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UK Festival Awards 2007

By Nick Bruce || 08 Nov 07
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With the votes counted and the movers and shakers of the festival industry gathered, all that's left to do is announce the winners of the UK Festival Awards and have a bloomin' good knees up...

When sitting down to write this piece, having greatly enjoyed the festivities of the UK Festival Awards the night before, I found myself to be, unfortunately and surprisingly, afflicted by a touch of writer’s block. This was worrying.

It had certainly been a difficult day at work, made that bit harder by the slight hangover felt as a result of the many delicious, complimentary glasses of Pimm’s I’d consumed at the previous evening’s awards. Perhaps this was the cause of the block. Maybe it was the Friends’ double bill that had just started on E4, which was distracting attention away from my writing. Or maybe it was the incessant banging of fireworks which was putting me off: the unused explosive remnants of the weekend that the local feral kids outside insisted on hurling at my window, lighting up Bethnal Green and transforming it into downtown Fallujah. Perhaps.

For whatever reason however, something had thus far failed to click. So in an effort to remedy this block, I referred back to the piece I wrote on last year’s awards. Perhaps I could get helpful tips from my previous self; perhaps my past-self would be able to kick-start my present self, Marty McFly style, into writing the account of this year’s awards. So I read the piece from a year ago.

I read it twice. Then three times. Then a fourth time. The reason for this multiple reading was simple: in revisiting the account of last year’s awards, it occurred to me immediately how huge this year’s UK Festival Awards really were. It occurred to me how big in stature and credibility the awards had become. It amazed me how far the accolade, and the ceremony, had travelled, in just one year.

Just look at the new venue, for starters. Last year, the awards were held in the admirable Islington Carling Academy, a nice venue built toward the back of a shopping centre in north London. This year, the UK Festival Awards migrated a few minutes up the road to much grander surroundings: Camden’s Koko.

Previously The Camden Palace, Koko is Brixton Academy’s older (by twenty-nine years), but much sexier, sister. Walking into Koko’s main auditorium, greeted by multicoloured lighting, grandiose balconies and one helluva vista view tells you immediately that this award ceremony has arrived even before it has begun.

The scene is set: onstage are guitars, keyboards, and drum kits. The awards platform, from which the awards will be read and given, stands to the right of the stage. Hundreds of white-clothed tables have been placed in front of the stage, each with goodie-bags and empty ice buckets, soon to be filled, over and over. Last year, guests had to make do with propping up the bar. This year, it’s like the bloody Oscars. One can always tell how prestigious an award is by how well the guests are treated. Well, judging by the aforementioned complimentary Pimm’s, the goodie bags and the free nosh on offer, a knighthood and a Bafta just sneaks in front of these babies.

One small gripe to make. The host of the ceremony could have been re-thought. Not that I’m saying there is anything wrong with The Cuban Brothers. But when you have a guest-list that is comprised solely of the festival business’ movers and shakers, a Glaswegian personating a Cuban dictator would not be my first choice. There’s Michael Eavis, sitting two tables from the front, for heaven’s sake! Does he really have to listen to this?! Still, the host was funny, and his Cuban accent was very good, so it is only a small gripe. And it is also the only gripe. Had to get it out of the way, you see.

The first award – Best Headline Act – went to The Killers, and much deservedly so. Having not been able to go to Glastonbury due to occupational constraints (when will Mr Eavis do the nation’s teachers a favour and move Glasto back a week, so that the festival isn’t during term time?), I hadn’t caught the gig. The band, however, are incredible, so I imagine that playing in front of 100,000 people on the main stage at one of the world’s greatest festivals can only turn them up to eleven. Unfortunately the band were unable to attend, so instead a representative from Mercury Records accepted the award. One tip: hold the microphone up to your mouth love! (You’d have thought that one who works at a record label would know how a microphone works, but apparently not).

Presented by Virtual Festival’s MD Steve Jenner, the Innovation Award celebrates the advancements in festival management that make the whole experience much more pleasant for both the organizer and the punter. “The only losers are the touts,” quipped Steve, “because the winner of the award is Glastonbury’s ticket registration system.”

Controversial, sure, but Glasto’s policy of pre-registering tickets this year certainly meant almost no money for the touts, less people sneaking in, and more fans getting to experience what is one of the world’s best festivals. The award was accepted by the big man himself. Not God, though he does bear an uncanny resemblance, but Michael Eavis. (Whisper it though: this was Glasto’s only award of the whole night. Shock!)

