As the Festival Season begins to awaken for another year, Still Burning catches up with Angela Michael, presshound and general dogsbody from the North Easts frying pan of mud and fun that is Wizard Festival.
So….. its Year Number Four for Wizard Festival already? What made you start it up way back in 2007?
We started the festival because we are ardent festival goers ourselves and felt that the North East should have its own event. Also we all started having kids etc and so it became a bit of a chore travelling all around the UK for festivals so decided to have one in “our own back yard”. The folk who organise Wizard are also really keen music fans and so we wanted to bring some great bands to the North East and put them on in a festival setting – we are really lucky that New Deer is a beautiful location for a music festival and that it is only 30 miles from Aberdeen.
How have the crowds been numbers wise over the three years so far?
We have increased attendance at Wizard year on year. Year one was 1,500 and last year was 4,000 – these numbers include weekend campers and “day trippers” who come only for the Saturday of the event. Even last year when the economic situation for a lot of folk was pretty dire we managed to increase attendance so we were pretty chuffed about that.
Basically how many people organise the festival, apart from the helpers at the event?
Bottom line is that there are about eight core people who are involved in the day to day organisation of the event. We all work at other jobs and have families etc but we put a lot of effort into getting it right and most days we all have something “Wizard” to do!.
Whats it like for you personally as it gets closer to `opening time`?
For me it gets pretty hectic from the minute we announce our first headliner. I look after all the press, marketing and general promotion of the festival and so there is always plenty to do. For example I liaise with all the press in the run up to the event, getting radio, print and online media interested in Wizard. I do interviews and produce news releases and promo packs that will increase awareness about Wizard and what a great event it is. In the month before the festival it is all about press packs, press accreditation, organising the photographers and making sure we have some artist/media interviews set up. All this adds to the general buzz around the event and makes sure that Wizard stays in the public domain and people are talking about our event.
I have to say though that it is a real team effort. We are all stretched to capacity in the run up to Wizard but we pull together and make sure it happens – that’s the key to it really – no-one is ultimately in charge and telling people what to do, we make group decisions and then get on with it.
How long does it take to plan? Do you have to start thinking about 2011 before 2010 has even taken place?
It’s a year round thing and we are planning for Wizard all year round. We do have a bit of a break directly after the event after the site breakdown and media stuff is tied up but then it all starts again. We sometimes have ideas and don’t have time to implement them one year so we do it the year after. We are always thinking about what we can do better though – we want to put on a really good event.
What are the hardest things to organise (apart from the weather!)?
Mmm… not sure about this one…everyone would have a different take on it. For me the advertising side of things can become a bit challenging because, of course, everyone wants us to take out advertising and we need to be strategic about what we do promotion-wise.
Whats the worst things that have gone wrong, what did you run out of or who didn’t turn up?
Last year was really difficult right at the beginning of the event because we had to delay opening by about three hours because of the tail end of Hurricane Jim battering the site. For health and safety reasons we had to “baton down the hatches” and wait for it to “blow over” a bit so that festival goers could get onto the main site. The worst thing about that was that some of the bands missed their slots and we couldn’t re-schedule them and they were, rightly so, very disappointed. No-one has never not turned up – why wouldn’t they come? – Wizard is great!
Any mistakes you made in the first one(s) that you can look back and laugh at now?
Not really – I personally don’t spend a lot of time looking back – we are always looking at the next year and what we can do that will make Wizard even better. No glaring mistakes that I can think of – but maybe I have my rose tinted festival specs on!
Any amusing stories from the previous three festivals?
Well as you would expect there have been some great weather stories. In year two we had an issue at the front of the main stage where there was a lots and I mean lots, of mud. One of the local farmers brought his big silage tractor type device to suck up all the mud. It was a great example of the “can do” attitude of the local farmers who help at Wizard – nothing is beyond them – there is always a solution. After that hundreds of bales of hay arrived and we put it down to soak up the mud around the site and it made it a lot more possible for people to wander around.
Last year the news team from STV arrived to do a report on the first day of the festival. The presenter was wandering around the muddy fields and campsites in a pair of black patent shoes. Some of the folk on the campsite were taking the mickey – but in a really friendly way – and the guy took it in good humour. It was great that with a hurricane blowing and lots of rain STV were still willing to send a crew out to tramp about at the local festival and do a report. We were really chuffed.
Any personal highlights from the three years so far?
I have had loads. Alabama 3 were brilliant in year two, as were Supergrass. Anything with a Scottish flavour always goes down well and The Peat bog Faeries and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers always get the crowds going and that is great to see. I love punk and ska so Dreadzone and The Damned have been real highlights for me…and The Beat were absolutely brilliant last year.
Who would you love to see `on stage` at Wizard?
Do you mean my dream line up? (aye) Well that would have to involve the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Toots and the Maytals, Candi Staton and The Black Keys – that would about do it for me!
How do you decide which local acts get chosen to play? Any tips for them if they are reading this?
For local acts it’s just a matter of them sending in a demo and us listening to it. We basically decide on the back of what we hear. We also hold “Wizard Showcase” nights where we put on some of the local bands applying to play so that we can see them live but there are no real rules. We get a few of us together and decide on what we like and what we think the festival goers will enjoy. We are really keen on promoting local talent and we want local bands to have a real presence at Wizard. We keep a portion of our bill aside for local up and coming acts because we want them to get as much exposure as possible. We are music lovers and anything that is being “grown” locally we want to help support those musicians in any way we can.
