Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A break from festival headaches for T In the Park

After deaths, crime and other problems in 2016, Scottish festival T In the Park is taking next year off

Where will all these lovely people go next year?

Wed, Nov 30, 2016, 09:34


Irish music fans hearing about the cancellation of Scottish festival T In the Park may have felt a sense of deja-vu about the news. After all, a lot of the factors around the decision by the festival’s promoters DF Concerts, a company which is owned by Live Nation and MCD’s Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey via their LN-Gaiety Holdings company, to not hold the festival in 2017 will be familiar from the demise of T’s Irish sister Oxegen a couple of years ago. Reading this report by Barry Nicolson, with its mentions of low turnouts for LCD Soundsystem and The War On Drugs in recent years, reminds you of how Oxegen failed to see the writing on the wall and ended up with The National playing to a couple of hundred people in 2011.

But changing musical tastes are not the only reason for the event’s problems. A move from its long-term home in Balado due to concerns over an oil pipeline running under the site to Srathallan Castle brought big problems with traffic, accessibility and ospreys all causing headaches for the organisers. After hundreds of complaints about the 2015 festival (even the ospreys registered their unhappiness), the festival introduced a big number of changes to ensure this year’s festival ran smoothly. However, T 2016 was marred by tragedy with a number of deaths and widespread crime, including the theft of an on-site ATM machine and an alleged rape, over the weekend.

The festival was also under political structiny after the Scottish government paid a £150,000 subsidy to help the festival move the event to Strathallan Castle despite profits of £6.2 million trousered by the promoters in 2015. According to the latter report, the promoters “threatened it could pull the music festival from Scotland if it did not turn a profit at its new home in Perthshire”.

A year on and the promoters have indeed done just this, with the Scottish Health and Safety Executive top of the blame list. Just as the Longitude city festival replaced Oxegen on the Irish event calendar, there is now talk of a non-camping festival in Glasgow as a replacement for T.

While the move to a new site was, by all accounts, a massive contribution to T In the Park’s problems, it was still pulling in the punters and, as we can see from the 2015 figures, contributing to profit for the promoters. However, it’s obvious that there comes a time when the bad outweighs the good and it becomes too onerous to carry on and so it is with T In the Park. Festival boss Geoff Ellis has said they’re “determined” to come back with a camping festival in 2018 but, as we saw with Oxegen, that’s often easier said than done. Unless it’s Glastonbury, which has no problem with a fallow year, events which take a year off have problems reconnecting with their audience on return.

But it’s worth noting that T’s demise does not necessarily mean a dip in popularity for the big camping festival. It’s obvious from the fact that 70,000 people showed up for T 2016 and the ongoing success of such mass market events as the Electric Picnic, Reading/Leeds and Glastonbury that there is still a huge audience for camping festivals. This trend is not going anywhere soon as there is still a throughput of punters who want to set up their tents in a field and listen to rock and pop in the open-air, which is good news for live music accountants.

The question for promoters, though, is if the pay-off is still worth it, given all the problems and issues with crowd management, policing and health and safety which now come as part of putting on the show in a big field or castle. The live music industry has made huge bets over the last decade on the festival sector and it’s become a vital cog in how the macro industry conducts its business, as well as providing a festival tourism economic boost in the event’s immediate hinterland. Keeping the festival show on the road then is now vital for so many vested interests that any more bumps on the road may have serious repercussions for more than just those who’ll miss next year’s T In the Park fun and games.