Interview by Gary spiller for MPM
A couple of weeks ago, desperately short of festival ‘match fitness’ MPM reviewer / photographer duo Gary and Kelly slipped off down south to get in a weekend ‘training camp’ down at St. Leonards Farm Park where Love Rocks Festival 2021 is to be held.
Following several rum-infused ‘conversations’, that went on to the wee hours, discussing the veritable topics of ‘how tall is a road runner’ to ‘whether a beaver could truly be affected by a heavy metal fever’ via the ‘virtues of turning an amp to 11′ it was decided to get down to the important matter of hosting THE first rock n’ roll festival of the gig calendar since Covid restrictions were applied last year.
MPM – Good afternoon Jim, thank you having us stay at your campsite and agreeing to chat to MPM. Here we are less than three weeks until Love Rocks IV.
Jim – Absolutely.
MPM – Sold out I believe.
Jim – Pretty much yes, but we are reviewing to see if there are any more tickets we can find behind the back of the sofa. It is very tight though on our limited licence. We had a refund window for the rollover and refund requests, which we felt was a fair thing to do because some people who booked from 2019 and 2020 might not be able to make the new dates or may not yet feel comfortable enough to go to a gig.
That’s entirely respected and we get that, so there was a refund window which closed on the 17th May so if we can release a few we do have a reserve list which is first come first served and if we can allocate a few extras we will but we are kind of tight on numbers. Which is fantastic in one sense. We are sorry that some people will be disappointed this year. People will be contacted direct about this.
MPM – That’s great, that will please a good number of our friends who have asked ‘Do you know if there is [any tickets available]?’ Fantastic news Jim. We look at the line up which is mainly intact from last year which shows a great commitment from the bands and punters alike. Unfortunately we’ve lost a couple [of bands] would you like to talk through those changes?
Jim – Everything about a festival is always about the line up and everything else is secondary in my opinion. That’s all we want to know; who is playing, who is headlining?. Sadly, we did lose a couple of bands over the transition period 2019-2020. We’ve lost Troyen in so far as one of the guys in the band had prior commitments and can’t make that date but we always say ‘Once a Love Rocks band always a Love Rocks band’ so we roll Troyen forward to the next available Love Rocks which will be Love Rocks V in 2022 hopefully.
The same goes for other bands who were on the bill like Massive who were coming all the way from Oz which is now not viable for them to come over n the current circumstances but the offer is there on the table. Obviously as and when they can make a Love Rocks they’ll be on the bill. So it’s an open door for Brad and the boys.
Sadly with Black Whiskey I mean it was an absolute tragedy to lose Kev [Ingles], a talented guitarist and again as and when they know what they are doing with the band the door is always open at Love Rocks.
MPM – That’s fantastic news for all those guys and we love Black Whiskey to bits. You’ve brought in three awesome replacements …
Jim – Yes, we’re really excited about it. Amongst Liars there’s an edge there. They’ve got a different sound to the other bands here and they bring something unique with them. We’ve got Verity White who we’ve been wanting to have at the festival for a year or so.
We’re kind of behind because of Covid and therefore a year or so behind on bands we would probably have been having in 2021 anyway, so it was nice to get Verity on board at this stage. And obviously The Dust Coda off the back of their new album ‘Mojo Skyline which is just a tremendous record. It’s just great songwriting and performance from top to bottom. As the cliché goes it’s all killer and no filler. So we’re really chuffed to bits that they can come and join us.
MPM – It’s an awesome line up. We’ve got 12 hours of music each day.
Jim – Pretty much yes!
MPM – What an action packed weekend. Starting off with the youngsters from Devon, Ethyrfield.
Jim – Yes. Absolutely!
MPM – Going right through to Bad Touch and Kris Barras your two headliners.
Jim – Yeah, it’s a full day of music. We’ve got two stages and there won’t be any overlap. So the second stage is running whilst the changeover and set up on the main stage is happening. Because we’re not a massive event, just over 400 capacity under a Temporary Event Notice Licence.
It’s compact and friendly; you can grab a burger or a beer whilst the bands are on changeover but there will be music ebbing and flowing through the day.
MPM – That’s awesome. From what I’ve heard that second stage worked really well in 2019. It serves as an introductory conduit for bands to wind up on the main stage.
Jim – Yes, it complements the main stage and we’ve had really well established artists on the second stage before. So 2019 we had Jack J. Hutchinson doing a few numbers on the second stage. Also Elles Bailey who’s a tremendous talent just having won at the British Blues Awards.
