Mean Fiddler Keeps Glastonbury

Glastonbury Festival owner Michael Eavis has confirmed that he’s reached an agreement for The Mean Fiddler Music Group to continue managing the event.

He told Pollstar that, after an hour-long telephone conversation with Live Nation chief Michael Rapino, who he describes as “a man that I can do business with,” it was decided that MFMG managing director Melvin Benn would continue to oversee the licence application and the running of the event.

Benn has effectively been the world famous festival’s ops director since February 2002, when Eavis and former Mean Fiddler chairman Vince Power agreed the London-based company would run Glastonbury’s infrastructure in return for 20 percent of the net profit.

The deal worked well. Benn liaised with the local authorities and eased fears that gatecrashers were causing the 120,000 capacity to get out of hand, but the relationship between Power and Eavis became strained.

In 2004, the tiff became public when Eavis told U.K. papers The Guardian and The Sunday Times that he was fed up with the way he saw Power hogging the credit for the festival.

At the time, he told Pollstar the rift between them was “more than just newspaper talk.”

“It makes me very angry when I see Vince using the festival to prop up the value of Mean Fiddler shares.”

Although he has always maintained there are “questions about the quality of the agreement” he’d signed with Mean Fiddler, it seems a similar arrangement will continue to apply in the future.

Eavis isn’t going into details but it looks as if Rapino and (presumably) Denis Desmond from Ireland’s MCD, which owns Mean Fiddler in partnership with Live Nation, have agreed to let Glastonbury continue to have Benn’s services in return for a share of the profit.

It’s hard to say what that adds up to. The original deal with Mean Fiddler was for “20 percent of the net profit.”

Eavis once described the amount as “not much more than paying Melvin Benn’s wages.” The issue is further complicated because “net profit” is only achieved after the festival has made its charitable donations.

If that’s the case, the charitable donations go in the books as a cost and Mean Fiddler effectively pays part of them.

In 2004, the festival gave about £1.5 million that was largely split between Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid.

As there’s no Glastonbury this year – what dairy farmer Eavis describes as “our fallow year” – the deal won’t start until 2006. But Rapino is still happy to see the matter settled.

“He has built an incredible experience at Glastonbury and we have no intention of trying to change his winning formula,” he told Pollstar, confirming that he has no problem with the relationship between Benn and Glastonbury carrying on as it has.

The result is also a relief for Eavis. Although his relationship with Mean Fiddler – prior to Live Nation and MCD teaming to buy it – hasn’t always been cordial, he’s under no illusion that Benn’s involvement could be crucial to Glastonbury being granted its licence.

The local authority said as much in 2002. After Mendip Council granted that year’s licence – after first turning it down – press officer Grenville Jones explained why the re-application had been successful.

“When the presentation was made at the licensing hearing, it was very much with Mean Fiddler as part of the package,” he said. “And it’s fair to assume that there would have to be a new application if that company isn’t on board.”

Local authorities had all but lost faith in Eavis and his team’s ability to control the huge crowd.

In late March 2001, Frome Magistrates had fined him £6,000 and ordered him to pay £9,000 in costs because gatecrashers had increased the 2000 attendance far beyond its licensed capacity.

Another fallow year came in 2001. Mainly because Eavis was worried that gatecrashers swelling the crowd could increase the risk of something like a repeat of the tragic accident that killed nine fans at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival a year earlier.

By 2002, he had spent more than £1 million on a fence designed to make the site as impenetrable as Fort Knox. With Benn’s experience winning over the local councillors, the festival began putting its crowd problems behind it.

As Eavis was telling Pollstar he was very happy to keep the arrangement for Benn’s services and also telling the national media that he’d love to book Kylie Minogue for 2007, the Mean Fiddler managing director was going through crowd problems of a different sort.

This time it’s not that there are too many people, it’s because a lot of them are the wrong people.

In a letter to New Musical Express, written after the weekend tickets for the company’s Reading-Leeds Carling weekend had sold out in a matter of hours, he said he feels guilty about the number of genuine fans who were disappointed because they didn’t get one.

As one of the rapidly growing number of promoters who are publicly speaking out against Internet touts, he said Mean Fiddler is totally opposed to people selling tickets at wildly inflated prices, as is happening on eBay. He said the company has made its position clear to eBay.

The attack on eBay comes a little more than a month after the auction site declined an invitation from Wembley Arena’s Peter Tudor to explain its position at an ILMC ticketing panel he was chairing.

Explaining the Mean Fiddler’s position with eBay, he told NME readers, “We do everything in our power to stop it; we cross check all bookings and cancel multiple bookings, we cancel bookings made by known touts on our blacklist and we constantly search Internet sites for agencies who claim to have tickets.

“Our team manages to catch quite a few people but it’s a very slow process tracking them down as, for example, all eBay sellers are anonymous,” he said. “But there are limits to what we can do, and our biggest problem is that it’s not actually illegal. We’ve been in discussions with the Office of Fair Trading for over a year, regarding loopholes in the law that allow this to continue, and we’d encourage fans to contact them as well.

“EBay themselves refuse to stop the trade because it doesn’t break any of their rules, and they actually confirmed their position when interviewed on Radio One on April 4 this year,” he continued. “We’ve even tried to stop them using breach of copyright laws, where people display photos of the tickets or use the event logo without permission, but eBay haven’t even replied to us on this.”

Among the bands at this Reading-Leeds Carling Weekend August 25-27 are Franz Ferdinand, Muse, Pearl Jam, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, Placebo, Audioslave, The Streets, and My Chemical Romance.

– John Gammon