Tough one to write up, this review….Why? Because this festival was brand new, first year of what should have become and had all the hallmarks of becoming, an exciting annual highlight in the summer festivals calendar. Great line-up, experienced promoter, superb site right slap bang in the centre of a city synonymous with great music. Liverpool. But it lasted just one of its two days, and is no more.
Doomed on its maiden “voyage” – ironically just like the ill-fated Titanic which had Liverpool painted on its stern as it was born and took shape in Albion House, the headquarters of the Liverpool-based White Star Line. The building where the mighty craft was designed, still stands at the corner of James Street and The Strand in the city today.
There was also about 90 crew from the city on board the night it sank, including the two lookouts who spotted the iceberg and gave the alert. 50,000 items of glass and crockery on board was manufactured in Liverpool. The musicians, who played on as the ship sank, were booked by Blacks, a Liverpool agency, and are commemorated on a plaque in the city’s Philharmonic Hall.
We know what happened in the early morning of 15th April 1912. But what the heck went wrong at the Hope & Glory Festival 2017? What’s the skinny? Who’s to blame? Well, that’s the million dollar question, right there. The local authority have launched an independent investigation, spearheaded by the Mayor. Many people demanding refunds for the cancelled second day, and some from the first day that did go ahead amid “chaos”, hassle for punters and fears about safety.
The site was licensed for 12,500 people each of the two days, and ticket sales had apparently gone really well. Either single day tickets @ £55 + fees or a weekend ticket for £89 + fees. The event was organised by Hope & Glory Festivals Ltd, a new company with two directors.
The face of the festival
The man who was the face of the festival and managing the event, Lee O’Hanlon, husband of one of the directors. He was not a director of the Ltd company until after the event, but for just a week until he resigned. He is a very experienced music business professional. Having worked in music management and as boss of the event promoter Tiny Cow Events Ltd, across more than 25 years. He had promoted successful gigs and festivals in the past, and worked with such stars as The Jacksons, Sir Tom Jones and James, the latter of whom was the headline act for the Saturday night of the new Hope & Glory Festival.
A hell of a lot has already been written and said about the failures, factual and perceived, of this event. Lots of opinions (many by those who were not even there) and downright vile and unnecessary nastiness aimed at the face of the festival, Lee O’Hanlon. Including personal stuff involving his wife and son. It got very, very heated and ugly, and so much so, Lee took down the Hope & Glory Facebook page and the festival’s Twitter account, as well as his own. He came off of his personal Facebook page for a week or so too, and made it public knowledge that he was involving the police regarding some of the threats and abuse he had received on-line. Lee himself wrote that “failure was snatched from the jaws of success” after the event crashed.
The festival’s failure made the national newspapers, was one of the the lead stories on the BBC 24 TV news on the Sunday night, after a Tweet was sent out first thing on the Sunday, with three simple words: “No Festival Today”, which was the way it was announced that the second day was cancelled – which angered many people who had travelled to Liverpool from Ireland, across Europe and as far as America and Australia for the event. Out of pocket for travel, accommodation and the cost of the festival ticket.
The site was guarded by uniformed security on the Sunday and no one was allowed entry. Traders and caterers were packing up and leaving by the main gate, while angry/upset/stunned ticket holders were turned away by security. TV camera crews, photographers, radio journalists and press guys hung about to capture footage, stills and quotes. A notice was being shown to people by security and then posted up on the gates and fencing, saying the council and the police had nothing to do with the cancellation and had to accept the decision of the organisers, referring disgruntled people to the festival’s website.
Just across the road, the festival boss Lee O’Hanlon was holding meetings with various people at his hotel, and looking like a totally heartbroken man when I saw him. But a war of words broke out on Twitter between Tim Booth, the lead singer of Saturday’s headliners James and the official Hope & Glory Festival Twitter account. The James star Tweeting to apologise to his band’s fans for a shorter set than planned, as some of the acts were asked to cut their set short when the main stage ran more than two hours late. The Twitter outburst against Booth was blamed on a “junior” by Lee O’Hanlon, who was widely accused of writing the Tweets himself, which he denied.
Charlotte Church was due to grace the main stage with her band, and many were looking forward to seeing her, but with circa two hours notice she was told her set had been pulled because of the lateness of the running schedule. Due to a strict 11 pm curfew on the site, as a condition of the licence.
Charlotte told me herself backstage, she was “gutted” and “very disappointed”, having come in from Cardiff with her band, and they really wanted to perform, but she also said she fully understood these thing happen and accepted the decision.
