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Interviews & articles
  Dialogue - Melody Maker - July 3, 1971


Continuing MM's occasional series wich features rock people talking among themselves. This week's participants are Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt, Mick Farren, leader of Britain's White Panthers, and promoters; Peter Bowyer and Mike Alfandary. The subject: festivals.


MM: Does anyone feel that festivals are on the way out?

Farren: Like rock and roll! (laugh). It's really a continuous movement. What a festival represents basically for me is that it's half a million people living exactly the way they want to live. It's unfortunate that both the free ones and the promoted don't basically differ very much - it's simply in the returns afterwards. When a thing is promoted it isn't done better because you're paying to go in. Generally it's quite often done worse.

Alfandary: Oh, I disagree with that!

Farren: Well, I've just been to a free one (Glastonbury) which was as good as anything I've been to

MM: From what I heard there was little food and water and hardly any warm place for people to stay.

Farren: Yeah, it was exactly like the Isle of Wight except that nobody got hit with an iron bar, you know.

Alfandary; Well, if something is free there is nobody in a way to be responsible. When it's promoted there's usually somebody there who is. Now if the person there in a responsible position does not feel conscientious then it can be worse than a free one where everyone mucks in. But a festival that is promoted has a better chance of being well-organised than a free one.

Bowyer: As the organiser of a free festival, you put down a stage and lay on power and that basically is almost the end of your responsibility if you're only putting on a one-day event, a la Hyde Park The moment you charge money then you have to start putting up fences, you have to give the public toilets, facilities for food and doctors, because they have paid money and you therefore have the responsibility to the public to give them facilities!

Farren: Well, don't you think you have a responsibility in any case? The paradox of this thing is that we have this relatively enormous number of people who first of all want to see the music but primarily feel they want to live according to their own ethic. They don't want to live in the city structure. And basically the concept of promoting the event, because the people have a real need to live according to their own cultural ideas, is a contradiction in terms. And the second most practical problem is - and I think Peter and all festival promoters are becoming aware probably - is that the kids, the quarter of a million kids, don't have the money to be able in the kind of situation we have, to make them viable. Therefore, it's coming out of the hands of the promoters and now coming down to some kind of sociology rather than business, which makes it even more difficult. But more interesting.


MM: How viable are free concerts if groups, managers, agents etc have got to make money? It's a business, a music industry.

Farren: Well, it really depends what they're in the business for. A few months ago I was talking to the Grateful Dead and they've making 90 dollars a week each. That's what they're in business for.

Wyatt: Yes, but Mick, look, the musical heroes of your lifetime are perhaps the most capitalistic, money-orientated people - the people whose every move they made was in terms of money - they were your heroes. In the rock and roll era that you're always talking about, they were getting this capitalist type which means you in England had heard of them and worshipped them. And there's all these jazz musicians and classical musicians who you don't really bother to listen to who were into all this art for art's sake and in fact have never got across to you or anyone else because they didn't have this great capitalist type behind them.

Farren:The real point is - and I'm not birching about a promoter making a living promoting rock and roll - it's the incredible situation we had at the Isle of Wight, say, where you have literally a hierarchical situation that was practically as vicious as Tsartist Russia! You had a man on the stage, say Alvin Lee, whose making something, like, I calculated, about three hundred quid a minute, and meanwhile at the other end of the field there's a kid walking into a tent and no one knows exactly what's wrong with him until they suss out that he's actually starving! I think that's just going too far. Plus the problem that at the Isle of Wight they spent, I think it was £30,000 securing Alvin Lee's £500 a minute - and still, presumably they lost money!

It's really nineteenth century capitalism. It's like, take as much as you can, and give back as little as you can. At least twentieth century capitalism realises you've got to give so much in order that the people can consume, so you can just keep turning over the whole wheels of the industry. We're just beginning to see the problem is that the music business is generally disappearing up its own arse! This is the problem with the Isle of Wight with their enormous security arrangements. The arrangements actually outpriced you know, made the festival non-viable,

MM: But who's going to say what a band is worth?

