Bloodstock 2020 Interview: Adam Gregory.
Interviewed by Tim Finch
2020 should have seen the 20th edition of Bloodstock Festival take place on those hollowed fields of Catton Hall, instead we'll all be sat at home, watching a live stream put on by the festival, in conjunction with 12 other European Festivals, dreaming of the day when we can see live music in the flesh again.
So whilst we wait a year for the festivities to begin again, Tim caught up with festival director Adam Gregory to look back at its roots, it's highlights and where the festival goes from here.
The Razor's Edge: Hey Adam, welcome to The Razors Edge!
The Razor's Edge: For those who don’t know, you are one of the directors of Bloodstock Festival. But for you personally, what are your roles and responsibilities at the festival?
Adam: Basically anything anyone else won't do! [laughs] I work with Rachael on the production side of things, licensing, sponsorship and I support Vicky in her role as well. It's kind of an keeping an eye, a bit of an oversight if you like on everything alongside Rachael and the team. We all work well as a team and we are not 100% loyal to specific areas, we all chip in as we need to.
The Razor's Edge: As a family unit, it must help in the running of the festival as a team?
Adam: Well, you can swear a lot more at each other and get away with it [laughs]. We work well together as a team, but we do have moments of fire that ordinarily get away with. But it's the passion that drives us so no always a bad thing.
The Razor's Edge: Bloodstock is a very striking name, Where did the name come from?
Adam: That was a bit of a round table exercise with my Dad at the time when Bloodstock was born, with a few of his friends. It was banded around, I can't remember who came up with the name, but it was one that generally everyone liked so it kind of stuck really. It was nothing other than a naming exercise around the table and Bloodstock was the winner.
The Razor's Edge: If we can go back to the beginnings of the festival. It was your Dads baby. How soon after he came up with the idea of the festival did you get involved?
Adam: The festival started as an idea/concept in the pub in Derby. He was sitting in the pub opposite the Assembly Rooms with a few friends and they were chatting about that there was no where really at that time (this was back in 2000) that you could really go and listen to heavy metal at a festival in the UK. At that time Download didn't exist, Monsters of Rock had finished. He just stood up with a bit of Dutch courage and walked over to the Assembly Rooms and booked the venue for the following year.
It was that spontaneous, he had no idea what he was doing, how he was going to do it... he had a friendship with Biff Byford as he'd done Saxon's album covers since 1984. So he went home, rang Biff and called in a favour which thankfully Biff agreed to do.
The Razor's Edge: You mention Biff and Saxon. How much of an effect did having such a well known act headline year one help the festival get established?
Adam: It's paramount for credibility more than anything else, certainly when you are starting out, you've got a name. Saxon have got pedigree, the pioneers of British Metal in the early 80's. It was hugely credible, hugely valued and from a personal perspective massively appreciated from everybody. It put Bloodstock as a contender on the map.
The Razor's Edge: Looking at that first list up, it's a stunning debut line up for a festival.
Adam: It's like anything, you evolve, you change, different bands take the forefront. But for a first attempt from, lets be honest, a bunch of rank amateurs who were nothing more than fans of the music I think was amazing to pull off that line up for day one.
The Razor's Edge: When you put that first edition together, what did you hope to achieve that first year? Did you have any targets?
Adam: No not really. I think it was just a Wayne' World moment you know, book them and they will come. Back then the internet wasn't as prevalent as it is now, so the road to the event was centred around advertising and leaflets and bits and bobs like that. The idea was simply start the event, don't lose anyones house in the initial period through securities and what not and see where we go with it.
It was a passion more than anything else, it wasn't a case of let's put on a festival and become millionaires because we know that doesn't happen and still hasn't happened. But it's a case of if you believe strongly enough in something and you have a passion for something, stick with it!
The Razor's Edge: And do you have any specific memories from that first year that stand out?
Adam: There's lots. More than anything else it was running around and not actually having a clue. It was very much around "suck it and see". Everything that happened on that day was a bit of a blur. We were not doing key roles at that time as we didn't really understand what we were doing. We were helping in things like merchandise and I was doing a bit of running back stage. Everyone chipped in and did a little bit. It was nice to go twenty years and go back and think we've probably done most jobs on site at some point.
The Razor's Edge: With most new festivals it takes a few years to get established and get anywhere near breaking even. I don’t want to go into monetary specifics, but how long did it take for the festival to become financially self sustaining?
Adam: Probably twelve years. That's where it becomes a labour of love and passion. If you look at it purely from a business perspective, nobody would put a festival on in year one unless you've got millions of pounds financially backing an event and you are putting on the biggest bands out there. For a festival to start, I don't think there is a festival out there that in year one will turn a profit, it's a case of building something. Because we are independent, and we've had to start from the ground up, the first job is to build credibility and reputation and then you can start looking at the more serious bands as people respect the show. It took a long time and a lot of personal sacrifices from everyone on the team, whether it's family or the team around us. It was interesting, I'll say that much.
