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It's coming around to that time of year again, the May bank holiday weekend and for people who are fans of Joe Strummer & The Clash, this usually means one thing - The Strummercamp Festival. The long weekend festival held each year at Cheadle Hulme Rugby ground holds one of the largest tributes to Joe and his music in the North West. Many people come from far and wide to support his legacy. A small and very friendly volunteer run festival, with the aim of listening to decent music at a reasonable cost for all the family, which includes camping, catering and a club house all weekend. I had the opportunity to go in 2007 when bands like, The Men They Couldn't Hang, Hugh Cornwell, Neck, UK Subs, Goldblade, Members of the Mescaleroes, Tymond Dogg & The Quickening, Dave Sharp, Edward Tudorpole, played. It was such an uplifting event, very friendly and we went away with great memories.
I wanted to interview Phil, one of the main Amigos from Strummercamp, to find out some behind the scenes stuff and inform our readers what Strummercamp is really all about. He's a really busy man, but I managed to grab a little phone chat on Bank holiday Monday, and here it is.

Mel - Strummercamp Festival which is held each May Bank Holiday is now in its 4th year. How did the initially idea get started?

Photo: L - R Attila & Phil 

Phil - I put on a big tribute night, not long after Joe died at The Witchwood in Ashton Under Lyne. I used to live around there and knew a lot of people in bands and all this kinda thing, so we just did a big Clash, Joe tribute night. It was absolutely brilliant, there was 250 people selling the place out, then in the summer I put about 5 bands on with some of my friends who are now Cheapskates, and pretty much involved in Strummercamp. They became Cheapskates after this night; they became a Clash tribute band. It just stemmed from there, and I didn’t know Kev, who is one of the band of Amigos now. He did something similar, he was involved in Manchester Calling, like an all dayer, at the night and day, in the centre of Manchester. I think he had about 13 bands involved, a Clash song each, they couldn’t do a straight cover it had got to be there own, a different version of it. I just went down there and bumped into Kev and had a chat with him. We just kept in touch, and over a beer one night we said we should do something really big in Joe’s name. I think it was Kev, who said we should do a festival, it just escalated, the idea just became how we could do this. So we started to check out a lot of bands, I think the first band was The Beat in Ashton. We went up and had a chat with Rodger, he had a history, he was friendly with Joe, and Mick Jones. He was absolutely 100% encouraging us to do it really, so yea it just got more hectic. So after the first one, I think at the end of the day, after the Sunday when we’d finished, we were literally like, what have we just done, how did we do that. It was purely done on adrenaline, madness, but it was great yea, and after doing the first one it was just a case of how can we not do that again. It just evolved. and people got involved, people have come and gone, helping out. It’s not been without problems at all, we have had some major problems but we’re still doing it. We like to think we’ve done the difficult third one last year, it was a bit of a nightmare, I feel like we’re always going on about it to people. and people don’t really want to listen. They do need to know though, because part of what this is, is getting people involved and we aren’t making money out of it. We do want volunteers to come along and appreciate what it’s all about.

Mel - Sort of an obvious question but why in Manchester?

Phil - Yea, basically cos we’re from Manchester. It’s actually Cheshire, its kinda South Manchester. It’s easy for us, there’s three or four of us in different areas, so we just ended up at the rugby club looking for a venue really. We could have gone out in the fields somewhere, miles from anywhere but it’s a good balance between, it’s quite good to get to this venue, just off the motorway off the M6. It’s on a rugby pitch, secured by the ground and everything, it has a club bar which is open all weekend. If we did it in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere. obviously it would restrict people travelling, you’d have to set up the beer tent and everything else at our own expense. I think it’s just a good venue, your enough out of the way, but you know where you are, if you know what I mean, you’re not in the middle of nowhere.

Photo: Pat Gilbert (Author of 'Passion Is A Fashion, The Real Story of The Clash') at Strummercamp with the band Night Of Treason.

Mel - It’s funny why no one has picked the idea up from London and capitalised on it down South isn’t it?

Phil - Yeah, Yeah, I mean we possibility thought that somebody might do that, but we just got on with it. I don’t know if there’s some guys (the band) Night Of Treason with Pat Gilbert, they got quite involved with us in the first couple of years. I know they do benefit nights, in London, think they are doing a Strummer Fest, it’s just like a bit ya know, a long night of bands playing. It’s good to know there are those spin off’s, who’ve been inspired by it.