Alfandary: A band is worth what an agent can screw out of a promoter at any given time. That's exactly what it's worth! No more and no less than that. I was perfectly happy for the next Crystal Palace concert not to run If I felt that the public at the end were not gonna get a proper show out of it, and the only reason why it wouldn't have run is because the amount of money available to pay to groups would have been wiped out by one or two groups and therefore a good show couldn't have been presented. And the business knew that! But it still didn't stop certain groups from asking money that was completely impossible to be paid! I think that the point about festivals is not the free or paying side. It should be split into what they mean socially - and I think festivals are largely a social event - and concerts, which have a financial orientation. A festival is a political statement of telling the establishment where to get off, and the fantastic buzz of standing in a crowd with all the people around you - your own people - and nobody can attack you, you're safe within that crowd, and you're shouting and going mad with the group, and that's incredible.

MM: Who's spoiling it for everybody else?

Alfandary: The people who're spoiling the festivals and the whole music business - and this is my dislike of it - are the managers and agents of groups who're getting big. The moment a group gets big it loses its responsibility to other groups. It gets as much as it can, thinking, my day may not last for ever and I'm gonna get as much money as I can. With venues of 1,000 capacity or just about, you want to have a group that will draw the public in and there's always a spot on that bill for a group coming up, making it, or wants to break itself. And what you find is that the price the middle of the road group charges is such that you find you cannot afford to pay a decent wage to the group you'd like to see second on the bill! So the smaller groups miss out, and that means there's not a lot of groups given a break, which minimises the number of groups .around, which means that the public can only go and see so many groups and then they've seen the lot, which means there's not a lot of turnover. It's a vicious circle, getting broken nowadays. Festivals did break smaller groups but nowadays they've lost their aura.


MM : All right, but what about the attitude of the Isle of Wight council and, further than that, the government, which looks as if it intends to ban the Isle of festival?

Alfandary: I attended the debate at the House of Commons during the reading of the Isle Of Wight Bill and the government was embarrassed by that Bill. They really didn't want to know. I'm sure the bill will go through but the Government is embarrassed by it. It's a local bill which has been promoted by the Isle of Wight council, which has been the unfortunate victim of a terrible thing played upon it and its local community... I don't wanna go any further.

Farren: I'm afraid this is rubbish, Mike. We had exactly the same situation with the council when we ran that thing at Worthing last year (Phun City). We were totally f...d up because the council worked in such a way that right up until the last moment it was virtually impossible to stage the festival. I mean, injunctions kept flying about, there was constant trouble, plus even the health department and the police were actively obstructive to laying on the facilities. I think Harold Pendleton had exactly the same trouble at Plumpton. I don't know a festival that hasn't been totally obstructed, I mean, most festivals are staged in fairly high density rural communities within 100. 150 miles of London, and all these places are so strongly Tory that (a) I can't see this bill not going through and (b), I don't feel the Isle of Wight is the least bit isolated.

Alfandary: Look, on this point of authorities, they don't want to stop young people's events, Many of the supporters of the bill were Conservatives, who didn't like rock music, hated it, couldn't understand it, but said, if young people wanna do it, then we wanna see it happen, but we want to see it happen so they're protected. And quite frankly, any one who's been to the Isle of Wight or Bath knows how unprotected the public is in that situation!

Farren; But the way the bill is laid out the kids going to the festival can in actual fact be potentially even more unprotected. If a festival is only run for 12 hours, you run three festivals consecutively for 12 hours each, you provide no facilities, no camping areas - nothing - you are then totally cool in the terms of the bill. They're not approaching the problem, they're trying to sweep the longhairs under the carpet.

