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the eFestivals blog

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Neil

I'm not one to get all mawkish about the death of someone I don't know. And if you try juggling knives then why be surprised if they cut you? She did what she did and the consequences are hers.

All the same - and I don't say this lightly - the world of music has lost a huge talent. In the 13 years I've been writing about festivals and the acts I've seen there, I can't think of any act who's talent has jumped out and grabbed me in such a strong way as Amy Winehouse.

I first saw Amy and heard her music when she was on the Jonathan Ross Show in 2003 or 2004. While what she played wasn't my thing it was impossible to not be struck by her authenticity and talent. On the basis of that I first saw Amy perform live on the Jazzworld Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2004 (when she was promoting her debut album 'Frank'), and was hugely impressed. I saw her again a few weeks later at T in the Park and that was re-enforced. And then at Summer Sundae that same year, as a sub-headlining and not-cut-down set I saw her at what for me was her best - a charisma and talent that told me she'd be a huge star.

AmyWinehouse-NRG125.jpg

Summer Sundae 2004

In 2005 at Cornbury Festival I forced some friends to see her. They knew her only from snippets on TV and hadn't liked what they'd seen, but couldn't help but agree with me after having the full experience. The words they used were "jaw droppingly amazing".

The next summer (2006) saw her at Bestival, doing 'Valerie' with Mark Ronson as a cameo. The words from my review of that festival say "a guest appearance from a stick-thin Amy Winehouse – pure class!". Yet while I said 'stick-thin' - something which to me was very noticable - that was her fat compared to what she was to become. But her slide had clearly begun.

Fast forward to the summer of 2007. 'Back in Black' had been released in October 2006 and deservedly went massive, and she was now a huge star and a tabloid fascination - with her publicly displayed problems detailed almost daily. While I was grabbing a beer backstage at Glastonbury's Jazzworld she wandered in with friends who looked like they had similar 'issues', and pushed past me to get to the bar - not that she needed more intoxicants by the look of her. Later that day she was a disappointment with her Jazzworld set, while her Pyramid Stage performance the next day was even more shambolic. It didn't take a genius to guess where it might end.

Today she's being put in the '27 club' of talented musicians who died at that young age. To my mind she's deserving of the comparison by her talent, but sadly not with her output - just two albums (and one of those passed most people by) is a poor amount in comparison to those others.

Musicians come and go, and some leave something lasting behind. She's left us her music, but with her death it's music that's the loser. There's so much more she could have been, there's so much more she could have left us. What a waste!

Neil

eFestivals was approached by a newspaper journo - a freelancer, working for one of the nationals - the other day, after some festival information. There's nowt special about that as it often happens, however...

What was rather 'special' was this journo's approach. The normal deal - a deal that is requested explicitly from them, but which is also what they know is the case for this sort of thing - is that eFestivals helps them with their research, and eFestivals gets a mention in the article for that help.

This journo was different; she got her help, then said "and as I'll be mentioning eFestivals, can you send me some festival tickets?" I explained that we don't run festivals and don't sell tickets ourselves, so we don't have any tickets. She then replied "well then, I often have to cut an article down to fit the required word count, and as you won't give me any tickets it'll be the mention of eFestivals that gets cut".

Some journos really are dishonest scumbags. :(

Neil

As some of you might be aware, eFestivals is committed to giving 1% of turnover (turnover, not profit) to charity, and our chosen charity is WaterAid. I've just given them another sizable donation (the second this year) as a result.

Thanks goes to every user of eFestivals - without your support of eFestivals, this just wouldn't be possible.

WaterAid is an international charity dedicated to helping people escape the stranglehold of poverty and disease caused by living without safe water and sanitation. http://www.wateraid.org.uk

Neil

Wanted not wanted?

I'd say not, but as I've only viewed it from the M1 what do I know? Is there much to love about Luton?

Anyway, the 'Love Luton' event - I hesitate to use the word 'festival' - offers a line-up including The Wanted. And Olly Murs. I can't say it's top of my own list of where to go this summer.

Tickets are now £15, and anyone who bought at ticket at the previous higher price will be sent a free extra ticket.

Neil

very Beautiful Days

god, I needed that sleep. :)

What can I say? I don't think I've enjoyed a festival that much in ages. :D

But next time, they need to book Steel Pulse for a 3 hour set. :P

Neil

upgrades

eFestivals has been moved to a new server, to help ensure that on the busiest days everything will still cope. Fingers crossed that the new configurations works as well as hoped for.