Mel - Is it still at the same place at the rugby club?

Phil - Yea its still there, Manchester Rugby Club, Cheadle Hulme, we did it there the first two years, on the third year, as in last year, for various reasons, they double booked a beer festival. Thinking we’d do it another weekend and when we went to see them at Christmas that’s when we start planning it , we said no,  and we ended up in Macclesfield. That’s another long story which I won’t go into, (laughs) it was a bit difficult starting from scratch again. Four or five weeks before the event, another guy off Macclesfield Council came along to basically put the boot in the whole thing, for various stupid reasons, it was almost a nightmare we had to decided if we had to do it or not . We didn’t have a venue 4 weeks before the event, and so, again we were absolutely determined to carry on, and we end up finding Timperly Bowdon Rugby club. It was such hard work ya know, again trying to work a deal out with them. I think a lot of people lost a bit of confidence in it, getting the tickets and everything. It was hard work, so, we kind of just got through it last year, I mean having said that we put on a great show. All the bands were great, and everyone loved it and enjoyed it. It was a little bit of a smaller crowd than the year before.

Mel - Strummercamp is a non-profit venture presented, organised and staffed entirely by volunteers. How did you manage to put on the previous festivals without any corporate backing? Are there no profits at all made?

Phil - No, we’ve never really. I think the first event we made a very, very, small amount of money which went back into paying for other things anyway. The second year, I think we made a small loss, and last year we did have major problems. Last year some people lost quite a bit of money.

Mel - So it all came out of people’s pockets did it?

Phil - Yea, it did actually, which has been a bit of a problem. Yea, I mean, the temptation is there, we’ve been offered to  to do something with Sony, some video came out, some Clash thing, the first year about promoting it, but it wouldn’t of been right for us. The whole idea was to do it yourself. Do it yourself literally.

Mel - How can people contact you if they wish to volunteer their services, do you have a MySpace, Facebook or do you prefer direct e-mail?

Phil - Yea, you can send messages through the web site actually, the webmaster page, or even word of mouth, if you can get hold of any of us.

Mel - Do any of Joe’s family contribute, or endorse the Festival?

Phil - Not directly, no, I know Kev, my partner who does it, he’s had a lot of connections, he worked with Joe & The Mescaleros, on the road and stuff for a few years. He become quite friendly with Joe, so he knew Lucinda and Joe’s family quite well, so he’d had connections and ya know we kind of let them know what we were doing when we first started. Obviously with The Strummerville, a lot of people get mixed up with the charity work, not often. I mean it’s just two different things, Strummerville do what their doing and we do what we do. We are hoping to make a few links in the future,  we put nights on, spin off nights, were we have invited Strummerville up to Manchester. We are hoping we can build on that in the future as well. The way things are now, we just get our heads down, as we are that busy. It’s not officially endorsed.

Mel - Joe was well known for liking the whole festival vibe, was this one of the reasons that you decided to make it a camp site based festival?

Phil - Yea, definitely, again probably mainly Kev who was at The Glastonbury Festival, where Joe set up. Basically a Strummercamp if you like.

Mel - Did he used to go camping at the festivals with Joe?

Phil - Yea, I think Kev was down there for a few years, from the beginning of all that. Joe loved it and his family it was great. So yea he kinda reflected on that and built it on that idea yea.

Mel - In the days of The Clash, Joe and the band always seemed to be trying to get us (the audience) to listen to new music at live gigs. Is this reflected in the bands you pick for the Strummercamp festival?

Phil - Yea, I definitely think so, and I certainly hope so. I personally have quite a broad taste. I kinda deal with a lot of the bands, and ya know research, finding bands, checking out different ones. Yea, absolutely, definitely, I think that’s what we want, the core of it I suppose, is the headline band who’ve either got connections with or connections around music, personally with Joe or The Clash,  in some ways down the line, but we don’t wanna restrict ourselves with just old punk bands or anything like that. We want old punk bands, some new, young punk bands, and ya know we’ve had all female bands, reggae, poetry, acoustic, ska. We just want it right across the board really.

Mel - How are the bands selected, and do they do the shows without payment? Do you approach bands, or do they offer?

