After all, what is a festival or concert without its audience, but an empty field or room? The communal celebration as a gathering of people engrossed in the celebration of music has no equal. Attempts at explanation fall short, words expressing themselves as self-indulgent jibberish, yet we know that sense of connection is real. A short period when I become us. The moment of realisation that a single purchase sitting amongst a collection, the downloaded file occupying your hard-drive, or a streaming code reassembling itself on your mobile is connected to a community. It’s the discovery of a new sound, the uncertainty and doubtful expressions shared with a stranger. The connection and consciousness that we share much more in common than what divides us.
A collection of West Holts audience photographs taken during the 2017 festival.
By 1963 Duane Eddy had sold over 12 million records. One of the beauties of the West Holts Stage is our ability to celebrate a great performer whose presence may have skipped a generation and is equally as special is when a younger performer comes wants to come along and give respect to those who have given an influence to their careers. Sunday, 26th June 2011 and Richard Hawley came along and joined Duane Eddy at West Holts.
The heat of June and the crowds start to gather for the West Holts ritual of a cider, catch up with old friends and find some food. This set of photographs are from Thursday 2010. The stage is 99% ready for the opening band tomorrow and the vibe of anticipation is building, although a mellowing chill is evident as people acclimatise from their day-to-day lives. There is this magical moment, which the crew love. It is called the Sound Propagation Test, which normally takes place early evening on Thursday after the PA rig has been installed and we test the system with some recorded music for a short time. The crowd react with a cheer and to others, it acts like a medieval horn beckoning them to come and join the gathering.
The transition from Jazz World to the West Holts Stage took place in 2010. Exploring the old hard drives for this year confirms my memory that it was a hot one with a number of photographs demonstrating the many creative skills our loyal audience deployed to find or create shade. We’ll come to those shots later, but for now, why don’t we start here? A number of ‘behind the scene’ technical improvements were introduced this year to accommodate our growing audience, along with new stage dressing, but as yet no side screens had arrived.
A small ritual we do either in teams or individually. You’ve put the work in and the night before you wander on stage, take a moment, lookout, absorb the peace. The site teams are truly the unsung heroes behind the scene. Total respect.
If Wednesday is hump day, then Monday 17th February has been that midpoint when discussions and concepts start to turn into deliverables. The critical shift from having to plan something to now making it happen. A brief conversation with the team and its full-throttle. Now onto the build schedule.
There are crew members at the West Holts Stage who have crew t-shirts going back much further, but this is the earliest one I have in my collection. It’s from 1998, a bit special simply because it was the first time I had a full role at the stage. What is surprising is the lack of information about 1998 (even the official website) on the web. While having very little memory of this year myself I’ve gone through the programmes and below are the top 3 headliners for The Jazz Stage (now The West Holts Stage) over the festival. A little bit special by any measure.
Cornershop (if memory serves me right they also headlined the Other Stage on Saturday night too).
Roni Size and Reprazent
Amanpondo feat. Juno Reactor
Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters
Over the weekend Tortoise and Terry Callier also featured on the Jazz Stage line up. My two abiding memories of that year were not actually Jazz Stage related, but watching Sonic Youth rip it up on Pyramid after the Tony Bennett legend’s slot. And watching Joe Strummer perform for the last time. In fact, that is me (right) with an old friend with the Mescaleros feat. Joe Strummer in the background.
This time of the year I finally get round to cleaning up hard drives and files in preparation for the forthcoming festival. in doing so, I’ve come across a stash of old photographs. This photograph of Roots Manuva goes back 11 years. At the time, we were still in our Jazz Stage incarnation. As well as Roots that year we also had Q-Tip, Playing for Change, Lamb, The Streets, The Black Eyed Peas, Baaba Maal, Lamb, Steel Pulse, amongst others performing.
Michael Jackson passed away during the festival prompting all manner of hastily arranged set changes to allow a tribute cover, while Rolf Harris made his final appearance around Saturday lunchtime on the Jazz Stage before his infamous fall from grace.
Often in terrestrial rain, the site crew in 2019 built the stage. This was the very moment when the weather started to turn. Standing in the field, me and the site manager (Martin) were taking 5 minutes over a brew to discuss progress and looking like Vietcong extras in a Rambo film.
What I recall at that moment was the instant cheer echoing across the whole site as if the sun king had returned from a long lost vacation. The rest, as they say, is history. Within a matter of hours, the forecast had changed from Thunderstorms to full-blown heat and sun. Great news for everybody, but for the team a whole new set of challenges. They so often go unmentioned, but the site crew are the unsung heroes of the festival.
With only the sound of children echoing from the efforts of play from the ship, the site was empty today. On this overcast damp day, it’s difficult to image the heat of summer, but if you close your eyes and soak in the silence you can beckon the sounds of the festival. My first steps towards 2020 have been taken today.