The co-founder of Red or Dead and chair of South Coast Design Forum launched the Vintage Festival in 2010 and his events portfolio has since diversified to include cultural and community focused events including Dreamland, Urban Village Fete and the Classic Car Boot Sale
This is an expanded online version of the exclusive interview that appeared in September’s Access All Areas.
BANKING ON SUCCESS: We put on Vintage New Year’s Eve with the assistance of South Bank, and we have such a ball working on it. It makes money, and quite a lot, for the South Bank, which is a really important organisation. When you see 3,000 smiling faces dancing the night away, along with us, it’s a great feeling.
CHEAP AND CHEERFUL: By doing a festival in Morecambe, and getting 40,000 people together, the local community and businesses really get behind it. The council do put in some money but it’s very low. Visitors can pay nothing to get around most of it, or bring income by buying food, or going to a venue and paying a fiver to listen to Northern Soul or rock ‘n roll. You can even go and have a rave to Hacienda DJs. It looks like a festival and feels like a festival, but you don’t have to pay any money, and everyone makes their little cut at the end of the day and they can’t really lose money because of the way it’s structured.
SUSTAINABLE LIVING: Who’d have thought a festival called Festival of Thrift would be so popular. We have banks and energy companies supporting it, and it’s now a national festival. It costs nothing to get in, you can’t sell anything unsustainable there however. There are rules to it. It has become the festival for sustainability and community values.
DEFINING VINTAGE: Punk was about taking the past and making something modern. Vintage is not retro. I am dressed 100% in vintage clothing now, but if I said I bought it in Paul Smith you wouldn’t question it. These shoes are 43 years old.
MY KIND OF PEOPLE: A lot of the people who go to our events are like us – they’re a creative community who make their own fun and resent spending a lot of money on seeing bands.
SHARED VISION: I have a good contact list, gained throughout my career, but the high profile people who help out do so because they share the vision of creating great free events. We have people like artist Tracey Emin and Vic Reeves involved in our events. However, they don’t get paid for these as they know our events have never been about grabbing a top headliner and charging a premium.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: When we sit down to plan and discuss event concepts, we look at what we can provide for a lot of people for free, or for a low price point. We want to give a lot of people a great time and not break the bank. We ask how we can bring a community together and how we can work with the council to create this.
IN HOUSE TALENT: Our events will always be creativity and design led and we have used some fantastic festival organisers to help us achieve our visions. Often we use the staff we have in-house at Hemingwaydesign to create the events.
CORE BELIEFS: We put on events because we should. We’re in this to create festivals that sum up what festivals mean to us. It’s genuinely about giving back. We’re not doing it for turnover or for a bottom line.
TRANSFERABLE SKILLS: We’re very politically-minded and in a lucky situation. We made our money in an earlier life and continue to have success with our various projects and regeneration schemes but we still like that idea of giving back. We have experience in music, fashion and regeneration, all of which are involved in creating a festival.
EMBRACING CHANGE: It’s an amazing time that we live in. In the early days of Red or Dead, I had to appear on programmes like The Big Breakfast two days a week, whereas now our brands are probably more famous than they were then. I use various social media channels and barely do anything commercial, except I might occasionally go on Newsnight.
DIVERSE ATTRACTIONS: Most things exist because of market forces, and if you don’t like something, you go out and create something different. We, as designers and event organisers, have philosophies about what matters in life, but they are really just what matters to us. There’s room for all tastes in our culture.
BRAND NEW: We’re selling sofas, kitchenware and fabrics with the Vintage brand, so we’re probably the first brand that started as a festival. Successful events can really put a city on the map. Liverpool, for example, has entered the top five most visited cities in the UK. Events are great at creating jobs, filling hotel rooms, marketing a destination and creating happiness. We just had one of our most successful events, The Vintage Festival Presents: Transatlantic 175 – from The Mersey to Manhattan, where 250,000 people turned up in Liverpool to celebrate 175 years of transatlantic travel.
SCALE WATCHING: The first year of Vintage Festival was hard for everybody involved. We tried to reach a certain level, and the people turned up, but I don’t think we had realised how tough it was to do something on that scale.
GENTRIFICATION: Vintage is about timelessness. It is a taste thing, and if you have good taste you have a very good chance of getting on in life. It’s not good taste to put a load of substandard toilets in a row at a festival. It’s not gentrification to work hard on providing good toilets; it’s human decency. It’s not gentrification to take a bad part of town with social problems and make it more liveable. If that’s gentrification, then it’s a very good thing to do.
GETTING CATTY: One of the greatest event moments in my career occurred at Transatlantic 175 when we set a new Guinness World Record title with ‘The Very Big Catwalk’. We had 3,651 people on a catwalk and gained some great coverage, including on The One Show.