writing

Festival! by Sophia Bennett

When I was 21, my parents bought a house in Shepton Mallet in Somerset. They’d lived all over the world and still had a stint in Norway to do, but finally they had a permanent family home. It’s still there. And I know that right now the garden will be full of roses, midsummer birdsong and, oh … the sound of helicopters criss-crossing overhead.

Because today is the start of the Glastonbury Festival, and pop stars will be winging their way from glamorous places to a group of muddy (very muddy) fields in the South West of England, to make magic. My parents’ house is quite close to the hotel where some of them stay. Suddenly their quiet part of the West Country becomes a headline-grabbing centre of the universe. In the evenings, if you listen closely, you can hear the pounding beat of whoever’s on the Pyramid stage, and catch highlights from the light show reflected off the clouds.

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I won’t be there this year. In fact, I’ll be in Gillingham in Kent, at the Medway Festival. I don’t think Kate Moss attends the Medway Festival in her wellies, and I’m farily sure Coldplay aren’t headlining, but a lot of authors will be gathering in schools and libraries to celebrate reading. It’s a rainy June in England. Exams are mostly over. Whether you love books or music or both, there’s a festival near you somewhere to help you celebrate.

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My fellow Girls Heart Books authors and I have been winging our way around the country recently to attend the book-y ones all over the place. I’ve been to Wychwood (the only festival I know that takes place in the middle of a racecourse) and Chichester (where a university campus was transformed with bunting and barbecues). In September and October I’ll be up in Wigtown in Scotland, and out west to the Bath festival, where I’ll be teaming up with … wait for it … Robert Muchamore! Looking forward to that. And at the end of July there is the madness of fun, cosplay and London-based exhaustion that is YALC.

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Ah, YALC. I’ll be on a panel with Non Pratt, Simon Mayo and Chris Russell, talking about young adult books and music. The perfect combination.

When I was writing Love Song I wanted to capture the sheer magic of sharing an emotional moment with twenty, fifty or a hundred thousand people, all singing in unison. I’ve been lucky enough to do that various times, at festivals and concerts, and there’s nothing like it. It’s what I was trying to describe in this extract from the end of the chapter in Love Song where Nina finally gets why The Point are so famous, and so good.

If you have tickets for a festival this summer … fantastic! And if not, don’t forget, there’s always a book.

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Jamie danced across the stage. That boy could move. And that face. Those lips … that Mona Lisa smile. He was having his usual effect and I gave up trying to fight it. Right here and now it was too powerful to ignore. It was as if we were all linked up to him by our own private wires, feeling his power, sharing ours, buzzing with something like love, but bigger. And he absorbed all our energy like some kind of silk-clad, mole-cheeked lightning conductor, and fed it back to us.

Yeah …so … Jamie Maldon. I got it now.

When he sang, especially the slow songs, his expression looked transported. As he and Angus had written most of them, it was obvious they had a special meaning for him. They did for the fans too. Meanwhile, Connor held the beat and Angus showed off on his favourite battered Fender Stratocaster. His solos were like fireworks. He was furious and intense, but clearly loving it, as shown by the close-up of the half-smile on his face. Half a smile from Angus was worth a thousand grins from anybody else.

But it was Jamie I kept coming back to. He was a showman and a songwriter, equally. How could a boy with lips like that, and hips like that,also have the soul of a poet? It wasn’t fair.

Once or twice in each song he and Angus caught each other’s eye and decided to do something together. You could tell that although they’d rehearsed, there were moments when they’d take a risk and go in a new direction. There was no sign of their off-stage animosity. Right now, they were just having fun. They radiated it into the crowd, and we radiated it back.

Jamie danced up and down the runway, throwing out towels and water bottles to the people nearby. The stage in front of him gradually became a colourful carpet, made out of paper flowers. It was a Pointer Sister tradition to throw them. Jamie picked a few up, kissed them and threw them back into the audience.

The crowd went WILD. AGAIN.

Angus was right: we were New York. There was nowhere else to be tonight.

Song after song went by … and suddenly the lights went out and the boys quickly ran offstage.

Nooooooooooo! It couldn’t be over! We screamed for them to come back, and a couple of minutes later, they did. There was more roaring and stomping, and I realized I was roaring as loud as anyone. The crowd was a living, happy thing, and I just wanted to stay a part of it.

Luckily, they were kidding and were quickly back for an encore. After an ear-melting rock rendition of One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful’, and a blasting re-creation of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’, Jamie walked to the front of the stage and asked for quiet.

‘This really is the last one, guys. I want you to sing with me. But not yet …’

He stepped forward and sang the opening lines:

 

She moves like a miracle

So I sold up my guitar

Spent the money on a golden ring

Don’t get you very far

 

We knew it instantly: the band’s first single, ‘Amethyst’. There was so much love and longing in this one that it wormed its way under your skin – even though the girl in question turns down the ring and he ends up writing the song for her knowing she’ll turn that down too.

 

Amethyst for a heart of stone

Amethyst you’ll always be the one

 

It seemed a strange song to end on. But when Jamie got to the first chorus, he stopped singing and held his mic out to the crowd. We all sang back to him. The sound was unearthly.

 

Amethyst for a girl that’s gone

I can’t help my heart, you’re the only one

 

He closed his eyes, listening, and we heard our voices too – so many thousands, all singing together, gently, from the girls standing at the barriers near the stage to the people high up in the topmost seats, near the sky.

‘That was beautiful, New York. One more time.’

He sang, we sang. He crouched down, we sang quietly. He rose up, we got louder. His voice cracked with emotion, we all shared his pain. Angus and Connor played almost imperceptibly in the background. George’s brushes shimmered on the cymbals as the lights went down.

Jamie reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone. He held the lit screen up to the crowd. We got the message and held our phones back to him. Thousands of tiny lit-up screens twinkled around the stadium like stars. Jamie’s voice grew quieter and quieter, until there was almost silence.

In this massive space, the quiet of the crowd was like a living thing. We breathed together so softly that we could hear Jamie gently humming. Everyone in the front rows stretched out their arms with a look of anguish and wonder. He echoed their expression, sharing the moment.

 

Amethyst for a girl that’s gone

I can’t help my heart, you’re the only one

 

He sang those last lines one more time and Angus played three melancholy final notes on the Stratocaster.

‘Thank you, New York. You’re magic. Goodnight!’

The stage went black.

Shock.

This time, it was over.

And yes, it was magic, and the magic still hovered in the air.

I felt like something had been ripped away from me. How could four people do that? A whole stadium of fans, all connected, longing for it not to end.

Four people, yes, but a tiny part of me had to admit that one of them had moved me more than the rest – inspired me, and transported me, and filled me with emotions I thought I’d lost forever, the way a desert flourishes after rain.

I was glad, for once, that he didn’t usually bother to talk to me. How could I find the words to explain what he just made me feel?

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