She appealed on social media for a local venue to allow her to turn up and do a gig there instead. Eventually getting local venue Heebie Jeebies to stage the show, which was packed and she blew the roof off, apparently. I had a personal invite from Charlotte, who was a lovely lady, but I had to stay to catch the James set for photos, so I didn’t get to see her.
I did catch her Q & A session with Guardian journalist Simon Price on the small In The Lady Garden stage at the festival, in the afternoon. She spoke about her political persuasions and being a big fan of Jeremy Corbyn, her hatred of the Sun newspaper after she sued them for hacking her ‘phone, and being chased 24/7 (all photographers officially shooting the festival had to sign a release form to state they would not supply The Sun – which is banned in all newsagents in Liverpool – with any images from the event!) as a child star, by the Paparazzi.
She was very animated and it was a very interesting session. She comes across as a very genuine, passionate, strong and outspoken young woman, with her head screwed on. This being her first public appearance after it was announced that she and her partner had sadly lost their baby, after a miscarriage. He was with her at the festival, as he plays in her band.
So………three stages on the site; The Great Exhibition Stage, Wonders Of The Age stage and the wonderfully named, In The Lady Garden stage. Myself and a snapper colleague were mischeivously contemplating suitable bands whose names suited In The Lady Garden. Bush. Flaming Lips and that band fronted by Courtney Love. Now what were they called?
Day one on the main stage (Great Exhibition), opened with Clay, The Membranes were joined by a choir, Pigeon Detectives, Badly Drawn Boy, Embrace, The View, The Fratellis, Razorlight and James. Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon were supposed to perform between The View and The Fratellis.
On the second stage (Wonders Of The Age), Starsailor headlined. Opened by Blank Parody fronted by Tony Christie’s grandson. The Jackobins, Haunt The Woods, Wild Front, Rich Ayre, Abichan, Chris Helme from the Seahorses, Dave McCabe from the Zutons, Lucy Spraggan and then Starsailor. On the smallest of the three stages, In The Lady Garden, The Sex Pissed Dolls headlined, with special guest Tony Christie joining them at the end of their blistering set. Before that; We Are Catchers, Prize, an air guitar contest, Lord of the Lobsters, Megan Dotchin, Charlotte Church in conversation with Simon Price, Rothwell, Lucy Spraggan in conversation with Simon Price and Stephi LaReine’s Fashionista Hour.
Day two would have looked like this…
The second day’s artists didn’t get to appear, sadly. They included the three headliners: Hacienda Classical; a 65-piece orchestra and special guests including Shaun Ryder, Bez, Rowetta, Tim Booth from James, New Order’s Peter Hook and others. The Twang. Space.
Plus: Ocean Colour Scene, Tom Chaplin (ex-Keane frontman), Lightning Seeds, Public Service Broadcasting, Reverend & The Makers, Clean Cut Kid, Trampolene, The Shimmer Band, The Blinders, Rale, William McCarthy (ex-Augustines frontman) and a star studded finale was planned, with a host of surprise star guests; some of whom had appeared at the festival during the weekend and many others who had not.
Many big names were bandied around for that, which would have seen an ensemble sing “All You Need Is Love” in the birthplace of the Beatles. Sadly it did not happen, and sadly, those lyrics were completely inaccurate on this occasion! Even love couldn’t save this festival, cruelly dubbed “No Hope and No Glory” on social media after the event.
Of those who did appear on the sole day of the festival, there were a few clashes with the stage timings, and as the site was pretty compact, often a smaller stage had to wait for the main stage to finish before it could start, as the sound drowned out the smaller stage.
I caught the following:
The Membranes fronted by singer and bassist John Robb, and backed by the 25-piece choir. A mighty performance.
I loved the sheer power, energy and attitude of Pigeon Detectives, celebrating their tenth anniversary. Narrowly escaping injury by falling speakers when lead singer Matt Bowman clambered on top of them and they fell into the pit close to my feet, where I was stood with a bunch of other photographers.
Matt was all over the place during their high energy set, and swinging the mike lead around and around, higher and higher, he eventually lets go and it comes flying down at high speed and he just catches it without missing a beat.
Risking his teeth if that little party trick goes wrong. He also pours a bottle of water on his head and throws another open bottle of water across the photographers and into crowd. His big leaps into the air are hard to capture with a camera, but I got one – see photo above!
Matt Bowman from The Pigeon Detectives takes a knee…
The Fratellis were superb, as were Razorlight. Headliners James attracted a crammed arena and were at the top of their game. An expanded line-up and despite an abbreviated set, they grabbed the attention from the off and held it.
