A new film is setting out the story of Glastonbury’s most iconic sideshow. Lost In Vagueness is the debut feature by Sofia Olins. Shot over 12 years, covering the rise and fall of Lost Vagueness and its maverick founder Roy Gurvitz
A reaction to Glastonbury’s post-Thatcher malaise, Lost Vagueness started as a fancy-dress cabaret and flourished into a festival-within-a-festival: an incredible twisted pastiche of the Vegas strip encompassing variety performers from dance to burlesque to circus to freakshow to pyrotechnic scrapheap robots, as well as a casino, a wedding chapel, hot tubs and a boxing ring.
The film combines exclusive footage of Lost Vagueness at the height of its hedonistic powers with in-depth interviews with Roy, his loyal but increasingly exasperated producer Leila Jones, Glastonbury stalwarts Michael and Emily Eavis and Melvin Benn, and artists including Suggs, Kate Tempest, Keith Allan, Fatboy Slim and legendary cabaret performer Mouse.
Ahead of Lost In Vagueness screening across the nation, including at Hove’s The Old Market on Sat 16 June,we spoke to its director, Sofia Olins.
Did you plan on the project taking so long, or was there no other way to tell the full story?
When I started filming in 2004, I didn’t realise it was going to be another 12 years before it was finished. But, I think that time span makes the story even more relevant today as it reflects on the beginning of a social phenomena which is everywhere now.
I love the fact that in some of the shots of gigs, eg. the not-so-secret Madness performance, you can’t see any phones filming it. Seems like forever ago now, but the fact that people couldn’t use their phones to capture it, completely changed the atmosphere. It was also pre-social media, so people weren’t so conscious of being ‘caught’ doing stuff and I guess that brought a certain air of liberty.
It was also obvious that the festival scene was rapidly changing – and I became interested in how the anarchy and DIY culture from the 1980/90’s was becoming monetised. The irony of the sub-culture becoming mainstream was a universal thread and I was interested in sewing into the story which you could only do if you had a passage of time.
How did they manage to grow a project from a small casino to a decadent district with eight distinct venues and over 1,500 performers?
With loads of up-for-it creative people. There was a general spirit of ‘lets make it happen’ which, for a while, worked brilliantly. The crowds at Glastonbury were also really craving something different and unique and at the time, Lost Vagueness was the main place they could find it there. The demand grew and as it did, so did the show.
It was a very organic thing and that’s what made it brilliant, but also risky. I think it might be that lots of sub-culture movements are necessarily, but not consciously, loose in their organisational structure. It’s a way for that spontaneity and sense of discovery to come through, but of course, it also comes with complexities of conflicting personalities and direction.
Did Lost Vagueness create the blueprint for boutique festivals across Europe?
You could say there was a swell, a zeitgeist if you like, that happened around the naughties. I think LV were very much at the start of it, but there are people who may counter that line of thought.
It was a time of a much-needed change from the dying rave scene and the aesthetically bland brit pop. There was a hunger for a language that could express something more playful and vibrant. I went to a party the other night and it had a Monty Python theme; loads of the blokes were in dresses and I found that it really reminded me of the old Lost Vagueness days. It felt like silliness was highest on the agenda rather than people trying to jump on each other and that was the feeling you got at LV. Lots of festivals then caught onto that and the whole exclusive camping and dressing up thing. But the full gamut of the Lost Vagueness experience was so much more than that.
Why are festival-goers always more attracted to the stranger spectacles?
Hmmm, is that true?
Has Glastonbury finally lost its connection to the travelling community since the departure of Lost Vagueness?
I don’t think that’s for me to say. I know Michael and Emily are very grateful to what the community brought and still hold the memories very dear. There are many many people still working at the festival, so I’d like to think that a great deal of the original crew are still there in some capacity. Also, the community has been significantly under threat, as we say in the film, since the late 80’s/early nineties, so in general I think there are far less people living on the road sadly.
What was the big challenge in creating this film?
In 2004 when I started filming I was a hedonistic free agent and when I started to get to look at the material again, I was a married mother of two. That passage of time meant that the film was always in the background in many major events in my life. For example, probably the biggest challenge was when I was having my second child and we were also in the middle of the kickstarter campaign in 2015. I was pacing the labour ward, on the phone to producers constantly worried about if we were going to hit our target, whilst doctors were telling me to take a rest, keep breathing and focus on the fact I was about to give birth! The was an element of it taking over my life a bit, especially as it has seven different filming formats and tonnes of music in it which made it a bit more labour intensive to work on.
Was there any footage which was just too bonkers to put into the film?
Yes, lots. We had over 400 hours to sift through, but I guess they’ll have to be for another film now…watch this space.
What are the Lost Vagueness crew all doing now?
Roy, the main character in the film, is still involved in the festival circuit with his own marquee business where he says he feels much happier. Leila Jone, his then producer, worked at the Roundhouse for 10 years as CircUs Producer and Kaye Dunnings one of the original performers now is creative director of Shangri-La in Glastonbury. The list goes on with many of the brilliant minds behind making it all happen in very crucial roles within the festival and performing arts world.
Could a festival strand of this nature happen now, or have festivals generally become to corporate and safe?
I think it would be hard for it to happen now mainly because of health and safety etc, and once the criminal justice bill took hold in 1994, that was kind of the beginning of the end. But if it could still happen secretly somewhere, I’d love to see it!
Do you think the film will help cement Lost Vagueness’ cultural importance and its place in festival legend?
Some people who’ve seen it and didn’t know about it, come up and tell me that they didn’t realise how it had all started and were really thrilled to learn the backstory. Equally, I think the film is a human story, not just for Glasto fans, because it looks at the dark side of creativity, it asks questions about where ideas come from and who, if anyone, owns them, so I hope that people also walk away with an additional aspect. But ultimately, I’m not sure that part is up to me – I’d love to think so. Go and see it and let me know!
The Lost In Vagueness Tour comes to Hove’s The Old Market on Sat 16 June 2018, as part of a national screening tour.