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  • As an independent festival it's a risky, risky game.

  • It's not for the faint-hearted.

  • This is the first year we've properly sold out

  • because there was such a demand for being in a field

  • and people coming together.

  • People have missed that.

  • You can share a real connection with an audience

  • when there's someone live.

  • There's nothing really like that.

  • This film is about the risky business of music festivals,

  • about the people who run them and the people who

  • rely on them, about how they survive in normal times

  • and how they can survive the pandemic.

  • Festivals are a multi-million pound global industry.

  • And 2019 was a record year.

  • In the UK, nearly 1,000 festivals contributed £1.76bn

  • to the economy, supporting around 85,000 jobs.

  • But in 2020, Covid brought it all to a halt. Glastonbury

  • was one of the first to cancel.

  • And it had a cascading effect.

  • In 2021 organisers started out more hopeful.

  • Alex Trenchard is the founder of Standon Calling,

  • an independent festival north of London.

  • It's one of the first to attempt going ahead since the pandemic.

  • But with hours to go will he make it?

  • Even now he's making calls to suppliers.

  • Because of Covid our suppliers are wanting more payment

  • up front.

  • But obviously, because of Covid and uncertainty our ticket

  • agents are more nervous about extending funds.

  • And so I've be making a lot of calls to suppliers.

  • Everyone's kind of having to take each other a bit on trust.

  • Even without a pandemic to contend with festivals

  • are a high-risk business.

  • Alex, the son of Viscount Trenchard, was lucky.

  • He was able to start up on land part owned by his family.

  • The first time we put the festival on it

  • wasn't even a festival.

  • It was a party for 500 people.

  • And at about 10pm the headliner was on,

  • on the lawn of the house here.

  • And a gust of wind came and just blew the stage over

  • into the fields with the headline act on it.

  • That was the first time we tried to do live music.

  • We didn't really know what we were doing.

  • Some of the major events, like Latitude and British Summer

  • Time, are owned by global live events companies

  • like Live Nation and AEG.

  • But other festivals, like Standon Calling,

  • remain fairly independent.

  • No other company has a controlling stake in them.

  • WOMAD was one of the pioneers.

  • It started in the early '80s and aimed

  • to bring world music to a western audience.

  • Someone had the mad idea, well let's create a festival.

  • And let's bring all those artists here.

  • Let's bring an audience here.

  • And we will all be rich.

  • That's not how the story ended.

  • It was a financial disaster.

  • I think WOMAD's gone bankrupt three times in its history...

  • not for a very long time.

  • But the risks are huge.

  • Everybody was making it up as they went along.

  • And mistakes were made.

  • But lessons were learned, and triumphs were had.

  • There are many newer entrants to the market,

  • like Strawberries and Cream, which started out

  • as an independent festival too.

  • We were 21, 22.

  • Didn't know anything from the insurance side

  • to the toilets to what it takes to build a festival site.

  • We just saw the tickets.

  • And with that ticket money, we kind of guessed at how much we

  • could make on... we could spend on a line-up and spend

  • on events and that sort of thing.

  • So it was a...

  • yeah, that first jump was a big risk.

  • In the very first one, whilst the show was going on, some

  • of the contractors realised they weren't going to get paid.

  • So they started taking their stages down.

  • And some of the artists then had to perform on the ground.

  • Alex took risks in the early days.

  • And those risks led to jail in 2011.

  • He had used the company credit card from his employer Tesco

  • to pay off hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt.

  • I naively thought that the more acts

  • I'd book the more people would come.

  • Doesn't work like that.

  • We were losing a lot of money.

  • And I didn't really know what to do.

  • I started to use my company credit

  • card to pay off the debts, thinking

  • I'd pay it back one day.

  • And of course that never happened

  • because the festival lost more and more money.

  • And eventually, after a couple of years,

  • this all came to light.

  • And that was a good thing.

  • It allowed me to go to prison for 11 months

  • and think about things.

  • His festival continued with tighter financial controls.

  • The summer pandemic is the latest threat.

  • Headliner Arlo Parks has had to pull out.

  • And self-isolation has forced hundreds of ticket holders

  • to stay at home.

  • Standon Calling isn't one of the government's pandemic test

  • events.

  • So he's also had to go ahead without the usual festival

  • cancellation insurance.

  • But despite all that the festival is about to open.

  • I walked up the hill to look down on the site.

  • And I did have a moment.

  • I did choke.

  • And I couldn't quite believe it that we were about to open.

  • And some of the issues we've had today meant that we're not

  • quite there...

  • certain people not being able to make

  • it due to the pandemic, this kind of thing.

  • But the fact is we are there.

  • We're about to open.

  • I can hear sound checks on Laundry Meadows Stage.

  • And hopefully, the beer is flowing

  • and people put a smile on their face because God,

  • we've needed it after the last 16 months.

  • I can't wait to know what you think about things.