Basically. we're dealing with a bunch of kids who for the first time in a long time in this country's history are attempting to live a life which is far more organic than the linear concept of current cities. I think it's indicative of every festival that there's a pressure group. I mean, the last year or so, there's been a pressure group who wanted to stay on the site and, you know, begin to work out the way they started to live at the festival, and they've always been turned off in the end. Secondly, it's a political thing because I totally disagree with Mike. I feel the phenomenon is (a) being stamped out and (b), totally swept under the carpet, So the kids who're present there end up, if they follow the lifestyle right through, in possibly the worst ghettos we have in this country.

Alfandary: Oh God, this is ridiculous! Ridiculous!

Bowyer: Actually I wonder what would happen If the Isle of Wight was basically where everyone who lived there was young and long haired, and suddenly one week-end 50,000 old, crony people invaded it for a Mantovani concert. This is what it is; up-tight, local residents.

Alfandary: Look, it's easy... hold it a minute... it's easy for Mick to live his own life and do whatever Mick wants to do, and to shout and do things in the way that he does them, which I, by the way, support more than Mike realises.

Farren: There's no danger in these festivals. There's not even much danger to the ecology of the countryside they take place in Therefore, why do you have to go on your knees to the authority to be allowed to have one? The average football match causes 20 times as much trouble in every city every Saturday with no question about them. If you stand outside a football match On a Saturday afternoon you're quite likely to end up killed!

Alfandary: The facts that Mick has brought up I agree with, There is one hundredth of the trouble at an open air pop event than there is at a football match. But I feel you've got to go to the authorities with love in your heart. You can't go to them fighting before you start. And this is why there has been such trouble with local authorities. This is why the Foulk Brothers, I think, had the greatest contempt for the organisation and the people and the inhabitants of the area in which they were putting their festival. And why open air events are so tricky nowadays is because of the fact they've been used to attack the establishment.


Bowyer: I think it goes back to the thing that you don't fight them. Because this is terrible thing I've found about the whole youth movement - that they are inclined to be more prejudiced to some extent than the older people. I think the young and the long-haired are as prejudiced and build as many barriers as anybody else.

Farren; When we were at Sussex, all we were asking was three days in a field, and basically we kept very much to ourselves.

We met with a great many of the actual people who lived in the country in that area - the farmers, the farm workers, the woodsmen - who were very anxious, firstly, to make a buck out of the thing, and secondly, they were quite anxious to help us. They all came down and sat and looked at the full-frontal that was going about and had a great time...

MM: Look, can we come up with some basic viable concept of how a festival should be ideally run?

Farren: I feel what essentially ought to happen, rather than this ridiculous legislation that's being debated at the moment, is, there is plenty of land in this country still left and the Coal Board, for instance have large amounts of land which are virtually f...d out - are totally wasted, and there is actually a movement to get it together. Essentially, a proportion of unwanted land could be given over. firstly, to a permanent community who could service the land, and secondly, make it available for these kind of events. I feel possibly this is the first solution. And if the youth movement, or whatever, has to dovetail in with the rest of society, then okay.

MM: And some kind of governing body?

Farren: Yeah, possibly, you know.

MM: Who'd be on this?

Farren: What we need is a body who is well aware of the way the people at the festival behave, as well as what needs to be done to pay particular promoted even that deal with these people. The average roadie has a very good understanding of what the audience needs. Personally I'd rather trust some of the doctors we have in the community, than the local Medical Officers of Health as the Isle of Wight Bill proposes.

Alfandary: Look, I know that neither party really understands youth. It doesn't. A youth council, or a council that can be called upon for its expert advice on what young people are really thinking, is a great idea, but if we get it, would become too established, and anyone on that council would have the same stranglehold over festivals. Just as the people on the MU have over exchanges. There is no perfect formula. Young people must just strive really hard in their own communities, to get everybody who's in a position of power, to understand what they're really about and what they're really doing. This means inviting the local straight, heavy MP along to a rock concert: getting your councillors down to the park when your holding an open-air event, and really talking to them.

Farren; Yeah, your local heavy MP comes down, gets himself photographed then leaves again. What we need is a body that can control on the one hand, the promoter who is going to attempt to cut corners on the life-support system within the festival, and the other hand needs to advise and control the community organisation who's possibly going to be untogether and undercapitalised, in providing the same facilities. So first of all, it needs people who have experience of such events; like road managers are the obvious first in line and journalists second because of the information feeding through.


