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Promoting pioneer Freddy Bannister has left the site

UNITED KINGDOM              -
World News
November 4, 2019

It has emerged that pioneering promoter and festival organiser Freddy Bannister died in August, aged 84.

Bannister started promoting in 1959 working in ballrooms across the country, with one of his early shows featuring the Beatles at Bath Pavilion (cap. 1,000) in June 1963, just before the band’s first No 1 single From Me To You.

He launched the Bath Festival of Blues at the city’s Pavilion Recreational Ground in June 1969, with a line-up including Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall.

The event, which had no conventional festival infrastructure or security personnel, attracted more than 12,000 people and is credited with inspiring a young dairy farmer, Michael Eavis, to try a similar event on his farm and it became Glastonbury Festival (now cap. 147,000).

The following year, Bannister broke records to fly in 14 US artistes for his Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, which took place in Shepton Mallet, with a line-up including Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Jefferson Airplane.

Six years later Bannister began organising events at Knebworth House, a stately home in Hertfordshire. His first Bucolic Frolic in 1974 featured Van Morrison, The Doobie Brothers, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and The Allman Brothers.

The second in 1975, headlined by Pink Floyd, with The Steve Miller Band, Captain Beefheart, Roy Harper and Linda Lewis, attracted around 100,000 people.

Others followed with the Rolling Stones, 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hot Tuna (1976), Peter Gabriel, Frank Zappa, The Tubes and Boomtown Rats (1978) and Led Zeppelin, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Southside Johnny Chas & Dave and Fairport Convention (1979).

Meanwhile, back in Somerset and in-between milking his cows twice a day, Eavis was planning how to follow in Bannister’s footsteps.

“I only met Freddy once, that was in the mid-‘70s when he turned-up in his brand new Rolls Royce, parked near the farmhouse and his wife tip-toed through the muddy yard,” Eavis tells Audience.

“I wondered who on earth they were and went to greet these strange folk and invited them in.

“We had a short conversation about his Blues Festival at the showground, and he gave me unmentionable advice about the people to employ and who not to. Then he stood up and predicted that the whole future of festivals would happen here at my farm. He finished his coffee and left.

“I never saw him again, but out-of-the blue about three years ago, he phoned me and jokingly asked if he could ask for commission on ticket sales, because I got the idea from his event at Shepton Mallet”.

The first event at Eavis’s Worthy Farm was the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival, which took place on Saturday 19 September 1970, and was attended by 1,500 people. The Kinks, Steamhammer and Duster Bennett were among the artistes who played.

It is believed that a row with Led Zeppelin’s formidable manager Peter Grant over the size of the Knebworth audience and band’s fee, caused Bannister to retreat from the music scene and move into property development and classic car auctions.

He published his memoir There Must Be a Better Way: The Story of the Bath and Knebworth Rock Festivals 1969-1979 in 2003.

Legendary promoter Harvey Goldsmith CBE pays homage to Bannister, telling Audience, “He was an eccentric of the best kind”.

Show producer and promoter Derek Block, who knew Bannister in the mid-1960s, says, “Freddy was an innovator, a gentleman, and a brilliant promoter. He was running five ballrooms, five days a week, turning over thousands of pounds a week, when other people were making £10 [$13]a week.”

Jack Barrie, who was manager of the legendary Marquee (400) club in London’s Soho during the ‘70s, recalls, “He was the first promoter to hold giant festivals, but probably more by accident that design.

“[Marquee owner] Harold Pendleton and I visited Bath the day after 80,000-100,000 people had drifted away from the second event and were shocked by the state of the site. We decided then that we’d keep out National Blues and Jazz Festival [NBJF] to about 25,000.”

A year later in 1971, they moved their festivals from Plumpton and renamed it after its new city location, calling it Reading Festival, which now has a capacity of 90,000.

Bannister is survived by wife Wendy and daughter Henrietta, who runs a rock memorabilia company.

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