The Razor's Edge: On that point, I want to briefly touch on the Bloodstock Rock Society. I’ve been a member for six or seven years now, but back when it first started it was a means to generate some money to keep the festival going?
Adam: Well at the time, when we did it, we looked at the business model and looked at what we could do to generate additional support. Most events, most credible organisations have fan clubs and things like that, but we wanted something special. It started out initially, I'm not going to lie, the original concept was to look at every way to generate an income to pay some of the bills.
As it has transpired, it doesn't make lots of money in the scheme of things, but it's something we'll never do away with because it's so special to every fan thats a member, alongside ourselves as well. It's now evolved into it's own machine, Lisa and Lee and the team do an amazing job and it's nice to see that it sells out in a heartbeat. It's almost a festival within a festival and it's lovely to see.
The Razor's Edge: Obviously it was incredibly valuable at the time. How much of an asset is the RocSoc to the festival these days?
Adam: I will say this, it's more valuable now than it's ever been - even in it's inception. Now it's nothing about money, money is the least thing that concerns me with the Rock Society, it's nice that you've got that loyal fan base and following that people want to be a part of, for something that was designed for a festival benefit. To see that grow up and evolve as it has done is incredible. It's very much the heart beat of the festival and from a fans perspective it's our touch point to gauge reality and read an understanding of what the fans think. We read all the posts that go through the Rock Society facebook group and a lot of the other forums and that's where we take our feed from the fans.
Again, 100% nothing to do financially anymore, for us it's that touch point and thats what we need.
The Razor's Edge: So in 2005 you ran the festival outside for the first time, alongside the indoor festival. What triggered the move outdoors?
Adam: We had sold out the indoor for a couple of years. I think it became an evolvement that the festival was getting bigger and there was a wider appetite for something bigger. Again at that time, there was not much else around, Download had started a few years before, but Download is Download as those Live Nation events tend to be, they are always targeting the most popular bands, and thats great. With Bloodstock we wanted to target and bring those bands into the country that traditionally would be overlooked by the bigger festivals. So the concept initially was to be a little bit more underground, we felt the appetite was there to go outdoors and develop. We are absolutely delighted that we made that move.
It took time, the first year wasn't as big as we would have liked it because we ran two festivals. But since then the outdoor has gone from strength to strength, growing each year. It's nice to see that natural evolvement of the fan base.
The Razor's Edge: Over the twenty years, what have been the biggest challenges you’ve overcome at the festival?
Adam: There are challenges every single year. One of the most interesting times we had was one year, not too many years ago, it was the Wednesday, we were due to open on the Thursday lunch time as usual. We had a phone call saying the second and third stages weren't coming, the company that were supplying had difficulties and weren't delivering them. It was great to see the team pull together, phone calls were made to people who knew people. From the fans they never saw anything at all, but from our perspective it was quite twitchy bum time and the stage turned up an hour and a half before we were due to open the doors, so it was an interesting time and very very challenging.
The Razor's Edge: Have many bands had prima donna moments backstage? Refused to play unless bizarre requests are met? Anything like that?
Adam: No, I think we've been quite lucky. I know there is a myth out there that a number of bands are very very difficult. We've had some of those alleged bands who are supposed to be difficult but actually found them to be amazing. It's proof to the fact that if you work with people and they know exactly what to expect then they are not going to get agitated and upset if something isn't quite right. It's a case of talking to people and understanding whats what.
We've been fortunate and not had any major prima donna moments, we've had the odd unusual request as I am sure you can imagine, everybody does. But nothing that caused any major concerns or issues. Nowadays, everybody tends to behave a lot better than they did in the early years. The early years were more along the lines of people testing the boundaries to see what you can get away with. We had one band tell us, and I wont name them, they went to a festival one year and they said to them what would you like... so he tested it and asked for a horse and they supplied it for him, which he apparently rode on stage. We wouldn't supply any horses or things like that but I think those days are gone, thank fully.
The Razor's Edge: Did any bands produce any special moments that have stuck in your memory?
Adam: It's one of those things, you grow up listening to bands and you are lost in that ether of magic of our all time heroes. Then getting to a point where you are talking to them back stage and they are playing on a show that you are putting on - it's extremely surreal. Going from when we had Europe, to Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie and Motorhead with Lemmy. Lots and lots of bands since, Dee Snider and Twisted Sister. You never really lose those magic moments and it's very very surreal to be in the company of these people who generally in the main are outstanding characters.
