For a man once rumoured to pour lager over his cornflakes for breakfast, Geoff Ellis has done pretty well for himself. Having built T In The Park from scratch over 13 years, he's now ready to unleash Connect festival...
It’s been another great year for T In The Park and the man behind it, Geoff Ellis. Head of DF Concerts in Scotland, he has hosted more than 330 gigs at Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, promoted hundreds more at venues north of the border, including stadium shows for Muse and Snow Patrol, and somehow still found time to organise one of Europe’s premier festivals, T In The Park, and its spin-off T On The Fringe.
The festival going public has voted T In The Park ‘Best Major Festival’ in the UK Festival Awards two years in a row, while ‘early-bird’ tickets for next summer’s two-day event in July were snapped up in a matter hours. Without taking his eye off his most treasured prize, Geoff is now turning his attentions to his brand new festival, Connect. We finally pinned down Scotland’s most successful festival organiser for a chat about all things loud and Scottish…
Virtual Festivals: Last time we saw you we were all quite drunk. Did you enjoy the awards show?
Geoff Ellis: “I did yes, it was really good fun. I think I had a bit too much to drink but at least I made my flight back up to Scotland the next day. I had a meeting with some people who already knew T In The Park had won in the Best Major Festival category so they weren’t expecting to see me and were quite impressed that I actually made it.”
VF: Apart from winning, what was your personal highlight?
GE: “It was actually really nice to see The Levellers. I bumped into them in the pub before the show and saw a couple of their crew who I recognised from when they’ve played up in Scotland before. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see them when they played T In The Park this year, so it was really nice to see them playing live again. They played the first ever T In The Park in 1994 and I think they were the first band we booked. They’ve played quite a large part in the development of T In The Park. And Obviously they are the archetypal festival band so it was very fitting for them to play at the awards.”
VF: Our highlight was Tony Scott singing ‘We Are Family’ when collecting his award for ‘Best Family Festival’. Were you tempted to break into song?
GE: “No, definitely not! Even if I’d gone to the bar a few more times than I don’t think I would have dared sing. I have no delusions as to my abilities in that department. At a football match then maybe, but not in front of a packed room following from The Levellers. And Tony of course!”
VF: You’ve now won Best Major Festival two years in a row. Can you make three in a row with Glastonbury back next year?
GE: “All we can do is try to make T In The Park as good as it can be and we do that regardless of whether Glastonbury is on or not. I don’t think we need to raise our game because of Glastonbury, I always feel we need to do that anyway, every year. We’ve got a few surprises that we’re going to announce in the New Year. We’ve invited some of the national arts bodies, such as the National Ballet and the Scottish Theatre to come up with some ideas for performances at the festival. Obviously I’m not going to put them on the main stage but we’ve got a huge festival site with people arriving from Friday lunchtime so there’s plenty of scope for other stuff to go on. I doubt whether the average T In The Park goer goes to see much opera or ballet and the last thing we want to do is turn people off, but if these arts bodies can tailor something that will appeal to our audience then that’s a great way of promoting what they do and crossing over. They might gain some new fans and it could really enrich the cultural experience of T In The Park.”
VF: There’s a lot of speculation about who’ll headline Glastonbury 2007. Who would you put your money on?
GE: “I wouldn’t like to say really. I hear rumours but I don’t think it would be fair to Michael (Eavis) if I told you what I’d heard. From the sounds of things they’re in pretty good shape, although that’s no real surprise.”
VF: A silly question to ask who’s headlining T In The Park then?
VF: Will you still be booking a wide range of acts, covering rock, pop, hip-hop etc?
GE: “Yeah certainly. There’s no plan to change that. We know from previous experience that tickets will probably sell out in minutes but we’re never ones to rely on that, so, as ever, we’ll be going for the best possible lineup we can provide. If you look at last year, we could have got away without Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Who headlining. We could actually just have had Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys and that would still have been good value for money, but we wanted to really push the boat out and that’s what we want to do for the 2007 festival. We want a killer lineup rather than one that’s just good enough. It’s all about getting younger acts involved too. For instance, last year we had bands like Guillemots and The Dykeenies, real breaking bands who’ll go on to great things and have already proved that. It’s really satisfying putting on bands people may not really have heard of on some of the smaller stages, who then come back much higher up the bill in later years. We once had Coldplay playing at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and two years later they came back and headlined.”
VF: Who’s impressing you at the moment?
GE: “There’s a lot at the moment. Hot Chip are great, Guillemots, The Dykeenies. What’s happening with The View is great, there’s a lot of excitement around them and I think they’ll do really well this year. Muse have proved to be probably the best live performers of 2006, they’ve been phenomenal. It’s great when a band is even better live than how they sound on record. They’re great for the live music industry and have really kept things boiling.”
