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Prince and Madonna among superstars who came to Kent festivals

Festival fans were left in the lurch this week when Jess Glynne cancelled her Kent gig. The county has had a chequered history with big outdoor shows, with as many flops as hits.

We take a look back at three in particular, plus those we've loved and lost and the events still going strong this summer.

Zoo8, Port Lympne, 2008

There was plenty of monkey business going on at Zoo8
There was plenty of monkey business going on at Zoo8

This should have been a memorable event. It turned out to be termed by many as "the worst festival ever". Which, one imagines, is up against some pretty tough competition.

Zoo8 had all the ingredients to be a success. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Port Lympne Wildlife Park, near Hythe, the weather was set to be of the 'phew what a scorcher' variety, and the line-up featured a host of big names.

Among them Dizzee Rascal, Ash, Mark Ronson and British Sea Power.

Some 10,000 fans descended on the site and, almost immediately, the problems began.

In addition to the problems, the clear-up operation was delayed too at the Zoo8 site
In addition to the problems, the clear-up operation was delayed too at the Zoo8 site

The gates weren't opened for several hours, then water dried up on site, stages had to be closed for safety reasons, perimeter fences collapsed and, to cap it all, a number of the big names pulled out. All were related to what the red-faced organisers would later describe as "miscalculation over cashflow".

It was a miscalculation and a half.

The band Ash described the experienced: "We arrived at around 2pm with no idea what was going on.

Read more: Musical festivals in Kent 2019

“No-one had played on the main stage yet, the local stage hands (unsure they were getting paid) had walked off in protest to the farce that was unfolding and the second stage had been completely shut down.

"The stage manager, who was trying to deal with the unfolding chaos, had just been fired and was being circled by security eager to find a reason to pounce on him.

"We knew we'd been given the run around by the promoters in the run up the the show. Half the fee was supposedly transferred to our bank account in advance but the truth was, it was never sent, they'd blatantly lied to us.

"I thought we were going to witness a riot, as punters, who'd paid a lot for tickets, where baking in the heat and nothing was happening..." Ash

"We heard rumour that Mark Ronson was paid with wheelbarrows of pound coins from the on-site bars, desperate measures indeed, and a whole list of acts seemed to be cancelling or being forced to cancel as they wouldn't be paid.

"Mid-afternoon, the crowd at the main stage was audibly angry and you could sense the tension from backstage. I thought we were going to witness a riot, as punters, who'd paid a lot for tickets, where baking in the heat and nothing was happening.

"Around 5.30pm a group of executive types from the zoo arrived and in a move to save face for the festival and wildlife park, took the event over. They took control of the festival and secured the fees of those acts that had remained wanting to perform."

Hop Farm Festival, Paddock Wood, 2011

Morrissey headlining the Saturday night at the Hop Farm Festival 2011
Morrissey headlining the Saturday night at the Hop Farm Festival 2011

Arguably the finest festival line-up to have ever graced the county, the 2011 outing would be the pinnacle of an event which would last just one more year before the sums failed to add up and its original incarnation disappeared amid a flurry of headlines over unpaid bills.

When initially announced, the 2011 event was to be spread over two days, the Friday and Saturday. Fans were, therefore, a trifle miffed when the Sunday was added some three months later and they had to pay extra to access it.

There was good reason though. For promoter Vince Power had achieved what Glastonbury had been attempting for years - to persuade Prince to headline a UK festival for the very first time. And, as it transpired, the only time.

The late great Prince performing at the Hop Farm Festival in Paddock Wood in 2011 Picture Matthew Walker
The late great Prince performing at the Hop Farm Festival in Paddock Wood in 2011 Picture Matthew Walker

He joined a line-up which, for fans of a certain age, was, ahem, music to their ears. The Friday would feature The Eagles, Bryan Ferry and The Killers' lead singer Brandon Flowers. Saturday was headlined by Morrissey. The under-card featured the likes of the ever-energetic Iggy Pop and the less sprightly Lou Reed.

