British festivals once comprised of a select staple. V, Reading, Glastonbury, T in the Park. You know where you stood. But as time progressed, these festivals gained commerciality and lost credibility – Reading’s erstwhile stance as the heavier of the festivals has been severely softened, T in the Park was thrown in the bin alongside Calvin Harris’ excess skin and V has become a festival for people who don’t like festivals, the kind of shindig where attendees announce they love ‘indie’ music and then precede to rattle off the chorus to ‘Sex on Fire’.
In response to the rise of prices, pop purveyors and putrid profiteering, a slew of smaller festivals have spawned. Over the last twenty years, the likes of Truck, Y Not, Field Day, Latitude and LeeFest have all taken the mantle of remaining true to the core aesthetics of the British festival, namely offering a (bigger) stage to grassroots talent and rock bands that are usually wedged between Glasto’s gumbo shack.
Whether spending five days in Somerset or an afternoon in Southport, the one crushing constant when it comes to British festivals is the weather. Mud baths at Glasto are an image as potent and memorable as the tearing down of the Berlin wall – shots of caked and baked youths diving into brown bogs aired across the globe. This year has been no exception, but while the bigger festivals have the tools to deal with such wet weather, the plucky underdogs are facing the strain.
While the bigger festivals have the tools to deal with such wet weather, the plucky underdogs are facing the strain.
Truck became so engorged even a sturdy Hilux would spin its wheels, but crucially it survived the weather. Its not-so-identical twin, Y Not, however, baulked under the barrage. While Truck’s flat settings resulted in a consistent current of swampland, Y Not’s valleys became a deep dirge of unforgiving terrain. The weather was more or less miserable for both, but Sunday’s bill for Y Not was sadly cancelled due to safety precautions.
Vitriol was naturally forthcoming, despite the organisers pleading that those affected would be refunded. Bands were disappointed but respectful. It was a disappointing move, one that smacked of desperation and poor preparation, but if someone had died – or, less startlingly, succumbed to trenchfoot – the social media screeching would be so deafening the likes of The Vaccines and Jake Bugg would have to spend the rest of their festival careers flaunting their wares in the mid-afternoon mundanity of Tent Stage #8.
However, worse was to come as the horrifically titled Hope and Glory Festival proved to be a mighty misnomer. The bill was replete with bygone favourites, plucked plentifully from the rump-end of Britpop and noughties indie – Ocean Colour Scene, Razorlight, The View and The Lightning Seeds were all scheduled to appear. However, those ready to attend were greeted to a caveat usually reserved for when a fuckboy reneges on his Tinder tryst.
‘No festival today’ came the sharp statement, a prickly proclamation from a Twitter page that had spent most of the previous day in contemptuous keyboard wars over poor planning, awful security and two-hour queues for beer. This angry bashing was the result of a festival filled with police stewards trying to ease chaotic congestion, poor access and a public pillory for the festival’s production manager, who was outed as being the main source of blame for the festival’s shortcomings (whether or not he has since been stoned remains to be seen).
If cancelling the festival due to ‘vitriolic comments’ felt like the sulky kid at football taking home his Mitre, the festival’s Twitter page responded brutally, issuing a torrent of pouty ripostes at anyone who dared criticise the cancellation, even firing off a bizarre barb at James frontman Tim Booth, where they instructed the shamanic, shiny-headed frontman to “go back to (your) yoga.”
While weather may only have been a mitigating factor in Hope and Glory’s descent, it still raises questions over the durability of the small festival. In 2017, the range of festivals taking place has increased tenfold – it seems the likes of Cast, Maximo Park and The Twang are never short of slots, with the festivals including Beyond the Tracks in Birmingham just another addition to an already bloated festhole. If others buckle under the strains of blustery conditions or hurtful comments, how many punters will recoil in fear and run back into the warm, dependable bosom of Reading & Leeds? Those that see the small festival as an admirable antidote to the more commercialised endeavours of the big hitters may find their devotion severely tested.
Those that see the small festival as an admirable antidote to the more commercialised endeavours of the big hitters may find their devotion severely tested.
In the meantime, while Y Not’s reputation will surely be uncovered from its mud-drenched despair, Hope and Glory has surely crashed in flames. Where will Johnny Borrell get his annual pay cheque now?
Words by Sam Lambeth