'One of the jewels in the BBC's crown': Lorna Clarke on taking Glastonbury to millions of viewers

'One of the jewels in the BBC's crown': Lorna Clarke on taking Glastonbury to millions of viewers

Glastonbury is back for 2023, with headliners including Elton John, Arctic Monkeys and Guns N’ Roses, alongside dozens more acts and some big surprises.

If you’re not at the festival (and maybe even if you are), the BBC provides comprehensive coverage across all platforms, so you won’t miss a thing.

Of course, that is a major operation in terms of production and presenting teams, so extensive planning goes into the coverage. The BBC crews will be pulling some long shifts this weekend to capture performances from stars including Lana Del Rey, Lil Nas X, Yusuf, Cat Burns, Christine And The Queens, Fred Again.., Lewis Capaldi, Loyle Carner, Nova Twins, Rina Sawayama, Shygirl, Warpaint, Young Fathers, and many more.

Here, Lorna Clarke, director of music, BBC opens up about the scale of the Glastonbury coverage, revealsinnovations for 2023 and talks about the BBC’s commitment to new music and genres including UK rap and dance…

Can you give us a sense of the scale of infrastructure required for the festival this year? 

“The volume and breadth of our Glastonbury coverage [ensures it] is one of the jewels in the BBC’s crown, as well as being our most intense working week of the year. And everyone working on site knows how much BBC audiences love Glastonbury, which drives us to present the most comprehensive coverage of the festival we can each year. As you read this, production teams are finalising broadcast plans, finding out which acts have special guests, and where the surprise gigs will happen around Worthy Farm.  Our production and presenting teams spend weeks researching the artists, watching past performances, preparing schedules and generally prepping for hours of live TV, radio and digital coverage around the clock. Crews are busy checking their kit to ensure everything arrives and is in working order, and everyone is checking the weather forecast!  At the moment it looks like it’s going to be dry, but you never know. The live action really started when Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music Breakfast Show covered the opening of the gates on Wednesday morning – and then we’re off!  

“For both homegrown and international artists, performing at Glastonbury is a lifelong ambition, and our production teams are aware of how important this particular performance is to an artist. We work closely with them to realise the show they want to present for millions of people at home. Pre-show, some artists are happy to be interviewed, others want to focus and protect their voices. Post performance, most artists can’t wait to be interviewed, as they’re full of adrenaline and relief!

Our partnership is crucial to the BBC shining a light on one of the world’s most loved music festivals and making it visible to the whole of the UK and beyond

Lorna Clarke

“None of this would be possible without the teams at BBC Studios Television – led by executive producer Alison Howe – and BBC Audio, across the radio networks as well as some independent radio production companies. There are long days for everyone on site and at our broadcast centres, all working hard to capture the magic and shape it for TV, radio, Sounds and iPlayer, to ensure that millions experience the unmissable. For Glastonbury, we pull together many different teams from across the BBC, BBC Studios and indies to work together as one team. We start with the on-stage performance schedules as they dictate our production and presenting schedules, and then weave in our broadcast plan, where our fantastic core presenters pop up presenting both radio and TV programmes across the festival schedule.”

How do you improve the viewer/listener experience, are there any measures or new developments for 2023? 

“The combination of Rory Connolly, iPlayer commissioner, Jonny Rothery, music TV commissioner, and Alison, who deliver against my brief of scale and discovery being at the heart of our coverage each year, so we always review our production to consider how we can evolve for the following year’s coverage.  We also consider what new technology is available – so last year, which continues this year, performances from the Pyramid Stage are broadcast in ultra high-definition. This year we have over 40 hours of coverage across TV, and over 85 hours of live radio, providing very good value for licence fee paying audiences. Obviously there are only 24 hours in a day so there will get to a point where we can’t grow our hours any more! 

“There are a number of firsts for 2023. This year we’ll have Pyramid Stage – Signed, meaning all performances on the Pyramid Stage will be streamed live in British Sign Language from Friday to Sunday, making our offer more accessible than ever before. Since Monday (June 19), iPlayer has offered Glasto-Cam Live, giving everyone a birds eye view of the site, and Glastonbury’s Greatest Hits, which is back-to-back iconic performances from past festivals, is streaming 24 hours a day. The Glastonbury Channel launches on Friday, bringing live sets, performance highlights and interviews with special guests. On Sounds, we have on-demand collections, daily playlists as well as every show that’s live from the site.” 

What were the lessons from last year’s coverage? How will 2023 build on that in terms of the volume of performances, programming and editorial coverage? 

“2022 was the festival’s first year back after lockdown, so we were just happy to be back in Somerset! We’ve learnt that the appetite for Glastonbury from our audience starts weeks before, and that after the pandemic living your Glastonbury at home is a guilty pleasure that has just grown and grown. I don’t think there were any specific lessons from last year. We loved the offer of ultra high-definition, so were keen to continue to give viewers the ultimate viewing experience once again.”

How significant is the audience engagement with the Glastonbury iPlayer channel? And is BBC One coverage important to give you broadcast reach for headliners?

“The BBC’s impact of broadcasting Glastonbury allows millions of licence fee payers, who may have never been to Glastonbury or any music festival before, to escape for a perfect weekend of live music at home, or on the move, or when they are available. In fact, Glastonbury at the BBC in 2022 saw the highest number of streams on record, and more than 42 million requests across iPlayer and Sounds.

