Ten years ago I attended my first ever festival. It was, as it is for many Scottish teenagers, T in the Park. I vividly remember a mixture of excitement, nerves and borderline terror as I walked through the gates for the first time, overawed at the vast expanse of tents in the campsite. My ticket cost me £88 – that wouldn’t even get you a stepladder to jump the fence nowadays.
Everyone you could see appeared to have a tin of beer in hand. The atmosphere was palpable, the air filled with a youthful chatter mixed with the occasional shout of “T IN THE PAAAAAAARK!”. That weekend I saw PJ Harvey, Amy Winehouse, Wu-Tang Clan and Pixies. On the other end of the scale I also saw Goldie Lookin’ Chain. We all make mistakes when we are young.
In many ways it was a life changing experience – I’ve been to as many festivals as I could afford since then and it’s become the main component of my summer. I went to a few T in the Parks after that but after my fourth the strangest thing happened – I stopped going and have never been back.
By my final T in the Park I’d attended a few other festivals – Belladrum Tartan Heart, Wickerman, Rock Ness, Connect. By sampling all the different festivals the country had to offer a flame had been lit, fuelling a desire to try even more.
When I first attended Glastonbury in 2009, a sizeable penny dropped. As soon as you entered the gates, a programme, lanyard with a pouch containing all the stage times and a canvas bag were given to you for free (something you’d need to pay for at T in the Park). The information points gave out free loo roll. Rather than having to buy your own drink in a separate arena to the campsite, you could carry your own about with you. For the first time at a major festival, I didn’t feel like a source of income.
The Balado site has held a lot of history for T in the Park but as health and safety concerns dictate that they must move to their new site at Strathallan Castle, to remain relevant T in the Park must make further reaching changes than merely the scenery that surrounds it.
Truth be told, T in the Park has lost all sense of an event to remember. Try to think back to the last truly memorable headliner of the festival that will be realistically spoken about in twenty years. Tough, isn’t it?
Arguably you might look back to Blur in 2009, but that was overshadowed by the show of their lives at Glastonbury a fortnight earlier. Foo Fighters in 2011 ended with Dave ‘Dude, he was in Nirvana y’know’ Grohl stood at the front of the stage watching the fireworks overhead, only for the moment to be dampened by the organisers playing a video on the big screens advertising tickets for the following year without allowing the fans the time to let the moment sink in.
There is a lot of snobbery about T in the Park nowadays and this isn’t an article along those lines; Scotland needs a strong major festival to attract tourism but it really doesn’t have it. Somewhere along the line T in the Park has totally lost its identity, rotating the same headliners and booking cheap, tacky acts like Dappy and Rita Ora, even more of a kick in the teeth considering the removal of the fantastic Pet Sounds tent in 2009.
Look at this year’s line-up. Biffy Clyro headlining their first T in the Park should be a huge event but considering that other festivals such as Isle of Wight, Reading and Leeds have gotten in there first it’s not quite the same level of mouthwatering jeopardy to see if they’d sink or swim under the intense scrutiny that a headline slot brings. Calvin Harris has played T in the Park so many years in a row that it’s a totally pointless booking and Arctic Monkeys last headlined in 2012, to book them again two years later is borderline insulting to the loyal fans who go back year on year.
As T in the Park looks to move to its new site next year, it has a far bigger rebuilding job than simply relocating the tents and stages. This article is being written on the Thursday night; the campsite is already open and it’s still possible to buy day tickets and weekend camping tickets. To regain its popularity T in the Park must regain an identity and a sense of relevance otherwise others may well look elsewhere for a better value and more enjoyable festival experience.