Singer Tim Booth is a born showman and has a mesmerising look, with shaved head and goatee beard. Spitting image of actor Sir Ben Kingsley in the gritty 2001 movie “Sexy Beast”, with Ray Winstone, when Kingsley played brutal gangster Don Logan.
Climbing down into the pit and then up onto the safety barrier, holding a minder’s hand to keep him steady, he stayed there for a couple of songs, singing to the delighted crowd, and surrounded by cameras. Their timeless and infectious anthem “Sit Down” provided sheer sing-a-long magic.
I have heard them before, a few times at festivals when I have been in the media centre or at another stage, but this time I got to see them for the first time and I have to say, was very, very impressed. Great value headliner, and sounding as strong as they did in their heyday of hits. Ripe for another smash chart hit, maybe?
Before they opened the set with their song “Getting Away With It”, Tim told the crowd it was a pretty apt choice of song, dedicating it to the festival and apologising for the issues of the day. His Tweet after the event went a lot further: “Well that was fucked up,” when he apologised to the band’s fans who attended the festival.
I caught Chris Helme from The Seahorses, Dave McCabe from the Zutons (their sax player fronted another band on this day’s line-up), Lucy Spraggan and Starsailor on stage two. All turned in excellent crowd-pleasing sets. Former 2012 X Factor contestant Ms. Spraggan surprised me with how strong her material is and how good she is at delivering it. She was a real boss.
On the smallest stage, I got to see Charlotte Church and her Q & A with top journo Simon Price, with him looking like a star of The Rocky Horror Show with his trademark make-up and red-horned hair style. Headline act on that stage, the fabulous Sex Pissed Dolls. They really are a great band to see and to hear. They look killer and they are all excellent musicians. The stage was too small for them really, but they gave it their all, and the exuberant crowd lapped it up.
Sadly I had to be in the backstage “holding area” for entry to the pit of the main stage to shoot pix of James, at the same time as Tony Christie came on to sing with the Dolls. That was one of the highlights of the weekend schedule for me, and I’m really sorry I missed it. The man is a legend and I can reveal he is working on his autobiography.
Connie Rotter – a Sex Pissed Doll
I did spend a little time with him the next day, sat outside at a pavement coffee bar next to the hotel, before he and his wife left to drive home.
He told me apart from his stint with the Sex Pissed Dolls, he was supposed to guest with Charlotte Church and then on the second day, with Ocean Colour Scene and the ensemble finale.
But he only got to do the SPD thing, when day two was pulled. Really nice guy, and very humble.
His grandson is lead singer in the band Blank Parody who opened the Wonders of the Age stage on the Saturday. Nursing a busted wrist, Blank Parody’s front man Joby Fitzgerald and his guitarist from the band, Liam Howard managed to blag a few acoustic slots around the city on the Sunday, as many venues had taken to social media to offer their place to bands and artists who were due to play the festival on day two and had been cancelled.
Seasoned young festival fan showing off his wrist band collection and snapping the band Razorlight at Hope & Glory
The Lightning Seeds staged a gig at a small city centre venue on the Sunday evening, The Zanzibar, with Clean Cut Kid, and once word got out on social media, the street was heaving and queues quickly grew around the block for many hours in the pouring rain. The planned two shows for two lots of punters, was scrapped when the cops decided there were too many people spilling out into the road and told the venue they could only run one of the planned gigs that night, and closed down the street.
Jilly Idol of The Sex Pissed Dolls
So, back to day one and the many “issues” that marred this new festival. A wonderful setting right in the heart of Liverpool, and right next to The World Museum, City Library and St Georges Hall and gardens. St George’s Hall was the venue for a free “secret gig” on the Friday night for the first 1200 people who bought tickets for the festival. The secret line-up included Black Grape, featuring Happy Monday’s star Shaun Ryder, and Cast.
The Victorian theme of the festival was spot on for the grand and historic location. According to Lee O’Hanlon, the council apparently were originally happy to authorise a licence to allow more than the 12,500 per day that the organisers decided would be the maximum capacity. For me and many others, 12,500 was still perhaps too many on that site, the way it was laid out. I thought, as did others I spoke to, a maximum of 8,000 looked the right number, for safety’s sake with that site’s layout.
The way the arena was formed, the crowd were fenced in all the way round and there was only one way in and the same way out. So Lee O’Hanlon spotted the dangerous bottleneck it caused after the gates had opened, he called in the police for their view, and eventually stopped anyone else entering the site, even those with tickets.
After that wake up call and with many other issues, he reluctantly decided to pull day two, and put safety first.
The main arena was cobbled and on a downward slope towards the main stage. The safety barrier at the front of the main stage which formed the pit, was visibly wobbling and seemed to me and to others in that pit, to be moving slightly forward, with the pressure of the crowd when the arena filled up.
