As I write this we are in the middle of Festival season throughout the UK and it seems that there are as many as ever before, although I am not sure that I know what a Festival is, as they can range from 100,00 people at Hyde Park to witness Paul Simon’s last UK Tour, a month of events at different venues in a major city or an afternoon in a pub or friend’s garden, as long as you have Festival or ‘Fest’ in the title then it is ok, although anything that celebrates music, comedy or the arts in general and brings communities together in person should be welcomed and embraced in my book.
Growing up in the South East of England my first Festival experience was Reading Rock Festival which is almost a rite of passage for teenagers in the area and this is still the case today. After that it was Glastonbury Free Festival long before it became the monster of all Festivals it is today, a friend and I made the long journey South West not knowing at the time the Festival itself did not take place in Glastonbury but a few miles away in Pilton, with no evident signs of public transport and armed with our rucksacks and a tent we purchased from the back of a cereal box that was no way suitable for a seven day event , we put our thumbs out and attempted to hitchhike the rest of the journey eventually getting a lift on the back of a bright blue tractor. One of the bands we specifically went to see was Sphinx led by former Hawkwind sax player Nik Turner who had just recorded their album in the Giza Pyramid in Egypt and he would come onstage wrapped in bandages with his flute crossed over with his sax like a Egyptian Mummy, they also provided the stage for the event which was a scaled down model of Giza so that they could harness the cosmic energy or some such thing, in subsequent years this would become the now permanent and iconic Pyramid stage. I recently looked at the Glastonbury Festival archive page for the Free Festival which shows a picture of the stage and also includes the blue tractor driven by the lands owner, so I can safely say that for my first Glastonbury experience I was driven to the event by none other than Michael Eavis MBE no less.
In later years I have been involved in a number of Festivals on different levels, and one of the biggest problems putting on an outside event is that you can spend the best part of a year organising, planning and booking in artists but at the end of the day the success of the event will be dependent on the weather. A few years back I was asked to organise a small free event for around 500 people, the location was perfect and the sun shone all day, so instead of a few hundred people five and half thousand turned up, which sounds like a success , but the queues for the bar and toilets were endless and people ended up parking in front of residents houses, which then resulted in angry letters to the council and papers. It needs to be said that there were only a hand full of people who complained and most people appreciated and were thankful for a free event, but it did mean the following year we had to fence off the area, provide security, hire a field for a car park and supply attendants which then meant we had to add a ticket fee and the whole event took on a different feel.
The other issue for all Festivals is getting the right acts to headline which is becoming more of a problem as most of the iconic acts of the 60’s and 70’s are literally dying out and with no real investment in the grassroots music scene and music venues closing down there is little done in the way of developing new artists and allowing them to build a following which would be sufficient to headline a Festival. After last year’s Glastonbury there was a large number of people moaning about Ed Sheeran topping the bill saying that he was a solo act and not a band, but with no real band circuit similar to yesteryear and as most grassroots venues consist of acoustic and open mic nights it is likely that that those sort of acts will become a trend and a regular feature of Summer events. So it is vitally important that as well as enjoying this years’ Festivals and sunshine that people take time out to support existing music venues this summer as it will be them that will be developing the Festival acts of the future.
Graham Steel 29th July 2018