Category Archives: Meet the *Makers

Meet the Festival Makers: DJ Chris Tofu of Grinagog Festival

Grinagog 2017 logoIt’s really heartening to see that no matter how crowded the UK festival market seems, there are always new and exciting events getting started and Grinagog Festival looks like one of the most promising this year. Plus, it’s probably the first proper chance for you to party for a whole weekend without getting muddy in the process. What’s not to love?! I spoke to the festival curator of the inaugural event, DJ Chris Tofu, who has been creating festival experiences all over the country at Glasto, Boomtown, Bestival and many more.

Life is a Festival: The ‘English Riviera’ is traditionally known for its charming seaside towns and Devonshire cream teas. This year, however, Grinagog will bring a whole new cultural venture to Torquay. With your track record of running cultural projects at some of the most well-known UK events, it promises to be a weekend party like no other. Who is it aimed at and what makes Grinagog unique?

Chris: What makes it so unique is Torquay is a perfectly formed festival site with amazing buildings and venues and the beach right there, with hotels costing less than a Halfords tent. The place is like the ultimate festival venue, and I should know because I’ve started loads of festivals. I’m putting everything I possibly can into making an extremely diverse, cultural offering for young people in Torquay. We’re bringing together all the amazing promoters and cultural workers who are in the town and the surrounding area already into one big pot to create a cultural explosion that we hope can really be a place maker for this town.

Life is a Festival: I’m a real fan of festivals taking place in different venues around a city or town as it’s a great way for visitors to get to know a destination and to meet the locals rather than just be in their own bubble during their stay. It will be my first time in Torquay, is there anything off the beaten track I definitely need to see or do?

Chris: Inside the festival we have ska venues in small hotels and these shell sound systems we‘re pushing around with Mixmaster Morris and a medieval monastery full of stuff, but Torquay is rich in trails that lead to lovely places from prehistoric caves to full on massive cliffs etc. The Blue Walnut Café hidden near the festival, is run by a quirky American who used to hang with Miles Davis and has a cinema for 20 people. Ultimately we want this whole festival to be about going and finding quirky culture as you go around. The acts can sell themselves but finding a mad play in a prehistoric cave.

Life is a Festival: You are offering bus shuttles to travel from nearby towns to the festival venues and back, which is a great idea, so people can leave their cars at home. How about the accessibility of the venues, are they wheelchair-friendly?

Chris: Yes, I‘m pretty sure all of the event is wheelchair friendly. [Note: please confirm this with the individual venues before you’re heading to the festival]

Life is a Festival: Having had a look at the diverse programme, I can’t wait to explore the festival! Have you got any personal recommendations or are there any special highlights created just for the event?

Chris: Well, Shaka did one of his first out of London gigs like 45 years ago in Torquay, so I’m looking forward to that. Friday‘s line up is off the scale if you love Bass Funk and BoomTown style music. There is Son Of Dave on Sunday…actually there are vast and always different musical offers. Check out the brass bands!

Sounds exciting! And besides the multi-genre music line-up, there are also all sorts of other fun stuff to try out, including pool parties, roller discos, paddle boarding, spoken word events and short film screenings. A weekend ticket is only £35, so there is really no excuse not to be at the first ever Grinagog Festival from 7-9 April 2017. Line-up preview below, see you there!

Grinagog 2017 lineup

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Meet the Music Makers: Belle Roscoe

One of my favourite live music discoveries of 2016 has been Belle Roscoe, an Australian sibling duo who have recently settled in London (at least for now!). I’ve been wanting to interview Julia and Matt ever since I’ve been at a few of their fantastic live shows earlier this year and we finally got around to it. One of the most likeable bands I’ve come across in a long time, they shared some of their experiences playing gigs, recording and touring in the UK and further afield, so read on to find out more about what makes this exciting band tick.

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Life is a Festival: I’m so glad you guys are based in the UK now and looks like moving to London was an excellent decision. Having grown up in Melbourne and lived in Paris for a while, why did you pick London and what do you love about it so far?

Belle Roscoe: Haha we’re not really sure where home is anymore!! We moved to London in March due to the great reaction and support we received from some shows we played in 2015. It felt right to be based here for the next stages for Belle Roscoe. The music industry feels strong and healthy and the energy of the city is intoxicating… We just hope we can survive it, gees it’s expensive!!

Life is a Festival: You seem to have a really good relationship with your manager Megan, how did you find each other and how has it helped shaping your musical career here in the UK and further afield?