Phil - Yea, it’s got the point now were we just get bombarded with people wanting to come and play. A lot approach me directly or through the web site. The main headline bands, we probably spend the rest of next year thinking about who we can get. Obviously we’re restricted fund wise we can’t pay mega bucks, but we do a lot of of pushing. The likes of Billy Bragg, this year I actually went and met Billy at one of his shows in Manchester, and made a point of going to see him and told him what it was all about. He went away and consulted his manager and came up with a great, good deal money wise with us. I can’t think of a better person really to have than Billy Bragg. So I’m hoping that over the years the word will spread around, and hopefully the likes of Billy will go away talking about it, having enjoyed it, if people bump into him he might be telling people get down to Strummercamp it’s good ya know.

Mel - So the bands don’t actually play for free then do they not?

Phil - No, some do, obviously a lot of the younger bands. I guess we see it as it’s a good opportunity for them just to come and play and a lot of them do appreciate it, as you’re putting them on the same bill as say,The Dammed. We just can’t afford to pay and we’d have to explain all that to them, most of them are fine with it, they just wanna come and play. We offer them a full weekend ticket.

Mel - What band would you personally like to see play at Strummercamp, that hasn’t already?

Phil - I think some of the big bands, Stiff Little Fingers would be good, Buzzcocks being a Manchester band, but we’re looking at others Asia Dub Foundation, bands like that, The Levellers, a big festival band. We are hoping they’d be into what we are doing, we wanna diversify as well, as much as we can. The Specials would be good as well. I met Neville Staples from The Specials at the first one that was good actually.

Mel - This is the 4th Strummercamp and I heard that last year you were on the short list for best small festival award. How did that make you feel, and did you win?

Phil - We didn’t win, but it was absolutely amazing, we didn’t know anything about it, until someone sent an e-mail, it was quite a big corporate thing wasn’t it, at the 02 Arena, like a big awards ceremony. I think there was 3 or 4 categories, obviously we were under the small festival category. It was a case of get all your friends and everyone to nominate you, to get through to the next round if you like. We just took it as a big laugh and couldn’t believe it as well.

Mel - It was great being nominated though!

Phil - It was fantastic, absolutely. It was brilliant, yea, we got the logo up on the site, NOMINEE, but amazingly enough we actually got through to the last ten, then we started panicking, thinking, oh we’re gonna have to wear a dicky bow and I said, I’m not going hahaha, but yea that was just brilliant. To have the recognition was good enough.

Mel - People come from all over the world to attend the festival I believe. I know Italy was represented the year I came, where is the farthest you know that someone has attended from?

Phil - I know there’s Italy and France, there’s some tickets gone this year from Canada, and I think there’s a couple from America, but not too sure I think there’s a couple come from Austria, Sweden, it’s quite funny yea you got these little pockets of people from all over the place. If there coming from Canada and America we’re doing something right, it’s great!

Mel - You have some good head-line acts already announced for Strummercamp with The Alarm, The Damned, TV Smith, Goldblade and Billy Bragg, any new additions to the line-up you can reveal to our readers? When will the full line up be revealed?

Phil - We’ve just got the main poster out over the last week or so, there’s a couple which I think not a lot of people will know of but I’m pretty confident they’ll go away thinking. There’s a reggae artist called Golty Farabeau, the guys from The Seychelles, he is actually based and lives in Cheshire now, believe it or not. He is a proper recording artist, he has 7 albums under his belt. So we are putting them on early Saturday evening, just before The Mahones, and they are coming over from Canada, Canada’s top Irish punk band, it’s pretty great that.

Mel - Neck would be a great band!

Phil - We’ve had Neck on twice, Leeson really wanted to come up this year and we just couldn’t fit them in, with one thing or another. Leeson has been absolutely brilliant, he was one of the people along with the likes of John Robb who’s been really 100% behind what we’re doing. They are really, really into it cos they know what it’s about. I’ve known John since the days of The Membranes, mid eighties, always got on with John great and Goldblade are one of the first bands we ever approached. There’s other bands, like The Rook And The Ravens, they aren’t a punk band in anyway, almost like a west coast American band The Byrds type band. I’ve seen them a few times, absolutely fantastic.

Photos: Various bands who have played at Strummercamps. From top to bottom: Rob Galloway, Edward Tudorpole, Goldblade, The Vibrators.

Mel - It makes it more varied, if there are different types of music, rather than it being just a punk festival?

Phil - Yea, I mean obviously the punk thing and a bit of ska and reggae does really well. We wanna push it a bit and put a few new types on.