We have a dedicated e-mail for bands this year, firstname.lastname@example.org where bands can note an interest and send music over as well as the usual sending material through the post – the address is on the website. One thing I would say though is that bands often don’t include full contact details – maybe just an e-mail address or a MySpace that hasn’t been updated for a year!. We don’t know how often bands check Yahoo or MySpace addresses or whatever and if we don’t get a reply we have to move on, so it is really important that we have full contact details. A mobile number (that someone will answer) and a landline if possible.
Which of the local acts have you enjoyed most? As well as which have been most popular with the crowds?
Gerry Jablonski went down a storm last year as did lots of the other local bands. I really liked The Locals when we saw them at one of our showcase events. Right Hand Left are brilliant too.
Have any of the line-up been confirmed yet?
We have confirmed The Happy Mondays for the Saturday night. Many more acts will be announced soon – watch this space!
The Happy Mondays are a bit of a coup I think, was that hard work to make happen?
Yep – they are definitely a good catch and I think they will be brilliant. It is never hard to get bands to come to Wizard – all the previous bands always say they have had a great time. The fans are up for it, we treat our artists well and so it is never a problem getting people to come – it is just working out the finer details of the contracts and then we make it happen.
When do you expect to have most of the line-up all finalised?
The bigger acts should be finalised in the next few months and then we work on the bill right up to just before the event adding bands as we go.
New Deer ain’t beside a train station or even a main bus route. How do you help festival goers to get there?
Yeah..you will find that with a lot of festivals – by their very nature they are out in the middle of the countryside – look at Glastonbury – there is always a hike involved – it is just part of the experience.
We have great big car-parking lots and we encourage people to car share. There are local buses and we always try and put on a festival bus but the take up hasn’t been great for that. I guess because a lot of people are coming from the local area they just bring the car – but we want to do more to try and offset the carbon emissions that the festival creates and so we are always looking at ways at making it easier for folk to come along – we are working on it. On another note we had a group of Belgian folk who hitchhiked (!) it to Wizard last year so that shows how determined folk are to get there!.
You can buy a weekend ticket, or a Saturday ticket, but why not a Friday ticket?
Again you will notice that all the festivals that are about our size don’t sell Friday only tickets. Belladrum, Wickerman, RockNess…none of them do a Friday only ticket because what would be the point of putting on a weekend campsite if people were just going to come for the Friday and go home and then the Saturday and then go home. We would just end up with two one day festivals which is not really very cost- effective.
Why do you think festivals seem to have risen in popularity?
I’ve been going to festivals for twenty years and so I am not new to it but I suppose it is just that people want to do something different. Get out of the city for a few days, hear some good music and meet some like-minded people who are pretty cool. Some town/city centres are pretty dire places to be at weekends these days and “Free spirits” want to go out and have a good time listening to music whilst skipping about the countryside – can’t be bad. It’s also one of the few things that families can do together with no age limits. The parents can have a beer, the kids can run around crazy and everyone can have a bit of fun camping…family friendly festivals are a great thing for society in my opinion.
Whats the one thing thay you’d say to convince someone to come to Wizard instead of any other festivals in Scotland?
I probably should have some stock phrase ready for this but I don’t!!. Wizard is a “seedling” festival. We are completely independent and we run it for the people and that is reflected in its friendliness and general easy – going vibe. We have health and safety rules but for the most part there are no rules like ”no bottled water”…”no food on the campsite”…this is the irony of some festivals these days. Festivals were started so that people could be a bit less restricted and be free to be themselves. It seems to me that some festivals are just like going to work – too many bosses and so many restricting rules. You won’t find this at Wizard – we are safe but people are free to be who they want to be and enjoy themselves. Wizard is accessible financially too. As a family friendly event it is essential that we keep our prices affordable. It won’t cost the guts of £500 to come to Wizard. Camping and car parking are free, kids 12 and under are free; there are no hidden costs. Bring your own food and treat yourself to a few beers and the whole weekend could come in at less than £120. For that you can see 50 bands, camp, park and enjoy the whole experience. That’s a bit more realistic for festival goers, young and old, than say £500…with added extras every time you want to park your car or put up a tent that is bigger than 3ft square!
Almost finished now… is there anything else you’d like to add?
Not really…I am talked out thanks very much.
Your five desert island tracks?
This week it would be:
Candi Staton – I’m a prisoner for your love
The Black Keys – Your Touch
Solomon Burke – None of Us Are free
PIL – This is Not a Love Song
Gil Scott Heron – I’m new here
And finally, your favourite flavour of crisps?
Oh… now you are asking… I AM CRISPS… I don’t like chocolate but crisps??? You asked the right person for this info!
Coming in at Number 5 would have to be Crispy Bacon Strips from the Co-Op. At Number 4 we have Walkers Cheese and Onion, staying at 3 we have Kettle Cheese and Onion, Number two is Marks and Spencer’s own brand, Shallots with Cheddar cheese and at Number One this week we have Kettle Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar… mmm… nice.
Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, I’m sure you’ll keep us updated with any news as it happens. Lets hope the sun shines for you on the weekend and the crisp factories never close down! Still Burning
Wizard Festival Official Site
Wizard Festival MySpace Page