Exploring the History of UK Music Festivals - textSectionComponent

In 2016, it was estimated that between 800-1000 festivals took place in the UK alone. The themes of these events differed greatly, from local food fests to some of the biggest musical gatherings in the world! As a nation, we love festivals, from the excitement beforehand, the hard work that goes into building stages and fences for the event, to the exciting memories we fondly look upon once we’ve returned home. Festivals have long been a part of UK culture, so we’re delving into the history of a few of them to show just how far we’ve come!

Cheltenham Music Festival

Cheltenham is one of the oldest music festivals in Britain, having started off as just three small concerts in 1945. At the time, Cheltenham Music Festival was at the forefront of the music scene, and continues to hold this status today. Its main ethos is to support and champion young, up-and-coming and local talent, and to encourage others to join together in an eclectic celebration. As one of the first music festivals in Britain, Cheltenham helped to pave the way for future music events.

Over the last 70 years it has grown to a staggering size, split into four main sections: Jazz, Science, Music and Literature, and is held on an annual basis. In total, these segments deliver nearly 1,000 events all over Cheltenham. Gallowglass event crew have been involved with building stages, structures, lighting and audio rigs across numerous venues to create a plethora of experiences to be enjoyed by all ages. Today, over 215,000 tickets are sold every year, and people travel from far and wide to experience the entertainment on offer.

Edinburgh International Festival

Having originally been created to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”, Edinburgh was first launched in 1947 to raise the spirits of the British people after the war had ended. The events were originally typically classical, but have grown over the years into the diverse mix we know and love today - combining traditional arts and culture with a modern and innovative twist.

The festival brings together a whole host of performances spanning comedy, music, visual arts, opera, theatre and plenty more. Not only that - two further events take place over the same period: The Edinburgh Fringe and The Military Tattoo, earning the Edinburgh Festival the title of the largest arts festival in the world. A staggering amount of work goes into the set-up of the event to ensure its success. Gallowglass’ event crew in Edinburgh are proud to have been a part of building this festival for years with work including; the assembly of the mammoth 8,800 seated grandstand stadium outside Edinburgh Castle for The Military Tattoo, to rigging the truss, lighting and sound at the Edinburgh Playhouse. From once attending the array of activities and events on offer, to building key parts of the festival, we’ve come a long way!


We could hardly talk about the history of festivals and not mention one of the biggest festivals in the UK. Glastonbury began in 1970 when it was named the ‘Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival’. The inspiration for this event came from an open-air concert, headlined by Led Zeppelin. One year later, the free festival was up and running, drawing visitors from all over to experience the exciting innovations on offer. The festival was created to celebrate music, dance, poetry, theatre and all forms of entertainment, centred on the hippy movement and is today regarded as a major event within British culture.

The 1980s saw the festival grow greatly in popularity as the event became an annual fixture (aside from the fallow years), and its rising popularity has never slowed. It attracts around 175,000 attendees today, with tickets selling out in record times every year. The ever-expanding range of entertainment, performances and glamping options means that every year is unique and remains a draw for visitors from all around the world. Glastonbury has close associations for Gallowglass. As well as annual support on various stage install and derigs, we have built the festival’s mighty perimeter fence for the last eight years! It has been a wonderful experience to watch the festival go from strength to strength, and we cannot wait to see where the future takes this dynamic festival!

Reading Festival

Just a year after the launch of Glastonbury came Reading. It had been formerly named the National Jazz Festival, having begun in 1961, but once it found a permanent location in Reading, the festival was soon re-named and re-launched. Its musical content back then was mainly blues and hard rock, before embracing punk rock and new wave as the popularity spread. The organisers tried (and failed) to extend its reach to a more commercial pop audience, but very soon returned to its original roots where it remains.

In 1999, the event saw such a great increase in popularity that it was necessary to further expand into an area of Leeds - creating the festival we know today as the Reading and Leeds Festival. Each site welcomes around 85,000 visitors a year to enjoy the wide array of arts on offer. Gallowglass has played a fundamental part in the construction of the Festival since 2004 and has worked on all 8 stages providing assistance on ground rigging, light, sound, all associated cable running and management, control desks and full backline installation, indoor and outdoor screen set up and crowd barrier layouts.

These are just a few of the key festivals which have helped to shape the industry, and we are proud to have played a part in creating key elements to several of them. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for these classic festivals!

Images: jaswooduk


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Conor Hourihan

Business Development Manager, Gallowglass Group Posted on 18 Aug 2017
About the author
A Music Production graduate, Conor has spent the last 19 years in customer service roles. Joining Gallowglass initially as a Crewman, his talent for gaining clients' trust and forming lasting relationships, made him a shoo-in for our business development and marketing team. When he's not liaising with clients, Conor is our visuals expert - overseeing video content and imagery for our website, app and new vehicle and uniform branding.
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