Mel - You seem to be really trying to give people good value for money. I guess this is because of the Clash/Strummer ethics. Like the cheap admission prices to gigs and a double album for the price of one etc. Do you think you can realistically achieve this?

Phil - Yea, I really do, we have done! We spend a lot of time thinking £59.50 it’s like for two full days and Friday night as well. People are spending £35 - 40 at the Arena to see one band for two hours. I think when you compare it to things like that, and then there’s free camping, free parking, and as you know at festivals you expect to pay £20 or so to park your car somewhere for the weekend, it’s the same with the camping, £20 or £30 for a tent and your restricted to the size of your tent and all that. So yea, I really do, think it’s value for money. Forty two bands I think, not too bad is it, when you work it out.

Mel - Let’s hope the weather holds out!

Phil - Well, it’s all under cover, we tell people that. The rain won’t put us off.

Mel - I wonder if there will be any former Clash associates present this year, the year I visited there was the late Ray Lowry, Ray Gange and Robin Banks present. Could you reveal if there is anything similar planned?

Phil - Well, Ray Gange is coming up, Ray loved it when he came up. So, he is coming up all weekend again, he’s djing on Friday night for us as well. So, we’ll try and get him doing other stuff for us as well, hopefully, over the weekend. The offers there for all friends of Joe and his family, they are more than welcome to come up, there may be other people turn up, we’re not too sure, but I can’t think of anyone specifically at the moment. Obviously the late Ray Lowry, came up with some of his pictures as well, that was great. It was great to have him there.

Photo: Ray Lowry in the tent selling his prints at Strummercamp 2007

Photo:  Robin Banks and Mike

Photo: Tymon Dogg, Rob Galloway & other musicians 2007

Photo: Ray Gange and Mel 2007


Mel - Are there any personal stories of Joe Strummer & The Clash you might like to share with us? Like meeting The Clash perhaps?

Phil - I never met Joe, I saw him when I was around a couple of times, but I never went up and shook his hand or this kinda thing, I just didn’t wanna do it. I’m sorry I didn’t really, Kev actually has more personal stories, ya know he travelled to America with him and Shane McGowan, probably some drinking stories and stuff. On a personal level from being the age of 12 I was a fan.

Mel - What was your first Clash gig?

Phil - Being only 42, I was only young, ya see. I caught them about 5 times, on the Combat Rock tour. I was just about old enough, then after as a five piece. I’m glad I saw them obviously. Yea that was me! I don’t regret not meeting Joe, getting too involved with him cos it’s always the way, you get disappointed cos every person you meet said Joe was the complete opposite.

Mel - Out of the four Festivals, which have been the best for you so far? And what would you like to say to our readers about why they should attend a Strummercamp event?

Phil - Actually, that’s really difficult to say but for me personally, I don’t think we could ever beat the vibe and the atmosphere of the first one. It was just run on sheer adrenaline and madness ya know. It was organised chaos, in one way, but to finish it, then having people going home after the weekend saying, I’ve just had the best weekend of my life, they really seemed to appreciate what it was all about, they really, really did. It was great, we thought we’d achieved something there by people going away happy and mucking in and appreciating the DIY of it. I mean they’ve all been great, but I dunno band wise, I think music wise we’ve always put on a good show and all the bands have loved it and have been happy to be play and gone away happy.

Mel - And every one is friendly, all the bands are milling around with everyone else!

Phil - The main thing apart from that, is the atmosphere, its just created itself really. I know I’ve loved it, it’s been great. We’ve never had a single incident, really friendly security, my ex brother in law Matt's security firm comes and he’s walking around chatting to everyone, getting to know people. People are commenting on the web site, the best security we’ve ever had at festivals. All the people we know get involved, friends and like minded people, not saying security don’t get paid, they do but the rest of us don’t get paid. I’ve enjoyed everyone of em, it’s really hard, but we get sick of moaning but we try and put a proper good show on the best we can each year.

Mel - What would you like to say to our readers to encourage them to come to your event?

Phil - I guess some people look for certain festivals don’t they. I think a lot of people if they’ve not done it before, and they haven’t camped I can’t think of a better way to start. It’s not a big festival, it’s a small one, so it’s a bit more friendly and close knit and with camping and the marquees are all on the same patch of ground, its very intimate, friendly and easy going. So, I think it’d be good for someone as a first festival, it encourages many young people as well, not just older people. Your not gonna get stuck in mud, paying for food with ridiculous prices. The club house is open, their short of nothing, it’s dead easy to get to, it’s great value for money. Come and see some new bands, that you’ve never seen before and some old bands that you know.

