When BWTUC started selling drinks at festivals the bars had all the hallmarks of a cottage industry. We sold some draft real ale and scrumpy but by far the majority of the drinks were in cans and plastic bottles.
A big change came after 1988 when the crowd at Reading Festival bottled the stage in protest against the line-up. In response Mean Fiddler was brought in to manage the music and Reading Council banned packaged products. Vince Power asked WBC to run the bars and we teamed up with brewers Ind Coope to provide draft drinks. Tom Merton and Peter Andreotti were experienced operators in pubs and clubs and devised a system for dispensing cold draft beers that was used for the first time at Reading in 1989. The relationship between Workers Beer Company and Tom Merton and his family continues to this day.
The design of multiple dispense units, known as MDUs or ‘Cows’, was constantly improved and our cottage industry became world class at dispensing drinks at festivals and stadiums. This development and innovation happened right across the festival management and supply chain with UK systems for temporary power supplies, traffic management, stewarding, fencing, sanitation, toilets and trackway all becoming world leaders.
One of our early challenges was determining the amount of frontage needed to serve an audience without queues and delays. John Shaw, a Midlands-based work-study engineer, was recommended by the GMB union to study the WBC bars to determine the best layout to make crushing and waiting a thing of the past. He did a wonderful job. His plans, worked out with Les Humphries from Coors, were run out at the Oasis open-air shows in Finsbury Park in 2002 and moved WBC logistics from art to science.
We owe Tom Merton, John Shaw, Les Humphries and the wonderful technical crews we have worked with immense gratitude. Their legacy was in operation at Slane Castle, County Meath in 2015 with the Foo Fighters on, when a crowd of 65,000 was served smoothly with no queues. This was a first at Slane and very pleasing to our chairman Steve Pryle, who hails from the area. It is great to see the beer dispensing companies we worked with, Voodoo Group and Three Nations, now leaders in their field.
We also acknowledge the contribution of brewers like Carlsberg, Coors and Budweiser, security company Specialised and a vast range of other suppliers.