T in the Park bids farewell to Balado

T in the Park 2014 review

published: Thu 17th Jul 2014

around the site / crowds - Friday

Friday 11th to Sunday 13th July 2014
Balado, Kinross, Perth & Kinross, KY13 0NJ, Scotland MAP
£205 full weekend with camping
daily capacity: 92500
last updated: Thu 22nd May 2014

T in the Park is legendary, a rite of passage for thousands of Scottish teenagers, the grandaddy of Scottish festivals, and on many bands' bucket lists.
 
You probably know the stats - Scotland's biggest festival, 85,000 revellers each day, 70,000 campers, hundreds of acts across 10 stages over three days, 7,000 staff, 30,000 metres of fencing, over 35,000 ponchos, all that jazz.
 
And you probably know that this year was the last at its home for the last 18 years, Balado near Kinross in the heart of Scotland.
 
The Scottish institution is on the move and next year TITP, as it is conveniently known, will take place across the other side of Perthshire at Strathallan Castle near Auchterarder. Big news locally - the landowner at Balado and promoter Geoff Ellis both reportedly shed some tears on Sunday night as the event drew to a close, and most people in Kinross will be sorry to see it go - but to be honest it probably won't make too much of a difference for anyone travelling to the event as it is just twenty miles down the road.
 
The reason for the move however, is much more headline-worthy, with health and safety concerns about an oil pipeline under the former airfield cited - the thinking being that if 85,000 people all jump up and down at once, the oil pipeline could explode with what has been described by the Health and Safety Executive as "catastrophic" results.
 
But the last year at Balado went off without a bang, so to speak, the only fireworks, being, well, the spectacular fireworks for the headliners and at the end of what organisers promised would be a party to remember to say thank you and goodnight to Kinross.
 
The first year at the Kinross site - 1997 - was the last time I went to T in the Park. I'll be honest, it just wasn't really my cup of, erm, tea. Scotland's biggest festival is too big for my liking - for one weekend it becomes the size of Scotland's fifth largest city - and yes there are the sensationalist stories of stabbings, stealing and sexual assaults. I like my festivals smaller, more eco-friendly, more child-friendly, just well, more friendly really.
 
But here I am again, saying "bye bye Balado" and having to re-calibrate some of my preconceptions about the event. T in the Park has definitely cleaned up its act in recent years and this year's event was certainly a sanitised version of the festival of years - and headlines - gone by. Size, it would appear, doesn't matter so much now.
 
And with organisers saying that the move to Strathallan Castle next year will give the festival more of a Glastonbury feel, a boutique atmosphere at the new site, it seems that the shift is in keeping with the new vibe at the festival.
 
Although the target audience is still 18-25 year old party-goers, there is also an apparent push towards attracting the more discerning older customers as well - the ones who have grown up with T. The line-up this year featured many favourites from the 80s and 90s - not all of whom were there just because they played the first Kinross event in 1997 (I'm looking at you Paul Weller, Embrace, and The Charlatans) - as well as new talent such as Nina Nesbitt, whose birthday it was at the weekend and who proudly proclaimed she was the same age as the festival.
 
There was a heavy police presence throughout the event and around two thousand security staff on site. And although there were still some people who got into some pretty sorry states - folk puking in the arena for example and a fair number of teenagers in tears - and although the campsite was still what one camper described as "carnage" - the general feeling was one of a more mellow event, and Police Scotland reported lower crime levels than in previous years as well.
 
Healthy T - a whole area dedicated to your more gourmet style of festival food - is a new addition to T in the Park but with the likes of Loch Fyne Oysters, Highland Hog Roasts and Mutley's Crepes to name just a few already staples of other events it is as though TITP - once the ground-breaker - is playing catch up. And although many were busy throughout the weekend the presence of the more traditional burger and pizza vans at the bottom of the hill near the campsite entrance shows that there is still very much an appetite for old-fashioned stodgy fried food from dubious sources.