Belle Roscoe: We met at one of our first shows in London in September 2014 … Funny enough it was a gig that we weren’t very keen to play! She was in the audience, we started talking post show and we quickly became very good friends. Meg is also an Aussie and is carving out an amazing career as a film producer in London. Quite organically, Meg started introducing us to music industry people in London… We then developed into a great team and Meg took on role as manager, though she prefers to be referred to as a facilitator! Since her involvement, she has created amazing opportunities for Belle Roscoe around the world. We’ve toured and played in Nashville & Memphis, Sweden, Croatia, Germany & all around the UK… In fact we’ve played over 100 shows since March and had an absolute ball doing it. We are super lucky to have met Meg both on a personal and business level.

Life is a Festival: Sounds just perfect! Let’s talk about your music. You’ve got a pretty unique, genre-defying sound, you’re both versatile musicians and your voices harmonise beautifully. What I’m always enjoying most at your live shows is the infectious, positive energy the whole band seems to have, it’s really inspiring! Tell me a little bit about makes you tick as a band and about the band members you’ve worked with since getting to the UK.

Belle Roscoe: Music is something quite innate in us as siblings. We have not been musically trained in any traditional way… We are self taught and as a result we just feel what we play. Sometimes not understanding every nuance of technique allows you more freedom, which in turn lets you feel and enjoy it more, rather than analysing it. We have worked on our performance over time and naturally a live performance improves if you are playing a lot. The performance energy comes from a combination of things. Family upbringing, life’s joys & struggles with the industry and personally and now it also stems from the appreciation of support we now have behind the band. Support and encouragement always helps a band lift. We hate letting anyone down, so that’s probably why get out on stage and try to give it everything we’ve got. The band is also quite international and has a unique chemistry as a consequence. We have a french drummer, an Australian guitarist and an English bass player… Touring together is bloody hilarious!

Life is a Festival: What I love about your music is that there is such a balanced focus on both intelligent lyrics and memorable melodies, which is no small feat to achieve. How do your songs come about, who writes them and how do you go from the initial idea to the final version?

Belle Roscoe: That’s a good compliment. Thank you! We labour over the lyrics so it’s nice when people notice them. The melodies come from our upbringing, we’ve been very influenced by our parents records and great musical taste. We had an intro into the best of the 50s/60s/70s… Dusting off a record and placing the needle always seemed like such an amazing experience! By osmosis we were drawn to bands that offered strong melodies both instrumentally and vocally. As far as the creation of our songs go… Sometimes we don’t even know. We just draw on our own experiences and emotions and find time to write about it. We are both song-writers and often individually come up with a melody and or chord progression and work it from there. We are very honest with one another and have learnt to trust in each other’s feedback and know when a song is working or not. When it does work, we both feel it and we finish the song no matter what… One of our songs, Mary Mary took 3 years to finish!

Life is a Festival: You’ve just been in the studio recording some new material following the release of your limited edition EP ‘Belle Roscoe’ in this country last year and are about to hit the road for your first German tour as well as some very exciting shows in Cuba. Tell me more about what’s planned for the next couple of months.

Belle Roscoe: We recently hit a couple of London studios and are tracking 3 new tracks. It feels great to be back in a studio and creating new songs. Getting in the studio and trying to create what you hear in your head is always a good experience, difficult sometimes. Only the other day we were in the studio, struggling to get a take, everyone was tired and falling apart. We pushed through and the magic happened! Germany is going to be a lot of fun. We are hitting the road with a good friend Jaimi Faulkner – hanging out with him and his band is going o be a lot of fun. We are playing 20 acoustic shows throughout Germany between the 6th and the 24th October 2016. And yes, it’s out first time to Germany! Cuba, how bloody cool is that!! It is going to be such a great way to end the year. We’ve never been there so we are going to dive in head first! Other than the gigs we have booked we plan to also write and record while we are there. We are actually running a very very cool competition for our fans to win the chance to join us in Cuba.  All they have to do is buy some merch from our website and they could win a trip of a lifetime for 2 people! They will come and hang out with Belle Roscoe – watch some shows, smoke cigars and drink rum!! Check out our website and social media for more details: www.belleroscoe.com

Thanks to Julia & Matt for taking the time to answer these questions! Keep an eye out on social media for when and where you can catch Belle Roscoe live in the near future. I highly recommend giving them a listen!

