Spotlight on pop royalty at Radio 1’s Big Weekend

The benefits of hosting this festival will be huge for Glasgow, BBC’s head of live events tells David Pollock

Scottish pop-rock specialist Paolo Nutini will be performing at the event, as well as Coldplay, Katy Perry, Lily Allen and One Direction Picture: AP

For the youthful generations before this one, any event organised by BBC Radio 1 had the sense of tired childhood nostalgia about it, of saucy postcards and processed ice cream in run-down seaside towns with the sun not quite in or out. We’re talking about the Radio 1 Roadshow, of course, a “fun-packed” touring event filled with inane DJ japes and phoned-in performances from the latest Stock, Aitken and Waterman wannabes off the production line. It was a very late 20th century affair, and little surprise that the last few years of the 1990s saw it die out.

What stands in its place now is about to invade Glasgow for the weekend, a festival-sized event packed with some of the most in-demand pop artists of the day – in this case including Coldplay, Katy Perry, Lily Allen, pictured below, and One Direction. The annual Radio 1’s Big Weekend event has been held in Scotland once before, when it landed at Dundee’s Camperdown Park in 2006, but 2014’s Glasgow version will be the biggest yet, a conscious tie-up on the BBC’s part between their sports coverage of this summer’s Commonwealth Games and the need to draw in some of their other programming around the event.

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“I started the Radio 1 Big Weekend back in 2003,” recalls Jason Carter, BBC Radio’s head of live music and events, “although it started off a lot smaller, it was about 10,000 people across two days. In those early days we were still trying to convince people, particularly some of the bigger, more credible guitar bands, to play the event, because Radio 1’s events had always been very Roadshowesque. But over the years they’ve seen the nature of the set-up, and in the past five or six years we’ve had some of the biggest artists in the world, if they’ve been out and touring at the time. What I wanted to do was deliver an event that had the same sort of production values as any other big music festival, and that’s about the calibre of artists you attract as well.”

This year’s Big Weekend will cover a three-day weekend, only the second after last year’s show in Derry to do so, with a large Friday night event in George Square headlined by the phenomenally successful trance DJ Tiesto and showcasing DJs from the station’s dance roster. After this there will be big all-day shows on Saturday and Sunday on Glasgow Green, hosting the huge acts named above and more, as well as the In New Music We Trust stage for rising artists. It’s anticipated there will be 10,000 in attendance on the Friday and a further 25,000 each of the other days, so an audience of 65,000 in addition to those listening across the nation.

Given the publicly-funded nature of the event, it makes sense to ask why the Big Weekend happens, given that it so closely follows the template of a commercially driven music festival (although, of course, it’s free). Carter points out that Glasgow’s Big Weekend is in effect a one-off to match the one held in Hackney before the London 2012 Olympics, a tie-in with a high-visibility event of international significance.

“But ordinarily we go to areas which are under-served by major artists or tours,” he says, “and shine a spotlight on what you might call second cities. We’ve been in Liverpool, Derry, Belfast and Dundee the last time we were in Scotland, instead of, say, Glasgow or Edinburgh. It’s about going to areas with a high proportion of young people who maybe can’t afford to get to major music events and bringing this music to them.”

The size of the production is huge, but so are the benefits. “It can be complex,” says Carter. “The Friday night’s in the heart of the city, which means road closures, but they’re ambitious events and we have an impeccable track record in delivering them. There haven’t been any major incidents at any of them since we started, and we’re pretty finely tuned with how we operate now. We also work closely with local event producers, so in this case we’ve partnered with DF Concerts, who put on T in the Park.”

There’s a learning link too, with special academies currently running in the city which introduce young people to industry professionals such as Richard Branson and Fearne Cotton. “I’ve absolutely no doubt that the economic impact to Glasgow will be big,” Carter says.

“Over the past ten years of the Big Weekend, every local council says the benefits are in their millions. That’s people going out afterwards, putting money into hotels and so on, and in terms of promoting Scotland and Glasgow it will be huge. Pretty much all we’re trailing on Radio 1 at the moment is the Big Weekend and Glasgow, so the spotlight we’re shining on the city is very significant.”

• Radio 1’s Big Weekend is at George Square, Glasgow, 23 May and Glasgow Green, 24 and 25 May,