Summer Festival Joy
Tom Williams & The Boat offer their Guide To Summer Festival Joy
Success in the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition resulted in Tom Williams And The Boat getting booked to perform at last year’s festival. They ended up playing five separate slots over the weekend thanks to the band’s enterprising, can-do attitude. Most importantly of all, however, they had a “bone-shakingly good” demo, as Tom Williams explains.
Summer - or 'The Festival Season' - is the best time of year to be in a band. Festivals offer new bands the opportunity to reach numbers of people they might never otherwise manage while gigging in pubs and clubs. With new festivals popping up in nearly every village and hamlet of the UK, it’s now easier than ever for new bands to get their diaries nice and full by the time the evenings become long and the days cider-ey.
In Kent, where we're from, many if the festival line ups compete on a national level each year. Hop Farm, Hevy, Sellindge, and Lounge On The Farm have gone from strength to strength over the last 4 years. The latter - having taken on extra funding and massively expanded – can now book some of the biggest acts in the country. This year The Streets, Vaccines and Echo & The Bunnymen hit Merton Farm, not to mention shiny pop things Ellie Goulding and Example. In Tunbridge Wells the festivals Local & Live and Unfest are also growing, with record numbers year on year and featuring local talent alone.
This fertile environment is fantastic for Kent music. With the sole exception of Hop Farm (nudge nudge Hop Farm!) all the county’s festivals encourage local artists to apply for some kind of 'You Say, They Play' competition. By letting bands upload their music to a page where fans can vote their favourites onto the bill, an otherwise faceless festival can really connect with the local music community. The Folkestone band Chutes came third in Lounge On The Farm's competition and found themselves opening the massive main stage this year.
Festivals such as Lounge continue to support Kent bands long after their first appearance there. As The Boat rolled into Merton Farm this year, we realised it was our fourth consecutive appearance there - which shows incredible good will towards an unsigned band from such a fast-growing festival.
BBC Introducing has a massive part to play in all this. With stages at Glastonbury, Radio One's Big Weekend, T In The Park, Reading & Leeds and the London Mela, BBC Introducing offers new bands a chance to share bills with the biggest and baddest in the business - and experience performing at a massive, professionally-run festival. With regional shows passing on tips to Huw Stephens on Radio 1 and Tom Robinson on 6 Music, any new band has the potential to find themselves on the bill at their dream festival.
Tom Williams & The Boat were lucky enough to play the BBC Introducing stage when Radio One's Big Weekend came to Maidstone back in 2008 - which saw us share the stage with similarly unknown acts as (ahem) White Lies, Golden Silvers, Chipmunk and Natty. The following summer - after continued airplay from BBC Kent Introducing, 6 Music and Huw Stephens on Radio One - we ended up playing two major festivals thanks to Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition and Huw himself - who was curating the beautiful Lake Stage at Latitude.
Those festivals have not only been career highlights for our band, but also some of our fondest memories shared with great friends. It's important to emphasise that most festivals are not a closed book, and don't just lazily rely big booking agencies to supply their acts. Admittedly we had a lot of luck, but TWATB coped for many years without a booking agent. With a bit of initiative and a good demo there's no reason why you couldn't work your way up the BBC Introducing tree and have the summer of your life, playing one of the best festivals in the world.
Obviously the first step for any band is to record a kick-ass demo - three or four bone-shakingly good tracks - after which the sky’s the limit. Nearly every festival in the land has an application process for new bands and I say, what's to lose? Apply for them all! You never know eh?!
And if you see me at a festival, come and say hi!