Escape Records director Mark Hopkins tells Access about the upcoming debut of the 40,000-capacity In It Together music festival, which is set to be the biggest of its kind in Wales and he says will fill a void in the country’s live events market.

Welsh promoters Escape Records, which last year rebranded from Climax Live and launched its own record label, is embarking on the company’s biggest venture yet – the launch of the largest annual music festival in Wales.

With a lineup including Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Two Door Cinema Club and Clean Bandit, In It Together has been launched by the team behind some of the country’s largest outdoor events such as Inside Out, Colour Clash, Escape and Party At The Park, each with capacities ranging from 5,000 to 15,000.

Escape Records head of festivals and live music Mark Hopkins says In It Together is an amalgamation of everything that he has wanted to do with the company since it was founded 12 years ago: “We have always said that we wanted to have a pinnacle event that has something for everyone, and to bring some legends to Wales.”

The family-friendly camping festival, scheduled for 3-5 June, will take place across five stages at Newlands Farm in the steelworks town of Port Talbot in the Welsh Valleys. It will include a curated stage for local talent that will feature around 50 Welsh artists.

“One thing we like doing is choosing locations that don’t necessarily have much going on.”

Reflecting on the launch of Colour Clash and Party in the Park in the city of Newport, Hopkins says, “One thing we like doing is choosing locations that don’t necessarily have much going on. This wasn’t an area that anyone properly touched with events, as everyone would go to Cardiff. But we decided to put a hold on it.

“One of the reasons we’ve chosen Port Talbot is because it’s not a highly developed area. Our festival brings a lot more benefits and economic impact to a local community who don’t have as much, as opposed to Cardiff which has so many events and is highly saturated.” 

Gap in the market

Hopkins says his team identified that Wales lacked a major, mainstream music, camping festival, the biggest previous event being Radio One’s One Big Sunday in 2001, which brought 70,000 people to Swansea to see the likes of S Club 7 and Shaggy.

“There’s always been a gap in that market which hasn’t been explored,” he says. “Our ambition is to put Wales on the map in the festival calendar.”

Hopkins says convincing Noel Gallagher to headline – the sort of coup that he claims is unheard of for a launch festival – was down to the musician and his management team buying into the promoter’s vision.

Aside from mainstream household names, the festival will have a strong focus on highlighting local talent.

Escape Records

Hopkins gives  Stereophonics and Catfish and the Bottlemen as examples of mainstream bands to have come from Wales, but says more work needs to be done to nurture fledgeling talent in the country. He says the promoter has received support from Horizons / Gorwelion, a scheme delivered by BBC Wales in partnership with Arts Council Wales, as well as FOCUS Wales, a multi-venue showcase festival that takes place in Wrexham.

“Supporting local talent is a major part of the show for me because I think we can leave a legacy, if we can get more Welsh artists being recognised. I would love it if we had one artist on that stage and in a few years’ time they’re headlining the main stage – that would be the absolute dream.”

Hopkins says there has been a focus on creating non-music areas at the festival, such as drag and cabaret performance areas, with the aim of encouraging people to return no matter the main stage lineup.

He says ticket sales for the festival have been “breathtaking” and way above what was expected.

“The one good thing to come out of this lockdown for us is that we conceptualised this show.”

New beginnings

Having run five club shows a week, four music festivals and various one-off smaller events, Hopkins says his team never had a chance to stop and plan for an event of this size until the pandemic struck: “A show this big needed real planning and to be honest, the one good thing to come out of this lockdown for us is that we conceptualised this show.”

As for the rebrand from Climax Live to Escape Records, Hopkins says the promoter consolidated with its main rivals, fellow Cardiff-based Paper Agency, and this led to the formation of Escape. On launching the record label, he says, “During lockdown we had to look at diversification. We were very good at events, but when these weren’t happening, we had to have other streams and different focuses.

“It was a long-term project as part of our five-year plan, but this pretty much became the 18-month plan over lockdown.”