Neil

The cancellation of some of the more major festivals this year have brought a lot of easy headlines for newspapers and the music press, with a raft of reasons suggested as the cause - the olympics, the recession, poor bookings, expensive tickets, and the like.

Those things are of course in the mix and it would be foolish to dismiss the effect they have, but there's much more going on to effect the festivals scene than just those.

Back in 2006 I wrote this article titled "Regulation, Retro and Rubbish", and having just revisited it I can see I called much of it right.

Regulation has tended to tighten again, the change of licencing laws being just a false dawn. Spontinatity is now only permitted if it's been included in the programme and a full risk assessment is carried out. The freedom that festivals once represented and gave the central appeal to the whole idea is long dead and buried.

Retro came and stole the show, and with the dominance of so much dreadful indie landfill it deserved to. But when it goes huge for pop acts like Take That and even Steps can get in on the act then it's time recognise that retro is hitting the bottom of the barrel marked sub-standard, and it's time to move on.

And the rubbish - both kinds - have got more rubbish. When The Hop Farm's booking of Bruce Forsyth is the freshest thing to happen in festival bookings for years then it's time for a re-think.

I said back then "with festivals now so firmly mainstream that they’re something even your grannie might do, are the fashionable days of festivals numbered?."

The grannies have eaten the festivals.

Neil

... when everyone should be watching the footie, and defo not tuning into Radio 1 at 9pm for their show "In music we trust...", which tonight is titled "Radio 1's Ultimate Festival Guide" and will probably include yours truly blabbering on about festies.

Neil

ticks on the list

I've been working thru a list of to-do's since the end of the summer, putting in place certain things for the new year for eFestivals. As ever with these sorts of things getting thru the list never quite goes as fast as hoped for, but even so much of the stuff is now sorted.

One of the more important things is sorted, and that's new staff for certain tasks. There's a new full-timer who's going to be having a big role, plus another part-timer who I've been bugging for a while and who is now in place for another important task.

Now, where are those holiday brouchers...? :D

Neil

eFestivals has had a problem for a while with a certain music-based publicity company having their staff making publicity posts here.

The terms & conditions of the use of these forums is that they're not to be used for commercial purposes. To try to get around that, these staff have made numerous registrations in the normal sorts of usernames that genuine users use, and then made their posts in a deceptive manner, in a "have you heard the latest album by XXXXX? It's superb, check it out" way.

We first picked up on this particular company doing this early in the year and had a word with them, asking that they stop, and they said something like "it's our interns doing this, but we'll make sure they stop". A week or two later and there's been a load more, so this time we make sure they know how seriously pissed off we are about this; again, they said they'd stop.

And now today, we've discovered a whole lot more. Aside from the amusing thing of these threads often having various of these interns 'promoting' the same thing at each other (with each obviously thinking that the other has a genuine interest in the product/band they're promoting), we've again had wortds with this company and again they've given us the same old "it's our interns, it's not our fault" guff.

This company has today told us that "every PR firm does this" (not true, at least not on eFestivals), that "it's the fault of the interns" (as though the company doesn't instruct those interns in what to do :(), and that the record companies they're promoting for don't have the budgets to pay for proper advertising ... which all comes down to this company operating off the back of any resource that they can take advantage of, for their own commercial benefit and at the expense of their PR competitors and companies such as eFestivals.

It all just goes to show how full of bullshit the music industry is, how marketing driven it is (and marketing means, ultimately, that products are being sold on a false basis to suckers: let's keep it simple and say "sold on lies"), and that the whole of the mainstream music business is operating an unsustainable business model.

eFestivals has always tried very hard to be free of this sort of bullshit, and we're extremely pissed off with this publicity company. We'll keep doing our best to ensure that eFestivals remains an honest resource for the benefit of our users.

Neil

the scores on the doors

I've just received a Comscore report for hit stats for websites that fall into the "Entertainment - music" category. I knew that eFestivals had a significantly greater amount of traffic than many other better known general music websites, but up until this point I hadn't realised by quite how much!!!!

eFestivals comes in at number 35 in the list, but many of the sites listed above it aren't really in the same market - things like yahoo music, myspace, seeklyrics.com, last.fm, napster, etc. In fact, the only site above eFestivals that is realistically a competitor is nme.com at number 26 (which I knew obviously had much more traffic than efests - but they're actually far far closer than I'd assumed, with nme getting 60% more unique users when I'd previously thought it was around 3 times as many). And in the specific festivals marketplace, eFestivals is so far above any other sites, those other sites must almost be embarrassed by their low traffic.