Appearing not to be fixed down properly and not to sit flat on that surface. Which looked very unsafe for the crowd at the front and for those of us – photographers, festival staff and security – working in that pit.
Many complaints were made about alleged overcrowding, which the organisers denied had happened, the huge queues for toilets and the bars, and to physically get in to the event in the first place.
Lee O’Hanlon took to social media to blame the production manager for a lot of the issues, and he repeated those allegations against the production manager in two controversial and heavily criticised radio interviews he did on the Monday and Tuesday night after the event.
He said he sacked the production manager on the day, when he realised the site was not safe, and he said he had him removed from the site straight away. The production manager’s contact details were then posted on to social media.
I am not here to take sides and or to lay blame at anyone’s door. This is a music magazine and we cover music, which is why I went to this new festival in the first place. But for whatever reasons (s) and whoever’s fault it is, the festival was a big balls-up. And that meant that myself and many others were deeply, deeply disappointed that the second day did not happen, and very frustrated with the first day’s issues.
And that means there are thousands of people who have been asking for refunds. The festival’s website has not had any activity on it since before the event, has since been closed and they shut down their official festival Twitter and Facebook sites.
Razorlight singer Johnny Borrell
Lee O’Hanlon said on the radio that there was no profit and would be a loss, and therefore a promised donation to the Manchester arena bomb victims fund of all the ticket sales profits would not now happen. And he was unsure if there would be any refunds after costs. Telling listeners this would probably finish his career in the music business, and how sad and sorry he was that the event was a failure.
But since then, Lee has said on social media he is not done yet and is already working on his next “secret” project (s), not stating what that is. His choice and good luck to him. He’ll need it after the slating he has had and the damage which has been done to his personal reputation.
But, apart from the personal disappointment I have of what could have been a great annual event, I have to say on the record, that many, many of the people making threats and being outrageously aggressive with their comments against Mr O’Hanlon – who I do not know at all and have had no previous dealings with, so I have no hidden agenda or reasons to defend him – really should be ashamed of themselves.
It’s a bloody music festival that went tits up, and one or two days of a life disrupted, that’s what we are talking about here. I’ve seen less venom on posts about POTUS and his seeming burning desire to go to war with North Korea!!!!
Fratellis front man Jon Fratelli – aka John Lawler
These thing happen. But it is not the end of the world. While I would like to see refunds for all of those who are out of pocket for day two, the loss of less than a hundred quid for a ticket, and having to find something else to do that day in Liverpool, was not a death sentence.
But much of the abuse on social media against him would lead one to believe Lee O’Hanlon and his colleagues are no better than evil murderers. The fact is; more than a year of his life went in to setting that event up, and what must have been a considerable financial investment too. He’s potentially lost or badly damaged something far more valuable than money; his reputation.
Having seen the man wandering about on the site on the first day, at night around the hotel and the next day, I saw a man who was visibly broken; spiritually and emotionally. Maybe there’s things he could have done better, and it is obvious that the damage limitation and crisis management could have been dealt with far more professionally immediately after the event.
Maybe as he claims, some or much of it is down to others not doing their job properly. Who knows and at this stage, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I quote from a song lyric (Tower of Power) I think sums up the situation here: “Hindsight is just foresight that happened too late”.
It was a music festival that did not go to plan on day one and got cancelled on day two. There; they are the facts. Some are saying that an investigation instigated by the council at council tax payer’s cost to find out “what went wrong”, is perhaps more to save their own face for issuing the licence, putting Liverpool’s own reputation on the line and allowing the gates to open in the first place. But what’s done is done.
But in perspective, Mr O’Hanlon is an experienced music business promoter with top end contacts, and has apparently organised many successful events. He has had some stick for some events that were claimed as not being a success, I have read. But this was not a beginner asking for a licence. And as the council said; there were “robust plans in place” to make this festival a success and an annual event. So if it failed, it was due to a combination of issues and causes, not just one person messing up, surely?
Why did the council not “sign off” the site before they allowed the gates to open, as part of their duty of care to the public, having issued a licence which I assume was issued subject to strict criteria being adhered to? Who is responsible for checking at the event that the conditions have been met? If the council did not have anyone there checking, and with the power to withdraw that licence and stop the event going ahead as per its licence conditions, why not? If they did, surely they need to shoulder some responsibility for giving the green light to open the gates?
Nancy Doll of The Sex Pissed Dolls in action
I have been attending and covering festivals and gigs for 40 years next year, here and overseas, and had this one gone to plan, it could have become one of the best little festivals out there. Great idea, great line-up, fabulous location – it had huge potential. But it did not go to plan or anywhere near, as we know.
