Many of us have soaked up the sun and music at one of the myriad of British festivals that take place each summer, but who decides what acts get to entertain us at these events?
We’re sitting talking to James Brennan, the effortlessly charming 30-something production manager for festivals such as the Secret Garden Party and booking agent for Nozstock, during one of the more sedate moments at The Great Escape 2014. When I say talking, I mean listening. Listening in the way you do when being addressed by someone who’s passionate, maybe slightly obsessed by the topic of conversation. “In the States, there are so many opportunities for acts like these,” he asserts. “But in the UK there isn’t a huge amount available, so we’ve created a festival for UK acts, and to bring US acts over.
Since starting The Crossroads stage at Secret Garden Party about five years ago, so he could showcase these kinds of acts, it’s become of the most popular stages at the festival. This success has inspired him to create Red Rooster, a good-time weekend of Rhythm and Blues at Euston Hall, in Suffolk, on 6 – 8 June. It’s a dazzling location for a festival. The stately home’s grounds were designed by William Kent, considered by most experts to be his finest work, with Capability Brown lending a hand in the process.
From his breadth of knowledge, and the excitement in his voice, it’s easy to picture Brennan street preaching, in a small Southern town to a crowd of scruffy passers-by. All of them eager to hear more about his promise of this festival dedicated to guitar music, dripping with soul and possessing an earnest back to basics attitude. “There are Blues, R&B and Soul acts playing festivals all over, but it’s mixed in with everything else. So why not have a festival with ONLY this music?”
This desire to promote the rich musical heritage of the American South has prompted him to start planning the festival of his dreams, named Red Rooster, it’s aimed to be devoted in it’s entirely to the sights, sounds and tastes of this diverse region, transplanted into the heart of East Anglia.
“Red Rooster is about bringing R&B, Americana, Soul, Blues and Country back into a contemporary market and setting. Many music fans are aware of these bands through listening to their parents records and on TV, but you just don’t get to see them play in the UK, till now.”
Despite his comparative youth, Brennan has been in the game longer than you’d think, taking his first steps into promoting at the tender age of 14. “I realised that I was the one booking the gigs, but I was much better at that than actually playing. I learnt the old school way, there are some incredible guys out there doing promotion and I simply shadowed them.”
Bringing the South to the sleepy Suffolk countryside was never going to be an easy task, but it helps if the 12tth Duke of Grafton is also fanatical about the sweet sounds of the South, and he’s willing to put the grounds of his family pile at your disposal for Red Rooster. “Harry Grafton, who toured with The Rolling Stones for ages without them ever realising he would become a Duke, inherited the land. As he’s a massive fan of the music, and we’d always talked about putting something on like this, it seemed the perfect place for Red Rooster.
“Finally we’ve got the opportunity to put on a festival that embraces the sort of music that I love,”
With that he’s off, like that driven wandering Southern preacher, except his only articles of faith lie with the team around him and the exceptional talents of the artists he’s exposing to eager British real-music fans.
Red Rooster takes place at Euston Hall, Euston, Suffolk, on Fri 6 – Sun 8 June 2014.