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Common People companies collapse in wake of Bestival

13 February 2019

Combined debts exceed £6 million

CREDITORS SAY they will insist on much tighter financial conditions with festival clients in the future, following the collapse of the 30,000-capacity Common People festivals in Southampton and Oxford.

The two limited companies running the events folded last month, with combined debts of £811,368.

This follows last year’s failure of the company behind Bestival (cap. 40,000) and sister event Camp Bestival (25,000), run by the same team, headed by Robert Gorham  – aka Rob da Bank – and his wife Josie (see Festival issue 36).

Overall debts across the three companies and four festivals amount to £6,632,202, with the total owed to third parties, after removing inter-company loans, being £6,071,310. 

Common People Festival Ltd, which operated the Southampton event, owed £543,523, including £410,011.12 due to Bestival Ltd,  while creditors of Common People (Oxford) Ltd total £267,845, including £151,181.21 due to Bestival Ltd, which itself owed £5,821,134 when it failed.

The largest creditor of both Common People events is Bestival Ltd, while several companies are owed sums by both festivals.

These include Live Trackway (due a total £14,638) and Pinnacom (£13,921 combined). Other significant creditors are DJ Grindle (£23,297) and NuKleen (£16,247), both for Southampton, and Oxford County Council (£8,946), Acorn Scaffolding (£4,525) and EPS Training (£6,200) for Oxford.

It appears that most artistes – among them Lily Allen (Southampton only) and James, Sparks and The Jacksons at both events – received payment, unlike those performing at Bestival and Camp Bestival, who were collectively left with losses of more than £800,000.

Creditors have also complained about the amount of time it took Gorham to inform them of the insolvency, some saying they believed payment was imminent until letters from administrator Begbies Traynor arrived.

Tough new terms

Echoing what Bestival creditors told Festival, some owed money by Common People vow to impose much stricter terms on festival clients.

“This is why we don’t look for festival business that much,” says Chris Beale, director of Pinnacom, which provided networking systems and cashless infrastructure for both sites, and also works for television clients such as Top Gear, Crimewatch and ITV.

“Risk is a huge part of festival promotion. The smaller promoters work on the expectation of banking the last 10 per cent of ticket sales as  profit. But if you have one bad year, you take everyone else with you.

“Common People was struggling each year with low attendance they must have been losing money, presumably hoping to make it back later and pay bills with money from Bestival, but then Camp Bestival got clobbered [by poor weather, leading to the cancellation of its Sunday.].

“The festival industry has always been about goodwill. Extending credit lines the way suppliers do for festivals would be unacceptable with any other business.”

He says festival clients often delay paying bills for many months and that his company is still waiting for about £50,000 from other events.

Justin Gardiner of The Fat Goose, which provided crew and artiste catering at Common People and was owed over £9,000, reveals that Gorham eventually emailed him hinting at the pressure he faced.

“I chased them and kept getting the run-around,” he says. “I finally got hold of Rob da Bank’s email, who came back to me and really apologised, saying they were in the process of losing their houses. But they must have known how it was going long before they put on last year’s festivals. We got some money up front so our costs were covered.”

One supplier who preferred to remain anonymous says, “We lost the entire amount. We want to support small festivals, but it’s made us more cautious we’ll ask for 50 per cent pre-payment in future.”

Another anonymous supplier adds, “We were helping them out, so the fee was less, but then we weren’t paid at all. That meant all the staff wages and fuel to do the gig came out of our pocket.”

As reported in sister publication LIVE UK (issue 226), the company that bought the Bestival and Camp Bestival rights – Safe Festivals Group Ltd – from the administrator, is now 75 per cent owned by Live Nation Entertainment (LNE) subsidiary Mama Festivals Ltd,

Although it appears Bestival will not go ahead this year, Camp Bestival has announced a line-up that includes Nile Rodgers and Chic, Jess Glynne and the Human League, with tickets priced at £180.

Meanwhile, mystery still surrounds the ownership of the remaining 25 per cent of Safe Festivals Group. Gorham had tweeted that Bestival and Camp Bestival had been saved by LN-Gaiety (a joint venture between LNE and Irish entrepreneur Denis Desmond and wife Caroline) and SJM Concerts.

LNE, SJM and Gorham did not respond when approached by Festival for comment.

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