It was a heavy blow to this year’s festival season when Glastonbury announced that its 2021 event would not be going ahead. While nothing could replace the in-person festival, organisers did not want another year to pass without giving their loyal fanbase something rather special. Inviting festival favourites including Coldplay, IDLES and Haim to play sets in some of Glastonbury’s most iconic spots, from the Stone Circle to the Pyramid stage, Live At Worthy Farm offered fans the chance to see the site in a whole new light.
Talking TPi through the technical infrastructure behind the project was Emma Reynolds-Taylor, known to most TPi readers as the Head of Production for the Pyramid and Other Stage at Glastonbury. “I got the initial call from Nick Dewey, [Emily Eavis’ husband and Head Programmer for the festival] who asked if I would be interested in dealing with the bands for this streaming project,” she recalled, a week after the initial stream went live. Jumping at the opportunity, Reynolds-Taylor began having conversations with Driift, who were heading up the production for the shoot. “The whole project grew in size very quickly and the team knew that they were going to need someone on site to deal with all the incoming artists.”
She went on to state how fantastic it was to be involved in the production from the very beginning as, in her words, it meant having to “jump headfirst” into a huge number of Zoom meetings with bands and others within the production chain. Although Reynolds-Taylor was naturally happy to be back on site and helping to create an impressive virtual show, she explained that the best part of the whole experience was making the calls to some of her loyal suppliers and crewmembers to bring them back into the fold.
The supplier list comprised Aggreko for power, Music Bank for backline and RG Jones for audio. For lighting, the duties were split between Fineline Lighting and Neg Earth. Also on site was SSE Audio, supplying riser decks, while Showforce provided local crew. Block9 was also on-board handling the creative for the project.
“It felt so good to be able to provide some work for several companies,” the PM stated. “Music Bank even brought some of their team off furlough who I’d worked with closely on previous years at Glasto. Everyone was so flexible and positive throughout the whole process. It was an interesting project to work on as not one of the bands, for obvious reasons, were on tour and therefore didn’t have a package to roll out. So, in a number of cases, we were supplying a lot of their kit,” explained Reynolds-Taylor. “Some of the bands had been in rehearsals and in those cases, they brought along their own audio monitoring setup. For the ones that didn’t, the team at RG Jones were on hand to supply.”
With no live audience, the PM explained how this project was more of a TV shoot than a traditional festival. “It was fascinating to see how this side of the entertainment industry operates,” she expressed. “Normally at a festival we have very strict stage times, that have to fit into our licence conditions whereas here it was almost the opposite as we had to take our cues from the director and the filming department, taking into account things such as natural lighting as well as when they were able to get the OB and camera unit up to set up certain shots.”
After watching the show back and complimenting the work of Director, Paul Dugdale, the PM considered if this project could affect how Glastonbury might be broadcast when the festival returns to normal. “The footage they created was so beautiful and of such high-quality,” she reflected. “I wondered if it might be something to replicate in future years, but there is something about the electric atmosphere captured by our usual festival coverage that is all part of Glastonbury’s charm. However, I’m glad we have this archive to celebrate the history of the festival.”
For Reynolds-Taylor, it always comes back to the fact she once again got to collaborate with some of her regular team. “I was able to bring on several of my regular production crew, which was fantastic,” she revealed.
“There were also many familiar faces from backstage that we were able to find jobs for, such as the Pyramid head rigger, who was our plant driver for the duration of the shoot and lots of our regular Showforce stage crew, which was just so heart-warming to have so many friendly faces helping us around the site.”
Walking TPi through the audio deployment for the project was RG Jones Director, Sarah Gellas and Audio Production Manager, Ben Milton. “It was very interesting to be back at Glastonbury but thinking about the production in such a different manner from a ‘normal’ year or setting,” they both reflected. “It was great to be working alongside Emma Reynolds-Taylor, Peter Taylor and their excellent team, and to be out working with audio friends in the glorious Somerset countryside, doing what we do best.”
Unlike a normal year where the RG Jones team would deploy a sizeable PA, this year, a core crew of six provided the audio equipment to facilitate the stages, comms, monitors, mixing facilities and active split system. On top of all of this, it supplied the OB trailer to house all the equipment.
“I suggested a few ways that we could facilitate the audio for performances and audio capture, which would keep our team to a minimum in terms of numbers, consistency from act to act, and the rig and de-rig time,” explained Milton. “The OB units meant we could move from location to location keeping the engineers and gear dry.”
While the regular army of Glastonbury crew are used to dealing with adverse weather, Milton explained that for the Live At Worthy Farm recording, a lot more planning was required when it came to dealing with the wrath of mother nature. “As the performances were all out in the open, with little or no protection from the elements, keeping the rain out and the performers safe, both regarding their equipment as well as keeping the COVID-19 measures in mind, was of highest priority,” he explained.
The RG Jones team were also keen to keep the technical side as transparent as possible so the artists would not be distracted during their performances. As part of offering a seamless performance space, the audio department had to consider RF coverage to a greater degree – a task Gellas and Milton were pleased to report the team accomplished.
