T In The Park Boss On Learning From 2015’s Failures, Booking The Stone Roses, And That Guy In The Tent

T in the Park have just announced their headliners (Calvin Harris and Red Hot Chili Peppers join The Stone Roses) and a range of other acts including LCD Soundsystem, Jamie xx, Rat Boy and Catfish & The Bottlemen. Following last year’s festival, which hit the new Strathallan site with logistical issues, feared osprey disturbances and a guy who pretended he was trapped in a tent, NME spoke to festival director Geoff Ellis to talk how things are changing for 2016.

Your ticket prices have been the same for four years running – why and how have you achieved that?
“I think it’s important. Our costs go up each year as I’m sure every festival’s costs do – I don’t just mean talent, but the costs of staging the event, policing it, everything else just goes up – but the economy isn’t getting better quickly. We know that the majority of our audience don’t have lots of disposable income, we think it’s important to keep ticket prices flat.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to do it for four years, but we’ve been in such a deep recession for the last few years, it’s a gesture for our audience and we’re pleased to do it. Festivals generally are good value for money but the price of a ticket is still considerable, so we’d like people just to not have to fork out any more.”

Who are you most excited about having booked this year?
“The three main stage headliners that we’ve got are very strong and very diverse. Three huge acts, but looking outside of the obvious main stage headliners I think LCD Soundsystem is really exciting, because it’s been a few years since James effectively disbanded it. To reform for Coachella is a big statement – a lot of people look at Coachella as being a big tastemaker event nowadays and I think it’ll be a stunning show.

“They’re headlining the Radio 1 stage on Sunday and I think production-wise it’ll be awesome. We’ve got Major Lazer on prior who have a crazy live show as well so I think that’s going to be a really entertaining finish on the Sunday. Catfish & The Bottlemen just getting their BRIT last night [February 24], they’re going to be possibly the band of 2016. I think they’ll be huge by the end of the year as well.”

Have you heard from the Stone Roses how they’re prepping?
“Not directly, no, but I know that they’ve been in the studio and everything, I think they keep things quite close to their chest, but it’s all exciting.”

How did you book them?
“They’ve always been strong in Scotland, they’ve headlined here once before and we had them play Glasgow Green which sold out in 30 minutes for 50,000 tickets, so when I heard that they were gonna do a handful of dates this year, and that they were gonna do shows at Man City and they’d consider doing a Scottish show, immediately I’m like, ‘we definitely want them’. They were the first band we announced.

“It’s great to have them as the first name on the team sheet really. They were one of the first bands I booked as a concert promoter, I put them on at Middlesex Poly in London and they were fantastic at that gig, there were about 150 people there and Bob Stanley came along to review it and said, ‘This band are the future of the music industry in Britain’ – or words to that effect – and then the band exploded just after that. The rest is history. I just love them.”

This is Calvin Harris’ eighth time playing – is he very loyal to the festival?
“He’s from Scotland so he’s grown up with the festival, he’s played the King Tut’s Tent, he’s headlined the King Tut’s Tent, he’s headlined the Radio 1 stage, he played just before Lady Gaga on the Main Stage a few years back and then he headlined it, and that was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had at the main stage when Calvin played at the old site to close the event in 2014.

“The best part of 60,000 of the 85,000 there were watching Calvin, and he just delivers a great live show and gives people what they want, and he’s always said he’d do T in the Park every year if it’s practical. I think he’s grown with the festival and obviously we’re flattered that it’s got an important place in his heart.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pC55vVuRfxE

Last time Will Smith introduced him to the stage – is he planning any more special guests for this year?
“I’ve no idea, but if you’d asked me that at any point until five minutes before he went onstage last time… I knew Will Smith was on his pass list probably the day before, but we just thought he was hanging out with him, and nobody expected him to go onstage and introduce him. It was only about half an hour before someone just said, “Will needs a live mic” that we realised ‘Oh something’s happening here’. I think it’ll be hard to top that.”

Do you think the Red Hot Chili Peppers will find it a very different festival to last time they headlined in 2006?
“I don’t think so, because what makes T in the Park unique is the audience, and the audience reaction that people really feed off as artists. They’ll remember that, they’ll remember the stadium shows they’ve done in Scotland and they’ll not be disappointed because they get the same reaction. The site will be different, the layout will be different – what they’ll remember from T is not where the Main Stage was in position to the King Tut’s Tent, for example, they’ll remember the passionate audience and the experience.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpWzF8MXdRM

“It’s funny, talking to Zach from Rage Against The Machine after last time they played, he did remark how T was massively different to how it was in the first year, but that first year was tiny in comparison – 17,000 people – and the Main Stage was much smaller than it was. But last time the Chilis played we were a big, major festival, so they’ll not notice a difference in scale and the minute they go on that stage, they’ll see the same kind of buzz, that welcoming audience and that energy that artists love to feed off.”

Why do you think there aren’t more female headliners at UK festivals?
“How many potential headliners are there? Florence + The Machine for sure, but she’s only doing London, from what I gather, in the UK. We’ve got Jess Glynne high up on the Main Stage but she’s not as big as Calvin Harris, Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Stone Roses. For us, I’m not saying she couldn’t headline festivals but she’s a new artist, and there’s probably something in the future she’s going to headline. We’d all like to see more female artists having success but I’m not sure that we’re necessarily overlooking the ones that are having success.”

You had some logistical issues last year. What are you doing to overcome them?
“We’d identified what the issues were after last year, before the council report came out, we were working on solutions. We’ve made quite a few significant changes to the event, we’ve changed some of the organisational team and the organisational structure which should bring about some benefits just by doing that, but the key significant things are increasing the size of the arena by 25%, increasing the campsite by slightly more than 25%, by taking on more land, so that will help the flow of people around the site. We’re going to move some of the stages around as well so it’ll be easier to navigate the site. It’s a very pretty site and that won’t change, but there’ll be more space, more ability to flow around the site and the campsite will feel like there’s more space in it too.

“The other key thing is on the transport side of things, we’re separating the way cars and buses enter and exit the site, giving a real priority as well to those travelling by bus, because it’s the best way to travel to the festival. It gets you as close as you can to the entrances. There’ll be a new bus station. People will see the benefit of it arriving and in particular when they’re departing – it’ll feel more organised. The routes work better by splitting them up so the whole traffic plan will be significantly enhanced from last year.

“It’s a key thing because it’s one thing booking a great lineup – what you’ve got to also do is make sure people are having a great experience and enjoying the festival as much as they can and we know we needed to improve on it last year. It was our first year on a new site with what was quite a difficult move. I think our fans acknowledge and appreciate that, but hopefully they’ll really enjoy the experience this year.”

What about the ospreys? Are they still a problem?
“We weren’t a problem to them, because the ospreys raised two chicks, which doesn’t happen all the time. Quite often osprey nests fail just through natural reasons, not because of music festivals or anything and the ospreys thrived. We expect them to return back in the springtime as normal, so no issues there. They’ll continue to coexist with the festival as they did last year. I dare say they won’t get as much media attention as last year. The good thing that’s come out of it is that everybody knows ospreys are a protected species now.”

Finally – how much trouble did that guy actually cause you last year when he pretended he was trapped in a tent?
“It trended, it got a lot of attention. Things like that are always going to be a concern to police and stewards because even if people think ‘maybe that’s not serious’, you’ve got to take things seriously. I think people were able to ascertain quite early on whether it was serious or not. But people have a bit of mischief, I’m sure the guy meant no harm when he did it. Obviously people were taking it seriously and making sure somebody wasn’t in danger.”