Thursday, 24 November 2016

Scottish music festivals - what next?

Well that was quite a weekend for Scottish music festival news. I thought I would jot down some thoughts on the announcements from Wickerman and the 'leak' from T in the Park (CONFIRMED today - full press release here) and also look at the future of festivals in Scotland.

There was no surprise regarding any announcement concerning the Wickerman Festival sadly calling it a day, or the news filtering through that T in the Park would be having a 'break' from Strathallan Castle after only 2-years at the site, with DF looking at bringing 3 large festival-in-a-day style shows to Glasgow Green.

Music fans have been debating the future of both these festivals for some time.

Wickerman was brilliant and it was on the rise. The sad death of festival founder Jamie Gilroy in 2014 left the festival in doubt, however it kept going in 2015. Although I enjoyed it that year, many regulars felt it didn't have the same feel and that it would be the last one.

Sadly, they were right. Wickerman was set in beautiful rolling countryside, attracting a real mixed crowd of families, locals and music fans. There was plenty of space to explore and a real eclectic mix of music. Some of my highlights from the main stage through the years included; Candi Staton, The Human League, Idlewild, The Magic Numbers, Teenage Fanclub, The Charlatans, Chic, Primal Scream, Martha Reeves, Stereo MC's, Neneh Cherry, Alabama 3 and Jimmy Cliff - quite a mix!

Chic was one of my all-time favourite shows. The place was bouncing, singing, dancing and clapping a-long. The feel good atmosphere was off the richter scale. Jimmy Cliff at the last Wickerman was utterly sensational, I had tears in my eyes during an emotional and uplifting I Can See Clearly Now.

I missed Wickerman in 2016, I really loved the festival and getting to go down some years with bands or with a media pass meant that I got to meet and get to know a lot of the people who brought the festival together.

Chay Woodman and his crew at the Solus Tent were fantastic in their support of new music in Scotland and the way they looked after the artists they booked was tremendous. One of my favourite Wickerman moments was when I was working with Miaoux Miaoux and Detour booked him to have a rave in a caravan round the back of the Solus Tent. There was day glo face paint and all kinds of fun.

Obligatory posing like the Wickerman picture

I was out for a beer last Thursday night and my friend and I both called the biggest T-Break (pardon the pun) in years. It's been coming.

What next for T in the Park? Have we really had the last one? That would have been an unthinkable question a few years ago. Now, it is all too real for music fans in Scotland.

There have been issues with T in the Park for a number of years; the move to Strathallan over a mysterious oil pipe didn't go well in year one, with huge logistical issues surrounding the site resulting in deluge of complaints. Let's not mention the theft of the cash machine - there will be a few more CCTV cameras around Glasgow Green!

T bosses listened and learned from 2015. I attended the festival this year and loved the site and the journey to and from the location was fine. Although an osprey's nest added to DF's logistical worries!

However, I think T2015 was the final straw for large numbers of festival fans. They didn't go back - I wonder if they missed it. T still partied, but the crowds were noticeably down and in the weeks leading up to the festival there were 2 for 1 ticket deals on offer. Something I don't recall happening before.

The pictures of a reformed LCD Soundsystem, one of the coolest bands on the planet, playing to around a thousand people in a swamp seemed to sum things up.

LCD play to the hardcore in the mud

With profits reportedly down by around 50%, T bosses will have taken a long hard look at the festival and the music market in 2016 and plotted out the next step.

For a long time T was like a right of passage for Scottish youths and many just kept coming back year on year. It was something to look forward to, the announcement of the tickets going on sale, the first headliners, which young bands were playing T break, who was playing the Slam Tent.....

I'm not quite sure what happened and it might just be cause I'm getting old, but for me, T definitely lost some of its sparkle. I attended the first T in the Park at the age of 18 and went to pretty much every single T for a long time - maybe 9 out of the first 10-years.

Watching bands like The Charlatans and Black Grape in baking sunshine on the original site the year there was a dust storm due to the heat will stay with me forever. As will leading a conga through the crowd to get down the front for Kylie. And the human pyramid during Crowded House was incredible - doubt that would be allowed these days!

The move to Ballado went smoothly from memory. I remember a huge crowd from Carluke going up and camping out the first few years. One time we were some of the first to arrive and ended up playing an 11-a-side game of football against another group of lads.

 Highlights from Balado off the top of my head include watching Orbital play one of their last shows in the King Tut's tent and then running over to the Slam Tent to watch The Chemical Brothers. Vigo Thieves smashed it a couple of times and Kraftwerk were sensational.

After experiencing Benicassim in 2005 I never looked at T the same way again. Benicassim just seemed to have it all going on - of course the sunshine and proximity to the local beach helped! The site was set out perfectly, tarmac (the site is an old airfield) meant that even the odd summer shower meant there was no danger of things turning into a mudbath, the recycling and incredible lack of litter on site was amazing, the variety of acts on offer, bands playing long into the night.... sunshine!