Gellas explained that the success of the production was down in no small part to the meticulous planning involved. “Pre-production was the key, especially ensuring that the BBC had everything they needed for the audio capture.” Milton continued: “In return, we had all the visual feeds and comms we needed to deploy the performances. We required a very thorough advance process to lock down all technical aspects, from artist requirements, to ensuring they had the type of mixing desk, monitoring and stage package required.”
LIGHTING THE WAY
Having worked on the Glastonbury site for around 30 years, Fineline Lighting Director, Rob Sangwell, was ecstatic to be back at the Farm – interestingly, not for the first time since the national lockdown. “I was there to illuminate the Pyramid as part of the Light it in Red campaign, so it was really nice to be asked back to help with the livestream.”
Fineline aided in the creation of the most notable looks of the stream, lighting the iconic Pyramid structure while Coldplay played in the field in the shadow of the stage. To create this look, the team deployed 34 SGM P10 IP65 Floods, 38 CHAUVET Professional Maverick Storm 1 Washes, eight Maverick Storm 1 Washes, and four Prolights Panorama IP Airbeams.
The team also provided kit for two other areas – the Stone Circle for Haim’s set, as well as Joe Rush’s Yard for IDLES’ performance. “Tim Routledge was overall Lighting Designer for the livestream,” explained Sangwell. “Tim liaised with the bands’ LDs and creatives, then we worked with him on the areas we were looking after. He had a lot on his plate covering all the areas, so our job was to back him up with the kit and crew to facilitate the designs and make it all as hassle-free and smooth as possible.”
Like the audio department, Sangwell also cited the weather as a major challenge. “The Stone Circle was of special concern as none of the kit used was weatherproof, with most of it being pretty old school,” he explained. “It was raining heavily throughout the setup right up to the shoot, which took place during a gap in the rain. As soon as the shoot was over and the de-rig commenced, the rain returned,” he chuckled.
As the shoot was taking place over a week, Fineline was able to deploy a team of seven who moved from location to location over the course of filming, with some rigging or de-rigging while others were covering shoots. “It was great to be able to book some crew for work,” stated Sangwell. “We’ve stayed in touch with our crew, suppliers and customers over the pandemic so they weren’t strangers, but it was nice to be able to provide some income in addition to moral support and mutual bitching.”
Giving his final thoughts, Sangwell stated: “It was fantastic to be working on site at Worthy Farm again with such good people involved with the onsite production team,” he continued: “Everyone involved worked so hard in pretty difficult conditions and on a short timescale to make this happen. Hopefully next year we’ll be there with some punters, too.”
ALL HANDS ON DECK
With multiple locations across the farm, Showforce was on deck to cater for all crewing needs for the production. The company provided 180 crew from 14 to 22 May, with an additional 195 workers to support the Coldplay build. “Working with the bands’ production teams to assist them with the set build was definitely a highlight,” reminisced Showforce Operations Director, Chris Martelly. “You didn’t get a sense of how it would look during the build, but once all the lights were turned on, it was absolutely stunning.”
Martelly commented how the weather also made the whole experience rather memorable – “for all the wrong reasons.” He elaborated: “It was the worst May on record for 50 years, which certainly presented some challenges. However, as the team were so thrilled to get back to a festival-style environment, we took it all in our stride. Despite there not being a crowd, this job definitely felt like a step back to live events.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Showforce has been able to retain many of its core team of experienced crew chiefs and crew, as they were PAYE employed, the company was able to use a combination of furlough and limited jobs. In addition, as a London / national living wage employer that offers good progression and training opportunities to encourage staff to either return or join the team.
“We also had a good response from the event professionals that had been waiting to come back to the industry they love and there is no better draw than Glastonbury,” enthused Martelly. “We were able to bring back many of the crew members that had worked at Glastonbury in 2019, and when contacted they jumped at the opportunity, so the level of skills and experience was there.”
Although this was a very different Glastonbury project, from Showforce’s perspective, it was business as usual. “It didn’t feel that different during the build and breakdown phases,” reported Martelly. “Social distancing and other COVID-safe working protocols made an impact, but the actual work and building the stage while assisting suppliers was all the same as the normal festival. It was a live show, it was just that it was filmed and livestreamed to an audience rather than having the crowds onsite.”
Looking back on the project, Martelly explained how it was “rewarding as it was challenging”, adding: “It was great to be back out working and doing what we do best on a festival site. The resilience and professionalism of the crew was extraordinary, with each individual showing why they are so good at this work. Hats off to all involved in this very successful event.”
With the footage first streamed globally on 22 May, the performances were collated for the BBC and can still be viewed on iPlayer. Giving her final thoughts on the show, Emma Reynolds-Taylor summed up her experience. “The main thing I took from this project was how good it was to be doing something in the industry again and it was fantastic that the festival was able to give some people work in this tricky time.
“Being able to work alongside some of our longstanding suppliers was amazing, even though it was disappointing to not have the regular volume of crew that we usually have at the festival. I also have to praise the increasable positivity of everyone that we brought on sight, from the audio team to the local crew and beyond. The atmosphere on site was amazing, even when it rained!”
In the latest news from the Glastonbury camp, the organisers are now planning a one-day event in September, taking place on the Pyramid stage with a licence that would accommodate 50,000 people, including the audience, performers, staff and crew. Then, all being well, the festival will proudly open its gates once again in 2022.
This article originally appeared in issue #263 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Anna Barclay & Matt Cardy