2008 is going to be bringing some big changes to eFestivals - all for the better of course. Watch this space.... :(

Neil

eFestivals moved premises in mid-January. A move of phone services from one premises to another should be an easy task for any competent business to manage.

And yet...

- BT took the order wrongly.

- BT failed to fulfil the order properly.

- BT did the bits they did several days later than they should have.

- The engineer did a dreadful job, requiring the wiring in both my house and the exchange to need to be re-done.

- it was near-impossible to get them to send that diferent engineer, instead I was told I had to take my office offline for several days while they did more pointless tests.

- the tests they do are very pointless; they said my broadband was down when I was speaking to them on ta voice over IP line that uses broadband.

- The billing of all this was a dreadful cock-up.

The above are the extremely brief version of events. Trying to deal with all of the above took 25+ hours of my time.

After being given the run around by the normal numpties on the phones who told me there was no complaints dept, and nowhwere within BT that I could take these issues to, I finally managed to find the following...

0207 356 6243. This is the number for Barbara Malone, who is the secretary to the MD, or Chairman, or someone (I forget).

She directed me to "the chairman's office", which is a higher level complaints team to the normal complaints team (if you can reach even them). The number for "the chairman's office" is 0800 169 6126. The person who (in my experience) normally answers that phone is Jackie Craig.

Jackie palms you off to one of her team. I firstly spoke to someone called Bill (I forget the surname) who was so incompetent that he ended up offering me much more compensation than he should have.

Moving on from that, the compensation issue was handled incompetently too, so that I got paid double the compensation that Bill offered. That might sound like a good result - and it was better than nothing - but I'd rather not have had weeks of my time wasted getting to that point. That double compensation doesn't compensate me for the issues to that point.

Following on from Bill, I ended up having the issues with the billing dealt with by Rona from the "HLE Business Complaints" team. After some to-ing and fro-ing I thought she'd got things sorted at the beginning of March.

Forward to the end of April, and i get my first bill at my new premises, only to find that I've been charged about £200 more than I should have been, because they're still billing me for broadband at my old premises on my old number (despite that number having been diverted to a voice over IP line when I moved), for a phone they sent me which i never ordered, and for a voice over IP line and number that I never ordered.

So i'm back on the phone to them, to get the bills amended. I make it absolutely clear again and again that it's only the billing that is wrong. I get told only the billing will be altered.

And then I get an email to tell me that my broadband is to cease next week, as ordered. I phone up, to be told there's nowhere I can take my complaint about this, because there's no complaints dept.

Even BT's head office switchboard tell me there's no complaints dept that can be dialed directly.

So feel free to use the number above. Bug the hell out of these useless people. I'm surprised they manage to arrive at work each day ... given the constant incompetence they show I'd expect them to go to the wrong offices.

I'm still trying to get things sorted. I could be here for some time.

PS: I've always been a fan of BT, encouraging others to use them instead of alternatives. I've no experience of the alternatives but I can't believe they can manage incompetence in every single part of the process, even within the parts that are meant to sort out the incompetence of others.

Neil

There's been a big fuss about flags this summer, with many people complaining that their enjoyment of acts at festivals have been spoilt by the huge number of people in front of them in the crowd with flags, blocking their view of the stage. They have a point - at times, particularly at Glastonbury's main stage, this long-running problem stepped very firmly into the realms of huge excess.

Why do some people have these flags?

At the most simple level, they have them because they think it's a fun thing to do, that it makes them different and special in some way. Except of course that with so many having flags, it doesn't make them different or special in any way.

With a more purposeful reason, they have a flag so that their mates can find them within a crowd, and I can see that this would work. Yet in my 28 years of attending festivals I've always managed to locate my friends in a crowd without the need of flags - but then again, I am taller than most, so I guess that does make a difference. But even so, it's still not a difficult thing to do even in the biggest crowds if you've told each other where you'll be.

And with little purpose? The modern disease as demonstrated by the likes of Facebook - "look at me, look at me". One day they'll realise that no one is looking, or that if they are they don't care.

Why the fuss right now?

It's the Reading and Leeds festivals this weekend, and they've taken the decision to ban flags.