Meet the Festival Makers: Matthew Miller of Soul Circus Yoga Festival

There’s a new festival on the block and it promises to be one to watch on the UK summer festival circuit. Soul Circus is a boutique yoga and wellness festival in the beautiful Cotswolds, an intimate ‘immersive escape’ for about 500 lucky folks who will spend an August weekend doing yoga in three themed tents (ambient, party, experiential), getting pampered plus enjoying quality local street food and live music every night.

Sounds awesome, right? I spoke to Soul Circus’ creative and media director (and Broga founder) Matthew Miller to find out more about the upcoming festival.

Life is a Festival: How was the idea for Soul Circus born and what makes it unique?

Matt: This past year, my business partners Roman and his wife Ella had what was billed as a ‘festival wedding’ over the course of three days in the Cotswolds. It was to date the most amazing wedding I have ever attended. Ever since I first moved to the UK from California a few years ago, I was totally enamoured with the idea of the British festival. We have loads of summer music festivals and concerts in the States but nothing, (besides Burning Man), that is an immersive escape from the world we know everyday and a chance to escape through nature back to a simpler, carefree and more joyful life, like when we were kids. We love the smaller UK festivals and thought, what if instead of having the wellbeing as a sideshow to accompany the music, we flipped it around and made the focus the wellbeing, and had the music as the add-on extra? A whole weekend of just being good to yourself and enjoying nature with a little bit of raucous fun instead of debauchery with a bit of detox rehab served on the side. Soul Circus was born.

Life is a Festival: The festival seems incredibly well thought out (stunning location, specifically designed yoga practice areas, posh toilets, health-conscious food offerings), how are you making this happen?

Matt: We threw our idea on Stunning Tents, who supplied the Cirque de Soleil quality tents and glamping accommodations for the wedding, and they loved the idea of hosting a luxury wellness and yoga festival. We have also kept it local in terms of catering. The spa treatment tent is hosted by the Holistic partner from the South West and the organic food and artisanal drink is coming from home-grown upstarts like The Core Cheltenham and The Little Gin Company.

Life is a Festival: Looking at the (very tempting!) Soul Circus website, you managed to get a number of amazing teachers on board, what sort of different sessions can festivalgoers expect?

Matt: Wherever you are on your yogic journey, we want you to have an ideal weekend. With 18 classes a day, guests can fill their days with vinyasa flow and relaxing yin classes, or branch out and try circus aerial or body painting yoga. Whichever way you flow, you’ll learn from the UK’s best teachers who are coming from far and wide to host creative workshops and classes. Not to mention there will be three distinct environments you will never get at your gym or studio at home: a party tent featuring DJ’s, live music and rave lighting; an ambient tent that will host both open air and steaming hot classes and an experiential tent with visual video projections on the walls to transport you to a different land.

Life is a Festival: What about the music, can’t have a festival without music, right?

Matt: Music is the heartbeat of Soul Circus. Our experiences range from DJ-powered yoga classes to acoustic musical meditations to the electric main stage performances. Whatever your taste, you’ll enjoy artists all day and into the secret woodland rave at night. You may even discover your next musical crush.

Life is a Festival: How about kids, is Soul Circus suitable for families too?

Matt: Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the kids! Soul Circus is totally family-friendly with dedicated kids activities and an on-site spa for some alone time as well.

Thanks Matt! So if you haven’t got any plans for 19-21 August 2016 yet, get your hands on the coveted Soul Circus tickets and join the yoga party. I, for one, am already super excited to add the festival to my packed summer schedule!

Meet the Music Makers: Don Gallardo from Nashville

As Maverick Festival 2015 is just a few days away, I thought it was a great opportunity to chat with one of the US-based musicians on the line-up this year, Don Gallardo, about the upcoming festival, his new album and his experience of UK audiences.

Don Gallardo 1 (photo of Don by John Morgan)

Life is a Festival: This summer will be your second time at Maverick Festival here in the UK. How did it compare with other festivals you played at? Any memorable moments?

Don: Maverick is one of my favourites. The location and surrounding area is amazing. The people there all like Americana/folk/country, so you know you will get people who will enjoy any act playing. The vibe there is absolutely amazing.

Life is a Festival: You recently launched your fourth album, Hickory, on the UK Americana label Clubhouse Records. For those who have not heard you play live yet, how would you describe your music and what was your inspiration for this particular album?

