Brian Ferguson: T in the Park tougher to sell out

T in the Park is proving a harder sell this year. Picture: Toby Williams
T in the Park is proving a harder sell this year. Picture: Toby Williams
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MY BASIL Fawlty-on-tour routine was in full cry during an early evening dash from Edinburgh to the west end of Glasgow.

Normally, the thought of a rush-hour train between the two cities after a day at the chalkface would give me the heebie-jeebies, but the prospect of an audience with the man behind T in the Park and some of Scotland’s biggest concerts was more than enough to persuade me to head west at a rate of knots.

Just two months ahead of the 20th festival, Geoff Ellis was in typically candid form as he held court with a handful of journalists. There were a fair few eye-openers on the challenges involved in organising the event – including how to promote it in the face of an economic downturn and the huge changes in the music industry in recent years.

There is little doubt that T in the Park is proving a harder sell this year, despite the landmark anniversary. Ellis was honest enough to admit to fears that last year’s weather – easily the worst in T’s history – would have put off many of those who attended.

In reality, I doubt the bulk of its audience is too bothered about the weather. You don’t pack your sun-cream for an outdoor festival in Scotland.

It’s the overall experience and the line-up that are the big selling points for them.

And it is the latter which has sparked frenzied debate on social media whenever a new wave of acts have been announced this year.

As he insisted that ticket sales for this year were better than he expected after last year’s downpours, Ellis pointed out the relative lack of major new rock bands emerging on to the UK music scene in recent years compared to other periods during the festival’s history.

There certainly don’t appear to be any glaring omissions for the 20th year. It’s also hard to conjure up the names of any bands that T in the Park has failed to secure over the years, other than the infamous one that got away, David Bowie.

But that doesn’t alter the challenge in trying to shift tickets for an event squarely aimed at the 25-and-under market.

While much of the intrigue about this year’s T surrounds how the likes of Kraftwerk and Rihanna will go down with the crowd, they are not your average festival act.

Do they have the kind of allure to persuade someone to part with a couple of hundred pounds for the “T in the Park experience”? I’m not too sure.

It is not the festival’s fault it is caught in a cycle of a dwindling record industry, fewer big-name bands emerging and consumers increasingly reluctant to pay for what they listen to.

But there is certainly an air of familiarity about this year’s T in the Park. The Killers, one of this year’s headliners, had the honour six years ago. Another, Mumford & Sons, first graced the event four years ago. Stereophonics, second-top of the bill on the final night, found fame a mere 15 years ago. Calvin Harris is no stranger to the event.

Eyebrows have been raised at some of the big concerts Ellis’s company is promoting away from T in the Park this summer, which may have stolen some of the festival’s ticket sales. To be fair, Kings of Leon, Eminem and the Stone Roses, all appearing in Glasgow just a few weeks after T, have all been at Balado of late.

But it is the sheer number of rival attractions to T nowadays that also partly explains why it is far from a sell-out. Leaving aside stadium concerts by Robbie Williams, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi this summer, there are a huge number of festivals compared to just over a decade ago.

But take a look at the kind of acts peppered throughout the bills of Rock Ness, Wickerman and Belladrum – Madness, Dexys, James and Primal Scream are all very much rooted in the 1980s.

Music fans of this era and the subsequent decade are not only still very much into their favourites – but want to see them play live. The number of “retro-fests” is testament to this.

When T in the Park was launched, it was notable how few big-name Scottish acts found their way high up the bill in the first few years. How things have changed. I don’t imagine the respective members of Texas, Deacon Blue and The Proclaimers envisaged they would be performing on its stages two decades down the line.

With Earth Wind & Fire recently added to the bill, there could be a retro vibe to this year’s T in more ways than one.