It's time bands played for free at world's greatest music fest

Fri, Jul 3, 2009, 01:00

Whether you watched it on TV or spent your weekend scuttling between the Pyramid Stage and The Other Stage, you will have experienced one of the best music festivals ever.

Whether it was the headliners giving it loads (Neil Young, Springsteen, Blur), that excellent Sunday afternoon Madness show (see them again at Electric Picnic next month), an exhilarating set by Dizzee Rascal, or Status Quo registering one of their best performances (and even finding a fourth chord somewhere along the line), it was, by common consensus, the best ever Glastonbury Festival.

Even the fact that Michael Eavis faces a £3,000 fine due to Bruce Springsteen overrunning by an outrageous nine minutes on the Saturday night (yes, the noise control/curfew Nazis were also there) couldn’t dampen the farmer’s enthusiasm. Such was his excitement that he sort of leaked who the two big headliners will be next year.

Next year is Glastonbury’s 40th anniversary, and already the plan is to have one representative act from each of those 40 years play. But such was the success of this year’s event that Eavis inadvertently revealed that he had received phone calls from two of the biggest bands around – bands that have never played Glastonbury – asking if they could do it next year.

You don’t need to be a contestant on Mastermindwith the specialist subject, “Huge bands who have never played the Glastonbury Festival” to know that the bands are quite possibly U2 and The Rolling Stones.

The festival itself is its own PR. But what many don’t know about Glastonbury is that it is the only major music festival in the world that is run as a nonprofit-making venture. All the money made goes directly to WaterAid, Greenpeace and Oxfam.

The operational costs are huge, and Eavis needs to sell every last ticket to make money for these organisations. In 2008 the donation to charity was way down, but this year will show a healthy return. “We’ll catch up on last year this year, so they’ll get a lot more money from this year,” said Eavis.

This is why acts booked to play Glastonbury perform for about 10 per cent of their normal live fee. It’s no secret that certain bands avoid it for this reason.

The other unremarked aspect of the festival is the instant bonanza it affords the performers. We know from Friday’s line-up that Neil Young, The Specials, The Ting Tings and Fleet Foxes all had a massive overnight surge in iTunes and Amazon singles and albums sales.

With a huge TV audience, a good Glastonbury performance can put your album back into the top 10. On Amazon, The Ting Tings recorded a 282 per cent increase in sales, while The Specials were up by 217 per cent. Expect Madness, Dizzee Rascal and Bruce Springsteen (the three shining stars of this year’s festival) to have registered even bigger increases by the end of this week.

And on the subject of Madness, their current album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, has gotten five-out- of-five reviews all over the shop. It really is their London Calling.

Given that bands will turn a healthy profit (through reboosted album sales) from Glastonbury, is it not time for them to play for free and thus substantially boost the money going to WaterAid, Greenpeace and Oxfam?

Festival Republic has helped run Glastonbury since 2002, but it still largely relies on the goodwill of volunteers. With the exception of technical and security staff, the whole weekend is run by these volunteers (largely drawn from Oxfam’s ranks of charitable workers), who put in 18 hour days in return for free entry and food.

Time for Mr and Mrs Rock Star to fall into line. Here’s your free pass, here’s your lunch ticket, now go and play gratis. The exposure gained and the small fortune made in new records sales should be enough to ease your discomfort.

Given how fantastically well this year’s festival went, however, farmer Eavis could probably bring in a “pay to play my festival” policy.