MM: Do you all agree that festivals as such, are not in a particularly healthy state at present ?

Alfandary: No, no, no. They're great.

Bowyer: They're marvellous, no.

Farren: I believe they'll disappear because the organisation becomes so difficult. I don't think the need of people to congregate in the country-side will disappear, but I feel that festivals will, simply because they're too much of a problem. I mean, they are not viable in terms of profit and they're not possible in the terms of a very skint community coming up.

Bowyer: Well, you were at the Isle of Wight last year, and you were pretty much against it. But you read the bill. You knew the artists who were appearing; you knew the admission - about twenty-five bob a day. Do you think that unfair considering the artists appearing? A promoter puts on all those incredible names, right, and he charges thirty bob a day. In my book, I'd be willing to pay thirty bob a day to see that list of names.


Farren: Well, for a start, the list of names was so vast that it was pushing for a totally bogus status situation. They could have stuck on a Doors album, had four guys standing up there, and I wouldn't have known the difference. There is a limit to how far people can sit on a stage and project themselves physically to that number of people.
Physically it was impossible.

Bowyer: But your protest was against the promoters.

Farren: And secondly. the promoters had gone into the situation with the idea that they would make the ultimate gamble and pull it off. Consequently corners were cut drastically. If it had rained at the Isle of Wight, I feel there would probably have been a major disaster.

The Isle of Wight was just the ultimate paradox. You had someone like Jim Morrison saying theoretically, not in actual words. "tear down the walls break down the capitalist barriers," and the whole thing being set up to maintain his elite position in society. It would have been possible for many of the musicians to have come to the Isle of Wight a great deal cheaper. The life-support system was so amazingly expensive that the kids who came, possibly with the bread to get in, couldn't survive.

Bowyer: Then they should have come better equipped than that. I mean. if you've got a huge festival like that and half the people come without the money to get in. then it suddenly becomes the promoters' responsibilities, and it's not his fault, right? Like. if a kid turns up and he can just afford to get in, but he can't buy himself a sandwich or a cup of tea - that suddenly becomes Ron Foulk's fault? I'd like to know why. Because he should put ten thousand quid in a kitty for the kids who've just come for a look and suddenly haven't got any bread? You know, people have got to look after themselves to a certain extent. They just can't rely on promoters, social welfare and the kindness of people to hold hem up all the time! The kid who gone to the Isle of Wight festival with 25 bobs in his pocket and gets in but can't afford anything else - that's his fault?

Farren: In simple terms - very, very simple terms - if there is a guy who is dealing in hundreds of thousands of pounds and there is a kid to whom 25 bob is a difficult deal, then it's surely the responsibility of the one to deal for the other.


Alfandary: Look, you don't go on a bus without the bread to pay for the bus fare, do you? I don't think you should go to a festival without the means to support yourself.

Farren: But if you have a rock musician saying. " Hey kids, go on the buses without money because that's...uh."

Alfandary: Then that's the irresponsibility of the rock musician for saying that!

MM: To you, Mick. a festival is a battle ground between the alternative society and the establishment?

Farren: I think a festival is a manifestation of alternative society. It's a manifestation of the very committed coming together. It's a dialogue, basically, It's a thing which I don't think any individual should make a vast profit out of. It's a situation that should continue, and I feel that's a situation that Peter as on agent, Mike as a promoter and Robert as a musician, should come out of with no more than their wages, nothing more. Everyone is together in it. Take the Hyde Park concert. The free concert in Hyde Park means that those kids go out and get rock and roll music for free. You get 100.000 kids in Hyde Park and they would have possibly have paid a quid to see the Pink Floyd if it had been a concert in the evening, and they'd have to pay to get in. That has returned £l00,000 spending power to that audience.

MM: The Hyde Park things are completely non-commercial, altruistic events?

