Someone tell the BBC Glastonbury’s over the hill

Glastonbury: the greatest rock festival ever, or the most over-subscribed cultural event in the world?

Go home. It’s on the telly. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

Go home. It’s on the telly. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

Thu, Jun 20, 2013, 01:00

In 1997, the BBC screened two hours of the Glastonbury festival. This year, from June 28th to 30th, more than 250 hours of coverage will be broadcast simultaneously on TV, radio, PC, mobile, and tablet across BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, Radio 1, 1Xtra, Radio 2 and 6 Music. It will even intrude on such stalwarts as The One Show and Songs of Praise.

The BBC says it aims to “reinvent music coverage” with this Glastofrenzy. But you don’t reinvent music coverage just by showing more of it.

The Glastonbury programme itself is weak this year. The Rolling Stones (last good album released: 1981) are headlining, while other attractions include posh folk-rockers Mumford and Sons and, eh, Bruce Forsyth.

Exactly how much of the Rolling Stones’ Saturday night Pyramid Stage headlining slot can be shown is still the subject of a heated debate between broadcaster and band. A source close to Mick Jagger (as they say) has it that “Mick only agreed to do Glastonbury for the fans who are there; he didn’t sign up for a TV show”. The band want only four of their songs to be aired.

Jagger has a point. For anyone who paid the £205 ticket price and has to schlep all the way to an overcrowded farm in Somerset, it’s a bit galling to know that your friends at home on the couch, drinking beer and eating Pringles, are getting full HD coverage, while you’re a mile away from the band, stuck in the mud with cider running down your back.

Glastonbury is the most oversubscribed cultural event in the world. Millions of people register online every October, hoping to get one of the 140,000 Willy Wonka tickets. This year the tickets sold out within an hour and 40 minutes.

Radical, baby
Granted, there are probably more radical politics on display at Glyndebourne Opera these days. But despite the au pairs and the linen-suited Tory MPs – ties loosened for the occasion – this is still Glastonbury. Naked people barter goods, Goths swap macrobiotic recipes, you can get a tattoo of an angel on your arm at five am (no, I don’t regret it), and it remains – as the good book says – “a place of idealism, anarchy, being young, getting old disgracefully, trying to find other ways, getting out of it, hearing some great and truly awful music”.

While the BBC says its wall-to-wall coverage aims to make the festival “bigger than the sum of its parts”, the real reason it’s pitching up (with an entourage of 296 staff in tow) is another desperate lunge at the yoof demographic. Even though it can be reasonably assumed that “the young people” would much prefer to actually be experiencing Glastonbury in its full sensory delight, rather than watching it on TV with their parents.

That golden 18- to 24-year-old demographic doesn’t exist on the festival circuit. It’s €500-plus for a festival weekend now. The very people at whom the rock festival is aimed have been priced out of it. The average age of this year’s music-festival-goer is 36. Hence all the mochachinos, ostrich burgers and reiki massage tents.

The exclusion of those to whom an under-the-stars weekend rock festival means the most is causing the festival circuit to atrophy. Of all the headlining acts at British and Irish festivals this year, only one band released its debut album within the last five years – and that’s the musically conservative Mumford and Sons. Some of this year’s festival bills could have taken place 20 years ago, such is the vintage of the acts.

Does the actual content of the coverage matter to the BBC? Or is its Glastonbury coverage meant to make the broadcaster appear relevant and hip? Rave on, BBC. But leave Songs of Praise alone.

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