At one point my position on the first floor balcony was compromised by a cameraman trying to assess whether the free pie he had been given was vegetarian or not.

“They’re all Salmon.” I informed him. The cameraman seemed displeased. He went off in a huff, and not wanting to inadvertently feed off the negative space left behind, I decided to move around the balcony. Thank goodness I did, because in my new position, who did I spy? No less than Pete, the expletive-spouting, fluorescent hair sporting, tourettes-suffering Brightonite winner from Big Brother. He was onstage presenting The Greener Festival award to The Big Session festival. And he was bloody funny doing it too. Though whether he actually meant to be funny is another matter.

Previous to the Greener Festival Award came Best Line Up, which went to V Festival (and I’m positive I saw Eavis shake his head in dissent at that result); Best Rock Act, which went to The Killers, and was presented by Mr Eavis; Best Dance Act, which was presented by Tall Paul and went to Faithless; Best Toilets, which went to The Big Chill; Best Family Festival, which went to Solfest, and the Best Grassroots Festival, which went to Wickerman.

Musical refreshment came firstly in the form of Scouting for Girls, a rather interesting three-piece not dissimilar to Keane, being keyboard-led and without a lead guitar. Their songs are nicey-nicey in a very harmless way: every one you’ll think you’ve heard before, because it’s all been done before, and four to five years ago. Tell me that latest single ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead’ doesn’t sound like something The Feeling would produce, and I’ll say that you’re either deaf, or have no long-term memory. Still nice songs to have another Pimm’s to.

Oddest award of the night – second only to “Most Memorable Moment” (which incidentally went to the moment when Snow Patrol coaxed down 'Spiderman' at T In The Park) was Best Pop Act, which went to McFly. Mc-Fuckin-Fly. Quintessential manufactured candy pop crap. Girls Aloud won the award last year. You can imagine which act I would rather see covered in mud, with the other being covered in excrement.

Speaking of excrement, the second band, The Brightlights, were not quite that bad, but they weren’t that great. The levels once the band started playing seemed terribly high, with quite a few of the VIP crowd down at the front covering their ears. The songs were Kings of Leon-esque - indeed the band have been compared to the Southern quartet. I couldn’t really hear it myself, though they certainly looked the part. More Pimm’s please.

Best European Festival went to Exit Festival, a massive crowd favourite, though Benicassim would have been this reviewer’s festie of choice. Though the thought of partying in an old Roman fortress, listening to bands whilst getting hammered on Balkan Vodka that costs as much as a Sherbet Dib Dab, does, however, sound very appealing.

The award was collected by Ivan Milivojev, the festival’s Production Manager, and Konstantin Polzovic, Head Associate (whatever that means?!). The two looked chuffed to bits with their win. Nice one fellas – any chance of a ticket for next year?

Best Festival Newcomer went to The Enemy and Best New Festival went to John Lennon Northern Lights Festival.

And then the big three: Best Small, Best Medium and Best Major festivals. The cream of the crop. The best the UK has to offer, and therefore, the best the world has to offer. Because make no mistake, the United Kingdom is the best place in the world for festivals. The weather’s shite, but the festivals are awesome.

Blissfields won Best Small Festival (to be small, a festival has to have a capacity less than 10,000) much to the delight of the crowd. For a third time in a row, Bestival won Best Medium Festival. A jubilant Rob Da Bank leapt to the stage, thanking everyone who worked to make Bestival the independent, inventive, exciting event that it is. Man, that guy has got one long pony tail. Rob even paid particular thanks to the legendary festival fixer Melvin Benn who’d earlier picked up Latitude’s Fan-Friendly Award.

Best Major Festival went to the Isle of Wight Festival, snatching the award from Glasto’s or T in the Park’s waiting hands. A rather shocking result, considering Glasto had been absent for a year. It seems that Isle of Wight could more than fill the hole left by the World’s Greatest Festival®.

The audience did seem surprised that it was not Michael Eavis collecting the award, but rather Isle of Wight organizer John Giddings.  Still, you’d have thought a guy who both promotes for The Rolling Stones and manages Iggy Pop (who beamed a congratulatory message over from across The Pond) would know a thing or two about putting on a good show. Which, incidentally, is exactly what this year’s UK Festival Awards was: a bloody good show.

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again this year. Roll on next summer. See you at the front…



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