Melvin Benn, the man behind these festivals, recently talked about that decision (reported here), saying that "I'm doing everything I can to ban flags this year. For some reason those that buy a flag want to be closest to the stage." and that at Glastonbury (which Melvin also has involvement in running) fans complained about the view during Bruce Springsteen's headline set in particular. "You couldn't see the acts. The flags were everywhere. There have always been flags but not to the level that there has been. And the flags have become very long and tall.".

So Melvin has reacted at Reading and Leeds with a ban, and says that he is also talking to Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis about introducing a ban there. All very worthy in the name of the paying customer. But....

When is a flag not a flag?

Melvin also said that some people were using flags to advertise goods.

That's more than a little over-stating things I feel, as although there are indeed company or product branded flags to be seen amongst the other flags, they're there I feel not directly in the hands of the company involved, but simply because that flag is the one that a particular festival goer has because it's come into their hands somehow, quite possibly because the company involved was giving them away as a promotional item at some point - in fact, much like the promotional things done with Melvin's backing and for his company's financial benefit at some of the festivals he's involved with.

For example, a certain drinks company gave away many hundreds of flags to festival goers earlier this summer, and they're bound to start being seen on poles in festival crowds sooner or later.

Melvin said that some people were using flags to advertise goods - and it seems a rather strange thing to include when it's of no relevance to anyone's blocked view. And I wonder if this is the heart of the matter. :angry:

When a festival organiser has taken a fat pocket of fifties from a drinks company for that drinks company to have the exclusive rights to sell their drinks to the festival attendees, and with the festival being broadcast all around the world, then that drinks company isn't going to be hugely pleased to see other drinks companies get better promotion - and for free rather than at huge expense - via their flags being seen on TV than that drinks sponsor is getting.

Is this flag ban, at least in part, a ban on festival-goers' fun for the commercial benefit of the festival organiser and the festival's sponsors? Or is it only because people's views are getting spoilt?

Neil

the cult of celebrity

The last few weeks have shown that we as a society have sunk incrediably low into the cult of celebrity. People are trying to censor others reasonable opinions on the actions of these celebrities, as tho the only thing allowed is star worship.

And thinking back 50 years, we used to take the piss out of the cult of leadership in dictatorships: at least those leaders had a real effect on people's lives of more than fluff. :D

Neil

"Boutique" is being applied to festivals attended by numbers from 500 to 50,000. So what does it mean?

From Dictionary.com:-

bou·tique [boo-teek]

–noun

1. a small shop or a small specialty department within a larger store, esp. one that sells fashionable clothes and accessories or a special selection of other merchandise.

2. any small, exclusive business offering customized service: Our advertising is handled by a new Madison Avenue boutique.

3. Informal. a small business, department, etc., specializing in one aspect of a larger industry: one of Wall Street's leading research boutiques.

–adjective

4. of, designating, or characteristic of a small, exclusive producer or business: one of California's best boutique wineries.

As you can see, it means either "small" or "exclusive" or "customised". But "exclusive" or "customised" cannot be applied to any festival, as tickets are on sale to the general public, and attendees cannot customise the festival. So it means "small". Yet when "boutique is applied to festival of all size, it ceases to have any meaning, and just becomes marketing blurb - meaningless marketing blurb.

If a festival is having to rely on mis-using a word to try and get the punters in, what does that say about that festival? At best it says nothing at all - after all, thru mis-use of the word its meaningless in the festivals marketplace - but at worst it says far more and nothing good.

It says that a festival rates meaningless words above substance; it means that that festival will say anything to try and get the punters in, when their efforts would be better spent putting on something to get the punters in; it says that it's very likely that the festival is going to deliver something short of what you might hope.

In a world full of shit and a music world full of hype it's always best to keep it real.

Neil

Well, that's another summer that's been and gone, with just a few more outdoor fests left before the weather gets bad. Except the weather is bad already - in fact did it ever get good? That's two summers on the trot where it's been generally awful.

Hopefully it's all been due to La Niña, which is normally a two-year weather event and started in early 2007, which means that it's likely that next year will be back to a normal British summer (Yes, that means it rains, but also means it doesn't rain like it has been doing this summer and last summer). I was aware of La Niña early last summer, and in May 2007 was saying to friends that summer 2008 wouldn't be good either; sadly it proved to be true.

Despite the generally awful weather, my own festival going this summer hasn't suffered too badly from it. With more resources for eFestivals now, I've personally attended fewer festivals this summer than I have done for a very long time - just seven, and considering how the weather has been in general I did pretty good, without needing to get my wellies out once (tho waterproof walking shoes [not boots] were needed).

