THE sun was setting across the Peel, Linlithgow Palace framed against the deepening blue sky and John Richardson couldn’t get a Simple Minds tune out of his head.
That was all it took for an idea to be born. An idea which this weekend, thanks in no small part to Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel, will become real when some of Scotland’s biggest musical talents perform on a stage straight from the Commonwealth Games in front of thousands of people – all set against the backdrop of the palace, the loch, and the lush expanse of parkland known as the Peel.
“If only it had been as simple as having the idea a year ago and then it just happening,” says John. “It’s been a real learning curve, especially getting the bands.”
While he may have a track record in promoting musical artists, and his co-organiser Peter Ferguson runs PDF Productions, an Edinburgh event management firm, neither had put on a pop concert before.
John says: “I had been at a lot of festivals last summer and I just thought why can’t we have something like this in my home town?
“In particular, I was at the Isle of Wight festival and walking to the site, the people who lived there had their fridges and freezers out in their gardens on long extension cables and were selling cold drinks and ice lollies.
“One guy was even barbecuing in his garden and selling burgers, and I thought ‘they totally get what a music festival is all about’. It was chalk and cheese with a festival like T in the Park for instance.
“I really liked the community involvement and I thought it was something that could be replicated in Linlithgow. I spoke to Peter and brought him to see Linlithgow Palace and the Peel which is such an amazing setting and we both thought ‘yes’.”
They could have fallen at the first hurdle. It’s not easy persuading a body like Historic Scotland that you want to hire a palace and its grounds for which they care on behalf of the nation to put on a pop concert.
“When we approached Historic Scotland we weren’t sure what kind of music event it would be – a Proms in the Park or more rock – and they were fantastic, couldn’t have been more supportive.
“And I do think if it hadn’t been for Chanel coming two years ago to have a fashion show and setting a precedent for a big event there, then we might not have got the go-ahead. I think our event, plus a food festival which is also coming up, are part of the long-term benefits of Linlithgow hosting Chanel, even if there were grumbles at the time.”
It’s unlikely that anyone will be moaning about Party at the Palace, for around 50 local businesses are involved and community charities are benefiting financially.
“What I saw on the Isle of Wight was inspirational. When the news first started to get out that we wanted to put on a weekend concert people started getting in touch, offering to help and be involved. The owner of Playbugs, the soft play centre in Linlithgow, told us her brother had a stage company in Winchburgh so we were able to use him rather than going down south – in fact the stage is the same one used on Glasgow Green for the Commonwealth Games – and two local pubs are running the bars for us, and around 20 local traders are on the site. Even the Portaloos have been sourced locally. The furthest anything’s coming are the caterers and they’re from Aberdeen.
“We even used a local ticketing agency, Linlithgow Plus, and because of that we were able to use proceeds from booking fees to give to local causes. We’ve given the Linlithgow Gala Day committee £1000 and the Scouts will also get £1000 – and some of them are coming to help us pick up litter in return.”
The potential for litter is a problem at any festival so those who come by car will be given a black bin liner to either take their litter away or collect in the bag and leave it on site. And then there’s the grass.
“Historic Scotland think of the grass in the park like the Royal & Ancient thinks about the 18th hole at St Andrews,” says John. “It is incredibly precious to them so we’ve had to give commitments to return the site to the same state as it was given to us. For that reason we have targeted a more grown-up audience.”
The music, which is as Scottish as heather and whisky, is definitely for those rather longer in the tooth than fans of Calvin Harris or even Biffy Clyro, and influenced, says John, by the Homecoming year, the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup – and of course that song he was humming when he first dreamed of a party at the palace.
The song was Waterfront and Simple Minds were first on the list of bands they wanted to play. “Getting bands was a huge learning curve. You need to put offers in, you can’t just ask how much they charge. We weren’t even able to get a ballpark figure – not even buying a house is that hard.
“So we had to guess and of course we were told it wasn’t enough. We upped it by £20,000 and then were told add another £10,000 and it’s a deal. So we did. When you get iconic bands like Simple Minds and Deacon Blue it makes it slightly easier to get the rest. Donnie Munro, Hue & Cry, Horse – they were all happy to take part. We had to use a little more persuasion to get Frightened Rabbit and The View, but we didn’t want it to be a retro event, just a good Scottish music festival.”
So good, it’s now been adopted by the Homecoming organisers as a highlight event. Caroline Packman, Homecoming director, says: “The Year of Homecoming presents a great opportunity to place the spotlight on some of our greatest assets and icons, so what better way to celebrate this than to have a music festival against the backdrop of the majestic Royal Palace. I’m sure the festival will offer locals and visitors a fun-packed and memorable weekend.”
Tickets are, says John, selling well but there are still some left. “The biggest crowd they’ve had at the Palace was 7081 people and that was for a jousting event, we aim to have at least that on both days. We want to break the record.”
They might just do that. If not this year, then next, as plans are already under way to make it an annual event. “We’ve learned so much this year we can put into practice for next. Now we just have to get good weather, it’s the only thing we can’t control.”
The line-up at Linlithgow
HEADLINING the Party at the Palace on Saturday are Deacon Blue, but also appearing that day former Runrig lead singer Donnie Munro, The Bluebells, Attic Lights, James Grant of Love and Money, and Hue and Cry.
The Sunday will see Brownbear, The Silencers, Horse, Frightened Rabbit, The View and Simple Minds take to the stage.
Tickets are priced at £52 for either day, plus a booking fee, or £95 for a weekend pass. VIP tickets are £99 per day.
For more information visit www.partyatthepalace.co.uk