INTERVIEW: Michael Jones (Ghostfest) (05/04/2015)

With the mass saturation in the festival market nowadays, especially those based within the summer months, many weekenders or even one-dayers just fall by the wayside for several reasons. Even the biggest of set ups like Sonisphere struggle to stay within the UK festival market. That said, it’s great to see more niche and independent festivals survive and strengthen, and Ghostfest have manage to reach their 10th anniversary this year.

Hitting such a notable milestone is certainly admirable, and to consider that the event is only expanding further and further is really special. Following the announcement of first headliner Hatebreed, we spoke with co-organiser and The MJR Group owner Michael Jones to celebrate this special landmark, and see what the team have got in store for us this time around.

DP!: So, Ghostfest turns 10 this year! Happy birthday! How does it feel to have been going strong a whole decade?
M: A bit weird to be honest. On a personal level, I’ve only been involved for a few years, though. I worked on 2009 / 2010, and I’m now back in the fold for the 10 year anniversary in 2015. Even so, it’s been a big part of my life and something that I’ve always really enjoyed doing. The people who have been going to the festival every year will have a lot more memories of it than me though, particularly of the early years.

DP!: You’ve just announced your first headliner this year to be Hatebreed. How does it feel to have those guys involved and how do you feel people have been reacting since the announcement?
M: It’s great to have them on board. They’re celebrating their 20 year anniversary this year, so it was nice that we tied both landmarks together. When we first spoke to them about it, it was clear that they really wanted to get on board and, considering their profile and the events they play elsewhere, that was really refreshing and actually very surprising. The reaction from the public has been incredibly positive, too. I’d say right now that it’s the best reaction that we’ve ever had to a single band. I think it took a lot of people by surprise too, and we have a few more like that lined up this year which is great.

DP!: Ghostfest normally takes place towards the end of June, but this year it’s going to be hitting us hard in September. What’s the reason for it to be pushed back a couple of months this time around?
M: It’s quite simple really. The whole of the European festival and touring market is incredibly saturated over the summer, everyone is either on tour doing headline dates, festival shows, or a combination of both. By taking us completely out of that rat race, it opens up so many doors in terms of artist availability. We’re also not competing on price with every other festival in the UK, too. There are a lot of great festivals in the UK now at all levels, and rather than detract from that we took the decision to remove ourselves entirely from that period, and offer something different. People should still go and support the likes of Impericon Fest, Temples and Outbreak festival in the summer. They’re all great events run by lovely people who work really hard.

DP!: Along with this, you’ve also decided to bring it a new home away from home in Bristol, with just one day of a line-up instead of two. What sparked this idea, and what made you settle on Bristol as opposed to anywhere else?
M: The main benefits from that are two fold really. Firstly, it means that we can offer two sets of fees to artists, and secondly it just makes the trip a lot more worthwhile. Asking a band to fly halfway across the world to do a smaller festival with us when they already sellout rooms that size in their home country isn’t always particularly appealing for them. But asking them to do two and building a weekender out of it with better financial terms often is appealing!

In terms of any other potential cities as a second location, Bristol was always the obvious choice. I promote a lot there already, and Motion is actually a venue that myself/my company work full-time on. Geographically it makes sense, and it’s also the home of Temples Festival already, and from seeing that in action I know the venue can handle an event like this on a logistical level. There aren’t many venues out there can offer what we need, so in that respect it was an easy choice.

I didn’t really get to look at other option, as Bristol was so straightforward and just made total sense.

DP!: With nine previous years of line-ups to compete with, how are you guys stepping it up this year to celebrate this impressive milestone?
M: I can’t really go into too much detail on that. What I will say though is this is the biggest line-up that we’ve ever had, and crucially the programming is a lot more varied too. There’s something for everyone this year, and a few things that will surprise people. I want the line-ups to give people the opportunity to see something they wouldn’t ordinarily see, whether that’s a particular style of show by a more traditional Ghostfest band, or something of a completely different genre. I think it’s important that we do that.

DP!: Has it been particularly difficult composing a line-up to meet the expectations of this noteworthy anniversary?
M: Yes and no. I actually think a lot of the pressure to meet peoples’ expectations we’ve brought on ourselves by hyping up the 10 year angle so much! If we hadn’t of done that the festival could quite happily have carried on doing a similar level of event for years, but I want to push things forward and build the festival for the next ten years now.

DP!: Other than the bands that will be performing there this year, is there anything else you guys have got up your sleeves that we should be getting hyped up for?
M: Again, yes, but I can’t really go into it right now. We’ll have some spin-off shows around the festivals for people who want to do the whole weekend in a single location, though. Some people felt quite strongly about it no longer being a weekend in one fixed location, so we’ll have some fun things for them around the Ghostfests themselves to do to make it a whole weekend in one place. We’ll announce details of those in the near future.

DP!: You guys have been host to quite a few band reformation shows, including one-offs, has it been particularly difficult chasing bands, convincing and arranging these to fruition?
M: It’s been incredibly difficult, and is actually the hardest part of doing the events. We’ve been running for ten years now, and a lot can happen in that time. Some of the bands who will have played Ghostfest 10 years ago when they were 20 will be 30 now! People get married, have kids, get sensible jobs, or just simply fall out of love with the music.

Obviously, some bands are into the idea right away and just want to get on board, but equally there are others that I’ve been working on for six months or more and are showing very little sign of succeeding. As I said before, people change and so do their lives. There are a few bands that we ask literally every year, and just when it looks like it’s going to finally work out it all falls apart again. It’s incredibly frustrating, but not something that I can get too upset about.

As much as I want the festivals to move forward and increase in size, it’s also important that we look back and remember our past too.

DP!: Looking back over the 10 years since you first founded Ghostfest, how it has grown and what it has accomplished to this day, is there anything you’re particularly proud of and sticks out the most?
M: I think the fact that it’s been running for ten years is incredible in itself. There are festivals and venues closing every week now, and the sheer longevity of Ghostfest is something to be admired. It’s never been a huge festival fan, but for a certain audience it’s a bit of an institution now, and that’s quite special. I know people who have met their future wives/husbands at Ghostfest, too. Things like that are really nice to look back on.

DP!: In regards to the now two locations, Leeds and Bristol, are there any plans at the moment of band(s) to be performing at one specific location only?
M: No, it’ll be the same line-up in both cities. The after-parties and some other bits may naturally vary somewhat, but the festivals themselves will be identical.

DP!: Thinking a little early ahead, but do you think the two locations will be a permanent choice going ahead, or will it return to a two-dayer at Leeds only next year, or even expand to two-dates with rotating line-ups for 2016?
M: I’m really not sure. Ask me again on September 7th if I haven’t had a heart attack by then.

DP!: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the fans of Ghostfest and our readers?
M: Thanks for all of your support over the years, and see you in September!

This year’s Ghostfest will take place on September 5th 2015 at University Union, Leeds and September 6th 2015 at Motion, Bristol. Ticket for both dates are on sale now and can be purchased online from the festival’s official website (here).

Interview by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)