In the last 18 years, T in the Park has grown significantly in size. It now takes place over four days, with entertainment from Lil Louis among others on the Thursday night. This year, people were queuing in glorious sunshine to get into the campsite from 9.30 on the Thursday morning and by 7pm there were several hundred people looking for pitches.
 
The sunshine remained glorious for fancy dress Friday, which saw performances in baking hot temperatures from Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding, Manic Street Preachers, Pixies, The Magic Numbers, Maximo Park, Chvrches - the first of three slots over the course of the weekend - and Steve Angello.

Biffy Clyro: T in the Park 2014

Although the Radio 1 stage was dominated by DJs on Friday night, main stage headliners Biffy Clyro celebrated their record-breaking tenth appearance at T in the Park with a typically rocking performance. 19 songs, pyrotechnics, flares and confetti - they pulled out all the stops for their impassioned headline slot with the fireworks during the anthemic Mountains inspiring festival organiser Ellis to hail their set as "one of the best Balado moments ever".
 
Saturday dawned relatively dull but stayed dry until mid-afternoon, with the cooler temperatures giving everyone who had caught too much sun the previous day a chance to ease their sunburn at least.
 
A number of pretty big names were on the bill early on in the day, and that, coupled with the sheer length of time it takes to get anywhere on the massive site, is part of the reason we missed The Stranglers, Fatherson, and George Ezra. We caught the end of Scottish alt-rock heroes Twin Atlantic however, although I still fail to see what is so special about them, sorry.
 
Next up on the main stage was James, who opened with Come Home. As well as showcasing new material, the band, which has a reportoire of around 80 songs, gave the crowd the choice of Sit Down or Tomorrow. They couldn't have heard me shouting, as they went for the democratic choice of Sit Down after a cheering contest. Charismatic frontman Tim Booth worked his charm on the afternoon audience, working them into a frenzy and lapping it up as he made repeated forays into the crowd, riding the tide of excitement.  
 
Chart-toppers Rudimental were next on the main stage, the brass section in particular bringing a ray of sunshine to the rainy site, with hits Not Giving In and Feel the Love. But it was over to the Radio 1 stage for The Charlatans for us 90s kids - especially as I had missed them when they headlined at Balado in 1997. Despite the rain it was worth catching them just for the 90s wardrobe revival moment, and for The Only One I Know of course.  
  
From there we made the long trek back up the hill to catch BBC Introducing stage headliners The Amazing Snakeheads, who were amazing - despite not having actual snakeheads. One of the best things about festivals is accidentally coming across bands that you are blown away by and this band was it for us on Saturday. And not just us, the tent was mobbed, and patron saint of new Scottish talent BBC Scotland's Vic Galloway was spotted in the audience with one of Fatherson watching the show.
 
Also spotted in the crowd was disco queen Sophie Ellis-Bextor - who had performed on the Radio 1 stage earlier in the afternoon - with her rocker husband Richard Jones, suggesting that The Amazing Snakeheads could well be a name to watch out for. Their wall of 1970s style rock 'n' roll noise, complete with searing guitars and screaming sax solos is not for the faint-hearted but T in the Park is for the bravehearts and everyone in the tent was shouting out for more at the end of the set. 

Pharrell Williams: T in the Park 2014

Pharrell Williams was on the main stage however, so we headed down to catch a bit of his set enroute to seeing The Human League. The highlight of William's hit-laden appearance was an emotional introduction to his feel-good number one, Happy, when he brought a friend of his who was celebrating two years remission from cancer on to the stage and dedicated it to her. It was a very T moment.
 
Music fans were swapping their sunglasses for wellies and ponchos as the increasingly heavy drizzle became the predicted quite torrential showers by around 8pm, although I am sure that is not the only reason the Human League packed out the King Tuts tent. Opening with Seconds, the crowd was singing along from the start. Phil Oakey's voice seems to get better with age and he was as sharply dressed as ever. He paid tribute to Soul II Soul who were on stage before them, describing them as "one of the best British groups ever" - high praise indeed and I'm sorry we missed them.
 
