"It's getting tougher": Martin Elbourne on the challenges of booking Glastonbury

In the new edition of Music Week we gear up for… well, what else? Glastonbury 2019. For one, in our huge cover feature Jo Whiley, Clara Amfo, Steve Lamacq and team BBC outline their plans for this year’s blockbuster event. Elsewhere, Two Door Cinema Club prepare for their Glasto set, Emily Eavis discusses the line-up and the biz picks some of its favourite moments from Worthy Farm over the years. But that’s not all.

Also tackling The Aftershow in the issue is Glastonbury’s senior booker Martin Elbourne, who reflects on some of the experiences and life lessons from his career so far and explains why – when push comes to shove – he thinks David Bowie produced the greatest ever Glastonbury set. His involvement with the festival goes a long way back…

“I first went to it when I was a student at Bristol Uni,” Elbourne told Music Week. “I was involved in the local music scene there and it was normal to go to Glastonbury. I started getting to know Michael [Eavis] in 1979 or 1980, and then I co-promoted the first WOMAD Festival with Peter Gabriel, which as you’re probably aware was a financial disaster – a creative success, a financial disaster! Then I moved to London, became an agent and one of the bands I represented was The Smiths so Michael got in touch with me. I told him they were getting big and that was the first time Glastonbury had had a hot new act, as opposed to older hippie bands.”

Since then Elbourne has not only enjoyed huge success with Glastonbury, but also in co-founding the Great Escape Festival and DMZ Peace Train Festival that takes place on the border between North and South Korea. In his interview, Elbourne stressed that one of the biggest challenges in his career is one that is still actually unfolding: fees for acts.

“Glastonbury barely makes a profit, and we give it nearly all away to charities,” Elbourne told Music Week. “It’s just getting tougher, particularly with American acts. I think UK acts pretty much want to play Glastonbury, that’s a given – they understand the importance of it. But with the big American acts… Jay-Z only played because Chris Martin rang him up and said, ‘Ignore the fee, you’ve got to do this’. Those guys earn a lot of money, I don’t blame them for it, it must be like, ‘Why am I playing this festival I’ve barely heard of for a fifth of my usual fee and I’m not in charge of production?’ That side is getting tough.”

Elbourne was quick to stress that when it comes to booking Glastonbury, it’s a different process to any other festival.

“Normally when you’re booking a festival, you make an offer and put a time limit on it and wait for the answer,” explained Elbourne. “With Glastonbury, generally speaking, we just do it verbally. At some point you have to do the legal stuff, but it’s like, ‘OK, I’ll hold that slot for you’ and the agent knows they’ll get paid the same as other bands in the same slot. It’s very different… It helps when you’ve been around for a bit, know the manager and trust the agent. A good agent will say, ‘There’s a chance this is happening, but I can’t guarantee it’. The good ones always come back and say, ‘You really might want to look at someone else…’”

Subscribers can read the full Elbourne interview here.







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