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NXT Features
9 July 2018
Cropredy Festival
Many an aspiring artiste dreams of their first festival appearance and others see repeated festival appearances as a way to attract more followers, but it’s a big leap up from pubs and bars, and a bad performance can do serious harm.  Rob Sandall reports

 

Festival slots for unsigned and emerging artistes are, it would seem, 10-a-penny at this point.

Every major and indeed minor festival offers new acts the chance to perform in front of an audience in some way, shape or form, whether via submissions, contests, online votes or educational schemes.

There are, of course, a great many more acts than there are slots available.

James Scarlett, founder of 10,000-capacity 2000 Trees festival, says that the best way of getting yourself noticed is to concentrate on efforts outside of the festival circuit.

“I think to be honest, a lot of artistes would benefit from walking away from their computers and getting more experience playing live shows,” he says.

“Sending endless random submissions to festivals is massively time-consuming in the first place, but there’s an additional danger that even if they do make it onto a stage, they won’t be able to capitalise on the performance – if there’s no team in place, no music for sale, no upcoming tour, there’s not much point in playing to a large audience.

“I think waiting a couple of years simply means you’re a better band, and will be more experienced playing festival shows.”

That’s not to say that the likes of Scarlett ignore submissions, he notes, it’s more that the sheer weight of interest acts means that any festival booker will need a little help in figuring out where to start looking.

“As you can imagine, we have thousands of submissions in any given year,” he says.

“To help, I tend to look to promoters, to press, to radio and so on to narrow those down to say 500 or 1,000, and from there.

“I have to rely on information in that way because, to be blunt, I’ve been putting on festivals for a long time, and while we all like to believe we have our finger on the pulse, that can’t be true all the time.

“If three separate people that I trust tell me that an act’s good, I’m almost definitely booking them. That was the case with Black Peaks, who I found out about through my network and have ended up being incredibly impressive.”

 

One stage wonders

Gareth Williams of Fairport Cropredy Festival, founded in 1979 by a then-retired Fairport Convention – since back on-the-road, notes that even at events where slots are in relatively short supply, the right emerging act can fare incredibly well.

“Being what is a rarity in the modern age, a 20,000-capacity festival with a single stage, we do have to be careful about achieving the correct balance between name acts that will sell the tickets, and giving new artists a helping hand,” he says.

Like Scarlett, Williams is always interested in submissions sent from those he trusts, whether that be industry professionals or reputable competitions.

Frank Turner and John Kennedy

“Agents and artistes alike send submissions via email or through the website, and we look at them all,” he says.

“I’ve booked quite a few excellent new bands via these submissions – three years ago, Paul Boswell [of Free Trade Agency] alerted me to The Pierce Brothers, twins from Melbourne who had cut their teeth busking.

“For some reason I knew they would be ideal at Cropredy and they tore the place apart, so much so that we invited them back the following year.

“We also invited the winners of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year to do a slot.”

He adds that ultimately, keeping the audience beaming and the coffers strong, in that order, will ultimately always affect decisions when it comes to the programme.

“Firstly, we have to like them. Secondly, we have to know they can actually play live with confidence,” Williams explains. “With only one stage, it doesn’t matter where you are on the bill – you are going to be performing to a minimum of 12,000 people, and we can’t put someone up there who can’t handle that.

“So far none of the new acts has let us or themselves down. They’ve all been amazing.”

Those acts have recently included Brothers and Bones, The Dunwells and Skinny Lister.

Who you know

Frank Turner, who has for two years run the four-night Lost Evenings festival at London’s Roundhouse (3,110), notes that even events like his that are predisposed to promoting newer acts, rely on a network of contacts to make crucial decisions.

“Finding new, emerging artistes to play is an important part of the whole ideology of the festival,” he says.

James Scarlett

“Partly it comes from my own investigations on the underground, chancing across bands through catching them live, recommendations from friends, or a Spotify playlist or such.

“I also got a lot of help from the wonderful John Kennedy at Radio X – he’s the new music DJ there and he compered the second stage, bringing a whole host of new acts to my attention.

“Getting in with promoters or an agent can be crucial, but of course that and most other things ultimately depend on having an interest in the music you make and the show you put on.

“On some basic level, quality will shine through, word will spread,” says Turner.

Acts to have recently performed at lost evenings include Xylaroo, Sarah Walk and Joe McCorriston.

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