The organisers of this summer’s Sussex Solstice Music Festival, Mark Campbell and Simon Oakley, speak to Frederick Latty about the opportunities and challenges that the local music scene provides…
Tell us about last year’s festival in Burwash and why it didn’t happen this year
Simon: We put on a smaller event last year, which we did on a voluntary basis and it was great. We had about 700 people there and they came from all over the country, as far afield as Yorkshire. But we held it at the Bear and because it’s right in the middle of the village and the decibel levels and so on, the local council requested that we didn’t have another festival there. So, we found another venue in Burwash and had the festival all planned and the bands were booked, but some local residents weren’t happy, so we had to pull it.
Mark: We had the parish council behind us and Rother Council were fine, but there was a legal challenge by one person.
Simon: The promotion that the previous festival brought to the village had been invaluable. We had a parish council meeting eight months before the event for all the residents and another three months before, for any objections to be raised. We pride ourselves on our professionalism and we’re just about supporting bands, so it was a great shame really.
But you managed to hold the Sussex Solstice One-Day Music Festival at The Forum in August?
Mark: I was introduced to Jason Dorman at The Forum by a mutual friend and he just said: ‘Why don’t we talk about scaling it down and bringing it here?’ Initially, I was reluctant because of all the work we’d put in, but we’d had to let a lot of bands down, so we went straight back to them to get them involved. Some could do it, some couldn’t, but we’re just about helping bands. That’s our ethos – we’re music men, first and foremost. There was immediate solidarity because both teams were coming from the same place, so it was perfect.
Without places like The Forum, the music scene would disappear and Tunbridge Wells can’t afford to lose it. There would just be tribute acts and dad bands. No disrespect to them, but why people go to see tribute bands is beyond us; they just become a parody of themselves.
Was it easy to get people involved with the event?
Simon: It’s all about networking. Mark knows lots of people in the music business and my background is in the media, so I understand the process and I’m good at promoting, so we’ve built that up.
Mark: There are not many promoters like us who will take a punt on acts. We needed to restore our credibility and it was a loss leader for us to put something bigger and better on, but the bands all know the other bands, so we’re now trusted promoters.
Simon: It’s all about credibility. I put one of the bands up in my house free of charge for a week, because I knew they hadn’t been down here before and they needed to be looked after. That’s all part of it.
Do you pay your acts?
Mark: They’re all paid and paid well. There’s a point behind that – mutual respect. Lots of promoters get bad-mouthed and we can understand why some promoters take certain actions. But one of the acts, Elizabeth Caney, had just been on tour with Charli XCX. I couldn’t ring her up and say, ‘You’re a friend of mine, can you play for nothing?’ In fact, she donated her fee to the charity and didn’t want to be paid, but you have to offer.
Which charity did you work with?
Simon: The Children’s Respite Trust – we sold t-shirts and bands donated their fee: it was a wonderful gesture. What the charity does is very important. Last year we raised about £1,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust.
What are the challenges facing music festivals in general?
Mark: The problem is that you can now sit at home and watch YouTube videos of acts you like. When we were younger, in order to see a live artist, you had to go out and watch them in concert. I recently saw a photo of the inauguration of the Pope in 2005 and only one mobile phone was held aloft; in a picture taken at last year’s inauguration, every single person in the crowd had a phone. Now teenagers aren’t dreaming of going to see musicians live because they’re used to watching them all the time. Everything is so accessible.
Simon: I’m quite hopeful because I think something new will come along, and I think there will be a tipping point on the live music scene, when people will have had enough of listening to the same people performing the same covers. I’m guilty of doing it because I play in a covers band, but sooner or later, something new will come along; it’s human nature. The last musical movement we had in this country was Britpop 20 years ago, and there hasn’t been one since.
How about the local music scene in particular?
Mark: Tunbridge Wells needs to support venues like The Forum, or they’ll lose it forever. In Tunbridge Wells there’s no underground scene and you’ve got to have that.
Simon: The council could certainly help The Forum and the local music scene by understanding that a town needs to have a broad spectrum of the arts. If you look at what goes on at the Assembly Hall, if it’s just tribute acts and pantomimes, is that all Tunbridge Wells is about? You need to have that spectrum and the council should encourage promoters like ourselves and The Forum, either financially, in a promotion sense, or with licensing.
Mark: If the council was prepared to take the lead and do something a bit alternative, we’d be happy to talk to them about that.
What’s next for Sussex Solstice?
Simon: At the end of each event, we’re thinking that we can’t do any more. Then within two weeks, we’re thinking, ‘Who are we going to book next?’ We might do a more genre specific event next time, like rock. Rock fans always come out for festivals. We don’t know if we’ll keep the Sussex Solstice name – we have our own promotion company, Sanctuary Media Entertainment Ltd, now and might do something new.
Mark: We’ve got some ideas for a festival next year and people have already approached us. Simon: The next festival doesn’t have to be in Sussex; it could be in Tunbridge Wells. But it’s got to be edgy and we’ve got to get the youth involved, otherwise nothing will change.
To keep up-to-date with events, visit www.sanctuarypromotions.co.uk
SUSSEX ROCKS FOR PARIS
‘Sussex Rocks for Paris’ took place on November 27 at The Carlisle, Hastings, with a number of local rock covers bands, including SnakeByte, 90% Proof and Troublegum.
A total of £536 was raised on the night for the victims of the Le Bataclan attacks in Paris two weeks previously.
A spokesman said: “As avid rock fans we were profoundly affected by the events in Paris.
“The fans that attended the Eagles Of Death Metal concert at the Le Bataclan had a right to do so in safety and this was tragically ignored by an evil force that wishes to disrupt the values of rock fans everywhere.
“If rock is a religion, then we are disciples, and we wanted to demonstrate our support for the people of Paris and the fans that attended the gig by creating an event where the rock fans of Sussex could come together.”