Glastonbury 2022: Inside BBC ‘Mammoth’ festival coverage
Glastonbury Festival, Europe’s biggest live music event, is in full swing today, for the first time since 2019.
There will be 200,000 people on hand in Somerset, west of England, to watch thousands of performances on 93 different stages, including headliners Billie Eilish, Sir Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar, and Diana Ross in the popular Sunday afternoon “legends” slot. .
And yet, somehow, Glastonbury is even bigger than these numbers suggest. First held in 1970 – when 1,500 hippies received free milk for their £1 entry fee – the festival has become a national and international institution, as much a part of the traditional British summer as Wimbledon . And it’s also a musical juggernaut, attracting the biggest names in all genres and able to make or break new artists in a single set.
BBC broadcaster Jo Whiley strives to convey the physical and cultural enormity of the festival. “Take Coachella,” she says. “Multiply it by a thousand, add several different dimensions and put it in several colors… Then you might get an idea of what Glastonbury is.”
Whiley will lead the BBC’s extensive TV lineup again this weekend, alongside Lauren Laverne and Clara Amfo. And if there’s one thing almost as important as Glastonbury itself, it’s society’s coverage of Glastonbury.
BBC Music Director Lorna Clarke and BBC Studios Executive Producer Alison Howe, which produces BBC festival coverage, promise the most comprehensive lineup in the public broadcaster’s 25-year history with the event. Over five days, there will be over 100 hours of broadcast on TV (BBC One, Two, Three and Four), radio (BBC Radios 1, 1Xtra, 2 and 6 Music) and digital (BBC iPlayer, BBC sound). A major documentary, ‘Glastonbury: 50 Years and It Matters’, focusing on founder Michael Eavis’ relationship with the festival, is also being sold internationally.
This year will also feature technological innovations such as the streaming of the Pyramid Stage in UHD and a dedicated Glastonbury iPlayer channel, which will allow viewers to stream full sets live.
“It’s a gigantic production,” says Clarke. “But it’s not just about getting bigger for the sake of it, it’s about how we can improve and expand our coverage from previous years.”
Howe adds: “It’s a bit like Jubilee – just with different flags!”
Unlike the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, Glastonbury’s belated 50th anniversary celebration does not come with a national holiday, although the music industry does. Absences from the office have reverberated through the industry since Wednesday, as executives descend on the Worthy Farm site of organizers Michael and his daughter Emily Eavis for the first time since 2019.
That’s because a successful performance at Glastonbury, amplified by a high-profile TV slot, can give music careers a massive boost. After the last pre-pandemic event in 2019, huge increases in sales and streams followed for The Killers, The Cure, Lizzo and Kylie Minogue.
The festival’s enforced absence in 2020 and 2021 may have deprived many artists of such “Glastonbury moments”, but expectations are high for this year’s lineup.
“Because everything has been suspended, it’s the launch pad,” says Whiley. “This is the time when everyone is setting up their stalls and saying, ‘Here I am! That’s what I do! Take a look, do you like it?’ That’s why this Glastonbury is so important to so many artists.
Lorna Clarke, meanwhile, hopes the cover will help “audiences fall in love with live music all over again.”
“After the tough few years we’ve had,” she says, “it may lead them to buy concert tickets to again support artists and the live music scene in general.”
Steve Lamacq, whose hugely influential BBC Radio 6 Music show airs from Glastonbury this weekend, has advice for Wet Leg, Glass Animals and Little Simz to capture imagination and sales this weekend. He cites Coldplay’s first appearance in 2000 as proof of what a Glastonbury performance can do.
“From the moment they went on, you could tell Coldplay would never play afternoons again,” Lamacq says. “And, with the wider television coverage now, a good show at Glastonbury sets you up very well.”
Lamacq says the importance of timing makes artists “negotiate whether they go day or night” at what he calls “the holy grail of festivals.” Meanwhile, Howe admits his phone has become hot with requests from managers and labels.
“These days, performers sign up to be at Glastonbury with the BBC coverage in mind,” says Howe. “People want to be part of it.
“Come on Monday, there will be artists who, out of nowhere, will be the flavor of the month,” she adds. “But none of us know who – and that’s what’s exciting.”
In 2017, the company and Glastonbury announced a broadcast deal until 2022, although it’s unclear if the double COVID cancellation will see this extended.
Lorna Clarke would only say “watch this space”, although Variety sources say some sort of announcement is likely in the weeks following this year’s festival. In the meantime, Clarke “expects good health [audience] numbers in the millions. In 2019, Minogue set a viewership record, peaking at 3.9 million viewers.
And one thing that now seems certain – despite two years of uncertainty – is the future of Glastonbury itself.
“It’s such an institution, I can see it still around 50 years later,” says Whiley. “By then, Billie Eilish will likely be in the ‘legends’ niche.”