Photo: Happy campers at Strummercamp

Mel - Where can we get the tickets and information about accommodation if people don’t want to do the whole camping thing?

Phil - The web site is the best place to go, I think there’s a section on accommodation, festival news and stuff like that. Tickets, you can either get them off our web site or ticketline and see tickets as well. We have less than 3 weeks, but there is a shop in Manchester called Rockers, in the centre of Manchester, should be some over the counter this week. Tickets should start to be mailed out from tomorrow.

Mel - The Amigos, are there about 10 of you?

Phil - There are 4 or 5, who do the main bulk of the work, and then there’s 2 or 3 of the lads who constantly help out more nearer the event. We have people coming and going all the time, 10 – 15 people. We do like to remain a little bit anonymous, it’s not about us, plus you don’t want everyone knowing all your business hahaha. Its part of the reason, you get people mithering you all the time. Yea, we do like to keep in the background a little bit and just get on with it.

Mel – There’s a lot of stresses in the planning, the organisation, the catering, the bands and everything you do. So, what actually do you get out of it on a personal level?

Phil - It’s a good question, cos after the second one I was thinking, god ya know, you realise all the bad stuff you’ve gotta go through to get to the end of it. Personally, I have thought, can I do this again next yea, it takes up so much of your spare time. I’ve got a young family, working for myself and stuff like that, it’s really, really hard to find the spare time, but I think ultimately it’s a lot of satisfaction on the day and I really do, I think a feeling that we've done something of significance if you like. It’s not just putting a gig on, it has become something more than that. That is just what has evolved in itself, not really our doing I think the people who have come have made it. For people to walk away saying great things about it is good. I am proud mainly of doing something significant.

Mel - I believe there are other small events which lead up to Strummercamp. Can you take us through what you’ve laid on so far, a couple of little events at Witchwood?

Phil - Oh yea, Witchwood last year, The Star & Garter, a little venue near Piccadilly station, we’ve just been putting on once a month. We have been putting on some bands who are hoping to play, some might be playing next year, a couple we’d had on before and some different, just try to earn some money as fund raising and get people involved, an awareness raiser, the bands go away and know what Strummercamp is all about. Yea, it’s worth doing again, it takes up all your time, that we could be putting into this, all the advertising. We don’t have any funding, so when I bumped into you last Saturday we’d been posting all around Cheadle Hulme, all day on our own, but you see the results, as the tickets have been sold two days after from us putting posters up. After each event, there’s always been messages coming through from people saying I didn’t know it was on, didn’t know anything about it.

Mel - Has no local TV publicity been picked up, Granada Reports ect  

Phil - I don’t think we’ve had anything on TV, but we’ve been pushing a lot, we’ve done some radio, local radio like XFM, Clint Boon. He came down and did a couple of hours, one Sunday. It’s a kinda word of mouth, all this MySpace and Facebook thing. We just wanna stick a note saying, please forward this to everyone you know and get them to do it. I guess you could have posted to a million people in a few days in theory, yea it is difficult, it’s a job in itself the Pr. We need people to come along and say yea we’ll do that for ya, we’ll help out.

Mel - Finally, the last question, what do you think Joe would make of it all?

Phil - I’d like to think he’d absolutely love it yea. I mean a few people, Danielle Millea,the girl that writes for e festivals, I wasn’t aware, but she’s been down to every single one of them and took note of every single band and the times and done a review of every band that’s ever played. I think after the first one we actually took a quote from a bit of a review she wrote, it was something like – "Joe Strummer would have been proud to have such a successful and none commercial event staged in his name". I thought that was great, and someone else had written it. Yea, I’d like to think he’d love it and be laughing, hahaha.

Mel - Thanks Phil and we'll see you at Strummercamp.

Phil - Cheers Mel.

If your looking for a great weekend look no further, great company and fabulous music, this bank holiday won't disapoint. (Take your wellies just in case)

Strummercamp MySpace:


E Festivals:

Check out the line up they have in store for us this year on the flyer below.
Interview by Mel 04.05.09
Photos: Provided by Sarah B from Strummercamp MySpace.

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