But it was Prince who grabbed all the headlines with a romp through his back catalogue as the sun set on the final day. He didn't come cheap, mind. The Minneapolis maestro charged $1million (£790,000).

Radio 1's Big Weekend, Maidstone, 2008

BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend at Mote Park in 2008 was blessed with sunshine. Picture: BBC
BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend at Mote Park in 2008 was blessed with sunshine. Picture: BBC

Granted, this was not a conventional festival. You got turfed out when the music ended, and the 20,000 tickets - which were free - were distributed on a lottery basis; the bulk to those in the county.

But music fans got to use an alliteration previously thought impossible - Madonna in Maidstone.

The superstar was the big name on the Saturday night - arriving via helicopter and then making her appearance on stage perched on a giant throne. Well, she is the Queen of Pop.

Madonna performs at Maidstone's Big Weekend in 2008
Madonna performs at Maidstone's Big Weekend in 2008

She played a short six-song set which was light on past hits and heavy on promoting her then new album, Hard Candy.

Other big acts included Usher (who came on stage and announced he was delighted to be in Manchester...) Fatboy Slim and The Fratellis.

However, it was the emerging singer who opened the proceedings on Sunday who would perhaps go on to get closest to eclipsing Madonna's global clout. Within 10 years, Adele would be performing in front of 98,000 adoring fans at Wembley Stadium and selling millions of albums worldwide.

And the music plays on

There may have been plenty of casualties on the way, but the good news is that music festivals continue to flourish in the county.

Dance event Southbeats has moved from its previous home at Port Lympne to Sevenoaks for a two-day event this September. Headliner will be Dizzee Rascal.

In Faversham, A New Day Festival knows its audience well, with classic and prog rock front and centre. This year sees former Marillion frontman Fish join the likes of Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes and Wilko Johnson at the event.

Black Deer Festival 2018 Picture: Louise Roberts
Black Deer Festival 2018 Picture: Louise Roberts

Right on the border with East Sussex, the Black Deer Festival near Tunbridge Wells is a "celebration of Americana and country music". This year's line-up is certainly varied, including everyone from Kris Kristofferson to the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg.

Maidstone's Mote Park now knows to expect lots of leather, denim and receding hairlines for one weekend a year, courtesy of its Ramblin' Man Fair. Serving up classic rock, previous headliners have included Whitesnake, The Cult and ZZ Top. This year, acts confirmed include the likes of The Darkness and Cheap Trick.

And then there's the Wheels & Fins Festival in Broadstairs which last year featured The Libertines.

Not quite a festival, but the Rochester Castle Concerts always prove an open-air star-studded hit. Pop sensation Jess Glynne has pulled out of this year's event two weeks before she was due to perform.

Neverworld Picture: James Bridle/FestivalPhotography.co.uk
Neverworld Picture: James Bridle/FestivalPhotography.co.uk

And last but not least, a special mention must go to LeeFest - or Neverworld, as it is now known.

Originally started by Lee Denning in his back garden of his home in Beckenham, taking advantage of his parents being on holiday, it has grown year-on-year with this year's event taking place on a farm in Hever and featuring the likes of Craig David, The Vaccines, Professor Green and Grandmaster Flash.

Lost fields of dreams

About 10 years ago, there was an explosion as events started popping up - and just as quickly popping off.

Revellers at Lounge on the Farm
Revellers at Lounge on the Farm

In Canterbury, Lounge on the Farm looked for a while like it could become one of the country's leading events with performers over its nine-year run including Ellie Goulding, Nile Rodgers, The Vaccines and Echo and the Bunnymen. But after a string of shows pulling in close to 10,000 music fans, the landowner decided he could do with his land not being trampled for three days by cider-fuelled revellers and told organisers they would have to find a new home. They didn't and it hasn't been seen since 2014.

Sellindge, between Ashford and Hythe, is not normally associated with the festival scene, but in 2008 and 2009 it grew with the likes of Supergrass headlining. But by 2010 it was consigned to the history books with that rock n roll issue of cashflow being blamed.

Read more: The 25 biggest gigs and entertainments events over the last 25 years

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