The last time I was in Wales the Doctor Who exhibition had just opened and we were still mourning the loss of our dear Torchwood College Janto Jones. This time, I was back in the land of Catherine Zeta-Jones to work at the Biggest Weekend in Swansea. That name might seem familiar to you; usually at this time of year I go to some far corner of the UK for Radio 1’s Big Weekend BUT I’m all about change in 2018. Every 6 years Glastonbury has ‘a fallow year’ where the festival doesn't take place in order to let the land recover.
So with the absence of the UK’s biggest and the world’s most famous music festival, the BBC hatched an ambitious plan. The idea was to fill the hole left by Glasto and create "a music festival which will take in four sites, in four nations, over four days, with over 175,000 tickets available to the public.” The four places chosen were Perth, Belfast, Coventry, and Swansea and the music in each location changed depending on what radio station was attached to the site. Belfast was BBC Radio 6 Music, Coventry and Perth would flip between BBC Radio 2 and 3 and Swansea had BBC Radio 1. It was was similar to most other Big Weekends, however, there was a feeling of being part of something bigger…and the branding was a little different.
BBC Radio Wales
The journey down was fine. I arrived into Cardiff early Friday morning on a flight from Edinburgh. The highlights from that include eating a breakfast burrito at the Edinburgh departure lounge -a burrito with egg, sausage, bacon, beans and salsa- and meeting someone I knew at the gate who was also flying down to Wales for a weekend away and was travelling back on the same flight as me the following Monday. The world is strange sometimes but its always nice to see a friendly face.
Once in the city centre of Cardiff I got the train to Swansea. Whenever I travel I listen to different local radio stations because well, I’m deeply sad. Jokes aside, I do it because it gives you a flavour of the area and I just like listing to radio. I was listening to BBC Radio Wales and when I tuned in, the programme was halfway through a conversation about barbecues. The presenter tailed off and introduced a song. It was Tom Jones. The first song I hear on a Welsh radio station was Tom Jones. To be fair, if it wasn’t I would have been disappointed.
What does AL Stand For?
AL stands for Artist Liaison, and thats exactly what I was. The role involves looking after an artist performing (in this case) at a music festival. You’re responsible for getting them to and from performance, interviews, press and anything else they’ve agreed to do. You’re also the main point of contact for the event organisers and production teams broadcasting the event. This year my artists were Liam Payne and Shawn Mendes. Both had busy days and both absolutely killed it on the main stage.
Towels and Bread
In a festival AL team, it can become a bit tribal. Some of the newer people are sacrificed to the gods in order to encourage good weather, the Transport manager becomes King-like as we are all at his mercy when it comes to transport and there are only 2 main items that can be used as currency, food and towels.
To begin with the towels, each artist has an allocation they’ve usually requested in advance and one of the thousands of things we have to do is dish them out. However, towels are expensive and having a finite amount (that are clean) means they quickly become a highly priced commodity. So when you are suddenly told that you need to get towels for an artist that hasn’t requested them in advance It can be tricky getting past the guard dogs to the towel cupboard and them subsequently selling your soul for two bath and one hand towels. I remember the great towel war of Norwich 2015 where we lost 3 great AL’s, crushed underneath the weight of the towels the had to carry, I’m sure they were honoured to die in service to the cause.
Now to the food, food is important to keep you alive and if you’re busy over lunch you can always ask someone in the team to grab food for you… that’s providing you have time to eat it. Generally, you always do but on occasion you are so busy you forget to eat (which is very bad and I do not recommend it but it happens). At one point over the weekend I was too busy to grab my dinner so Laura another AL kindly grabbed me some scran from the catering tent and put it in the office for me. Hours passed, grass grew and when I eventually got to sit down and eat… It was cold and I had lost my appetite, the idea of freezing cold Sunday roast complete with Yorkshire puddings wasn’t as tempting as it sounds. I settled for a spoonful of Eaton mess and McDonald's later that night.
Has Chris melted again?
Annoyingly someone spilt water on me and I melted into a pool on the floor screaming ‘I’m melting, who could have thought a good little AL like you could have destroyed a wicked witch like me’. While it may have felt like this to me, all that happened was I stupid and didn’t look after myself. A day running about (often literally running) in the sun doing a high-pressure job requires the individual to do a few things: one of those is being organised and on the ball, the other is look after yourself. I, in those situations, have a tendency to forget about the latter.
My schedule meant that I wasn't going to have time to get a proper lunch or break really between arriving on site early and my artist being clear, which was roughly around 18:00. I didn’t drink, eat or rest enough, and it was HOT and I’m very ginger. A soon as my artist had left the site, I went to the now empty catering tent, with a blistering headache, feeling weak and done-in. I downed several cups of water and painkillers, took my earpiece out, sat my radio on my desk, put my head in my hands and just stopped moving and thinking.
I was roused from what I think was a sleep by Lizzie (seen here holding towels), who jabbed me in the arm. “I thought you had died, you weren't moving and looked a funny colour” She as the newly appointed Surgeon General of the AL team prescribed me with 20 minutes rest in an empty dressing room, food and sympathy. She did also mention that she was newly trained in Emergency First Aid and really wanted me to have ‘passed out’ so she could try out her skills, a sobering thought.
There were pockets of time where I could have sat taken a few minutes just to down a bottle of water or wolf a piece of fruit, but I didn’t. So it was my own fault and the lesson to take away from this is, drink (water) like a fish, get your team to support you and just tell someone when you’re not feeling great.
No Seriously, you do it deliberately
I DON'T DO IT DELIBERATELY. This year I added to my ever-growing list of "celebrities I’m pictured standing behind”, here’s a brief history:
Liam Payne 2018
Shawn Mendes 2017
Mark From Take That 2016
Snoop Dog 2015
The Lost Diner and Expensive Castles.
The weekend was hard but a lot of fun. The Monday after the weekend before I had a few hours to myself before my Flight back to Edinburgh so I journeyed into Cardiff. I was in two minds about whether to stay close to the high street or visit the bay as my time was finite. The decision was made and I stayed close to town as I was near the bus link and I’d been to the bay before many years ago, back when the 3rd Marquis of Bute still owed the land… no? ok, that was niche.
Famished I looked up good lunch places in town finally settling on the highly recommended New York Deli. It was a small trek to find the place as it was located deep in one of the ‘Arcades’ that span out from the high street, these covered streets shoot off in different directions and are quite beautiful inside. Eventually, in the right Arcade, I find the Deli and its closed. So I went to a Mexican place near the station instead. At the far end of the high street Cardiff castle comes into view and walking towards it I was quite excited to actually see a piece of Welsh history. It was a Roman fort passed down through history through the hands of many noble families including the 3rd Marquis of Bute, who 'by the 1860s was reputed to be the richest man in the world’ not in any small part to his ownership of Cardiff Bay. I proudly strode up to the gates, took pictures, walked up ti the entrance… and saw the price. Turning on my heel there was a lovely bar nearby. God, I love Wales.