We ventured north on a madcap expedition to the wild arctic plains of Scotland - Glasgow to be precise - to deliver an award for 'Best Facilities and Organisation' to T in the Park. It was there that we met festival boss - and by reputation the nicest man in the live music industry (it's true!) - Geoff Ellis. Or as we like to call him, Mister T!
Virtual Festivals: You’re the only major festival in Scotland. Surely you could knock out a half-baked line-up and still sell out?
Geoff Ellis: Well there has been competition over the years, from the likes of Gig On The Green and Download, so you can never rest on your laurels. Having a weaker line-up can only work in the short term; sure you may save on some costs but you’ll lose credibility and that’s hard to retrieve. There are some great festivals in the UK that Scottish people would go to instead, and now with such cheap flights to the continent we’re starting to compete with the likes of Benicassim and Roskilde. So if the quality dropped we would soon lose our crowd. Every band wants to play T, which makes our life a lot easier, but the success of each year has a direct relationship with the next one; Last year’s line up sells this year’s tickets. We sold around a third of tickets before Christmas without announcing a single act. That had never been done before. And since putting tickets back on sale we've sold out in five days - another record!
VF: Are you proud of the quality you attract?
GE: Yes, the line-up gets stronger each year, especially on the smaller stages. If we got everyone we wanted this year we’d have about 30 too many bands. The quality of live music is so strong at the moment that it’s not difficult coming up with a wish-list. It’s great for the audience because they get the likes of The Strokes and Muse.
VF: So is it a headache picking the bands then?
GE: Yes, but it's a nice headache to have, especially when people then describe us as the Scottish Glastonbury. It’s like being the football manager of a great team and having to select from two dozen or so brilliant players. Of course you’re not going to complain about it, but you wish you could somehow get them all on the same field. In the end you’ve just got to have a line-up which is reflective of what’s happening at the time.
VF: Are you really the Scottish Glasto?
GE: Someone first said it when we set the whole thing up all those years ago and for ages I always shrugged it off. But the festival just keeps getting stronger and stronger and now I think it’s almost worthy of that title, although obviously Glastonbury is a phenomena of its own.
VF: What makes T so special then?
GE: It’s a combination of many things. Firstly, it has truly become a right of passage for young people in Scotland. T will often be the first time they go away for a weekend and that generates an amazing atmosphere all over the site. There’s also a real belief of ownership among festival goers, which has become a huge part of the festival’s identity. It’s been driven by word of mouth and by people connecting with us and becoming part of it. The experience of the campsite is hugely important, there’s a kind of culture and identity there of its own. The online message boards after each festival are full of things like, ‘hey, we saw you in the west campsite wearing a Newcastle football shirt’. Artists have been known to pop in and play impromptu sets and get involved, and they often say, as they leave, that Balado is one of the best places they’ve ever been. I’ve got so much experience of other festivals in the UK and honestly none are the same. We’re the only festival that’s been granted a three year license and that speaks for itself. Everyone’s looked after and leaves happy
VF: Do you think that was reflected by winning the 2004 UK Festival Awards for ‘best facilities and organisation’?
GE: I hope so. It was great to win that award and realise that people have appreciated the efforts we’ve made in looking them over the years in giving them a fantastic weekend. It’s extremely important to us. We’re making a few changes to the site, which should make things even better so watch this space.