We were honoured to have her on the second stage in 2019 so now she’s doing a full band set for us this year which is really exciting. This year we’ve got Mike Ross and Troy Redfern running the second stage on Friday. They’ll be doing multiple sets on there with their separate bands and there’s a crossover because Mike and Troy work closely together with the RHR thing, which they will be performing as on the main stage. Then on the Saturday Verity White will be on the second stage; she’ll be doing more than one set so you’ll get to see a lot of Verity. Which is fantastic of course!
MPM – We love Verity here at MPM!
Jim – Yeah, she’s brilliant! What is slightly different this year is that there is so much to pack in and they are full band sets on the second stage. So in previous years it’s been mainly acoustic or certainly stripped down a bit but you’re going to get a full Verity White set, a full Mike Ross band and full Troy Redfern band. Those artists have got so much music to give. It’s going to be fantastic.
MPM – So not only have you had the rollover from last year to this year to deal with but you’re the first, as far as I can see, the first rock festival in the UK.
Jim – It certainly looks like it!
MPM – And with that and the good news of the gradual easing of Covid related restrictions that must have proven perhaps not a headache but another ‘fence’ for you to ‘jump’ over for yourself and your fellow organisers?
Jim – Yes it is. I mean it’s something we have taken very seriously. We’re not cavalier about the Covid situation. We’re aware of the implications of it and how serious it is. But equally on the other hand as safely as possible with appropriate measures in place we feel we can hold an outside event with social distancing and certain controls in place.
We’ve been liaising closely with the local council, who we work with anyway here at St. Leonard’s Farm Park which hosts the event, with regards to the regulations. We’re a four star AA campsite the rest of the year so when we do the festival it’s our campsite with the showers, loos and the infrastructure you’d expect on a campsite with the added bonus of having some live music, a bar and extra food vendors on site.
So it’s all fully licensed and we’ve worked closely with the council. They know who we are and we’re running a half decent campsite the rest of the year – which has to be licensed by the Local Authority. They are familiar with us and the layout. They know that the basic infrastructure is there in terms of health and safety and environmental health. We’ve got proper, permanent facilities; so in basic terms we’re just adding on the festival. We’re a known quantity to them, we haven’t just sprung up overnight and organised a rock festival.
MPM – We were lucky to stay here at St. Leonards a couple of times last year. So you’ve got the experience of operating a campsite within covid regulations to draw upon from 2020.
Jim – Yes, we believe we can manage people safely within the guidelines. We had our Covid protocols in place from July 4th last year. So we’ve got track and trace systems in place. We collect data on customers which we have to do by law for the duration of their stay and a little while afterwards. Then it’s deleted.
We are used to managing people with social distancing and we’ve got hand sanitising facilities around the site. We’ll add extra ones for the festival; we can do social distancing in the common areas but I think people are getting used to that now anyhow. There’s an expectation that you don’t bunch up together and you give one another a bit of space.
MPM – I think it’s becoming more second nature for the majority of people.
Jim – Yes, it does feel that way.
MPM – Would you like to go into more detail on some of the things you’ve put in place?
Jim – So yes this year we’re only selling full weekend tickets which makes managing the track and trace side of things much easier; so we know at any given time who is on site.
People have committed for the whole weekend which is better for the bands too. People are saying we’re here for the whole weekend and not just, say, the Saturday or Friday headliner which you do get at some bigger festivals. The pitches on the campsite are distanced anyway and there’s plenty of space for tents and caravans. It’s not like some old-school festival where the tents are all on top of each other with the guy ropes crossing.
Everyone will have their own allocated pitch and space. The licensed area itself is 3000 square metres which is absolutely immense so we can comfortably fit our audience and the bands in, so people will not be treading on each other’s toes.
They can sit and chat; there will be an expectation of social distancing on site – the 2 metre rule – but we’re not going to be putting people in ‘cages’. We’re expecting people to be considerate and think about it. We’re going to be scrutinised by the council and probably other music events.
People in the music industry. I guess, will see how we’re doing in this and we have to get it right. If people want live music to come back – we know the bands do – and we want to see these bands – people are going to have to be sensible. We’ve got Love Rocks masks which we’re going to give everyone on arrival.
They look pretty cool as they’ve got the blue flames (of the Love Rocks design) on them. Obviously if you go to the bar to get a pint please wear a mask; same when you’re buying from the food vendors and we ask when you go into the loos – where you’re going to be in slightly closer proximity to people – wear your mask. Be respectful, be sensible but when you’re sitting down, watching the bands and standing around you don’t have to wear a mask.
It’s all outside as we’re not having the marquee because we don’t want to bunch people up at the front in a bottleneck and we want there to be a good free flow of air around.
