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Summing up – James Brennan, 34

Summing Up
1 May 2018
After embarking on his promoting life at school and becoming production manager for Secret Garden Party, James Brennan founded Suffolk’s Red Rooster Festival as a showcase for rhythm and blues artistes. He expects audiences to exceed 5,000 in this its fifth year, with artistes including Alabama 3, Los Chicos and Lucy Grubb, after attracting just 800 in Year One.

 

What prepared you for the task?

“I promoted gigs for my school band and soon realised I was better at managing shows than playing an instrument. I went to Reading Festival growing up, but I was engrossed in gigs at venues. I was fascinated by agents like Ian Huffam, Steve Strange and Emma Banks and read up on them in my teens. Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis had many lessons on how a festival changes as it grows. Fiona Stewart [Green Man] inspired me to be fiercely independent and John Giddings [Isle of Wight] to keep a rock ‘n’ roll attitude.

“I ran showcases at Mean Fiddler [then the London Astoria 2] and Shepherds Bush Empire while promoting bands like Alabama 3. While studying Arts & Event Production at Bournemouth I promoted gigs at The Opera House [cap. 2,000] in the town. I became in-house booker promoting Brian Wilson, Isaac Hayes, Sly & The Family Stone, Mark Ronson and Pendulum Live. After a period co-promoting with Live Nation I became production manager and music booker for Secret Garden Party [SGP], seeing it grow from 4,000 to 25,000 almost a decade later.”

 

How did you make it all happen?

“One of the stages I produced at SGP, The Crossroads, focused on rhythm and blues – the real stuff. There wasn’t much of a platform for these acts at ‘mainstream’ festivals and it’s where my heart is. At Texas’s SXSW, I met Harry Grafton, the merch co-ordinator for the Rolling Stones, at the same type of shows like The Jim Jones Revue. We talked religiously about a new rhythm and blues festival. I thought he was a well-spoken roadie but a few years later became the Duke of Grafton, a direct descendent of King Charles. He had an 11,000 acre site in Suffolk, so investor Richard Clingen, became my business partner and we launched Red Rooster.”

 

What has made the festival a success?

“The first year’s audience came thanks to the artistes. It was a rare occasion when this style of artiste were all brought in under one roof. The second year, people attended because of the continuing style of programming and because the site is one of the most beautiful in the festival market – the private gardens of Euston Hall, designed by Capability Brown and William Kent.”

 

What have been your highs and lows?

“As promoters we think about failure every day. If it doesn’t work out, we do it again until it’s right. The first year of a festival is always terrifying – every year after that we do a ritual sun dance, praying for good weather. A high point was being told that the festival would never work as it’s too niche, and then creating a festival that’s growing each year.”

 

Key suppliers

Sound: C3

Lighting: C3

Stages: Impact Productions

Marquees: Yes Tents, Roaming Tent Company

Other structures: The Dark Horses, custom builds

Security: SB Security Solutions

Stewarding: SB Security Solutions

Loos: Premier Toilets

Water: Aqua Earth

Power: Gofer Power

Trackway: Beaver 84

Fencing: Beaver 84

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