Farren: No. they're not!

Bowyer: The Pink Floyd wanted to do the gig. They didn't stop and think: " Wow. money, money," It cost the Floyd nearly a thousand pounds to do that gig.

Farren: It put their album in the charts!

Bowyer: Come on, man, you really think that was their attitude?

Farren: No. I didn't really.

Bowyer: right!

Farren: But it did!

MM: This point about the alternative society using festivals or rock events as a means of confrontation with the establishment, this sometimes results in violence, doesn't it? Robert must know about this, because it happened at that Palais des Sports gig in France. How do the musicians feel about that situation?

Wyatt: The last time we were in Paris we didn't actually play, because there was so much tear gaz around and so many burning seats by the time we got on. We were advised not to go on for our own safety and that of the kids involved.


MM: These were the same guys that disrupted the Isle of Wight.

Wyatt: Jean-Jacques wasn't actually at our gig, but he was at another place that was involved in our gig thing, they tied together. But it's all down to pleasure. His pleasure as a non-musician. He can get a great buzz out of some event where music doesn't actually arise but some other kind of buzz does.

MM: Can you defend the actions of these people who go primarily to disrupt festivals?

Wyatt: Well, I think that festivals are a signal for large numbers of people to get together, and perhaps the most interesting thing for them is not music but establishing their life-styles, and it'd be presumptious of me just because I'm a musician to expect them to come there primarily for the music. Initially, of course, I was irritated by the story. A bunch of long-haired geezers - and they do exist - had laid into the police and the police had said "Yeah, yeah, right." In fact the background to this was a long alternate battle which takes place. Each stage of the battle is like boxing - it has rounds, and we were one round. We hadn't seen the previous round and I haven't seen any since, But we provided the stage for that week's confrontation. In fact we were outsiders, a focal point upon which to get together. I've not idea how difficult it is for a kid to leas a new style of life in Paris. If it's really impossibly difficult then I think he's right to use a Soft's concert a focal point for expression. If an audience turns a festival into a violent occasion then maybe there's a reason, a need for it. But you can't tell kids how to behave at a festival. You can't tell the kids who're being hurt how to scream.


Farren: Basically, this is the problem of the musician being out of context with the rest of the people at the gathering. The musician is in a much more difficult position because if he comes on stage with a whole environment that is totally focused on him then unfortunately he's put in an almost Messianic context. Unfortunately we have a music business which says that Mick Jagger, Robert and me, when we walk on stage and the whole thing is concentrated on us, we are the actual focal point, and our ideas are the most important thing in the whole event at that time.It's bullshit, real bullshit! But while we have a capitalist situation that turns someone like Jim Morrison, a mediocre singer, into something of a Messiah, then the musician is going to have to make up his mind. If the musician wants to cop out on being the arbiter of what is going on down at the festival then he must admit that he is merely part of the environment. And in those terms I don't really think he can expect to be paid £500 a minute because the cats operating the right shows aren't, the cats cleaning up the toilets aren't, and the lights and the facilities are part of the environment. That's the truth. Would you agree?


Wyatt: It all depends if you enjoy doing festivals or not. All I can say is, you choose the situation you get into. We don't like playing festivals so we don't unless there's a lot of money in it, because we're not really communal musicians.

Alfandary: It's always good that the artists should not be involved in all the financial and social hustles that go on around him, but he is responsible, if not more, for those hustles. It's no good enough for an artist to turn a blind eye in whatever his management is doing. Edmund Burke once said that "evil is created when enough good men stand by and do nothing" and there are signs of commission which we're gonna put on managers, agents, etc. and sins of omission which we can lay very much on the door of the artist himself who doesn't want to know what's going up, I mean, there are classic cases of talking to an artist where I say., "Well, I'd like you to play this gig, it'll be a very nice gig" and he says, "it sounds great by me, but go and talk to my agent," but don't listen to a word he says, he's a crook". So how the hell do you fight that? What on earth do you say Right?

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