There was a real mix in the audience - it wasn't all oldies despite the League being up against Pharrell on the main stage, although it was the 40 and 50 somethings who were singing their hearts out the loudest to hits including The Lebanon, Mirror Man, Tell Me When, Electric Dreams and of course Don't You Want Me. Phil and the girls left the stage for the opening bars of their most popular hit and the audience sang the first verse and chorus word-perfectly before they came back for one of the biggest sing-a-longs of the night.
 
It was back to the main stage for Paolo Nutini, who gave a more mellow performance than I have seen on previous occasions. An older, wiser, calmer Paolo, whose voice seems to have matured as well, gave a soulful rendition of Let Me Down Easy, Better Man, just a brief airing of New Shoes, and old favourites Candy and Pencil Full of Lead. He welcomed the "ladies" in the audience with a wolfish grin and declared that he had "been dying to get back here, it's unbelievable". 
 
And then came one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. In amongst the rain and mud and ponchos and wellies and plastic beer cups suddenly a voice came across the sound system. It was only the world's biggest film star, Will Smith, introducing his pal Calvin Harris from Dumfries. We took it all in from near the back of the crowd, getting a great overview of the fireworks and the laser display cutting through the relentlessly wet weather and watching thousands and thousands of people jumping up and down in sheer joy and alcohol-fuelled exuberance. It was pretty cool actually from where we were standing, kinda reminiscent of old-school raves.
 
Much better organised than most of the raves I went too however, with buses lined up to take festie goers back to Glasow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee. There were recorded messages (recycled from 2013) played over loudspeakers directing tired, wet, drunk folk to their buses and thanking them for coming in a slightly Orwellian kind of way and it was a very long walk back in the rain to the campsites or any of the car parks or shuttle buses.
 
The rain had stopped by Sunday morning and the sun was back for the last day of festivities at Balado, drying out the main arena - which had been pretty muddy the previous night - relatively early on.
 
From our base in Kinross itself we waited for a shuttle bus back to the main festival site. And waited. And waited. The buses, which were free so I shouldn't complain too much, were far from the twenty minute intervals advertised, and many were so full that by the time they got to the last stops on the route they didn't stop. And that is why we missed a number of the bands on early on the Sunday, including the lovely Newton Faulkner, and the Inspiral Carpets.
 
When we eventually got back on site, we took a wander around in the sunshine. As well as the usual festival stalls selling sunglasses and floral headbands and hats there was also a row dedicated to local charity shops with the Children's Hospital Association Scotland (CHAS) and local Oxfam and Cancer Research UK using the festival to sell pre-loved items and raise much-needed cash. There were some absolute bargains to be had with everything from bowler hats to belly-dancer outfits and many pairs of wellies on sale.
 
Although the ground was drying out, the amount of litter on site was increasing, and seagulls circled like vultures, not even waiting for the crowds to disperse before going in for their fast food fix. And despite the 10p deposit on the plastic beer cups, no one seemed that bothered about getting their money back - unlike Belladrum for instance where packs of kids roam the site collecting the glasses, I only saw a couple of people doing something similar here.  
 
But back to the music. Early highlights of the day were Catfish & The Bottlemen in a packed out T Break tent who went down a storm with their sing-a-long-able rock 'n' roll anthems. The Bill and Ted-era Keano Reeves look-a-like singer was delighted with the reaction they got from the crowd - who he described as "mad Scottish bastards". The T in the Park appearance of the four-piece band, which formed in Wales in 2010 and is due to release their debut album later this year, is one of over 30 festival performances throught the UK and Europe this summer by the band. 
 
In King Tut's Wah Wah tent it was singing troubadour Passenger who got the afternoon crowd going. The massive tent was also packed out for the performance by the thirty year old English folk singer who has supported the likes of Ed Sheeran and Jools Holland and who seems to sit somewhere between Newton Faulkner and Frank Turner in terms of approach.
 
