He was the music promoter who in the 1980s brought some of music’s biggest names to Leeds. Now after a 30 years absence, Harvey Goldsmith talks to Sarah Freeman about why he’s back in town.
Harvey Goldsmith has staged concerts in some of the world’s most iconic venues. It was he who turned Bob Geldof’s dream of Live Aid into a reality, who masterminded Pink Floyd’s performance of The Wall in Berlin and without Goldsmith it’s also almost certain Luciano Pavarotti would never have played Wembley.
However, the music promoter, who has worked with everyone from Elton John to Van Morrison, also has a bit of a soft spot for a small corner of Leeds where back in the 1980s he brought some of music’s biggest names. Long before the birth of the Leeds Festival, it was thanks to Goldsmith that Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and Madonna played Roundhay Park, attracting 80,000-strong crowds to the grassy slopes.
“They were good times,” says Goldsmith who will be treading familiar ground when James and Primal Scream play the inaugural On Roundhay festival later this month. “Springsteen was a really good vibe, because he was at the top of his game and the Stones are always good value, but Madonna has to be the most memorable. It was a completely bizarre experience from start to finish.
“For some reason she was really looking forward to playing Leeds and we had agreed to meet her and her management at the airport so we could fly up together. When we arrived there she was, but there was no sign of the entourage. She turned to me and said, ‘Is the plane here? Screw them I’m ready, let’s go’.
“As the plane was taking off I saw her agent pull into the car park waving frantically. That pretty much set the tone. It was complete madness, but she was in a great mood and she did a fantastic show. People don’t realise what a great place Roundhay is, it’s one of the best parks in the country and it has that magical history of all those acts who have performed there over the years.”
Things are likely to be a little calmer at On Roundhay. Both James and Primal Scream are a few years past their hell-raising days and while still every inch the wheeler dealer, Goldsmith too has mellowed a little.
“I honestly think the age of the big festival is gone,” he says enjoying a cigarette on the roof terrace of Headrow House - its Ox Club restaurant will be providing some of the food for the event. “The problem is we have run out of acts and the business is not really developing the kind of bands which suit festivals. In the past it was all about performing a body of work, but it’s not the same now. People love a song, download it and then move on.
“I’m still a great believer that if someone comes up with something fantastic it can buck that trend, Adele being the classic example. She has a great voice, she’s a great performer and she writes great songs, but we don’t have enough acts like her. That means festivals end up fighting for the same acts. I think people want something different.”
And different is what they will get at On Roundhay. Billed as a family friendly festival, the Clangers, Peter Rabbit, Wimpy Kid and MasterChef finalist Liz Cottam, will be joining Bobby Gillespie and Tim Booth. The event is being staged in partnership with John Lewis ahead of the opening of its Leeds store and even for a man not easily ruffled, Goldsmith admits that it has been a bit of a rushed job.
“We weren’t approached until the end of June, so we’ve not had long to pull it altogether. There were a few times when I thought, this isn’t going to happen. It’s a bit risky, but we all felt we wanted to do it. The idea is to bed it down this year and if everyone likes it we will press ahead and expand it next year.”
Goldsmith’s job was made slightly easier in the fact he already had a blueprint for a family festival. On Blackheath is now in its third year and like many of the notches on his CV serendipity played a part in its creation.
“We were originally approached by Channel 4 who were doing a TV series with Jimmy Doherty. They wanted our help to stage an event on his Suffolk farm, but as soon as we went up there and saw there was one road in an one road out we knew it would just be chaos.
“Coincidentally we were approached by some guys who were trying to get a licence to do an event on Blackheath, so we suggested bringing Jimmy, the animals and everything else down there. Before we could finalise the details, Doherty and Channel 4 went their separate ways, but by then we were wedded to the idea.”
Goldsmith says that among the unique selling points of the On... events are the fact that under 12s go free, parents are given pass outs if they want to drop children off early and there is a genuine local feel to the food offer. In Leeds, there will be chefs from Horto, Salvo’s, The Star Inn and Pintura.
“The festival market has become hugely crowded, but no one seemed to be doing anything for families,” says Goldsmith, well-known for spotting gaps in the market. “I think definitely these small more eclectic festivals are the way to go. These are not the kind of events where you plonk yourself in front of the main stage and don’t move for the rest of the day. We want people to wander, to try things out.
“We are aiming for 10,000 this year and it’s never going to be huge. I don’t want there to be a mile-long queue for the beer tent or the toilets. I want it to be chilled out and relaxed.”
Whatever stress there may have been in organising a festival in just 10 weeks, Goldsmith doesn’t show it. However, given that as well as Live Aid, he was the man who first brought Cirque de Soleil to the UK and who is currently working on a new stage show of the Hunger Games and is behind Bear Grylls touring production Endeavour! he is used to keeping the plates spinning.
“I happened to be sitting next to Bear at some do and he said he was interested in doing a new show, so we put our heads together and I think we have come up with something pretty special,” he says. “Using video mapping technology we’ve recreated various different worlds from the frozen Antarctica to the jungle and shark-infested waters.
“I have spent my life coming up with different forms of entertainment and I realised early on that I’ve got a good ear for music and a good eye for spotting talent. There are always people who tell you things will never work, but I have proved a lot of them wrong. When we put Pavarotti in an arena, the opera lot went mad. That music was never supposed to be mainstream, but suddenly it was.”
Goldsmith has few regrets. In fact when it comes to music there is only one performer he missed working with.
“Elvis,” he says. “It would have to be Elvis. I tried for years to bring him to the UK, but it never happened because his manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker was actually Dutch and didn’t know if he’d be allowed back into America if he left. And then, well then it was too late.”
For tickets and more details go to www.onroundhayfestival.com