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A Band's Guide to Festivals | Elbow

A Band's Guide to Festivals | Elbow

We know what a festival's like for the punters but what do the bands get up to? We asked Pete Turner of festival veterans Elbow for the inside view. 

Festival season is great. We’ve all got families, so it’s a few days of family life and then a few days of teenage life. We’re all really good friends with our crew so it’s almost like a weekend away having fun, with a gig in the middle.

The first festival we ever played was Reading, maybe 12 years ago. The band before us were called Robots in Disguise. Between songs they would pretend to be robots, and we thought it was hilarious.

Then a guy at the back shouted, “Wankers!” The girl in the band said [adopts Dalek voice], “You are not a nice humanoid”, which just made him shout “Wankers!” a little bit louder. They proved him right.

There tends not to be any snobbery backstage. If you’ve got some hierarchy feel, then it’s a load of crap really, isn’t it? I do remember once seeing Grace Jones come out of her dressing room and get into a car that took her about 15 metres to the toilet. But you kind of want that from Grace Jones. And it was a Portaloo, so she was roughing it a little bit, to be fair.

One of our favourite festivals is Rock Werchter in Belgium. Bands hang out and drink together usually, but there everyone gets off their heads. I remember last year The Vaccines walked in looking really dishevelled and hung-over and a bit confused. Freddie [Cowan, guitarist] was on the phone to their tour manager saying, “We can’t find our dressing room”. And the tour manager’s going, like, “You don’t have a dressing room. You’re not playing there till tomorrow.” It’s good fun.

My worst festival experience was in Italy last year. I think it was called Jammin’. It wasn’t jamming. No one was at the festival. We literally didn’t have a front row. Interpol were on after us and I was happy — and it sounds awful — to see they didn’t have any people as well. It was shit.

The secret of a good festival set is to look at when you’re on. If it’s 3pm on the Saturday afternoon, you’ll know people will have been partying for a couple of days so you can play a bit of a chilled set.

If you’re headlining you’ve got to hit the ground running, but you can also have big LED screens and use all sorts of trickery — take some heads off with lasers, stuff like that.