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JAMES BRENNAN: [FESTIVAL ORGANISER] WE ARE MAKING A FESTIVAL FOR THE SOUL INTERVIEW BY PAUL HASTINGS

When most people think of Suffolk, it is unlikely that they will picture a weekend of whisky sippin', guitar strummin', banjo pickin', rib suckin, Southern blues and country music. However, between the 13th & 15th of September, a little bit of the American South will be on offer, care of the Red Rooster festival www.redrooster.org.uk

The music on offer will come from the finest Rhythm & Blues, Americana, Roots and Country musicians. Whilst more names are still to be announced, the bill already includes great acts such as The Jim Jones Revue, Kitty Daisy and Lewis and The Heartless Bastards. Festival organiser, James Brennan, managed to find the time to provide some details on this unique event, which is guaranteed to bring something new to the festival scene this year:

PAUL: Can you tell us about the origins of the Red Rooster Festival?

JAMES: I’ve always had a love of Rhythm and Blues from a young age. My Dad was a huge influence in the music I listened to – from early blues stuff through to the R&B of Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. Later down the line, when I ended up booking bands for touring shows and festivals I was always on the lookout for bands capturing that classic sound. Most of the acts I was starting to discover were from the U.S. But then about 5 years ago a few bands started to pop up in the UK. Acts like The Jim Jones Revue were the first of a new breed who captured that classic sound– they were the band that gave me a real excitement with quality musicianship. Real rhythm and blues was returning.

I started a stage at Secret Garden Party called The Crossroads. It was a stage on which I hoped to bring R&B, Soul, Americana, Blues and Country back to a contemporary market. It was a huge success and is now in its fourth year. Acts like Jake Bugg, CW Stoneking, Vintage Trouble, Pete Molinari and James Hunter have all gone through that stage. I was one of the few people producing stages at festivals with a dedicated program for these genres. Off the back of its success I realised the time is right to launch a festival.

PAUL: What can people expect from the festival?

JAMES: They can expect to reignite their love of music and restore their faith in good live bands and musicianship.

PAUL: What type of atmosphere do you hope to create and what type of person do you see the festival attracting?

JAMES: We’re aiming to take the sights, sounds and smells of America’s Deep South and bring them to the heart of Suffolk County. Not only will the bands be the sort of acts you’d expect to hear in places like Nashville, Alabama, Memphis and New Orleans, but the food will follow those traditions too. If you’ve ever been to the Deep South, you’ll know the atmosphere of those places, it’s electric. We’re making a festival for the soul. It’ll attract all walks of life but especially believers in real music, real entertainment. 

PAUL: Tell us a bit about the acts which are performing, and which ones are you personally most looking forward to?

JAMES: The Jim Jones Revue who I mentioned earlier, I’m very excited about. They’re probably one of the best live acts out there; they’re a freight train of R&B for the head. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are equally as refreshing – they’re a family of players who have lived and breathed music their whole life and it shows. Heartless Bastards, I am also very excited about – they’re really creating a huge stir and have already had appearances on US chat shows like Jimmy Kimmel’s. They’re now jumping the pond and are selling out venues in a matter of days. They’re a key player in bringing real songwriting back. Pete Molinari is another act that has done just that. It’s a big statement to make, but for me he is a modern day Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen is a massive fan of Pete Molinari and I’m sure he’d agree with that statement. We have a lot more acts booked up like Son of Dave, who is an absolute pioneer in what he does, Big Boy Bloater and The Urban Voodoo Machine amongst others. We’ve only just got started on the music though; we just wanted to release a teaser. We have some incredibly exciting acts to announce in the coming weeks.   

PAUL: Can you tell us a bit about the venue itself and, other than the music, what else will there be to see and do?

JAMES: Euston Hall is one of the most incredible country houses in the UK. It is steeped in history and is owned by The Duke of Grafton (or Harry as I know him!) I met Harry in Texas about 5 years ago and he is about as obsessed by R&B and quality musicianship as I am. Harry toured as part of the crew with The Rolling Stones for over 150 shows – not many Dukes and site owners that can say that!  So you can be rest assured that the organisers have real love for these music genres! It’s also the most perfect place in the country to hold this festival. The private gardens to the house, which is where we are holding the event, are as picturesque as a Tennessee sunrise. They were designed by William Kent and Capability Brown; two of the most celebrated landscapers in history. The site is jaw-dropping. 

PAUL: What are the highs and lows of organising a festival like Red Rooster?

JAMES: Starting a new festival is always tough – the lows come from the hurdles you have to jump through in the early days. But we get over these and again come the highs. Bringing great music and something unique is a great reward in itself. 

PAUL: How do you go about finding and booking the artists and how long does it actually take to organise an event of this size?

JAMES: I’m always on the lookout for bands within these genres - I’m pretty on the pulse with whatever exciting is coming out of the music scene. I’ve booked artists, major and upcoming, for a number of years, so it makes it easier to pick up the phone to booking agents. Even though the festival is a nice manageable size, it’s a year round job to pull it together. I’m the promoter, but I’m also the production manager for Red Rooster and  I’ll have late nights burning the midnight oil all the way up to the festival in September. 

PAUL: Given the current economic climate do you feel any pressure to ensure you provide value for money?

JAMES: Producing a festival that is value for money is always a given for me. Our ticket price is very reasonable and with attendees giving us such a great response and support, I’ll be ensuring that our guests walk away from the festival thinking they got more bang for their buck.  It’s a tough time for all of us in this economic climate, so I’ll always be on the public’s side when producing an event. 

PAUL: How do you feel about the suggestion from Michael Eavis a couple of years ago that festivals were dead?

JAMES: I think part of what Michael Eavis said, certainly rings true. He does of course know exactly what he’s talking about! But if promoters keep up with the times, learn from their past shows and bring something unique and special into the mix, festivals will have longevity. This is something that we will certainly be doing with Red Rooster. 

PAUL: On a lighter note, who would be on your dream festival line up (alive or dead)?

JAMES: I probably could give you a never ending list on this, but I have to say my top ten list for this style of event could be: Al Green, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Etta James, Eliza Fitzgerald, Four Tops doing a back to back Vs with The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder – and if I can add an 11th of course The Rolling Stones.. 

PAUL: Finally, in your opinion, what is it that will make Red Rooster 2013 stand out in comparison with all the other festivals?

JAMES: We’ll be looking to have quality of musicianship that very few festivals could achieve. The style of music we’re putting on means that all the acts are phenomenal, natural players. Music won’t be something they just got into, it’ll be in their blood. There is no show in the UK that is attempting to bring the atmosphere of the Deep South into our British countryside.  It’s a very exciting feeling.

Friday 13th - Saturday 14th September 2013 @ Euston Hall, Suffolk
For full details of the festival check out www.redrooster.org.uk

Interview by Paul Hastings

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