Love, loathing and T in the Park


'I just don't want to sit in a field, getting trodden on by steaming, bare-chested teenagers'

I'VE fallen out of love with T in the Park. Like a couple who realise there isn't enough there to keep their relationship going after the initial adrenaline rush of excitement, Scotland's largest music festival and I have been drifting apart for years.

There's no point in apportioning blame to the demise of our once thrilling relationship - we're probably both equally guilty. As we've both grown over the last 14 years, we've gotten older and perhaps a little wiser, and now, I think, we just want different things from life, so our split has been pretty amicable.

I last attended T in the Park three years ago, and had such a depressing time that I vowed never to return. Part of the problem, for me anyway, is the size of the thing these days. Every year the organisers announce that the festival is going to be bigger and better than previous years, with more tents, more bands, more people, more stalls and more booze.

But bigger isn't necessarily better. I miss the relaxed and laid-back atmosphere of the first few festivals at Strathclyde Country Park, before they moved to the more soulless airfield at Balado in Fife. I miss the rather slapdash organisation of those early years, when the numbers were small enough that you could effectively stick your tent up anywhere you liked, then it was a quick saunter across to see the bands.

These days, getting to and from T in the Park, not to mention getting around the enormous site itself, seems like a major military exercise. And if it's raining, which it usually is, that military exercise begins to resemble the Russian Front during the Second World War. The sheer weight of numbers attending the festival these days means that there is inevitably inordinate amounts of queuing, waiting, trudging and grumbling before you get anywhere near a band.

In the first year, 17,000 attended, with only 2,000 people camping. This year 75,000 punters will descend on the site, essentially the population of a small city decamping to a field in Fife. Is it any wonder that the place seems uncomfortably overcrowded?

My problem with T in the Park isn't to do with the music. This year's line-up has plenty of cracking stuff on offer, from the daft indie disco of CSS to the rumbling riffs of Queens of the Stone Age, from the folk-rap of Plan B to the blue-collar anthems of The Hold Steady.

But festivals in general, and big ones in particular, aren't always the best place to see your favourite band. Again, the sheer weight of numbers means it's hard to get anywhere near the stage, the sound quality at all festivals is notoriously patchy, and many bands will have to play shortened sets due to time restrictions. Wouldn't it make more sense to just go and see your favourite bands when they tour, in a more suitable venue, with fellow fans, in an atmosphere more convivial?

The argument is that at a festival, you can take in loads of different bands over the one weekend, but, in practise, this is impossible. I've tried it in the past, and it just doesn't work. A combination of scheduling changes and large distances to negotiate full of drunken party people means you always end up missing the stuff you wanted to see most. But here I am, blaming T in the Park, when the truth is that I've changed, too. When the festival started I was in my early 20s, when the suggestion of a lost weekend in a field with mates, off our faces and checking out our favourite bands, seemed like the best idea ever.

These days I'm a typical 30-something with a wife and a young son, and somehow, the thought of crowd surfing down the front for Biffy Clyro doesn't do it for me anymore, much as I love that band. Boring old fart that I am, I just don't want to sit in a field, three miles away from The Killers, repeatedly getting trodden on by steaming, bare-chested teenagers, spilling their warm lager down my neck in the process.

I'll always love music, and I'll always love seeing bands play live, but the logistical and atmospheric negatives of T in the Park now outweigh the musical positives. I've got plenty of memories (blurry ones, admittedly) of my own personal, seminal, T in the Park moments. Seeing Blur at the height of their powers, watching The Prodigy for the first time, catching The Flaming Lips in a small tent just when they were at their most cheerily triumphant... all of this will stay with me forever.

But, for me, T in the Park has been a case of diminishing returns for years now, as the vital, intimate atmosphere of the early days has been replaced by the multi-million music industry monolith of today. We've gone our separate ways - let's just leave it at that.


'It's a cheerfully uncomplicated, honest festival for our depressingly complicated times'

I LOVE T in the Park for the same reasons that I love the Edinburgh Fringe. The two festivals are similar in many ways. Far too many people, paying more money than they can afford to spend, all cram into a space that is normally tranquil but is transformed by their presence into a madhouse, with noise assaulting you from all sides, a big wheel in the middle, a very long queue at every bar and a faint smell of wee.

Try to get anywhere in a hurry and there is almost always a drunk person in a ridiculous hat standing in your way. You go in the hope of running into some famous people on your travels, but mostly just spot minor characters from Taggart. At some point, you will probably collide with a juggler. Or Craig Hill.

What else? There is far, far more to see than it is physically possible to see. You can either get stressed out about this, or just relax and accept that if, say, you watch the end of Arcade Fire's set you're probably going to miss the start of Rufus Wainwright's.

Personally I tend to choose the stress option. If you see someone frantically legging it from the main stage to the Pet Sounds arena at Balado tomorrow, it's probably me. If you're wearing a ridiculous hat, get out of my f****** way.

What else? Everyone eats quite badly, usually with their mouths open while striding around, complaining to a friend about how bad the food is. Nobody gets more than four hours of sleep a night. Many of the people you meet in the morning look as if they've been sleeping in a ditch. At T in the Park they probably have.

So why do I love it? For all the reasons above. As much as anything else, it's the thrill of being part of something ridiculously big, far bigger than good sense dictates it should be. The bigger T in the Park gets, the happier I am. Bring it on. I like that it's not sensible, or polite, or restrained. As long as no-one gets hurt, obviously. And, in fact, remarkably few people do, despite the many snooty remarks you often hear about it being a festival for drunken neds.

A few people I know hate T in the Park. Often they cite the drunkenness, the overcrowding, the smell - y'know, all the good stuff - but the most common criticism is that it lacks the idealistic community spirit of festivals of old. By this they tend to mean Glastonbury. Except that these days Glastonbury is sort of like T in the Park, only with (1) even more mud, and (2) a core audience of diehard hippies who, through a fog of nostalgia, still think festivals are a dream of a utopian community soundtracked by rock and roll, when, in reality, they are a bunch of tents in a field, which will disappear in several days, no matter how much acid you take. T in the Park-goers would never delude themselves this way. The festival is named after a brand of lager, after all. As much as I loathe the taste of Tennent's, I actually like T in the Park for that. It's a cheerfully uncomplicated, honest festival for our depressingly complicated, idealism-squashing times.

It will not lie to you, or raise your hopes only to crush them again. It doesn't claim to be about ending racism or war or saving the environment, which no festival could ever do anyway. It just says: "Here's a field, and some alcohol, and absolutely loads of music. Take it or leave it."

I've often heard it said, as Doug argues elsewhere on this page, that T in the Park is a drinking festival, not a music festival - it crams too many bands in, they don't sound that great because of the weather blowing the noise about, and if you're really into the music it's better to see individual bands at their own gigs.

I disagree. T in the Park is absolutely a music-lover's festival; it just gives you music the way most people now listen to it - in vast amounts, on random shuffle. If the sound quality is sometimes lacking, you can say the same of a phone or an iPod. But the playlist itself can't be faulted. Almost every pop band you could possibly want to see at a festival this summer is playing at T in the Park. And this is now true every year, which is why it sells out before the bill is even announced.

I can't wait. I like my own bed too much to brave the campsite, but I'll be on that bus early tomorrow morning. I love the bit when, after the long winding bus journey, those blue tents start to poke their heads up over the horizon. Look! We're almost there!

• Read Andrew Eaton and Paul Whitelaw's comprehensive review of Friday, Saturday and Sunday at T in the Park in The Scotsman on Monday and Tuesday.