  • Believe me, I will always be there,

  • so you can tell me anything and I'll listen.

  • To go ahead is great for the 17,000 ticket holders.

  • But it's essential for Alex's survival.

  • And there are many more people that

  • depend on festivals for a living, including the acts.

  • Getting the line-up right is essential for ticket sales.

  • There's three types of artists.

  • There's your headliners.

  • Then there's the acts that you think

  • are going to break and become huge

  • but aren't when you book them in October.

  • And then there's like your heritage acts

  • that have been around for a few years.

  • And our first thing we'll try and do

  • is get a line-up out before Christmas

  • because the sooner you can get it out,

  • the sooner you're out there, the more people know

  • about you, what you're doing, and the more likely

  • you are to sell tickets.

  • Because nothing stays the same for too long anyway.

  • It's all...

  • And for the bands performing live is all important.

  • It's extremely difficult to make a living out of streaming.

  • But festivals can be more lucrative than one-off shows as

  • well as a way to attract new fans.

  • Live work is my main income.

  • So I do it all the time in various forms

  • with various groups, not always with the same group,

  • lots of different musicians, and lots of different set-ups.

  • So yeah, live work is my job.

  • Each summer we'll do different amounts of festivals.

  • It would be a sad summer without it.

  • Financially, I would say it's a sizeable chunk, at least half.

  • For artists, live music is a crucial form

  • of their revenues because of the rise of streaming and the ways

  • that digital music is now sold.

  • They make often very little money, actually,

  • out of their own music when it's sold to people.

  • So instead they've had to increasingly

  • rely upon live music and, in particular, festivals,

  • where they get the big numbers in order to make their money.

  • And they can make big sums from playing these big festivals

  • as well.

  • At Standon Calling, alongside Hot Chip and Sister Sledge,

  • are Bristol-based group Elder Island.

  • Their talent manager is Ross Patel.

  • Because of the way that festivals are structured often

  • the fees are better from a festival

  • than you would get from the headline show.

  • So sometimes they can be two or three times the amount of money

  • that you could make from a headline show.

  • You're in amongst a lot of other artists, often

  • associated with them.

  • So there's an opportunity to discover new talent

  • and to be discovered by the audiences that are there

  • to see other artists perform.

  • Learn to make it till morning.

  • I think that's the nice thing about festivals.

  • You make new fans.

  • People come to discover new things.

  • And they will just stumble past you playing

  • and be like, wow, what's this, check it out,

  • and then follow you.

  • And then you've made a new fan, which is brilliant.

  • Like two years ago I made basically all of my money

  • from live events in Iceland.

  • And since Covid I made basically all of my money

  • from non-live events.

  • So I don't really know how touring and festivals and stuff

  • like that is going to play into my financials yet.

  • Also at risk when festivals suffer

  • is the network of people working behind the scenes.

  • Festivals are a huge employer in the UK and around Europe.

  • They employ all sorts of different people

  • from the creative industries, people

  • who would often be working on, say, film sets and TV studio

  • sets.

  • It takes all sorts of skill-sets to make these things happen,

  • whether that's trained medical staff or trained security staff

  • through to the creative teams who make things look incredible

  • and do the big decor pieces and the big set builds.

  • But also you have all the people selling

  • the hot dogs, the burgers, the beers, the T-shirts.

  • These are all important parts of local economies.

  • On a festival about the size of Standon Calling, which

  • is 17,000 capacity, we have up to about 1,500

  • staff, guests, and performers.

  • Building the show currently we are

  • at about 220 people on site.

  • And as you can imagine, the larger the shows

  • the bigger the teams become to build them.

  • They employ tens of thousands of people every year,

  • particularly those in part-time work.

  • For them, they depend on their livelihood

  • and generate a lot of money.

  • In fact, it's estimated that a 5,000 capacity festival is

  • worth around £1.1m to the local area.

  • A 110,000 capacity festival can be worth over £27m.

  • Production manager Iain Mackie says

  • in the summertime he works full time on festivals.

  • And he surrounds himself with people he can count on.

  • Covid hit hard.

  • It's not like a normal job.

  • They're your friends.

  • You look after each other.

  • It's different.

  • It's a family.

  • It was really tough.

  • I had to let staff go.

  • I had to sack people.

  • And that was horrific.

  • I hated doing it.

  • It was tough.

  • I kept paying them for a short time from 2020.

  • For about six months I managed to keep paying them.

  • But eventually, I just had to stop.

  • And they had to go and find other work.

  • They went driving trucks, driving Amazon,

  • finding something else to do.

  • But we're still here, just.

  • If we hadn't received any grants, which

  • we got one fairly modest grant, I

  • wouldn't still be in business.

  • To break into profit festivals are also dependent on their cut

  • from on-site vendors, including food and drink.

  • Will Davis says organisers take a 30 per cent

  • to 35 per cent cut, so margins are tight.

  • In the festival season we make our money for the