Bloodstock: Present, Past and Future. A chat with founder Paul Gregory.

Bloodstock is a common name now in this, its ninth year of existence. To talk about the festival and its history in the lead up to the 2009 festival, Metal as Fuck caught up with the immensely amiable and chatty festival founder Paul Gregory.

 

 

 

Starting up any major event like Bloodstock takes a lot of balls: yet you have to remember that it's only been an outdoor festival for about five years. In its entirety, the festival has been running for nearly ten years: 2010 will see its tenth birthday.  Founder Paul Gregory demurred when I ran the notion of confidence past him, pointing out - rightly - that these sort of things always come back to the individual.

 

'I quite like to take risks myself, always have done,' he said. It's not something I'd ever done before. I think the only reason I was probably given that opportunity was my connection with the metal world, with my album art - I did work for Saxon for their Crusader album and other albums since then. I was presented with the opportunity of putting on a festival with about four or five other guys, and over a period of time they all sort of whittled away. And I just loved the idea. And it was just an ongoing nightmare - not so much now - but I think that's part of the fun, don't you?'

 

The fact that running such a major event is challenging, and that he loves the work - so much so it's just part of his life now - are some of the driving factors in helping the festival to evolve, and which help to transcend any difficulties that it might present. 

 

Running Bloodstock hasn't been without its problems. Keeping a positive spin on it, Paul told me that it's been a learning curve the whole way because it was something that he had never ever done before. 

 

'The amount of information that you need to take on board in a short amount of time is quite incredible, really,' he mused. 'If I'd have actually looked at it, in the cold light of day, and known what I know now, I probably still would've done it but it would've been a mountain to climb. But that's part of the fun and I think it's what gives the festival its character,' he explained. 'Because you're building it not on somebody else's model, you're doing it yourself.'

 

As Paul went on to explain, Bloodstock has a really good feel to it. He attributes a lot of this vibe to the fact that it has grown organically, instead of starting with a huge amount of money, putting a headliner on the bill and hoping for the best. That organic growth is what saw Bloodstock become an outdoor festival: nearly ten years ago, it was an indoor event. When the venue reached capacity, Bloodstock was held as two events, run back-to-back, which, as Paul said, caused 'all sorts of problems'.

 

'The following year we just had the one open-air festival, and we pretty much had to start again. But it has grown, year-on-year. And we have changed as well, from the bands that we had on the indoor stage to the types of bands we have now. We have a good cross-section of subgenres because, you know, metal is very diverse.'

 

With the range of other major events in the world, I asked Paul whether he believes that some of the smaller and younger festivals - from those that are just kicking off, to those that have been kicking on for much longer, like Bloodstock - exist in the shadow of such enormous festivals as Wacken. He said that they did, but at the same time is keenly aware that Bloodstock is quite unique.

 

'Ours is more a gig with the European style festivals, which I think people like,' Paul explained. 'There aren't many of that type in the UK; most of the major festivals are run by the like of United Nations and AG, and they tend to cater for more mainstream. We have pretty much a niche market in the UK.'

 

Given that the community is fairly small, it will come as no surprise to some of our readers that Paul Gregory is a great friend of Thomas Jensen, one of the founders of Wacken Open Air, or that Jensen was a great help during Bloodstock's early days. 

 

'Yeah I think that most independent festivals tend to help each other rather than fighting against each other. We do actually work with other festivals as well.'

 

In some sense, the overlap and collegial assistance that these festivals lend each other is indicative of what is essentially a tiny industry, when one looks at the number of festivals that do exist. It is also indicative of metal and metal fans in particular: anybody in the scene knows that metalheads tend to look after their own.

 

As Bloodstock grew, infrastructure costs of course went up. The costs alone of meeting health and safety regulations in the UK are one of the most major costs of the festival, but even as it stands, as what is essentially a medium-sized festival, it only costs about half a million or so to stage. Costs, of course, also depend on the lineup - the bigger the band, the greater the cost. And when you start to unravel the costs of putting on a festival like Bloodstock, as Paul put it, you may as well ask 'how long's a piece of string?'. There are so many costs involved, and so many different possibilities, that it's really difficult to make any definitive statement. But, like he said, if you wanted to, 'you can start a festival pretty much with a marquee in a field, and just spend a few grand.'