Our music and BBC Introducing teams, as well as our radio production teams, play a major part in breaking new talent

Lorna Clarke

“The Glastonbury iPlayer channel will give music lovers access to some of the world’s most popular artists whenever they want them, wherever they are. I feel strongly that music has an ageless, universal appeal, and we look forward to bringing everyone together this weekend through a shared love of music. Our aim is to provide as much coverage as possible from the widest range of performances, so whether it’s Lizzo’s flamboyance, Lewis Capaldi’s brilliant songwriting or Elton John’s timeless classics, there will be something for everyone this weekend. To have Elton John’s farewell performance on the BBC’s two most popular channels, BBC One and Radio 2, seems perfect for this national treasure who is loved by music lovers of all ages.”   

You mentioned Sign Language from the main stage, does this open up Glastonbury to even more people?  

“As the BBC is for everyone, it’s important that everyone has the option to experience Glastonbury in whatever form they can, so I’m very happy that this year, we’ll have a British Sign Language channel of coverage of the Pyramid Stage, making our coverage more accessible than ever before.”

Glastonbury was absent during the pandemic – how much was its absence felt in terms of BBC music/cultural programming? 

“When the festival couldn’t happen, we encouraged fans to create their own Glastonbury at home thanks to the amazing festival archive. Their ‘fantasy Glasto festival’ featured impossible combinations of acts including David Bowie, Beyonce, Stormzy, Adele, Primal Scream, Radiohead, Coldplay, Billie Eilish, the list goes on. Plus we broadcast classic sets on TV, created All Day Glastonbury mixes in Sounds, and presented special programmes like Radio 2’s Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the 70’s Glastonbury Special. This festival has produced so much great content over the years that we knew we could recreate something special, thanks to the Glastonbury legacy.

“The festival was missed by everyone, whether you usually trekked to Worthy Farm to experience the festival first hand, or enjoyed the few days in June watching the performances live from wherever you were. Glastonbury is a priority to the BBC as it’s one of the times where listeners and viewers of all ages cherry-pick their favourite artists from a vast range of sets on offer thanks to our unparalleled coverage. I want to thank Emily and Michael Eavis, as none of this would be possible without their festival, and their year round management of the line-up.  Our partnership is crucial to the BBC shining a light on one of the world’s most loved music festivals and making it visible to the whole of the UK and beyond. So many times I’ve heard that watching Glastonbury footage has inspired so many people to get to Glastonbury, whether it’s Haim as performers, or Jack Saunders as a presenter, which he talks about on the new Sounds podcast Glastonbury Top Tens.”

Who are the artists BBC radio has championed who you will be able to revisit at Glastonbury? 

“How the BBC supports new talent is a hugely rewarding part of our jobs. Our music and BBC Introducing teams, as well as our radio production teams, play a major part in breaking new talent, whether they attend a small showcase, listen to tracks that have been added to the Uploader or to discover an artist via a regional BBC Introducing radio show. 

It feels that UK rap is having a real moment right now and the world is paying attention

Lorna Clarke

Raye has been supported by Radio 1 for many years and performed at Radio 1’s Big Weekend earlier this year, as well as on Later… with Jools Holland, and now we’re seeing her play the Pyramid Stage on Saturday, as well as to millions of people at home. New for 2023 in our coverage is the BBC pop stations taking over the BBC Introducing stage each night. On Thursday it’s Radio 1 Dance, Friday it’s 6 Music, Saturday it’s 1Xtra and Sunday it’s Asian Network, featuring DJ sets from some of the stations’ favourite new artists.” 

How is the BBC celebrating Elton John’s main stage headline debut, and also for Guns N’ Roses?

“Elton John is an artist who has been appearing on the BBC for the past six decades, so it’s only right that his set will be broadcast live on both BBC One and Radio 2. He’s a huge supporter of the BBC, and I’m sure it will be a momentous occasion as he performs some of the most loved songs in pop. Guns N’ Roses are fierce performers, and I’m sure rock fans and BBC Two viewers will be in for a rare treat.” 

UK rap stars have a strong presence - how will the BBC celebrate these artists?

“It’s important to us to reflect the range of music at Glastonbury, and it’s a joy to see UK rap being showcased on such a global platform. With Stefflon Don and Aitch playing the Pyramid Stage, as well as Digga D, Central Cee and Krept & Konan playing across the weekend, it feels that UK rap is having a real moment right now and the world is paying attention. We’ll be playing tracks from these sets across 1Xtra throughout the weekend, and their sets will be available on BBC iPlayer.” 

And dance music is enjoying a boom, is this a genre getting plenty of attention on the BBC?  

“Dance music’s current boom was in full evidence at Radio 1 Big Weekend in Dundee in May. Watching thousands of people go crazy for Ben Hemsley’s set was a real eye-opener.”    

Finally, are there any personal highlights you will try to take in?

“My time is usually spent in a hot broadcast truck or a transmission area, but I will be trying to catch Phoenix, Lizzo and Sparks – rain or shine.”

PHOTO: (L-R) Alison Howe, Emily Eavis, Lorna Clarke, Lauren Laverne


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