As colourful as they are pragmatic, tents, marquees and other temporary structures are now as essential to the general atmosphere and ambience of a festival as the main stage.
With an average of 50 music festivals a month between May and August, suppliers are seeing a huge demand for a wide range of structures, everything from traditional A-frames to square tents and bespoke branded designs, all making use of state-of-the-art technology.
That demand looks set to continue with festival audiences growing over the past year. As noted in the recent study by industry umbrella organisation UK Music, Wish You Were Here, there were four million attendances at music festivals in 2016.
According to those working in the sector, other factors increasing demand include a move to more boutique events and a rise in the number of inner-city festivals, the latter bringing a whole lot of other challenges for suppliers.
As Ross Robertson, commercial director of Field and Lawn, which worked on TRNSMT (cap. 50.000) explains, just as working on a greenfield site, planning and preparation are key to ensuring such events are a success.
“There is an element of public integration into a city centre site during a build, so the festival organiser can’t just shut an entire area for four weeks,” says Robertson, more of whom later.
Elsewhere, while the Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations caused ripples of anxiety throughout the sector when they were announced several years ago, according to suppliers, their introduction has not had the negative effect many initially thought they could have.
“The CDMs were something everyone was in horror about when they were first introduced, but when it came down to it, most of us were working to those parameters anyhow,” was how one supplier described the new regulations.
A European Union (EU) safety code which came into effect in April 2015, CDMs are administered by the Health & Safety Executive. One of the main pieces of legislation is the requirement that, where there is more than one contractor on site, a principal designer (PD) must be appointed to coordinate health and safety management before the event takes place.
To ensure there is no conflict of interest, however, the PD must work for the festival organiser and not the contractor.
Another major challenge for those in the sector is finding products that can withstand that nemesis of all music festivals in the UK – the weather.
Kayam is a company that has many years of experience in erecting temporary structures for festivals and has learned the need for an overseeing expert on site.
“We call them tent masters, and most will have crewed with us for five to 10 years before becoming one, as well as doing additional training,” explains office manager Sadie Ward. “They will be in charge of all aspects of the structure on site.”
Monitoring is also essential, as Ward points out. “We know our structures can withstand extreme conditions and we monitor the weather closely, so we’re always prepared,” she adds.
Since it started in the 1990s with the original blue Kayam range, the company now offers a range of structures from the four-pole Siam to the 14-pole Valhalla. It also offers mega structures that can expand to 10,100sqm.
“The Valhalla offers heights up to 17m while the Kayam and Siam have a range of add-ons that make them unique in the market,” adds Ward. “One such add-on is our stage cover and it’s being hired by festivals such as Lovebox (25,000) in London, We Love Green (60,000) in Paris and Denmark’s Roskilde (85,000).
“It essentially operates as an open end of a structure meaning audiences can enjoy the visibility of an open-air stage while maintaining the atmosphere and weather cover you get from a traditional structure.”
These temporary venues were originally conceived by Rudi Enos of Special Structures Lab, which designs major structures for events such as Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds organiser Festival Republic.
“We’re about the only dedicated design studio in the country that does nothing but portable structures,” he says. “There’s hardly a festival in the UK that we don’t work on.”
Enos says 2017 is the most buoyant year for the market he has ever experienced.
“I’m 67 now and keep intending to retire, then somebody else will phone up,” he says. “We have a longstanding relationship with Glastonbury, so we’re already working on new projects for when that returns in 2019.”
Enos has witnessed many changes in the sector over the years, most recently the introduction of CDMs, which, he adds, haven’t had the effect many thought.
“It was supposed to be a big thing and then nothing happened.”
“It’s important we keep evolving … when it comes to creativity, investment and delivery”
While structures can range from marquees, to big tops to traditional square tents, other companies in the sector offer something slightly different.
One such company is The Halo Group, which owns a unique modular steel-framed temporary structure system.
In its simplest form, it is made up of lightweight RSJ beams and connectors and can be assembled in many different configurations, while it can even be built over multiple levels to create multi-storey temporary venues, mezzanine level structures, viewing platforms and bespoke or unusual structures.
Its modular design allows Halo to scale-up to almost any footprint depending on requirements, with structures used at events such as Glastonbury (140,000), Global Gathering (55,000) and Ramblin’ Man Festival (15,000).
“What sets our structure system apart from our competitors is the ability to customise our frames,” says business development director Alistair Watson. “Almost any cladding, finish or production element can be fixed directly to our frames, thus allowing a high level of creativity during the design process.”
This flexibility is essential when it comes to creating distinct identities for events, he adds.
“A festival such as Glastonbury or Ramblin’ Man Festival might require a different aesthetic to a structure featuring at BBC Proms in the Park (65,000) or Goodwood Festival of Speed (150,000),” he says. “Whether clients are looking to achieve a rustic look and feel, a high-end polished corporate identity or anything in-between, we can achieve the required finish.”
As festivals push the boundaries of what audiences expect, demand for such high-end services is increasing.
Arena Group supplied more than 65 temporary structures, a total of 13,810sqm, to the Henley Festival (6,000) – headlined by Pet Shop Boys and All Saints – and Henley Regatta, including bars, restaurants and police tents.
The company also provided more than 4,000 seats for the tiered grandstand.