I had wanted to go to Bestival, but a family commitment meant that I had to skip it again (a friend got married on Bestival weekend last summer, so I'd missed last year's too). But having heard reports of just how badly it suffered from the weather this year maybe that wasn't such a bad thing after all - while I can cope with a horribly muddy festival I'd rather not have to.

Roll on next summer: things can only get better, and next summer they will be. :(

Neil

I've spent most of today updating the system software on the eFestivals servers (which explains why they've gone off-line occasionally today, if you were wondering), and despite my novice knowledge of linux they've all gone exceedingly well. :(

The newer server is all completed, but there's still some stuff to do for the older one. Because its an older installation and hadn't been updated before (whoops :() there's still a little more to do... Back to it.

Neil

:) :) :):D

There's a small handful of people without whom eFestivals wouldn't exist.

Very sadly one of these passed away at the weekend, and she'll be sorely missed by me and her many friends but more importantly by her children and husband.

Neil

well, things are starting to slow down at eFestivals now - there's finally time to breathe - as most of the announcements about festivals for this year have been made, so there's not so much in the way of news and updates each day.

But even with the extra resources that eFestivals now has there's still lots and lots to do, with the chance (finally!) to catch up on some of the things that have been put to the side - sometimes for several years - because there's just not been enough hours in the day/week/year.

In a month I'll lose my current temporary assistant, and I guess I need to start to think about finding a replacement, and what sort of replacement - with what skills - is going to best suit eFestivals & eGigs future needs. I'm starting to think that alongside writing and organisational skills, an assistant would be most use if they were also able to program in PHP and had an understanding of databases, so that some of this can be taken off my plate (as I still don't have time to get it all done). If you happen to know someone who might suit and be interested, and they can work in Bristol, get them to get in touch!

Neil

signs of the summer

So this year the bubble has well and truly burst. Alongside the new festivals that failed to get off the ground there were also some established names that failed completely or suffered from lower sales. Meanwhile, the better festivals held their own or grew as they were hoping to do.

So what happens when Mean Fiddler's Festival Republic's Melvin Benn gets asked about the trends this summer? He doesn't pick on the festivals that suffered, but instead comments that he's heard that sales were down for two festivals whose sales were better or as good as last year.

What do these two festivals have in common, aside from having been lucky enough to have had good weather in an awful summer? It just so happens that they're the two biggest camping festivals that are outside the Festival Republic / Live Nation / MCD cosy little family group, and one of them is directly up against Melvin's latest project Latitude. Strange that, eh? :(

Neil

server tuning part 4

The new server is now in place, which adds around 80% to the load capacity that was available last Monday when the Reading/Leeds tickets went on sale.

Had this new server been in place on Monday, then I believe that no issues would have been experienced by people using the site at that time. And as there were around 50% more users online simultaneously on Monday across the whole website than this website has experienced previously and things mostly ran OK, I think that's a pretty good indication that website capacity is now (with this new server in place) well over twice what it was last year on Glastonbury T-day.

And realistically, I'm expecting website traffic for this T-Day to be lower than the traffic was on Monday for the Reading/Leeds announcement & ticket sales - there's fewer people buy tickets for Glastonbury than do for (jointly) Reading & Leeds, plus there'll be less people around in general at 9am on a Sunday morning.

I'm very hopeful that the whole website including the forums will stay usable on Sunday, with the worst scenario hopefully being that the forums will be a little slower than normal. But of course all this is dependent on the numbers which hit this website, which can't be known until it happens.

To help keep the load down further a few temporary tweaks will also be made - mostly to do with the website chatrooms, because chatrooms can put a heavy load on servers; a number of chatrooms will be available hosted on a number of different servers, but they won't be fully integrated into the forums as they normally are.

Neil

server tuning part 3

Yesterday was announcement & ticket day for Reading & Leeds festivals, and eFestivals had a new record for the number of users. There were around 40% more users than there were for the previous record, and (mostly) the servers coped better than they did for the previous record.

There were still some issues tho. One of the servers that has been problematic over the last month didn't operate as it should, and led to things slowing down when it shouldn't have - the servers could and should have coped well and at a near-normal speed with the traffic that there was. That problematic server will be replaced in the next few days, and with some other temporary tweaks performance can be improved some more.

I'm very confident that for Glastonbury tickets on Sunday things will cope much better than they did last night, particularly as I don't really see there being any more traffic for that than there was last night.



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