2007: The year that was...rain

United Kingdom United Kingdom | | 13 December 2007

Despite accusations from some purists of ‘selling out’ and failing to adapt to customer demands, this year’s UK festival season once again experienced an impressive level of growth. But it came at a price as some as the worse summer weather on record attempted to spoil the party. 

Despite the absence of the traditional curtain-raiser on the May bank holiday, with Homelands and Hi:Fi both deemed outdated models, things eventually got off to a flying start. Two weeks prior to that The Great Escape in Brighton gave us all an idea of which bands to look out for. Virtual Festivals  held its own day-long gig on the pier, trailblazing in the wake of The Happy Mondays who rocked the venue the previous day.

By early June, the majors like Glastonbury, the Carling Weekend, V Festival and the Isle Of Wight Festival had all sold out. Nothing unusual there but what was a surprise was the news that Bestival, the 30,000 capacity boutique festival on the Isle Of Wight, had also sold out before most of its line up had been announced. But more on that later.

The small but beautifully formed Wychwood Festival kicked off the summer season on the first weekend in June. Inspired by the ancient gatherings that used to take place in Wychwood Forest, the family festival has now settled into its home at Cheltenham Racecourse after a number of years finding its feet.

Another June event to finally live up to its potential was the O2 Wireless Festival, held simultaneously in both London and Leeds. Organisers, Live Nation, have experimented with its format since its inception in 2005 but this June they got it right, holding the event over four consecutive days in London and three in Leeds with The White Stripes, Daft Punk and Kaiser Chiefs headlining at both locations. While some argue whether Wireless is a ‘proper’ festival – you can’t camp overnight, for example – the atmosphere and turn out was better than it’s ever been.

As it also proved to be at the Isle Of Wight Festival, where organiser John Giddings pulled off the booking coup of the year by securing The Rolling Stones as Sunday night headliners. After taking over a nearby travel inn as their backstage area with an entourage of 150, as well as demanding their own extendable stage, the presence of the Stones almost overshadowed the fact that two of the greatest live bands on the circuit, Muse and Kasabian, were also playing.  

The centre of every metaller’s calendar, Download, was another runaway success, a beautiful summer’s weekend combining slick organisation and passionate bands to pull off one of the Donington fixture’s best outings yet. Live Nation once again proved themselves as innovators by arranging for Iron Maiden’s headline set to be broadcast live on the festival’s website. Even more impressive though was their ability to persuade other bands’ management to allow their performance to be streamed – with most agreeing to it on site. An example to anyone who says that things can’t be done at festivals!   

And then came the mud. Inevitably, it was Glastonbury which first suffered from the summer’s deluge, the Worthy Farm site rapidly transforming into a mud bath for the third event running after the heavens opened on Friday morning. One of the worst hit areas was the new Park Stage, however the new music zone boasted one of the highlights of the weekend when Saturday night’s Africa Express experiment blended African and UK artists in various collaborations to great success. Things weren’t so good down at the Pyramid Stage, where thousands of fans were unable to hear The Killers’ headline set after noise pollution indicators in nearby residential areas forced technicians to turn the sound down. Apparently, the low lying rain crowds and wind direction was to blame. The inquest into Glastonbury was also unfavourable from some quarters, with many commentators claiming a lack of atmosphere and not enough young people.

This certainly wasn’t the case at T In The Park two weeks later, where thousands partied to the Scottish equivalent of Glasto, expanded it to a three day event for the first time ever. The Balado rock event was also hit by heavy rain, however, and many Friday travellers were forced to queue for hours due to car parks being closed due to flooding. Like Glastonbury, it became a wellies only weekend but the Scots seemed to take it more in their stride. One man was so into things he dressed up as Spiderman and climbed the main stage scaffold during Snow Patrol’s closing set – and then got arrested. The incident, in which Gary Lightsbody coaxed the man down, won 'Most Memorable Moment' at the UK Festival Awards, however the mystery man has strangely never come forward for the gong. 