The available evidence suggests that with outdoor events and outside transmission there is overall less risk if people are sensible.
So, of course, you can sit and chat to your mates at two metres but if they’re in your bubble then that’s a different situation. People need to be mindful and sensible; ourselves and security will be keeping an eye on it and if things are getting a bit too excited and bunched up then we will say you’re going to have o space out a bit. There won’t be a circle pit or mosh pit but people can enjoy themselves.
MPM – It’s a major step forward. We’re all dying to get live music back. This year’s line up – top notch in my opinion – and it’s an evolution from Love Rocks past. Where you’ve got a completely original lineup and not adding in the cover bands of previous years.
Jim – Yes, and that’s kind of where we wanted to be. I think when we first started we were very nervous about selling tickets. However now the new wave of classic rock bands, emerging bands – call them what you will – are coming through and gaining more notice in the mainstream.
Bands like Those Damn Crows, Massive Wagons and The Dust Coda. These kind of guys and Kris Barras, Elles Bailey they’re getting more and more well known. So you become more confident about having an entirely original line up. Whereas in the early years when we first started out we thought people wanted to hear Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and so on.
Those bands were going to be tribute bands of course and those bands always divided the audience. As good as they were at what they did there were people who are here for the original bands. No disrespect to the tributes – it’s a hard thing to do and get right, to emulate Angus Young or Jimmy Page – and they have their place.
They did a great job but we always aimed to be all originals and what was originally 2020 was all about nailing our colours to the mast. Kris Barras has played for us twice before and he’s back and he’s headlining. This is what Love Rocks is all about. We’re stoked to bits to have Bad Touch as well, such a great live band.
As recorded artists their new album ‘Kiss The Sky’ is phenomenal so that’s selling tickets. As is the rest of the line up. There’s not one band on there that Simon, Scott or I wouldn’t go and pay to see on our own. In fact we do! If those guys are out touring we’ll go and see them.
MPM – Knowing all of you here at Love Rocks we know you’re primarily music fans first and foremost.
Jim – Yes, you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love rock n’ roll. It’s a hell of a lot of work. It’s absolutely rewarding and phenomenal when you see it come together; people enjoying themselves and seeing the bands playing. But make no mistake even on a small scale like us it’s a massive undertaking, a lot of work and takes up a vast amount of time.
It’s 100% worth it for the end results. But we do this as music fans and picking the bands is the cherry on the cake with all of this. There’s all the boring stuff like the fencing, sorting out the legal stuff like the licensing which is all part of it and has to be done but the absolute best and most exciting bit is sitting down and saying ‘Who shall we have for Love Rocks V?’
MPM – And this shows how the new wave scene, the emerging scene of rock has grown over the last few years.
Jim – Massively so and it’s picked up since we’ve been doing it. Since 2017 it’s noticeable. The bands are really gaining traction
MPM – For sure, it first came to my personal notice about 6 years ago when I saw The Amorettes and I suddenly realised Hey there’s a future here for rock n’ roll!
Jim – That’s right! I was at Rambling Man with a mate in 2017 and we were watching Skam on the rising stage. Watching Skam was a penny drop moment. I thought, this band … this is where it’s at. They’re really exciting, they’ve got the energy.
It was just fantastic to watch. Frankly the main stage at that moment wasn’t that exciting in comparison. Kris Barras was also on the rising stage that year too and we were watching him and thinking this is the future, people need to hear this stuff.
MPM – There’s something coursing through the veins of rock nowadays. There’s bands who are crafting the ‘wheel’ of rock n’ roll and there’s those who are taking the ‘wheel’ and changing the very shape of it. Both equally exciting.
Jim – Exactly! It’s a phenomenal time to be a music fan. There’s so much good stuff coming out you can’t keep up with it all! We’re so privileged to have so much new music from great artists.
Sadly we are a year behind because of Covid but we’ve got a such an amazing sub bench, such a reserve list of bands that would like to play in the future that we could do a five day event if it was possible. We couldn’t in reality but in terms in of the artist applications for 2020 we had over 200 submissions. Which is amazing!
MPM – This must make your projection through into next year and beyond a little bit clearer, a higher degree of clarity?
Jim – That’s right, obviously in the background what happens with Covid whether it will continue to be a problem as the vaccination is rolled out, whether it will flare up again? We just don’t know so we’ve got to kind of roll with the punches on that and see what happens, just try and find our way like everyone else.