VF: Are there any Scottish bands likely to follow in the steps of The Fratellis and The View this year?
GE: “There’s a band called We Are The Physics who are creating a buzz at the moment. North Atlantic Oscillation are another. They’ve really impressed. The Dykeenies we’ll hear about a lot this year, and there’s a great singer coming through called Esther, who’s got an amazing voice. It’s a great time for Scottish music generally, probably because it’s more diverse than perhaps it’s ever been. You’ve got people like Paolo Nutini alongside The Fratellis, two totally different sounds. Paolo’s just broken a Scottish record for selling out Glasgow Academy for four nights. He’s the first acts ever to do that, and all from that one album. So it’s looking really positive now with a new crop of artists following on from the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian.”
VF: Why were Snow Patrol left out of the lineup last year?
GE: “It wasn’t a deliberate thing. They played the year before, I think, and decided to do their own stadium show with us in August, which turned out to be their biggest ever gig. There are obviously rumours about them playing next year, but I think that was really good for them at that time, a great headline show which attracted more than 22,000 people to the Meadowbank.”
VF: How does it help you when bands like The Killers declare T In The Park their favourite festival?
GE: “There seem to be a lot of American bands that really love playing T In The Park. First and foremost that means they love playing in Scotland because the crowd reaction, so they tell me, is better than anywhere else in the world. You can see a similar reaction all over Scotland, whether it be it at T In The Park or at King Tut’s in Glasgow, so it?s always nice when a big band like The Killers come out and say they like playing the festival.”
VF: Are there any other changes planned for 2007?
GE: “Yes but we’re keeping them under our hat for the moment. I want to do a lot more with recycling initiatives. We went carbon neutral last year and we’ll be doing a lot more work with Global Cool again. We always try to have a good variety of food at the festival and that’s something we want to continue by putting a lot of emphasis on healthy eating. We’ll be putting pressure on the concessionaires to offer a wider range of good food. Of course, if people want to eat burgers and chips they’ll be able to, but it’s all about a wider choice. We’re also looking at providing some nicer areas for people to sit down and eat. We’ve always got loads of picnic tables and chairs, but we’re now looking into creating more destination points where people can relax and eat and drink. Areas designed specifically for that purpose should help encourage people to recycle more as well. At the end of the day, it’s important that your site is clean and not too scuzzy, but even better is that everything is recycled. 0ne thing I learnt from Mount Fuji Festival is that there’s no litter because everyone buys into the whole recycling initiative. People are actually buying bottles of water, taking the label off and putting that in one bin, throwing the top in another and the bottle into another. Ok, Japanese culture is different to ours but we can still try to get European festivals closer to that model. It’s about making the effort and making it easier for people to make an effort.”
VF: Can you ever achieve a carbon neutral festival?
GE: “Well we’ve done it from the point of view of offsetting the impact of the festival. I don’t think you could ever be completely carbon-free, certainly not on the scale of the larger festivals anyway. The main thing is people developing renewable energy because one of the biggest polluters are the generators and it’s difficult to do much about that. You need a lot of energy to power a festival. But least if you’re offsetting, you’re reducing the impact. It’s also important to be as economical and resourceful as you can physically be.”
VF: And how are things coming along with the new festival Connect?
GE: “It’s really coming together well and we’re very excited about it. People have told me that it’s the most attractive festival site in the UK. It looks gorgeous. The actual journey to the site is fantastic and an experience in itself. There will also be luxury coaches from all the major airports and cities, so that people can get the opportunity to take in the countryside. We’re even going to put on a boat from Glasgow, sailing round the west coast and into Loch Fyne.”
VF: What’s it going to be like?
GE: “We’re expecting to attract people who have maybe grown up with T In The Park but are no longer into the whole 24 hour party thing and would perhaps prefer to stay in a tee-pee or pod for the weekend and chill out with their mates. We’ll be putting on a mix of guitar and electronica acts. We’re talking to a range of different acts at the moment, not really arena size acts, but ones that are credible. Think Arcade Fire, Kraftwerk, Belle & Sebastian, that kind of ilk. We’ve also had a few meetings about all the non-music activity recently. We’re going to have a woodland walk with some mystical-like experiences featured in that. There’ll be lots of smaller structures with their own activity and entertainment. It will be pretty different to what you’d usually expect at events. It’s all going to be about relaxing in a beautiful location with like-minded people.”
Click on the links below for more info on T In The Park and Connect.