Monday 23 May 2011, 12:06
I career into a 'significant' birthday next week like a bad ice skater trying to avoid the combine harvester blades that have just materialised, Final Destination XXVII-like, on the ice. If age has given me anything, it's given me more perspective than I had, and hair the colour of greying wheat. Mmmm! Greying wheat!
See, you young folk won't remember that it used to be all fields round here. Admittedly it is - still - all fields round here. But you can't recognise them in 2011 because each of them is filled with a festival. Whereas young, slim and un-worry-worn me had a choice of Glastonbury or Reading* (and Reading was just in, you know, Reading), these days young folk can coax the VW camper van to a rut that'll break its sump any weekend from May to September.
And it's not just young folk. It's not just longhairs who want to channel the spirit of Gaia through an interminable guitar solo that'll last the whole summer. It's not just space-eyed druggies who want to bongo you to death for three entire days and nights. Normal people go. Some of them take picnic tables. Some of them only drink warm beer.
But this massive proliferation of festivals, as if Glastonbury and Reading had eaten an apple laced with viagra, got thrown out of festival Eden, and then watched their rabbit-like progeny infest the whole land, isn't necessarily a great thing.
"How can it not be a 'great thing', oh master of the unwieldy simile?"
Well, like giving out free guitars and Big Black albums to school children would appear to be a 'great thing' on paper - until some kid comes to the inevitable conclusion that it'd be awesome to cover Lady Gaga in a Big Black-stylee - the things that oftentimes sound like they'd be greatest, turn out to be nothing better than repeatedly stubbing your toe.
Four million festivals a summer may be good news for Rizla and Eurohike, but these events are in danger of diluting their own potential audience to the point that some of them could be held in one of the larger of those self-same Eurohike tents.
This rash of music fun across the land also means that we, the potential audience, have great choice and great power. Which sounds good. And it is good, unless you're trying to promote and finance a festival. In the olden days I recalled earlier, when my haircut was at the very bowlheaded cusp of fashion, you'd loyally attach yourself to a festival as if it were a football team or your favourite Kellogs cereal. These days it's more like a swingers party where your favourite variety pack portion gets thrown into a bowl in the middle of the room, and who knows what you're going to end up with when you're cajoled into making a choice at the last minute?
Pray it's not All Bran.
De-extrapolating that duodenum-like analogy reveals this point: festival-goers in 2011 are much more likely to decide which festival they want to go to at the very last minute. (Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds-excepted). I know many people whose festival going depends on the advance weather forecast. No need to unnecessarily brave a wet weekend on the Yorkshire Moors when there's a festival in Mid Wales the following weekend. Again, this is fantastic if you're a punter. But it's a nightmare if you're a festival organiser.
Unless the festival is propped up on grants and funding, the oxygen that a new festival relies on is the advance ticket. The advance ticket means that the organisers know a certain amount of the fees they have guaranteed their line-up will get paid. No one loses sleep as if they're in hock to Slicer Jerry, the local loan shark. But new festivals find it incredibly difficult to generate advance ticket sales. They have to trust that all of the promotional work they've done, and the bill they've assembled, will lure people in, in the week - heck, the day - before the festival itself. A new event needs the opportunity to bed itself into the local calendar. Especially with so much competition around.
And if you have backers, they need to recognise that fact. The backers need to back you, otherwise they're backless. And it you ever saw me in a backless dress, you'd know that this is - potentially - a horrific state of affairs.
Focus Wales was a festival due to be happening this coming weekend in Llangollen (Friday 27 - Saturday 28 May). They had Funeral For A Friend and The Blackout headlining. There was a welter of some of the finest Welsh talent lined up to play. It was a new festival with heart. It reflected the talent in Wales, it wasn't just another anodyne festival-by-numbers. But advance ticket sales were not good, the backers panicked, and the event as originally envisaged has been cancelled.
I hadn't put any money into Focus Wales... it's easy for me to moralise about support and backbone, especially in these difficult economic times we're all enduring. But it strikes me that a new festival like this was always going to struggle to generate advance ticket sales. Customers would - as they now have the luxury to do - make a decision whether to go on the day. If you're going to 'back' a festival, you need to be aware of this fact. Otherwise a lot of disappointment and bitterness will usurp the excitement and pride that had been evident before cancellation.
Fortunately the organisers of Focus Wales, Neal and Andy, are adamantine in their determination, unquenchable in their passion for new music. They've relocated Focus Wales to Central Station in Wrexham this Friday and Saturday evening / night. Inevitably the bill has changed.
There will be no Funeral For A Friend or The Blackout, but there will be a line-up of some of Wales' best, new musical talent. I'd be looking to check out the amazing Shy And the Fight early on the Friday evening; The Gentle Good (responsible for one of the albums of the year, Tethered For the Storm); Paper Aeroplanes and Bright Light Bright Light. Full details of the excellent bill, and of how to get tickets, are available on the Focus Wales website. I have to work on the Friday night, but I'll be there early doors, and I'm looking forward to what Saturday has in store for us (especially Mowbird and Mother of Six).
Don't let my presence put you off. I won't be wearing a backless dress, I promise.
* "Had a choice of Glastonbury or Reading..." - I'm exaggerating to make a point. i.e. lying.