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Keep on rocking in the free world! An insight into the organisation of an independent music festival

All innovation starts with one crazy idea and what better, crazier idea have you you ever heard than starting up an independent music festival?

Sometime back in the early Naughties Kate Moss et al made tramping around in a field in skimpy shorts and designer wellies the thing to do and shortly afterwards, the prices for the heavyweights, such as Glastonbury, sky rocketed. Whether this was linked directly to the trend for all things mud soaked or the rising cost of show time staples such as oil and electricity, happy punters were finding themselves with difficult decisions to make when faced with a weekend of live music and debauchery. Now whilst the likes of Leeds and Glastonbury festival have been growing ever larger, the smaller indie festivals have been hot on their heels, providing a smorgasbord of quality local music, affordable eating and no compromise on technical event quality.

The question is- would you rather stand 30 meters behind a belligerent crown, watching the flavour of the month belt out hit after cliched hit when they could be rocking out to the sounds of tomorrow in the middle of a love addled mosh pit? It’s certainly not for everyone but one only needs to look as far as the incredibly popular Boomtown Fair and Rebellion festivals to see that bigger is not always better.

Last year, the management team of local music venue The Maze dreamt big and put their money where their mouths were, producing Burtfest: an independent festival for the people of Burton. Though the festival was well received, disappointing ticket sales hit the team hard, causing significant threat to the venues future, but, have they given up, no siree! I caught up with Gaz Peacham to find out the score on this year’s festival offering for Nottingham: Amazements.

-What made you want to put on a festival?
“Having been involved in running a venue and promoting club gigs for the best part of a decade, it has always been something I have wanted to do. The festival market is huge these days but I look around at many festivals and still think that there are gaps in the market. We felt that many great up and coming acts don’t get opportunities to play at well organised festivals still and that many festivals are still charging the customers a hell of a lot of money for tickets. We want to run a festival that is more like a huge gig at a club (outdoors) and value for money than just another festival and ultimately give something back to the community.”

-What challenges do you face as an independent host?
“Money. Even though we know how to budget for events and have done it many times the big issue is always the working capitol. Many suppliers need up front payments so we have to get in sponsorship or finance the initial capitol ourselves. When we first did bigger outdoor events away from the venue it was hard to manage time too as we still have to run a venue every night and day, but that gets easier with experience and I am very confident this year that we have a good team around us and can run Amazements hand in hand with the running of the Maze.”

-What made you decide to go ahead with Amazements after the difficulties encountered with Burtfest?
“We always have had an attitude of looking at the positives in things and trying to push forward and improve both ourselves and our business. Yes Burtfest lost money and gave us huge challenges and hard decisions afterwards as a business. We had to change a few things and make some tough decisions but all the bands and punters who came to Burtfest had nothing but good things to say really. We made mistakes but we literally sat down afterwards and knew exactly where we went wrong.”

-Have you got funding for the festival or is it all being paid for through the business?
“We have some sponsorship from both national companies (some who supported us at Burtfest) and some local companies but we could still do with more, as I say the sponsorship makes it easier for us as it means we don’t have to touch the business or loan money from it. The sponsorship deal we offer is very good and we are optimistic that Nottingham businesses will react well to it. The general deal is that companies sponsor the festival and for that outlay they will get advertising throughout the festival on the promo material as well as getting an amount of tickets which is roughly to the value of their outlay. We want the festival to grow and really bring Nottingham’s business and music community together We want all the people involved to feel like they are helping to improve our city and community. If anyone is interested in sponsoring the festival in any way, big or small, please get in touch! Its for a great cause!”

-What do you think was the main issue behind the disappointing ticket sales for Burtfest?
“Oh I could write an essay on that!! I think many minor issues, the weather on the Friday mixed with England playing football really hurt us. I think when it comes to smaller festivals people wait to see what the weather is looking like rather than buying in advance so I wasn’t too worried by advance sales but when the rain started pouring on Friday afternoon I knew it would hurt us. I do also think Burton was maybe not ready for Burtfest, it is a small town and not used to big events like that and we did also have issues with promotion in the local area. Nottingham is a much larger city that is used to big events and also has a great reputation right now for local live music We also have 2 indoor stages at the Race Course this year and a covered area by the main stage so even if the weather does try to ruin things people can still come out and party!”

-Have you changed your approach to planning and putting on Amazements to Burtfest?
“The idea is much the same but we have scaled down. The Race Course is a fantastic venue and already has facilities such as toilets and fencing in place. Though this is relatively unknown, the first year we did Burtfest we made several thousand pounds for charity and everything went to plan, we had one outdoor stage and no camping and we didn’t have any big names! Amazements will have one outdoor stage and two in door stages, just 1 or 2 big name headliners, fun fairs and other activities for all the family over 2 days but no camping but it’s close to town and easy to get to.”

-How important is the selection of artists to selling ticket sales? For example, do you think local festivals sell based on seeing good local names or on national artists?
“I actually think it is a mix. I think much is to do with the comfort of the festival, location and organisation and extra activities and really important. We have gone for some of the best local artists and just a few interesting bigger names this year. Our main focus though is on other interesting activities and the fact it will be a value for money ticket price and that all the profit goes to charity. This year we will have comedy stages, walk about acts, some poetry, theatre, fun fairs and a fair few other wonderful, whacky and spontaneous things should be happening!

The weird thing is that even though Burtfest lost money last year the reaction of people who went was amazing. We had people travel from all around the country and tell us it was one of the best festivals they had ever been to! I think if we had decided to do it again this year it would have gone loads better due to the reputation we earned last year but we just felt we needed to move on.””

-At long last we’re starting to see Nottingham artists break through into the mainstream. Do you think that this will help with the promotion of both local festivals and local music venues? And have you seen an change in attitude towards supporting local music since Jane Bugg got to number 1 in the charts?
“I think it has positive and negative effects. Interest in the local scene is certainly better, press coverage for local artists has been much much better and there has been a lot more events popping up in Nottingham over the last year. There is also a sense of community a lot more but I think some people are literally looking for another Jake Bugg and that won’t happen.

Nottingham is a very talented city but is also a very mixed scene. I have always seen it as a party city with loads of bands of various genres. I really love Jake Bugg and was lucky enough to see him grow and put him on in the early days of his career but I think some people when they hear Nottingham has a good music scene and see or hear Jake they expect everything to be like Jake and it isn’t! There is a good amount of Indie/Folk acts in Nottingham but also some amazing Dance, Hip-Hop, Funk, Soul, Reggae, Punk, Rock and Metal bands too. So even if you aren’t a fan of the Bugg don’t write off the Nottingham scene, come see for yourself I’d say!”

And if you want to follow this man’s advice and see for yourself you can find all the details on Burtfest as well as buying tickets by going to