He dedicated Twenty Seven to "everyone who plays music, dances, takes pictures or does anything arty and has been told to get a proper job", sang Feather on the Clyde - which he wrote about Scotland - and Let Her Go, the biggest selling single of any UK artist last year, leaving the stage saying it "had been one the best gigs of my life".
 
On the main stage it was the Kaiser Chiefs who started pulling in the big crowds, with singer Ricky Wilson's energetic antics encouraging the crowd to get going again. They opened with one of their best known hits, Every Day I Love You Less and Less and followed it straight up with another two high-octane tunes.
 
Running from one side of the stage to another, chucking his mic stand around and brandishing it as though it was some sort of sword-meets-walking cane, Wilson was on fire - and for a band who admitted recently that they had lost their fire and their drive and ambition, this performance was something of a return to their previous form. Modern Way and Ruby got an airing, and even when he was hit on the side of his face by a plastic bottle when he ventured out into the crowd for I Predict a Riot, Wilson just smiled and got on with his show.

Franz Ferdinand: T in the Park 2014

Franz Ferdinand are another noughties band that has been off the boil for a few years recently, but the break seems to have done them good too, with a packed out King Tuts tent responding enthusiastically to their revitalised performance. The Dark of the Matinee, Do You Want To and Take Me Out were notable highlights, and Alex Kapranos declared "It's good to be home".
 
Paul Weller maybe a hero to many but I have to confess to falling asleep standing up when he played at Balado in 1997, so we gave him miss, and by all accounts he delivered a similarly muted performance again this time.
 
And due to work and family commitments it was time to head home for us, so we missed Jake Bugg, and headliners Arctic Monkeys - who were back by public vote - but we had already seen everyone we wanted to see and way more besides. Jake Bugg and the Arctic Monkeys reportedly "owned" the main stage, although the latter went head to head with the thumping bass notes of Disclosure's headline performance on the Radio 1 stage.
 
T in the Park 2014 challenged many of my preconceptions about the event. It has changed significantly since my last experience, and while it is by no means perfect, the most frequently used word of the weekend was "epic", which I think sums it up pretty well.
 
Whether it was because it was "Bye Bye Balado" and everyone was determined to make it count, whether the security measures that have been put in place have made a difference, whether it is as simple as the sun was shining most of the time and folk were feeling happy, it was a surprisingly good-natured weekend and a good time was had by pretty much all.
 
The biggest downside of the event has to be the cost, particularly in times of economic hardship. I heard of people who had to choose between a family holiday and a weekend at T in the Park (the holiday won), people who saved for months for their tickets and then again for their spending money. A day's car parking at the site was £20, and it was £150 for a weekend campervan ticket. It was £4.40 a pint and you would be lucky to get change from a fiver from any of the food outlets. Bottles of Jack Daniels were on sale in the VIP area for £90. Only the drinking water was free and I think it is probably fair to say that the event has become prohibitively expensive for many folk.
 
There are opportunities to work at the event for a ticket as part of Team T. This year for example, there were "Green Sherpas" who were on site to help campers shift their gear to the campsites from the car parks. The volunteer scheme saw the 'sherpas' work on the Thursday for a free weekend pass to the festival - however, I heard of at least one sherpa who got so many blisters on Thursday that they couldn't walk for the rest of the weekend and missed it all.  
 
But then the other side of the cost of going to T is that it provides the chance to see lots of such big name acts in Scotland. I was in the same field as Will Smith - the Fresh Price of Bel Air no less. And 85,000 other people as well but still. As Passenger's Michael Rosenberg commented, its all about coming together in a field for a shared communal experience. Quite. The organisers of Scotland's biggest festival have got it down to a (sorry) tee, and for the 85,000 true believers, I really hope they can do it all again next year in their new home.

review by: Clare Damodaran

photos by: Trevor Eales

Friday 11th to Sunday 13th July 2014
Balado, Kinross, Perth & Kinross, KY13 0NJ, Scotland MAP
£205 full weekend with camping
daily capacity: 92500
last updated: Thu 22nd May 2014


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