The answer to Glastonbury’s missing youth became apparent at Latitude just weeks later, where youngsters dominated the landscape in response to a forward thinking lineup mixing music, art, poetry, film and more. A clear favourite from the summer - and one of the only weekends in July where it didn’t rain – Latitude managed to tick the boxes other events were unable to fill, and the event sold out in only its second year, one of the bands of the year, Arcade Fire, providing a thrilling finale on the Sunday night.

More established events were not so lucky. Guilfest, held on the same weekend, suffered an opening day disaster when a speaker stack collapsed, but the weekend went on to be another sun drenched success thanks largely to Madness, who became one of the comeback bands of the year. Dance festival Glade was also a victim of the weather, its site submerged by rain on the opening day and its nearby train station forced to close. The event went ahead but not without controversy, many festival goers claiming the site was too waterlogged, while others had a great time. DIY favourite Truck Festival was also swamped, forcing organisers to postpone the event until September, Ashton Court was washed out by day two, as was Wakestock, and the much hyped Fflam Festival was abandoned weeks before it was meant to go ahead after promoters once again blamed the weather.

Many other brand new festivals managed to go ahead regardless. Wye Fayre, 2000 Trees, Antiworld, Connect, Wave Form and several more all had relatively successful first years and will be expected to be back stronger in 2008. As will established boutique favourites such as The Big Chill, Lovebox and Secret Garden Party, which all won great reviews once again. The more traditional dance festivals, Global Gathering and Creamfields, also enjoyed bumper sell out years bolstered by headliners such as Faithless, Groove Armada and The Chemical Brothers.

Of course, with weather gradually improving throughout August, all attention turned to the two double headers – V Festival and the Carling Weekend – and neither disappointed. V saw headliners Foo Fighters play a surprise afternoon show under the name of 606, while a week later Kaiser Chiefs did the same, playing the smallest tent at Leeds Festival under the name of Hooks For Hands. Both festival weekends saw some incredible live sets with The Killers, Snow Patrol, The Smashing Pumpkins, Arcade Fire and Kings Of Leon all winning rave reviews as fans finally enjoyed (relatively) rain free major festivals.  

But it was Bestival that perhaps proved the summer’s highlight, truly cementing itself in the country’s consciousness thanks to its unique format, eclectic line up (Beastie Boys, Madness and Primal Scream all shared the stage), its annual dressing up party and new features such as a sponsored swim across the Solent and a ukulele band made up of festival going volunteers who played the main stage. End Of The Road finished of the summer festival season proper. Let’s just be thankful the festival road wasn’t permanently submerged back in July.

Since then there have been more and more autumn and even winter festivals. All Tomorrow's Parties, staged at Butlins in Somerset, pulled off a massive coup by staging Portishead's first full live gig in almost a decade, while 2007 could be remembered as the year of the holiday home festival. The likes of Hard Rock Hell, the Big Reunion Twisted Circus, the Tidy Weekender and the Southport Weekender were also introduced to the world of chalets and scummy swimming pools. Liverpool Music Week brought the year to a close with a festival of sorts, the city hosting an impressive 11 days of live gigs featuring hundreds of bands.  

Of course, it all came together once again at the UK Festival Awards, held in October. The Isle Of Wight Festival scooped 'Best Major Festival' and Bestival 'Best Medium-Sized Festival', while Blissfields won the 'Best Small Festival' award. Other winners included Glastonbury, T In The Park, V Festival and Latitude. Needless to say 'everyone was a winner' (hurrah!) as a great night was helped on by plenty of flowing booze and food plus music from Scouting For Girls and Mr Hudson & The Library.

Plenty beckons for 2008, it's going to be another cracking year and we hear slightly drier, so stay tuned to Virtual Festivals from start to finish with all the best news, reviews, photos and blogs from the best music events. 

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