Organisers reveal the heartache behind Beat-Herder cancellation
Tony Dewhurst meets Beat-Herder’s co-founder Jamie Foxon who says the award-winning Ribble Valley festival will return safely in 2021 following this year’s postponement
His favourite memory is stood on a turret of The Fortress, Beat-Herder’s temple of techno, beats and house music, and seeing hundreds of festival disciples charging down a grassy knoll whooping with joy.
“It was the first time we’d opened The Fortress and within a minute the place was banging, just this lovely vibe of excitement and love,” recalls co-founder Jamie Foxon. "It was everything that you wanted Beat-Herder to be - spreading love and joy.”
In normal circumstances Jamie and his brother Ian, alongside Nick Chambers, would be sprinkling the silver stardust on the lush fields of Dockber Farm, close to the foot of Pendle Hill.
“I lost my dad two years ago and I’ve felt the same level of raw pain and grief since we had to make that heart-breaking decision to postpone Beat-Herder,” he says. "Like my Dad it has played such a huge part in my life.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into creating Beat-Herder, and every year it feels like a boulder rolling down hill, speeding faster and faster. But we are all devastated that Beat-Herder will not be happening.”
This year’s event was due to take place over four days for the first time from July 16-19 with acts including the Grammy award-winning Mura Masa, reggae titans The Wailers, drum and bass sensation Mollie Collins and Radio Six favourite Craig Charles with his Funk and Soul Club plus dozens of acts spanning a wide ranging list of genres.
With an enforced fallow year for the hundreds of festivals nationwide, the economic shutdown caused by coronavirus risks devastating the UK’s usually busy summer festival scene.
“The whole nation has suffered with the terrible coronavirus and we’ve all felt lonely, frightened and unsure over the last three months,” says Jamie. “People who come to Beat-Herder will have lost loved ones or know people who have suffered with the illness.
“Everybody has probably thought about their own lives during the epidemic, giving us all time to reflect. But whatever the rules are next year, we can adapt, and Beat-Herder can return safely because we are a nimble and dynamic festival.
“We will not stray away from the magical ingredients of Beat-Herder or alter what makes it special to so many people. That’s very important because Beat-Herder has a special togetherness and spirit.”
He adds: “Somebody sent a message: ‘Beat-Herder – a beacon of hope in grim times.’ That moved us all to tears because we are blessed to have so many people who love Beat-Herder.”
Last year Beat-Herder sold out in record time but now our summer is in cold storage and public events – and that means concerts and festivals – are likely to be the last to return as the country progressively reopens.
But thousands of Beat-Herder fans have shown their unwavering loyalty by holding on to their tickets for the re-scheduled four-day jamboree from July 15-18, 2021.
“What they have done has probably saved Beat-Herder,” says Jamie. “They will have lost work themselves, so it is incredibly humbling that they’ve made that commitment of love to Beat-Herder. We consider Beat-Herder fans as our family and friends and we are truly humbled.”
He adds: “We held out as long as we could, (to postpone) hoping for a ray of hope from somewhere, but ultimately it had to be about the safety of everybody connected with Beat-Herder.”
Almost all festivals this summer have been cancelled due to coronavirus. And according to the Association of Independent Festivals, cash from rolled over ticket sales will in effect need to cover the costs of two festivals. The AIF added that most festivals have already spent considerable amounts on preparation before the Covid 19 crisis turned everybody’s world upside down.
“It’s the lost season,” says Paul Reed, head of the Association of Independent Festivals. “Any source of income has gone for an entire year.”
Reed added that when Covid 19 hit, most festivals had not made the majority of their sales but had committed to the costs of marketing, staff and deposits.
‘One of the saddest things was picking up the phone to tell the guys we hire the marquees from and the many local traders we use, that Beat-Herder wouldn’t be happening,” explains Jamie.
“I felt like a boss telling a worker that they can’t have their brass and that really affected me in a big way. I found that very difficult to handle, because a lot of contractors are dependent on the money that Beat-Herder generates for the local economy. It was like shutting the factory door, knowing that there wouldn’t be any food on the table for them.”
Festivals like Beat-Herder have sealed their place in pop culture; and it’s hard to imagine it all began in 2006 as a rave for a few friends. The same pals who organised that first one are the people behind Beat-Herder today, attracting 12,000 festival goers to the Ribble Valley every summer for a fixture which has become one of Lancashire’s best loved events.
“There’s massive festival giants out there, owned by big companies, but we are six lads, mates from school.” Beat-Herder might feel like a family, but music is just part of the event’s experience. Even the stages are built by the organisers themselves, using recycled material.
“It is a huge challenge for every independent festival, but the best thing about having true independence is that we can call the shots on who we book, and the way we design the site. If we want to put 500 flags up at Beat-Herder we can do it, there’s nobody dictating to us.
“We massively value that independence – we are not some humongous company that doesn’t care. It is about people rocking up, having a rip-roaring party and wanting to come back again.”
There’s going to be a huge public craving for festivals and live music when it is safe to get out and party again. But the experience of collectively listening or dancing together – how that need is met will change in ways we can’t yet predict.
“The hugging, handshaking, the embraces and dancing together are an important part of any festival and hopefully we’ll be able to experience that joy again,” says Jamie. “It is human nature to show your love for another human being and a festival connects so many of us because they’ve come to share that event together.
“On a dance floor or in front of a stage, people let all their inhibitions go when sharing a communal experience and we are all want things just to go back to normal.”
Jamie adds: “At the height of the coronavirus emergency in England Her Majesty the Queen gave a speech and used the words – We’ll Meet Again - from Vera Lynn’s famous wartime song (They’ll be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover. We will meet again - and I can’t wait to see all our friends in safety next year for a mighty Beat-Herder party.”
Beat-Herder 2021 is scheduled take place on July 15-18. For more details visit www.beatherder.co.uk