The stage was awash with fiddles, tracksuits, drunken rambling speeches, acceptance songs and tears (well almost), as our first ever UK Festival Awards ceremony unfolded without a hitch at Islington Academy - yeah right!
Virtual Festivals editor Ross Purdie delivers a candid account of what happened the night VF discovered that putting on live events is actually much harder than running a website…
"It's not the Brits", shrugged compere and presenter Steve Harris as no one came to pick up the award for Best One Day festival (we later discovered that Live Nation boss Andy Copping had been unable to fight his way through the crowd to receive the award for his victorious Monsters Of Rock). The Brits it most certainly wasn't, but it was arguably more entertaining. Even Virgin Radio DJ Steve Harris, making his awards presenting debut, was smiling throughout.
[r-zone1]As Virtual Festival's Chris McCormick put it as he introduced the night (with founder Steve), "We do websites, you guys put on events, so let's see where this goes." And, inevitably, it went in slightly chaotic fashion, kick-started by the suitably erratic, unpredictable and totally wonderful Brakes. Opening with 'Hi How Are You' – perhaps with a subtle dig at the chattering arrivees with it's chorus line "Won't you shut the fuck, I'm just trying to watch the band" – the set included first live airings of new material from their forthcoming album 'The Beatific Visions', including the pondering and pounding 'Porcupine Or Pineapple'. Think about it … or alternatively just listen to it here.
[l-zone2]With VF's web developer Jon Cox taking to the decks for an impromtu ten minute set, the Cuban Brothers smoked cigars and drank champers in their dressing room gearing up to introduce new character Barry Peters (from Halifax Radio) – think Jimmy Saville meets Saxondale. Bazza handed out the first two awards – Best New Festival (End Of The Road), which went without a hitch, and Best Breakthrough Artist, which err got slightly hitched. Here we have to rewind a few hours to when a lovely chap called Martin dashed across London with a video camera to capture winners The Kooks accepting the award as they soundchecked for their gig at Shepherd's Bush (they wouldn't cancel). Anyway for some reason the sound failed initially, prompting Barry to improvise and mimick what they'd probably be saying until the sound suddenly kicked in again just in time to hear singer Luke Pritchard say a final thanks. Well, they talk funny anyway.
The rest of the Cubans then converged on stage for a cartwheeling carnival of head-spinning hedonism as the front rows got their boogy shoes on for the fist time, before Barry introduced Steve Harris as Iron Maiden's bassist (they share the same name), making repeated references to the "number of the beast". Unfettered, Steve glided through the first section of awards, with festival organisers in jubilant form, waxing away with thank you speeches that made Gwyneth look ungrateful. By far the best was Guilfest's Tony Scott breaking into a solo performance of 'We Are Family' as he picked up the award for 'Best Family Festival'. I think the idea was for the rest of his team to join in, but it seems stage fright might have kicked in. I was to discover this sensation first hand later on.
As confusion kicked in and the night threatened to unravel into disaster as a couple of winners were found nowhere to be found, it was left to Nizlopi to rectify things with an outstanding set of beatbox booming, double bass twanging funtime. Bursting with energy, their four-song show got the industry crowd dancing like they've never known and if it wasn't for the stage manager denying them an encore, despite massive calls for more, they probably would've gone on all night.
[r-zone3]But there were more awards to give out and who better to present the gongs for Best Toilets and the Party People Award For Dance Music than Goldie Lookin' Chain. Having come down from Newport for the night, Adam Hussein and Billy Webb appeared in the usual GLC get-up with Adam adorned in a sparkling electric blue trackie. Commending Larmer Tree's organiser for "the best shitters" as well as making obscene but rather amusing gestures behind his back, the boys then went on to dish out the "best rave award" which went to Lovebox.
[l-zone4]It was then left to festival legends The Levellers to raise the tone, and that they did with the magnificent and effortless yet understated class that keeps their uber-loyal fans coming back for more after all these years. The main screen lifted to reveal all six band members, performing acousticly. As opener 'Carry Me' began to build up, there was a tense moment of absolute stillness in the crowd as the fashionable young things in attendance tried their hardest not to betray their niggling enjoyment. Then the band blasted into 'What A Beautiful Day' and the entire venue was swept away by a tornado of raging hooley. We were a long way from Kansas as the dying strains of 'One Way Of Life' rang out; The Levs were back on the map and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Even so, the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the final three awards, with the fiercely-contested Best Small, Medium-Large and Major Festival Awards going to Summer Sundae, Bestival and T In The Park respectively. The speeches seemed a lot more impassioned too, perhaps on account of the free Carling and Bacardi cocktails.
[r-zone5]Next it was my turn to present the award for Outstanding Contribution, the only award decided by Virtual Festivals and not voted for by the public. It had been a long and hectic day. I hadn't eaten much. I had drank a bit. I had written a short speech. I laid it out before me. I did not look at it once. Instead I gave what I thought was a very entertaining and touching tribute to Mean Fiddler's Melvin Benn, commenting on his successes with Reading, Leeds, Glasto and Latitude. That was until I noticed some mild heckling from the front rows and then the same stage manager who'd denied Nizlopi extra time, pushing his way through the crowd to make a throat slitting gesture to me. Hopefully he only meant 'stop now' and not 'kill yourself when this is over'. Anyway I brought things to a close (it had gone on a bit), didn't get any calls for more, and handed the award over to Melvin Benn who was thankfully smiling. He went on to pay tribute to Rob Da Bank's Bestival, seemingly far more eloquently than I did him.
Recovering with a large whisky bought for me by someone in a suspected show of sympathy (probably not the best solution), I soon shoved my self-imposed shame to the back of my mind for it to fester just in time for my hangover the next day by listening to a blinding set from Kav and Jon Dunn from The Happy Mondays, who'd built a band and set just for the occasion. Seeing as they'd only been rehearsing for two days it was utterly sensational, a dirty concoction of country blues and rock, capped with Mondays song 'Playground Superstar'. Rob Da Bank then did his victory lap with a funk-filled decks session that had the crowd sliding around the floor before people started to drift into the Shelter room next door for some cracking acoustic sets by the likes of Local Heroes winners Merla and Rob McCulloch and Nate James and Paris Motel. The bulk of the festival organisers headed up to the Bacardi mezzanine to celebrate in style.
Steve Harris was right. It's not The Brits, but it was a fantastic night and a great party to celebrate a fantastic year of festivals with the people that helped make them happen – and it certainly had its Sam Fox moments. We can't wait to do it all again next year.
Click here to see who the winners were.