Ahead of Field Day’s return to Victoria Park on Saturday, founder and Eat Your Own Ears boss Tom Baker reflects on 11 years of eclectic festival fun – and those freaky cats
Music promoter Tom Baker always knew he wanted to have a festival in Victoria Park. He even waited patiently until it was available. And in 2007, Field Day was finally born.
On the eve of the festival’s 11th incarnation, the Somerset-born music lover still believes the Tower Hamlets park has the right mix of urban and rural to make his vision for the festival come to life.
“It’s a beautiful leafy park with a bandstand,” Tom says. “And it just felt like it had the right atmosphere – rural enough, but still with a bit of the urban with the skyscrapers looming in the distance.”
Festivals are in his blood. He attended Glastonbury as a toddler. And his first foray in the world of running festivals saw him hold a celebration of the countryside in Hackney City Farm. A few years later Field Day was born – and it was almost a complete disaster.
“The first year was a baptism by fire! We had lots of queues. We’ve learned from those mistakes very quickly,” Tom admits. “It’s easy to say in hindsight – but it wasn’t an amazing event. Well, the weather and the line-up were good. But there were errors. We asked a lot of questions and made sure we were hiring the best people and infrastructure. Every year we try to do it better and evolve.
“Field Day has continued to grow over the years. It was 10,000 people the first year. And then 20,000. Then 30,000. This year it’s 40,000 because we’re only doing one day. But we’ve tried to keep it small and preserve the spirit of leftfield music mixed with the intimacy of a traditional village fete.”
Field Day – which has always delicately balanced the worlds of indie bands and dancefloor action – returns to its original format of a single day. It was the return of The Pixies that was responsible for swelling the festival to a full weekend (originally the Sunday was dedicated to the Underage festival). But Tom is adamant that next year it will return to two days. “We just couldn’t get the bands we wanted this year. We didn’t want to force it.”
If there is one element that challenges the balance between bands and beats this year it’s the festival’s new barn. The unlikely musical bedfellows of Creamfields and Field Day teamed up to share the gigantic metal hangar – which is set to host Aphex Twin’s much vaunted headline set on Saturday.
“It’s amazing. It took cranes and two weeks to assemble! It’s a phenomenal thing – like a bespoke Alexandra Palace,” gushed Tom. “It should work very well for Aphex Twin’s set.”
The other new arrival is the cats. They’re everywhere. From billboards to the festival’s own tins of pale ale, courtesy of The Five Points Brewery Co in Hackney. “It all happened quite randomly,” Tom admits.
“We were struggling with a theme. The designer was struggling. It was a nightmare! But just before deadline I remember seeing an email pop up – it was 6am as our designer lives in New York – and there was the cat. WOW! It just worked. Everyone loves cats, right? And when we asked people to submit pics of their own cats. And then we put the Aphex Twin logo into a cat’s eyes. The moments of panic have paid off.”
You’ll see the Field Day felines dotted all over the site on Saturday. But if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll also see Tom checking out the bands and standing in the same queues as paying punters waiting for that frisky pale ale.
“I like to watch bands and enjoy the day! Seeing the bands is important. That’s why I started the festival in the first place. I don’t want to be stuck in a cabin. I want to be out there listening to the music. I want to watch bands! That’s why I do Field Day. It’s still a labour of love.”
Raise a glass to Field Day. Because if Tom gets his way on Saturday, it’s going to be purrfect…