 

While some might think that booking bands that are on existing tours might be front-of-mind for a festival organiser, they would be wrong. For Bloodstock, they try to get as many exclusive appearances as possible, and they try to get bands that are not touring the UK.

 

'But if it's a case of bands touring other festivals in Europe, then yeah, we will actually work with that. We've done festivals on that basis,' he explained. 'Say you've got a festival in France, and they've got a band not playing the UK or just doing one date over here, and it's a similar weekend, then obviously that makes sense for us with cost. But we do try to get exclusives for the festivals, which we've pretty much managed this year.'

 

Festivals are often plagued with the problem of cancellations of major acts. Bloodstock this year was unfortunately faced with the cancellation of Fear Factory's appearance, presumably due to legal issues; plus the cancellations of Gwar and Wintersun due the bands' needs to concentrate on either touring or other projects. While such cancellations are not the fault of the festival, they still cause the organisers to lose a bit of sleep.

 

'Obviously you do tend to piss people off when that happens, but we do tend to explain when it happens that it wasn't our fault. And to be fair to the bands,' Paul went on, 'if they have to cancel for any reason, they will put their hands up and say "well it's our fault, we did it".'

 

While Gwar and Fear Factory were significant cancellations, Paul noted that people quite readily accepted the fact that it happened. Given that the festival website has its own forums, Paul was able to tell me that while people do get slightly annoyed initially, they do come to the conclusion that it's not the festival's fault. 

 

One of the stages at Bloodstock 2009 is named the Sophie Lancaster stage. For those outside of the UK who don't know the story, Sophie and her boyfriend Robert were brutally beaten in 2007, and Sophie died as a result of her injuries. The beating was ostensibly because they looked different and belonged to a different subculture - they were goths. For more information about the case, please visit this Wikipedia page. The naming of the third Bloodstock stages the Sophie Stage is both a tribute to Sophie, and a statement upholding the metal subculture, which is generally vilified around the world. 

 

'The way people dress, the way they look, really shouldn't be an excuse to kill somebody, basically,' Paul explained. 'I just think that we had the opportunity to do that, and it is something that we're passionate about, and we just changed the name of the stage. It wasn't a big ask for us, but I think that it could make a bigger impact, and that's what it's all about. It's not really something that you need to tell fans at Bloodstock to behave like that, because, as you know, all metal fans tend to be gentle folk.'

 

Bloodstock is also a festival that has always promoted young bands. Since the festival's inception it's had an 'unsigned stage'; but it's evolved to where now there is a competition throughout the UK for the bands who play the unsigned stage - and the winner of that last battle goes on to open the main stage the following year. This year, too, Bloodstock will also be running a Wacken Battle, to find the band who might get the chance to play at that festival as well. 

 

'The unsigned gets a massive response [from young bands],' Paul told me. 'They love it, yeah. It gives them a platform they wouldn't normally get. Most bands of that ilk tend to play smaller gigs, and it's a big ask to get them to play at a bigger venue, so we're hoping to try and give them that opportunity. And to move on and totally get signed.'

 

There are plans to expand the festival as it grows each year, especially for 2010, which will see the 10th anniversary of the festival. Next year there are all sorts of plans afoot - including, possibly, a comedy tent as well. 

 

'We're always looking to expand. We've got an acoustic stage this year, so we've actually got four stages, although it's a small one and we've actually got no idea how it's going to work, which is actually the way we sort of went into the festival in the first place,' Paul laughed. 'So it's always nice to be surprised by things like that, so that will be good. But yeah we look at all sorts of things. We've actually got our own bar this year, a pub-themed bar called the Bloodstock Arms, with some stocks outside the bar so people can have photo opportunities and stick their heads through that. So we are trying to make things fun for everybody.'

 

This year's Bloodstock Open Air, at Catton Hall Derby, will be running from 14-16 August. For more information hit the festival website.