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Interview: T in the Park organiser Geoff Ellis

T in the Park organiser Geoff Ellis says setting up a festival 20 years ago was risky

T in the Park organiser Geoff Ellis says setting up a festival 20 years ago was risky

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

ORGANISERS of T in the Park have admitted the event will be at the mercy of the elements again this year - but insist it has been weather-proofed as much as possible.

No extra measures are being put in place for this year’s event, despite the festival site being turned into a mudbath due to heavy downpours before the second day kicked off last year.

Festival director Geoff Ellis admitted last year’s weather was the “worst ever” for the festival, but insisted the approval ratings from people who attended had proved the conditions were not a major problem for T’s fans.

According to the festival, a total of 810 people visited the hospital tent, 2,148 sought first-aid help and 33 people were taken to hospital off site.

Wood chip and gravel was laid down in some of the worst-hit areas, while drainage trenches were also dug to try to curb some of the worst on-site flooding.

Mr Ellis said: “It was the most difficult year last year, without a doubt, not just for us, but for everyone. Everybody is at the mercy of the elements.

“What we do every year is spend literally hundreds of thousands of pounds on infrastructure so that when you get weather like that the festival still carries on. Other festivals got cancelled last year.

“Many other festivals ride their luck because they have not had bad weather so they think why take measures against it, or because it has an affordability thing for them. At no stage were we ever thinking we would have to cancel the event because the weather was so bad.

“It was the worst ever weather we’ve had, but when we did our audience survey a couple of weeks after the event more than 90 per cent of people said they could come back the next year, which was really encouraging. People would rather it was sunny, but if it rains they just get on with it.

“We have all the contingencies which enable us to keep the event running. Short of putting a roof over the whole country there is not much more that we can do.”

Sell-out

Tickets for this year’s T in the Park range in price from £184 for a weekend ticket without camping to £2696 for four people to stay in the most luxurious on-site accommodation.

Last year’s festival did not sell out until the opening day of the event, but Mr Ellis warned people not to be complacent about buying their briefs.

“We could sell out in a couple of days,” he added. “I’m not expecting it to, because of how the market is at the moment, but when we put Robbie Williams, Eminem and the Stone Roses on sale they all went within a day.

“I don’t want to say to people: ‘relax, you can buy a ticket at the end of June.’ It’s only because of the economy that you could buy a bit later last year. The desirability to go hasn’t been diminished, it’s the affordability of buying a ticket early that has been a bit compromised.

“Two years ago, people got fed up paying over the odds and the bedroom touts, as I call them, weren’t making the same money as they had before and they were not buying up extra tickets. They have been selling more like they used to, over a longer period of time, in the last couple of years.

“It is the line-up and the event experience that sells the tickets. If the line-up is not strong and people don’t have a great time, they won’t come back the following year, but around 20,000 people are buying tickets blind, when we haven’t announced a single act. It’s a really great indication of confidence in your event.”

20 years on

As the event gears up to mark its 20th birthday in style, Mr Ellis admits the staging of the festival was seen as a “huge gamble” when plans were first discussed with his DF Concerts colleague Stuart Clumpas around two years before the first event.

The last major outdoor rock event, at Ingliston in 1979, had been ruined by the weather, and the last major concert in a parkland was Runrig’s show at Loch Lomond, which had been considered for T in the Park, before Strathclyde Country Park in Hamilton was offered. It staged the first three events before the festival had to make way for a major retail development when the land was sold by the local authority.

Mr Ellis said: “Back then there were a lot of stadium acts around, but they just didn’t tend to play big shows. But after T in the Park, it opened it up and people got less nervous about playing outdoors, and promoters were less nervous about it too.

“We actually looked at setting up a festival in Arran in 1993 with The Levellers, who were quite a big band at the time. We went over and looked at a few sites, but we could not get enough people on the ferries, and felt we were rushing it a bit, so we parked it and found Strathclyde Park the following year.

“It was a huge gamble. It was a massive culture change at the time. Now, for somebody starting a festival, the risk is are you going to sell enough tickets to cover your costs. The thing we had was whether anybody come at all. There was only really Glastonbury, Reading and Womad.

“We spoke to Michael Eavis, who told us he sold around 1000 tickets in Scotland for Glastonbury, so it wasn’t like there was tens of thousands of people here who went to an English festival.

“I remember a lot of people couldn’t get their heads around the fact that all these bands were actually going to be in a field.

“It was actually very easy to get bands to sign up for T in the Park at first. Most of the bands we were working with, so it was a great career progression for them. People believed in us and believed in what we were trying to do.

Balado

As it got closer, it was obvious we weren’t going to get close to our capacity of 25,000. We ended up doing 17,000 and 19,000 line-up over the two days.

“But what we didn’t realise was that more people would come the second year because it is not just about the bands, it is about getting the event into the public psyche. It was not a rite of passage in 1994 as it is now. We broke even in our second year and sold out in the third.

“We didn’t have the new site until after the 1996 festival. We had been looking at other sites in South Lanarkshire as we had a good relationship with the council and we thought we needed to be near Glasgow.

When we went to see the site at Balado it was quite easy to get there. There were fields, but runways as well. We thought it was practical, would work well and it was pretty as well. The main thing it did was open the festival out to the whole of Scotland, we didn’t realise how much of an effect that would have.

“Suddenly we weren’t a Glasgow festival anymore. It became a Scottish festival. It was a tipping point that took us to a much bigger level. In that first year we had 45,000 people at Kinross and we sold out well in advance.”

 

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