Beat-Herder co-founder talks about the rise of the smaller festival

Beat-Herder Music Festival 2012.'Photo Ben Parsons
Beat-Herder Music Festival 2012.'Photo Ben Parsons

It’s Glastonbury weekend and as the eyes of the music world watch over Worthy Farm, the final touches are being made to one of the UK’s last authentic festivals.

For those who didn’t win the Glastonbury ticket lottery, Beat-Herder pitches a refreshing alternative to the money-making mainstream machines many festivals have become.

Beat-Herder truly is a rare animal. Nestled in the heart of the Ribble Valley, it is owned by a group of friends, tradesmen specialising in everything from joinery and building to landscaping and painting.

A capacity capped at 10,000; outlandishly original creations popping up each and every year; alcohol allowed into the arena - the onus is on making memories, not money.

Once one of the area’s best kept secrets, its legend continues to grow while it roots remain as grounded as ever.

Co-founder Nick Chambers spoke to the Burnley Express, from Beat-Herder HQ in Keighley, about how it all came to be.

How is everything going ahead of this year’s festival?

Everything is going really good. On the back of one of the best Beat-Herder’s ever last year, we want to keep the momentum. We keep adding stuff, putting on as much stuff as we can just to keep it as good it as it can. That is our aim - to put on the best party that we can.

Has it evolved over the years?

Oh yeah definitely. It has changed so much, all for the better. 2006 was number one, this is the ninth Beat-Herder. Because we build and make the majority of the things, we can just generate new ideas and add to them every year. More and more every time. We could stop and say ‘ right, we’re done’ but nobody wants to come back to the same place. You want to change it about a bit and make it interesting.

How was Beat-Herder born?

We were involved in putting different events on, different parties, here there and everywhere and it got to the point that they became so popular that we thought let’s try a festival, We’d grown up going to Glastonbury and that little seed was in there. We had the bug. And obviously living where we do, up in the north, there was nothing up here at the time. You had to do a four/five hour drive to get to a festival to see a load of bands. Now we’re here on everyone’s doorstep, as well as being a national event.

There are six of us at the core of Beat-Herder that work all year round on it. On top of that, when it comes to it we have friends and friends of friends who come on board to help put the event on and we’re lucky to have such a great family of helpers. We’re all friends from school which is probably a rarity. Even that tells you it’s not a business model where somebody has put money up and drafted in a professional in event management. We’re all self-taught. We’ve taken our knocks along the way but in terms of the event getting better we get better at it as well.

Is there a temptation to expand in an attempt to maybe compete with the likes of Glastonbury or V Festival?

I think the size of the event, as well as what’s in there, helps make it what it is. It’s nice when you’ve got an intimate environment. For instance we’ve got 15 stages all done within the event. You can go to festivals where there’s ten times as many people and just the one stage. This is different. When there’s so many things to go around and you are actually exploring and sticking you’re head somewhere and saying ‘what’s this?’, that excitement is the complete opposite end of a gig in a field. It is a festival and it should be a place to have fun. There should be distractions, it should be a carnival atmosphere.

Alcohol being allowed into an arena is something I’ve never seen at any other festival. Is this something you feel helps add to the atmosphere?

It’s not for us to ask everybody to come along and have a good time but then lay down a massive set of rules. Obviously there’s things to be safe with to make sure everybody can enjoy it but for us to let people bring beer into the arena I don’t think there’s another festival in the country that allows that. We’re not just putting on an event, we’re opening our doors and making a home for people to live in for the weekend. When you can do that in a fair way and be right with people, people can relax more and think ‘right I’m not being hounded, I’m not being fleeced, I can do this, I can do that’, it makes the atmosphere better and far more relaxed.

There’s never any trouble. All these little things are part of the recipe that makes the atmosphere what it is. That’s the key at the end of it. When people are thinking back to memories I think it is a great place to be making them because it has got all the ingredients to let all those magical moments happen.

Considering you are all from Yorkshire how did you end up setting up home just outside Sawley?

It was chance how we found it. Obviously you’re trying to find land that’s as clear from as many houses as possible and you’ve got to find a site which looks right, In a nutshell we put an advert in the Farmers Guardian magazine looking for land to put an event on. We must have looked at over 100 farms from between Leeds to Blackburn. We’d almost given up actually and a couple of weeks after we got a call and so we decided to look at one more. We nearly didn’t but low and behold that’s where we are now.

And is this home for the foreseeable future?

It’s definitely home. It’s just such a perfect site. The woods is the centre, there is nothing like that. The campsite has a good as view as any house or any campsite I’ve ever seen in the country. You’re in the Ribble Valley, an area of natural beauty. You can see the Dales, you’ve got Pendle Hill overlooking it, it’s just such a beautiful place and I’d like to think we’re introducing people from all around the country to it. We even have people coming from Europe over to the event now. We always try and do the best for the area. We’re not from London and we’re not here to make a million pounds and move on. I think people know now we’re here for the right reasons.

I’m gobsmacked at where we are now. I’m in awe of what we’ve put on and the only way you can quantify it is when you get people’s feedback. It’s just relentless. People saying it’s the best thing they’ve ever been to and things like that, it really makes it for us. Even from the first days, I think we may have had 1,000 people there and now we have 10,000. That’s the recipe that works we think. When it gets bigger it changes it a lot. People sort of get lost in the crowd whereas here you can bump into the person you saw last night again. It feels really close and I think that’s part of the charm of it.

What’s in store for revellers this year then?

We’re going to be unveiling some new things shortly and we’ve also got some more acts to announce. There’s always things in the pipeline with Beat-Herder and some surprises as always. Some people say Beat-Herder isn’t about the music. We put a lot of thought into the music but we also put a lot of effort into the finer details and touches like with the arenas and the venues because they are just as important. We make it all and it’s ours. You could go to half a dozen festivals and you might see the same flags or the same tents. Our stuff is personal to Beat-Herder, unique and that’s how we like it.

Beat-Herder is considered by many to be very dance-centric. Are you open to all avenues of music?

Definitely. Look at this year. We’ve got Boney M, Happy Mondays. I mean dance in its broadest term is fairly wide isn’t it, If you can dance to it it’s dance music, We try and cover a lot of bases in there. Even in the new tent we’ve got Wolf Alice and Bipolar Sunshine. We’ve got some cutting edge music and we’ve also got Boney M, 2 Many DJs, the list goes on. Jagwar Ma - what an amazing band. And they’re all right here.

And will you get the opportunity to enjoy the festivities?

We’re all really busy. Our role is to make sure the event is running smoothly . When we get to enjoy it is when we nip into the festival and you can feel the atmosphere. It’s not like big headed satisfaction but when you see the feedback on the Monday and Tuesday and you hear people talking on their way or you see them with a three foot wide smile waving out of the cars, you know it’s been a good do. And that’s what it all comes down to...and some of the weather from last year wouldn’t go amiss either.

Beat-Herder runs from Friday to Sunday, July 18th - 20th. More can be found at www.beatherder.co.uk.