We’re all in the same boat aren’t we? But in terms of musical direction of the festival it’s so clear from the reception that we’ve had from what is now the 2021 line up we can headline original artists and sell tickets. We’ve got some great ideas of who we’d like to have in the future. We’re so excited about that; already thinking about 2022.
MPM – Do you see, perhaps not for next year, but years to come that international acts will figure in your plans?
Jim – Why not? What we want to do is no secret. Simon, Scott and I have talked about it because we have the space here on the campsite. We can get a little bigger. We don’t want to ever be a massive event. That doesn’t work and we do have limits in that sense. We can increase capacity by a fair amount here. We can get over 1000 plus easily on site as we have done the numbers; the infrastructure is there.
We can scale up from that and get slightly bigger artists. There is loads of international artists that when the background situation is safer we’d love to have them play for us. Technically we were going to have Massive who are not a UK band; we’ve had bands from Germany like Sonic Black Holes in 2018 who were great. We had Samarkind and Baleful Creed come over. Anyone’s welcome it’s all about the music. There are loads of bands we’ve got our eyes on for sure.
MPM – I think it’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry at this level, We were talking the other night about cooperation between other promoters. Personally I’m excited about that as it’s a view I’ve held for a couple of years and I know that you share a similar outlook.
Jim – For sure, we’re all in this together. We’re all invariably music fans, loving the same bands. We all might as well try to collaborate on our calendars together and if we do get bands from over the water then if we can arrange our calendars so that they get a run of 4 or 5 gigs over a period then would make sense wouldn’t it? And not tread on one another’s toes and work together co-operatively. So that everyone can see everything.
MPM – As opposed to pulling apart which we hope doesn’t happen, I think having a higher degree of cohesion because 2 or 3 years ago I don’t any of us saw how this would take off and have such a depth.
Jim – Yes, exactly. I think it’s been noticeable I’d say in the last 2 to 3 years particularly how much more vibrant and busy the rock music scene has become. So much really good new music is coming through and the quality of it is immense.
There are plenty of bands out there, so there’s enough for all these particular grass roots events to keep running. I think sadly whilst the Covid thing is a spectre in the background, where we are getting by is by booking UK bands that aren’t halfway up the bill at Download or Rambling Man, stadium fillers so on. It’s the grassroot’s festivals that are surviving and doing well.
MPM – Flicking back to this year’s line up there’s such a cross-section. It isn’t just rock n’ roll.
Jim – No it’s across the board. We’ve Ethyrfield who bring something so unique, the most incredible band. They’re a sonic treat, if you haven’t heard them I’ve not seen anyone come out of an Ethyrfield gig and not be totally blown away. Picking their jaw up off of the floor.
They are just something completely different. People are going to be absolutely blown away by them. We’re tremendously excited about the new album as well. And then you’ve got bands like Empyre, that is another sound again. A more ‘modern’ sound perhaps.
Then there’s the bands that bring that classic Gibson growl like Revival Black. Then you’ve got the powerhouse melodic rock of Scarlet Rebels. It is such a mixed bag. But it’s all within an umbrella of rock and blues basically.
MPM – I find it fascinating and exciting. Here’s to future successes.
Jim – Thank you. We’ll do this as long as people want to come along and as long as we’re allowed to do it. We take a long term view on this. We’re in a very fortunate postion to work closely with St. Leonards Farm Park which is the campsite hosting the event. We’re fortunate that we don’t have to negotiate with a third party so we’ve got that security going forward in terms of location and venue. It’s really just having the contacts, right contracts and relationships with production, bands and booking agents to go forward and grow it. One of the most important things for us as music fans, is we love the bands in their own right. As I’ve said we’d go and see all of them and we do when we can. We want to look after them so give them food, drink and there is space out the back if they want to camp and stay over and enjoy the festival. We want the bands to feel welcome. Without the bands it is nothing. They are the real reason for doing this.
MPM – And someone has to camp next to ‘The Creature’.
Jim – Yeah, someone will be camping next to King Creature. They’re going to be very lucky indeed! A rock and roll night lies ahead!!
MPM – Another exciting development this year. You’re opening the festival up a day early on the Thursday.
Jim – We certainly are! Over the last couple of festivals we’ve had full days of music starting around 1130am on the Friday, so people don’t want to miss the start. So, if they’re travelling up from Cornwall or coming down from the North they want to get settled and set up on site comfortably. Thursday night has become quite an event. There’s a real community spirit on site seeing faces you haven’t seen for a while, a real catch up and fun gathering. This year will be even more special we hope. More on this very soon. We have two acoustic Thursday warm up artists for you. One of them is used to playing in a power cut….
MPM – Jim, once again many thanks.