Don: This album was kind of a coming of age for me. Although its my fourth full-length album and I am pretty darn old, I feel this album holds a lot of very personal issues that I’ve been through and continually go through. It was more of a stepping out of the shadows album and into the real world. I’ve been playing with many great Roots/Americana acts over the years (Rosanne Cash, Jim Lauderdale, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Elizabeth Cook, Tim Easton, Kevin Gordan, Anne McCue, David Olney, John Fulbright, Tommy Womack, and more) and still feel I’m kind of struggling to be heard. I feel this album is more mature and puts me closer to my goal of being heard by more people. I think it really shows the direction of music I am going. I feel it was done the right way. It wasn’t rushed and the musicianship and songwriting were more elevated than my previous albums.

Life is a Festival: Americana as a genre, if we can call it that, seems to have been increasing in popularity in this country in the past few years. What is your own experience of UK audiences?

Don: UK Audiences are my favorite. Music is a huge part of your culture and I absolutely love playing to UK audiences because you all listen and don’t talk during performances. That is really all an artist wants… is for people to listen. There is no better feeling than being on stage and singing the songs you write and the audience is engaged and right there with you. The audience is a huge part of the songs. If the songs and performance come over good than that’s a result of the audience giving the performer the energy/vibe/platform, so to speak, to perform at that level. The producer of Hickory, David Pinkston and I have already been discussing the next album. I’ve got a handful of songs but have no plans as of yet to begin the process of recording. Future touring….well Amy Speace and I have been talking a bit about doing some short tours regionally in the US. Who knows maybe we’ll do something over in the UK too.

Thanks a lot to Don for the interview! You can catch him live at Maverick Festival 2015, which takes place from 3-5 July at the idyllic Easton Farm Park in Suffolk (a mere hop, skip and jump from London) and is a family – and dog! – friendly boutique festival for Americana fans and anyone else with good taste in live music.

Don’s latest album Hickory is out on Clubhouse Records and he is touring the UK this July including a shared gig with Hannah Aldridge at the Green Note in Camden, London, on 14 July. For reviews of music, food and the atmosphere at Maverick Festival check out my blog posts from previous years: 2013, 2014.

Meet the Festival Makers: Cat Kelly of Folk Weekend Oxford

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Oxford is one of my favourite cities in the UK (see my blog post with tips for live music, charity shops, museums, cafes and more) and every April it hosts a lovely, volunteer-run music festival called Oxford Folk Weekend. Its director, Cat Kelly, agreed to speak to us about her experience running a vibrant community festival.

Life is a Festival: Tell me a little bit about the relatively recent yet rather successful history of Oxford Folk Weekend. Has it always been run by a volunteer committee and what was your reason for starting it?

Cat: Yes FW has always been run by volunteers. It started back in 2011 when the Oxford Folk Festival cancelled suddenly, but it was quite an informal (and impromtu!) event, and our first ‘proper’ festival was in 2012. I’d had a phone call from the director of Oxford Folk Festival confirming that they weren’t going to run another event, and asking me whether I’d like to take over. I’ve been performing at festivals since my early 20s, as well as having been involved in Oxford Folk Festival for a few years, so I like to think I’ve got a fair idea of what’s needed to organise a festival from both sides of it!

Life is a Festival: People often ask me why I am so passionate about festivals and what makes them different from simply attending once-off events or concerts. In your opinion, what makes FWO unique in terms of programming and atmosphere and what role does the city of Oxford play as its very attractive “backdrop”? I personally always really enjoy the variety of ages and backgrounds, local and visiting musicians, non-musicians, morris dancers etc.

Cat: I think the difference about a festival is the atmosphere of the whole community coming together for the weekend – a festival is a big and diverse thing, so everyone can be doing their own thing, and finding the bits they they like, whilst still all feeling like you’re there together for one purpose. When we started FW we wanted to make a festival which really reflected and celebrated the place where it was held, and the city of Oxford is a big part of that. We involve the local community in a variety of different ways (e.g. crafts people, school children, volunteers, charities & good causes at the village fete, local artists, local community music groups etc) and we use interesting and different venues within Oxford. Over the years we have staged gigs in the punishment cells of Oxford Castle (and on top of the Mound!), in the central library, in the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, and this year we are putting on a series of concerts in Blackwells Bookshop.

Life is a Festival: Which brings us to the volunteers, including the organising committee, of course. I believe a festival is only ever as good as its volunteer crew and staff and (besides the line-up) it is often their friendliness and professional attitude which makes or breaks a festival. Do you agree?

