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In memory of promoting pioneer Freddy Bannister

22 October 2019

LIVE UK has heard that pioneering promoter and festival organiser Freddy Bannister died in August, aged 84.

Bannister started promoting in 1959 in ballrooms around the country, before staging his first event, the Bath Festival of Blues at the Pavilion Recreational Ground in June 1969. The line-up included Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall.

The event, which had no security personnel, attracted more than 12,000 people and is credited with inspiring a young dairy farmer Michael Eavis to start his own version, which became Glastonbury (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 that included Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Jefferson Airplane.

Four 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 and 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).

Among his other notable events was a concert with the Beatles at Bath Pavilion (est. cap. 1,000) in June 1963, just before the band’s first No 1 single From Me To You.

It is believed that a row with Led Zeppelin’s formidable manager Peter Grant over the size of the Knebworth audience and the 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.

Harvey Goldsmith CBE pays homage to Bannister, telling LIVE UK, “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 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 and were shocked by the state of the site. We decided then that we’d keep or National Blues and Jazz Festival [NBJF] to about 25,000.” A year later in 1971, NBJF moved from Plumpton and was renamed Reading Festival (now 90,000).

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

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