For UK music lovers, the country’s annual rock and pop music festivals are markers on the calendar, a clear signal that summer is here and it’s time to let your hair down and get down to some great sounds.
The history of music festivals began in Britain in the 1960s inspired by the success of Woodstock in the US; the Isle of Wight Festivals of 1969-70 were two of the first and best remembered. This iconic festival was resurrected in 2002 and is now back on the UK concert calendar. Held in Seaclose Park near Newport in mid-June 2013, headlining acts included the Stone Roses and the Killers.
The festival circuit is especially appealing to Britpop fans, as this is a great place to catch the best of British pop and rock music, from recently re-formed bands from the 1990s to newer, up-and-coming UK acts.
Pick of the UK’s best-known music festivals
Glastonbury began in 1970 as the more low-key ‘Pilton Pop’. After its associations with the hippie and peace movements of the ’80s, it has since expanded, but remains the nearest you’ll get to Woodstock in modern-day England, with smaller, often informal stages dotted around the famous Pyramid stage. Despite infamous years when it has become a mud bath, no one can argue with its legendary status. With the occasional year off (the last one was in 2012 to let the grass grow), it is still held on Michael Eavis’ farm on the last weekend in June; tickets generally sell out within minutes of going on sale.
Reading and Leeds Festival began as the National Jazz and Blues Festival in the 1960s and moved to its current site in Reading in 1971. It has a reputation for the heavier inclinations of rock music and is the oldest music festival in the world, still taking place annually on August bank holiday weekend. In recent times, it has expanded into the Reading and Leeds festivals; two venues that share the same bill and date.
Lovebox was 2013’s festival for those who enjoy music but are not too keen on camping, preferring not to get their best threads muddy. Held in Victoria Park in East London in mid July – 2013s headliners at this dance music festival were Lil Kim, Plan B, and Goldfrapp.
Bestival is generally considered to be the younger and hipper edition of the Isle of Wight Festival. The last festival of the summer, it’s held in early September and there is an annual fancy dress theme – and yes, everyone does dress up! Fatboy Slim ably hosted 2013’s sailor theme.
T in the Park is Scotland’s most successful music festival and celebrated its 20th birthday in 2013. Held in early July in Strathclyde County Park in North Lanarkshire, a vast range of acts perform across its eight stages: 2013 saw Rihanna and the Killers play together with less well-known acts such as The Script and Two Door Cinema Club.
V Festival is a must for all Britpop fans. Held in August simultaneously over two venues – Hylands Park near Chelmsford and Weston Park in Staffordshire – it’s thought to have been the brainchild of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, who mentioned his wish to play two different outdoor venues in two days. V Festival attracts the cream of British pop musicians, such as Lily Allen, Razorlight, and Oasis, who rocked the 2009 event. Legendary UK bands such as Coldplay (2000) and the Kaiser Chiefs (2003) made some of their most memorable performances at the festival.
Some tips for making the most of your festival experience
Book your ticket early. Some of the most popular festivals, such as Glastonbury, sell out fast.
Figure out how you’re getting there. Roads and rail routes to the most popular festivals often get very crowded, so be prepared for lines and a whole lot of people. For the more remote festivals, consider car rental.
Arrive early if you’re camping to make sure you get a good pitch.
Finally, relax and enjoy the ride. This is no time to get uptight about the little things. You need to be prepared to camp happily alongside thousands of other people, many of them intoxicated or out of it on other substances – both legal and illegal – and let standards of personal hygiene slip a little, not to mention pay over the odds for food, drinks and t-shirts. You may as well accept it – you’re going to see at least one ageing naked hippy. Go with the flow but be sensible and safe.