I know that the same thing happened to others who ventured south to Glastonbury, or to Bestival, or went over to Primavera or even further afield.

And for the price of a cheap Ryan Air or Easyjet flight then you easily could. I think my Benicassim ticket in 2005 was £100 and that allowed me to camp for a week! Talk about value for money.

There is a HUGE market for live music and outdoor shows/festivals in Scotland. But things change and that market has to move with what music fans want and it also has to assess the competition what is working (here and elsewhere) and what isn't.

Mud, mud, glorious mud?

Could Brexit and the price of the £ have played a role in the decision to take a break? Will it be a lot more expensive to get bands to the UK due to the pound falling so dramatically against the Euro?

Music fans tend to consume in singles or a few songs from an album; so do they want a 3 or 4 day festival when they really only want to see and hear a few of the acts on offer? If these acts were all playing on a bill at Glasgow Green with easy transport access or the option to stay somewhere with a proper shower.......well then that is quite an attractive proposition to a large number of people.

T has been rotating the headliners for a number of years and has sadly been suffering in the way the music business has been suffering - the new bands are just not breaking through in the numbers they once were. So shaking up the festival isn't as easy as it once was.

Stone Roses smashed T in the Park in 2016

Bellahouston Park has been playing host to large scale concerts by the likes of Biffy, Paulo and Calvin Harris for years. Glasgow Green has also played host to the likes of Oasis, the Chilli Peppers, The Strokes and more recently the Stone Roses.

The format works and the concerts generally sell-out. It would seem a much more safer option for promoters than tackling T after such a drop in 2016. And I am pretty sure that music fans would respond well to 3or 4 large outdoor shows with huge names in proximity to the city centre.

We'll soon find out.

So what Scottish festivals are on offer next summer?

As the news that Brew At The Bog wouldn't be continuing also came out a short time ago. All I know is that there are enough people in Scotland who want to go to festivals and enough creative people to put them on - we'll be fine. Times-are-a-changing - but that isn't a bad thing.

Let's have a quick look at 3 of them; Belladrum, Electric Fields and the Kelburn Garden Party. Before I do, I caught up with David Blair from festival favourites Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 for his take on them.

Guaranteed to put a smile on your face

David - Belladrum, Electric Fields and the Kelburn Garden Party were all highlights for Colonel Mustard and The Dijon 5 on the festival circuit this summer. We played 18 across Scotland, England and South Korea! The first two we played for the first time and were mightily impressed with the diverse line-ups that recognised both established acts and up-and-coming Scottish acts.

Kelburn Garden Party is well known to us having played there a few times. It seems to get better every year and the work that goes into their Neverending Glen is worth the entry fee alone. One of the most stunning natural assets for a festival anywhere.

Should these festivals look to expand given the gap left by T and Wickerman?
If logistically they can expand, then I believe they should. I don't think they need to massively increase their capacities but if they have a great reputation then they deserve to thrive and get more punters in to help with the acts they can book and help to create memories for people to take away and tell their pals. Hopefully starting a positive feedback loop that benefits everyone involved in the music industry.

Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 - on location at Kilburn

Electric Fields was fantastic this year and I know from speaking to the organisers that they learned a lot from the move to 2-days and the increase in capacity. The feedback they received was overwhelming and the first two tiers of tickets released have already sold out. They look to have the boutique festival sorted - something Scotland has been crying out for for a long time. Many music fans I know reminisce fondly of Indian Summer and Connect.

The atmosphere at EF2016 was exceptionally friendly and it was fantastic to see a lot of young families there. The festival really supports Scottish music with Scottish acts featuring across the main stage, Stewart Cruickshanks Stage, Sneaky Pete's stage and the Tim Peak's Diner.

With the weekend news - will they look to increase the capacity again?

The beautiful setting of Drumlanrig Castle is around an hour from Glasgow. Keep an eye on their website and social media feeds for tickets and line-up announcements. I have heard through the grapevine that the line-up is pretty established already.

I've never been to Belladrum! One year it had Edwyn Collins, The Lemonheads and Teenage Fanclub - I was travelling! I have thought about going and I have only heard good things about the festival site and atmosphere - but truth be told, the line-up hasn't appealed to me over the last few years.

That might change for 2017 as Sister Sledge have already been confirmed as one of the headliners! Their Kelvingrove Bandstand show in the summer was exceptional and they have sold out the Barrowland Ballroom in December. They will get the party started.

Check this cracking promo video from 2016 below.

Another I haven't been to, but an increasing number of friends are going year on year and they have said they want to keep it a secret....well it's out the bag! Not just because of me, but word of mouth is the best form of promotion and those that go and don't want to keep it a secret tell friends aplenty. 

Check this beautiful film from 2016. It might just sell it for you.

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