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Festivals Britannia: a TV review

United Kingdom United Kingdom | 20 December 2010

It’s always good to learn something, even better if you’re actually interested in the subject. Thankfully, then, the BBC were able to offer up a documentary covering the highs, lows and most importantly history of music festivals in the UK.

Of course, being the BBC, the amount of history covered was astonishing. From archive footage of 1950s jazz festivals (which, incidentally, is where music festivals began) to the old news reports of the illegal rave scene in the 90s, it was all included. This was somewhat of a problem, though. It’s quite hard to report on the biggest musical change of the last 30-plus years in just 90 minutes.

A lot of time was spent looking at Glastonbury, Stonehenge and hippies. All of the archive interviews and talking head spots in the programme seemed to culminate in the BBC throwing a party about how good their coverage was of the Battle of the Beanfield. Admittedly their footage was fantastic, if I wanted to see a policeman smash a hippie’s van to pieces I damn well want to see it from a good camera angle. But with so much focus being placed on one event, it’s hard not to find the history of festivals depressing. I thought this show was meant to be a celebration.

In terms of character and colour, however, Festivals Britannia was full of it. There were interviews with ‘Festival Veterans’ (as they were dubbed), Billy Bragg, Levellers, Arthur Brown and Michael Eavis plus many more. One question the Beeb didn’t ask, however, was what exactly makes a festival veteran? Various ex-hippies were all captioned as a ‘Festival Veteran’, with no mention of how that tag was appointed. I’ve been going to festivals since I was 16, surely I must at least be a Festival Professional?

Most of the interviews involved recalling moments in history from various people, rather than bands telling of their favourite performances at festivals etc. There was a definite sense of community between them, in that they all believe in the spirituality of festivals and that it’s a rebellion to society. The idea of freedom was strong throughout the programme, despite the varying accounts of police brutality and Glastonbury’s Superfence. It’s freedom, in a contained area. Fight the power!

The BBC managed to fit in the majority of the UK festival history into an hour and a half, but no time at all was given to Monsters of Rock. One of the biggest and most famous festivals throughout the world was mentioned in one sentence. Donington is hallowed ground to a lot of rock fans, it’s been graced by the biggest names in rock and heavy metal since the ‘80s. But, probably because the Beeb don’t have any video footage, it’s been removed from this festival history.

Overall, though, Festivals Britannia did a brilliant job. In-depth reports on the counter culture, Glastonbury, Isle of Wight Festival and the ever popular Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. It makes you want to get your tent out early.

Festivals Britannia is still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer now.

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