would prove great, he put the sex in our drugs and rock and roll!

 

Also that weekend we pulled a random tripping girl (see what I did there Spence) from a ditch, Andrea Cuerden, she turned out to be a very fascinating individual so we spent some time with her, an honorary Gonzo Div. member, and Will kept in contact with her after and gleaned a piece of solid gold fucking writing from her, of her Kelburn experiences, inspired by this, we all contributed a good piece of writing each, including a cracker from Sambayabamba leader Damo, and with all this creative juice alloyed into one stock, we had a pretty fucking good article. Kelburn posted it on their page with words something to the effect of “Those gonzo guys are a fucked-up crazy bunch but they sure know how to write a great article!” And we had pulled off a victory, relying on our fundamental skill as writers, rather than on those of technology, which felt good for all involved.

 

Kelburn Garden Party 2015, by this time (apart from Kelburn and a few exceptions) the Ayrshire scene has become stale for the Gonzo Division, and we and many of our other like-minded friends have eloped to Glasgow, a place with much more opportunity. By this time, David Spence is an official Gonzo Div. member and living out in Finniestoun, Will at Kelvinbridge with Damo, and me in Yoker (ahem). Through Spence’s many contacts and the strength of our last article, we secured press passes once again for the magical mystery tour that is Kelburn.

 

Spence and I arrived early on the Friday and waited the many hours in the queue for passes and Will, and then we waited many more hours for the rest of our team, and equipment etc. At some point, a member of one of the bands came up and put a 1P-LSD tab on my tongue. I can report that the hit from one of those little fuckers is a real nice hit, totally hallucinogenic, less psychologically psychoactive, more a sort of, sit back and enjoy the scenery with a beatific smile, so we did. We had already missed the bands we really wanted to cover (including Colonel Mustard and Trongate Rum Riots!) when we were waiting to get our passes, so we elected to spend the rest of Friday on acid, which was a good decision, because an electrical thunderstorm hit sometime during the night and it was a glorious thing to behold tripping, one ticked off the Bucket List – trip during a storm.

 

The next day was carnage; it looked like a scene out of Armageddon after that storm, the only tent that had survived the night was the shitty little five pound tent my girlfriend and I had hastily purchased out of Tesco, even though we had spent the night in the back of her car watching the storm in the warmth of heating and music as I jabbered insanity into a Dictaphone. Next morning though, the acid had worn off, but a huge cheer went up like a Mexican wave across the camp as a cloud moved and a bright sun split the cerulean sky. Feeling up from the bathe of warm sunlight, but down from the acid’s after effects, if we were to get any work done that day we were going to need help…

 

…Saturday, therefore, blurred into a whirlwind of great music and MDMA. Despite this, we interviewed many bands, many characters, many festival-goers and got a lot of work done, it’s all there, on the Dictaphone, however, our videographer had ‘freaked out’ and I don’t mean on drugs, we brought someone sober and reliable, sensible and armed with technology, but it was all a bit too much for them, so they had to depart, hastily and without a word, taking any hope of filming anything with them, The Curse of The Gonzo Division strikes again.

 

On the Sunday we were burst and out of drugs, out of equipment, out of hope, which meant we had nothing left to do but enjoy the music and drink our way through the final hours, we spent the day on haybales at the Making Things Happen Tent, where prolific genius Mark McGhee, hosted a whole day of superb local talent, interwoven with his silvery wordsmithery, as he does every year. I never grow tired of Marks’ work, whether through his solo stuff as a rapper/spoken word artist, or through fronting the incredible Girobabies! He is a real one-man-music-industry.

 

We once got into trouble from the organisers for “Painting Kelburn as a ‘drug festival’”. Well, every festival is a drugs festival, the two don’t exist apart!? And it does have a Psychedelic Forest Party!? Nobody, not even Kelburn could argue that its entire design is aimed at/inspired by psychedelics. The great thing is, it’s a hugely family friendly festival, and the patrons are always the most responsible kind-loving souls you could ever be surrounded by, it’s an out and out hippy fest that successfully transcends all genres and walks of life, seasoned with peace, love and mustard. You go to T in the Park, you have a bunch of neds taking bad drugs and drinking too much Buckfast and being aggressive, the place is always a riot of the worst commercial dross, lager louts and angry people who can’t handle their drugs. Kelburn is a peaceful, enchanted and magical environment that promotes a warm and salubrious vibe reciprocated back and forth among the crowds. I have never seen a fight there, in fact I have never even seen an argument there, never mind a fight!

 

It’s the perfect environment, and it is an environment that was once a magical part of my childhood as a country centre, and is now a magical part of my adulthood as one of the best British festivals (and right on my old home turf!) consistently supplying me with the best weekends of my year over the last decade. It holds an enormous amount of special memories for me, ingrained deep within the walls of its castle, the leaves of its trees, and the cascading waterfalls. Whoa, went a bit hippy-ish there! Kelburn Garden Party will provide you with a superior festival experience, the one you’ve been missing out on, if you haven’t been, you must go…see you next year, or will I?

 

C.T Herron.

Originally published on NHC Music06/10/2015

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