However, the main focus for me, is to illuminate the positive and eliminate the negative. How? Well, the cold hard fact is; it did NOT become a disaster in a very different sense; as regards the safety aspects. After Hillsborough and its tragic links to that city, Lee O’Hanlon absolutely did the right thing to cancel day two. As hard as that decision would have been for a man whose “baby” this event was, and who had spent a year or more working on it every day.
That decision may well have saved lives, no joke. So if someone is out of pocket for £55 or £89 and some for travel and hotel costs too, which would they prefer?
The three word Tweet to announce the second day was cancelled, “No Festival Today” was perhaps not the finest moment in PR history! Nor was the decision to do a live 52 minute radio interview with comedian and TV/radio broadcaster Ian Lee, after apparently no sleep for 65 hours. An interview I heard as it went out live. Lee O’Hanlon’s apparent slurred speech on that radio sounding like he’d had a few, when it was in fact due to tiredness he said. So when it was called a “car crash” interview, it was maybe no surprise. Since then, there was a bitter Twitter battle between Ian and Lee, which got pretty unpleasant to follow.
James front man Tim Booth takes a hand…
Facts: No one died. No one got hurt. It was screwed up. By whom and how come, really does not matter now in the scheme of things. Believe me, had anyone got hurt or died, who would give a flying f*ck about refunds today? If they did, surely they’d be the ones to be attacked on social media.
So while it will have understandably peed off a lot of people to travel to Liverpool and get no festival, or only get one day and a messed up day at that – and those of us who travelled far and shelled out for travel and hotels will be wishing they’d have stayed at home – it really is not the end of the world.
Absolutely nothing at all can justify ANY of the many vicious hate-fuelled Tweets and social media messages aimed at Lee O’Hanlon and bringing his family into it. Nothing at all. I do hope some of those brave keyboard warriors get nicked and end up in court and get properly punished in law, as a deterrent to others. But sadly, Hope & Glory Festival is a toxic brand now.
Headliners James’ front man Tim Booth standing on the safety barrier in the pit singing to the crowd at the Hope & Glory Festival, with the press photographers grabbing the shot…
All I can offer are some photographs of the acts I did get to see on the sole day of the festival. Not the full review and pictures I had hoped to bring you. But shit happens, eh?
It may be a good idea to consider this: In the summer of 2017, there’s been a fair few festivals either pulled or ended up being a bit of a nightmare. Y Not Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, Festival on the Wall, Maidstone River Festival, T In The Park, Ska & Mod Festival and more…all cancelled. So Hope & Glory Festival was not the only one to hit the headlines. But, I didn’t see the organisers of the others get half the abuse that the H&G geezer got. It really was way out of proportion for what had happened.
So, enjoy the shots here of The Membranes, Pigeon Detectives, Charlotte Church, The Fratellis, Razorlight, James, Chris Helme, Dave McCabe, Lucy Spraggan, Starsailor, Simon Price and Sex Pissed Dolls. That’s all I got to see and shoot on that one day of the festival.
Tim Booth – or Sir Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in the gangster movie “Sexy Beast”? Nah, it’s definitely the James singer!
Hope & Glory Festivals Ltd went into receivership at the end of August 2017, with debts understood to be close to £900,000 owed to around 32 creditors, including Liverpool City Council who are said to be owed around £70,000. The company based in Lichfield had just £63,600 in assets, according to official documents filed with Companies House at the time.
When the firm went into receivership, only Ian Kerr was listed at Companies House as a director. Lee O’Hanlon was appointed a director on 9th August and resigned on 17th August 2017. Samantha O’Hanlon was a director from 9th October 2016 to 10th August 2017.
Some of the ticket agencies who sold tickets for the festival on behalf of the organisers, announced they had refunded customers themselves and were reported as saying they had been unsuccessful in trying to claw back that cash from the festival organisers. Two of them are said to be owed a total of £211,000.
Butcher Woods Corporate Recovery, 79 Caroline Street, Birmingham, B3 1UP were appointed as the administrators for the insolvency.
Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson appointed an independent organisation to launch an official independent enquiry into “what went wrong”, the results of which have been delayed to allow Lee O’Hanlon to respond. A council meeting on 20th September heard from the Mayor that in order to be “fair”, he had delayed it for “several weeks”, telling the councillors that Mr O’Hanlon had been in touch to say that his mother was “seriously ill”, after it was previously delayed while Mr O’Hanlon was on holiday. As of 1st October 2017, no report had yet been published.
Words & All photos: Simon Redley