Cat: Yes I do. The whole ethos of FW is welcoming and inclusive, and we really rely on our volunteers to be living that on the front line – they are often the first experience that someone has of the festival, and it’s a big responsibility to make sure that their first impression is a good one.

Life is a Festival: What were your favourite festivals moments (just pick a few!) in past years and what are you particularly looking forward to in 2015?

Cat: The gig on top of the Castle Mound in 2013 is one that has stuck in my mind – not least because I was taking 5 minutes out from being festival director and was sat with my daughter (who was 5 at the time) listening to the music in the sunshine. In fact, her involvement in the festival over the years has been one of my absolute favourite things about it – although it takes me away from her a lot of the time (particularly at this time of year!), she loves the festival and has usually planned out what she will be doing right throughout the weekend! This year she’s wanted to get involved in more of the organising, and spent Easter Saturday helping me to laminate backstage passes! What I’m really looking forward to about 2015 is once the festival has got going and all the organisational side of things is ticking along, I get to wander round town soaking up the atmosphere, meeting people who have come to the festival, and seeing what a great time everyone is having. I love it!

Thanks a mil to Cat Kelly for the interview and don’t miss Oxford Folk Weekend which is taking place from 17-19 April 2015.

Meet the Festival Makers: Emily Rhodes of Daunt Books Festival

Festivals are all about people and creativity. In a new series of interviews we ask some of our favourite “makers” to tell us a little more about their creative projects, inspirations and passions. First up is Emily Rhodes, director of the Daunt Books Festival.

Emily Rhodes walking book club

Life is a Festival: It’s the second year of the Daunt Book Festival and after a successful first year the line-up for 2015 looks very promising again. How did the festival come about in the first place and how did you get involved personally?

Emily: Thanks! I’ve been bookselling at Daunt for a few years and love the lively atmosphere of our literary talks … so I thought why don’t we have a whole festival? It would be so much fun! Everyone seemed keen on the idea, so then it was just a case of making it happen.

Life is a Festival: There is a lot of work which goes on “behind the scenes” to make a festival happen. Who else is involved and how long do the preparations take?

Emily: We couldn’t do it without the wonderful support and encouragement of so many publishers and authors – if everyone I asked  to take part said ‘no thanks’ then we wouldn’t have much of a festival. The Howard de Walden Estate were also behind it from the start and great at putting me in touch with people and helping to make it so Maryleboney. I began thinking about the line up in August-September, but even before that were the beautiful limited edition bags to sort out with Re-Wrap and the brilliant designer Will Grill, who came up with this year’s fun, playful design.

Life is a Festival: How do you go about choosing authors for the festival programme and matching the right writers and interviewers to get a good discussion going?

Emily: It’s a bit like planning a party – I think of all the authors and critics  I would like to see (and who I think our customers would like), think about what they might have in common, and match them up. I also look at what new books are coming out and see if I can draw out any common themes for discussion. It’s always fun when you get authors embarking on a larger conversation about what they’re passionate about rather than just summarising their books, so the chemistry between speakers is vital.

Life is a Festival: Are there any personal favourites you are especially looking forward to this year or are particularly excited to have secured for the 2015 line-up?

Emily: Ummm… all of it! I’m especially thrilled to have got Michael Palin on board. He is in such demand, so it was lovely to think that the shop meant enough to him to get a yes. I am also very excited about the opening ‘choosing your heroines’ event with Samantha Ellis, Anne Sebba and Alex Clark  – a great chance to think about some inspiring women; oh and Owen Jones and The Nature Cure … there’s lots and lots to look forward to.

Life is a Festival: Finally, you run a very popular “walking book club”, tell us a little more about this unique project and your book blog EmilyBooks.

Emily: I love walking and I love reading; working in the Daunt’s right by Hampstead Heath, I realised rather a lot of our customers felt the same, so I thought why don’t we go for a walk on the Heath and talk about books? So we did. It’s really taken off, I think because it’s so much easier to talk when walking side-by-side with everyone, looking at such amazing views and getting all that fresh air, and it means that nobody can dominate the discussion as there are so many conversations going on at once. I love it! It’s also a good chance to highlight some older books – many of which risk falling of the reading radar, slightly correcting the usual reading/bookselling focus of sticking to those which are newly published. And I started my blog because I wanted to give myself the space to think about everything I read – like a reading diary. Then it was a very pleasant surprise to find that other people read it, and to build up some connections with like-minded bloggers.

Thanks very much to Emily Rhodes for the interview and check out Daunts Book Festival, which takes place in London 19-20 March 2015.

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