Over at V Festival (80,000) in Chelmsford, Arena installed more than 3,200sqm of temporary structures including an artiste catering area, a wardrobe room and dressing room entrance tent for headline acts such as Jay Z, Pink, Craig David and Madness.
“It’s important we keep evolving and avoid complacency when it comes to creativity, investment and delivery,” says Arena UK and Europe CEO Grahame Muir.
“Interior creative design is one area where our clients constantly require new ideas, and we see possibilities growing and changing at a rapid pace.”
According to Muir, the standard to which temporary structures are now engineered continues to push the boundaries, with many now rivalling that of their permanent counterparts.
“Our recent investment in the I-Novation structure allows our structural designers greater flexibility to work their magic in the creation of semi-permanent buildings, offering a permanent-feel structure with improved acoustic and thermal insulation properties, and increased wind and weight-loading capabilities.”
As mentioned previously, the rise in the number of inner city festivals is creating an increasing number of opportunities for companies who can supply a wide range of mobile structures.
One such company is Field and Lawn (F&L), which has supplied structures to events such as Download (80,000), Reading (90,000) and WOMAD (40,000).
“What I’ve always liked about festivals is that in the run-up to an event you have a clear site – which can be a greenfield location, or for something like TRNSMT in Glasgow, within a city centre – and then three weeks later everything else is in place – stages, medical facilities, catering tents etc,” says F&L’s Ross Robertson.
There are other considerations when supplying inner-city events, as Robertson explains, with issues around delivery and capped working hours.
“Festival organisers will squeeze their tenancy periods whether they are on a public site or a greenfield site,” he notes. “Somebody still owns that land, and they’re renting that land, so they’ll always try and keep it as tight as possible.”
Dealing with third-party clients is also an accepted part of a supplier’s remit.
“One of the issues we get is where we are supplying direct to the organiser but then a third-party – such as a caterer – is using the structure and they have some last-minute request. It can always be sorted, though.”
Having been in business since 1982, Albion Wood Show Tents now supplies events such as Glastonbury, Towersey Folk Festival (8,000), Lakefest (15,000) and Coventry Godiva Festival (40,000).
The company’s tents range in width from 24m to 60m, the latter accommodating up to 6,000 people.
“Our tents are based on circus-style big tops and are designed specifically for the live music industry,” says Hazel Hirst, who designs the tents herself.
“For example, the tents we create can take extra weight so organisers can hang lighting rigs off them. Also, we can increase the height of the tents as some festival organisers like to have stages with higher backs.”
One development Hirst has noticed in the sector is there are now more requests from organisers for smaller tents to complement larger temporary structures.
“People want to become immersed in these events, they want to visit all these micro-venues around the main stage or tent,” she says. “That means, for an event such as Towersey for example, they have eight tents from us – two main venues and then smaller tents where people can become involved in spoken word or workshops.
“People go to music festivals for escapism and part of that is audience participation, to be involved in something. I’ve noticed more and more people like those type of events rather than a big one where everyone sits about and watches a band.”
Someone for whom the expansion of boutique events has been particularly good for business is Gary Bennett, director of Baconinflate, which has supplied inflatable temporary structures for festivals such as Isle of Wight (45,000) and Bestival (40,000).
“These smaller boutique festivals tend to be very focused on a specific theme or target market,” says Bennett. “The very visual appearance and scale of our inflatable temporary structures enables clients to standout from more traditional-framed marquees, with options of integrated lighting, projection and full digital printing.”
Another structure proving popular at festivals is The Amazing Tent Company (TATC) SaddleSpan structures, which have been used at WOMAD, V, Latitude (35,000) and Bloodstock (15,000).
TATC was bought in November 2016 by the directors behind temporary structures firm Nomadic Spaces.
“We’ve been mulling over which name to keep – Nomadic Spaces or The Amazing Tent Company – but when people see the SaddleSpan structure they tend to go, ‘That’s amazing’, so that one kind of works better,” says TATC director Simon Fookes.
There are also, notes Fookes, major benefits to the SaddleSpan.
“We tend to avoid using square tents and just work on these structures,” he says. “The great benefit of them is they are modular, so you can join them together. They are also incredibly quick to build and very cost-effective. Plus, they look great.”
Another benefit of this type of structure over a square marquee, he adds, is that they can be totally blacked-out, which can be particularly useful at festivals.
Other companies offering something slightly different for festivals include Intent Structures, whose stretch tents, designed in South Africa and made of polycotton with a PVC coating, can be found at events such as Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds (80,000) and V.
Meanwhile, Intent’s biggest temporary structure – the 40mx30m MegaRig – recently made an appearance at Lovebox and Junction 2.
As well as being booked directly by festival organisers, the company also deals directly with third party traders.
“We offer a huge range of stock, around 15,000 square metres, and look after another 10,000 square metres of tents for our MyTent clients,” says MD Dan Leake. “The festival market is extremely important to us.”
As Leake notes, being flexible in this sector is essential.
“Understanding how to deliver a large volume of tents to festival sites, and being able to provide detailed plans and designs for our rigs in complex areas, has kept the company in a good position.”
So while the sector can’t promise festival organisers a summer of sun in 2018, it can at least guarantee a structure for all seasons.