The Razor's Edge: Moving onto this year, obviously sadly not going ahead. At what point did the postponement become inevitable and how did you make the decision?
Adam: Well, we were tracking what was happening with the virus as a collective. We had known three or four weeks before we announced it that it was probably going to be unlikely. We could have announced it earlier the postponement, but what we didn't want to do was go out there and say bad news. The thing with Bloodstock is it's that break away each year for the fans that they can't wait for each year and it's very special for the fans. It became important for us, that as fans of music we are going to have to deliver some bad news, but here's some great news to accompany it. We were speaking to the bands and there was a lot of work scheduling in for next year and of course adding in the extra day which we thought was great news as well. So we didn't want to say too much until we had everything in place and we could announce "ok we've got to postpone however most of the bands have rolled over and we are adding an extra day for you". Which I think cushioned the blow for a lot of people. Yes it's disappointing, yes it was kind of inevitable but let's be honest it's 100% the right thing to do. Even if the virus dissipated the fan confidence and the global picture may have been very different. So the right thing to do was postpone this year and put a great plan together for next year.
The Razor's Edge: You mention then extra day for 2021, the main stage isn't going to be open that extra day, have you got any special plans for what happens on the other stages?
Adam: Vicky and Simon are working hard on that now, pulling a line up together thats a bit special. We don't want to put on a mediocre show for that extra day, we still want that day to be as special as every other. The fans over the years have been saying how great it would be for an extra day; if their livers can cope with it fantastic, mine probably wont! So they are working hard now to put on a programme of events and bands and performances with a headliner on Sophie as well. It's going to be a full day with plenty going on, which is great news for things like Metal 2 The Masses bands if we extend that, which we'll be having that conversation with Simon soon as to what we do with the New Blood stage on Wednesday and Thursday. I think it lends itself very nicely to showcasing some more M2TM and unsigned bands, so watch this space!
The Razor's Edge: Have you ever considered expanding by a day pre this COVID-19 situation?
Adam: Yeah we have. The biggest obstacle around this is licensing and authority acceptance and things like that. We are impacting on the local community which we are very aware of. It's very very much down to how it goes and how we behave this year to see if it's welcomed back by the licensing authorities moving forwards. Thats down to us and down to the fans to show it's something thats appreciated and wanted rather than a pain for the local residents. We've got to manage ti correctly, but it is something we've thought about previously. We don't want to be in a situation where we are asking fans for more money wherever possible, we are fans of music and want it to be value for money more than anything else. The biggest obstacle we've had is costing it. It's not just a case of you've got everything there already, it's a case of everything has to be there a day early. We need to pay for crews, security, licensing, health and safety and everything else for an extra day which is quite a substantial cost. When we try to maintain an entry price for the fans it became very difficult to justify. For 2021 we decided we are going to swallow the pill on this because with a lot of fans not experiencing live music in 2020 we really want to go all out and deliver something special, so we are covering the extra costs and hopefully that'll be supported by the fans turning up.
The Razor's Edge: To fill the void this year, you are joining forces with 12 other Euro festivals for an online event, at the bargain price of 6.66.
Adam: We've been part of the UFF - the United Festival Force - for a few years and within that there were seven festivals, including Alcatraz, Brutal Assault and a few others. We were chatting back in February and March when this all kicked off and I said at the time, surely between the seven of us we should be able to do something IF we can't put festivals on later in the year. It became one of those evolving conversations and we do tend to chat between each other and a lot fo the other independent European events. We got the impression that more people and more events want to get on board, but we were key that what we delivered wasn't the same as what everyone else is delivering, which in the main is footage from previous festivals. Which is great to see, but we wanted something a bit more special. So we've spoken to a lot of the bands and most of the performances that are coming through for that weekend are recorded specifically for the EMA show, so they are in recording studios and empty venues and things like that. I think that is something a bit more special and personal more than anything else. We have got some shows that were recorded at previous Bloodstocks, Alcatraz' and places like that which have never been seen before outside of the actual festival so for a lot of the European fans that are tuning in they will see something they haven't seen before which is something great to offer.
The Razor's Edge: So final question… if you had the chance to go back and start it all again… would you do anything differently?
Adam: I don't think we would. The reason for that is every decision, every mistake, every win we've had a long the way has kept us grounded and kept us who we are and kept Bloodstock what it is. I think thats very important. Don't get me wrong there are times I wish that hadn't happened because it was a real pain, but those pains became a big learning curves for us all. Rachael and Vicky and Paul and myself and the rest of the team, showsec, Alan in the bars, the VIP teams, the Rock Society, everyone has learnt along the way and without those lessons we wouldn't appreciate what we have.
The Razor's Edge: Thanks for popping along for a chat!