Wanna know everything Vernal Equinox festival, happening this weekend in Preston U.K.? We had a brief Q&A with Tuff Life Boogie’s Rico La Rocca, so after this one no excuses for missing this very special event…
So Rico, could you please tell us what’s the Vernal Equinox festival about? How did it come to life?
Civic pride I guess! I’m from Preston and I’ve been promoting on a D.I.Y. basis here for 6 years. Often I find the shows are better supported by people travelling from outside the city rather than by people from Preston itself. Preston tends to be over-shadowed by the bigger cities of Manchester and Liverpool nearby. The live music scene is Preston thrived in the 70s and 80s but not so much recently and the shows that do take place here tend to be quite conservative in their choice of acts. Consequently, Prestonians have become used to travelling out of the city for live music. I get the impression that some people here now don’t actually think it’s a proper show unless it is happening somewhere else!
So I wanted to do something on a bigger scale to try and capture people’s attention in Preston. I also wanted to highlight the excellent venue I use, The Continental, and their Arts programmers They Eat Culture, who are very supportive of my shows and provide a great space to make things happen, and the Preston cassette label Concrète Tapes (whom I’m collaborating with on the Friday of Vernal Equinox), who are doing some really interesting releases and events.
Apart from the city still needing to rediscover it’s audience for cutting-edge live music, Preston is, theoretically, a good place to put on an event that you expect people to travel for. The rail and motorway links are pretty good (and the venue I use is also reasonably close to the train station) and accommodation here is really cheap, if you book in advance you can get a decent hotel room for £30.00.
I already had Galley Beggar booked for the middle Saturday, originally as a standalone show, and I must have been feeling particularly optimistic before Christmas and decided to build a festival around them, so the folk and psych themes stemmed from there.
What led you choose these names for the very 1st edition of the Festival?
Once I’d decided on the theme, Trembling Bells were natural headliners. They cover a lot of bases and have become more expansive over the last few years. They were the first band I booked when I took up promoting again in 2011 and I’ve followed their progress with interest since then. They really hit a peak on the shows I saw last year and Vernal Equinox will be their first gig for a while, so I’m keen to see what new stuff they’ve got. Their other set with Mike Heron from Incredible String Band is very popular and a nice thematic link to the beginnings of psych music in the late 60s. Alasdair Roberts is another exceptional performer I’ve tracked for a long time since discovering him at the early editions of the Green Man Festival and was another of my first thoughts. Galley Beggar are a great folk rock band that a lot of people outside of the folk festival scene haven’t found out about yet, but when they do the band are going to crossover because they’re just too good.
If I’m doing a big event I always try and place Ajay Saggar on the bill if I can, he’s played four of the Un-Peeled shows I’ve done over the last few years and is an honorary Prestonian, having attended loads of gigs here in the mid 80s and then featured in one of Preston’s best ever bands, Dandelion Adventure, who were a noise-rock outfit who recorded for Peel in 1990. Ajay lives in Holland now and is always involved in something great, for Vernal Equinox he’s bringing over his world music/punk/psych fusion outfit King Champion Sounds soundtracking the “Man With A Movie Camera” film, which is a UK exclusive performance and he’s also teaming up with the singer from Dandelion Adventure, Marcus Parnell and Dave Chambers, who was in the original line-up of Cornershop (who formed when they attended University in Preston) for The Common Cold. Again that’s something that you’re only going to see at one of my shows.
I wanted to try and get Evil Blizzard involved as they a real success story for Preston who can now attract decent crowd anywhere in the UK. Originally they couldn’t do it because they have another local show close to it, but I think when they saw how good the line-up was on Friday they wanted to be a part of it (and so they could see the other acts without paying!) and came up with the CLONES concept. Mark Whiteside from Evil Blizzard is also playing the festival on the Saturday in his solo singer-songwriter guise as One Sided Horse.
There are also some great acts that I only discovered when I was researching the genres such as the folk-metal band Crumbling Ghost and the acid folk guy Dodson & Fogg and some new bands I already knew about that I wanted to share with a wider audience like Vukovar and Pill Fangs. It’s great to have an opportunity to do that and also bring some different acts up here to play that you might not otherwise be able to get an audience for on a standalone show.
How difficult was it to gather all these names within 3 days? Exhausted?
Friday is the day with the most going on as there are two stages and a lot of acts, but the sound guys do a great job and pretty much do all the stage managing as well, plus I get help on the door from The Continental team, so it’s not as hard it looks for me. Having said that, anyone who wants to volunteer to help out with the Festival message me! By the far the most exhausting bit for me is trying to promote the festival in the weeks running up to it and sell tickets. On the day, once an event like this begins it sort of has a momentum of it’s own and things tend to happen whether you are on top of everything or not!
What would you say would be the ideal motto for the Vernal Equinox Festival?
I thought ‘Folk/Psych/Wyrd’ was the motto, but if you want another one, my Tuff Life Boogie description on twitter is ‘Beating the austerity blues with occasional gigs in sunny Preston’, which sums up my philosophy!. There is a massive beer garden at The Continental and if the weather is good this weekender will be just great!
Folk/psych/wyrd! Do you believe that these genres have gained hype over the last few years?
I guess the nu-folk or wyrd folk revival hit it’s peak about 5 or 6 years ago and its at that stage now where all the hangers on have gone and the people left who are into it are going to be there for the long haul. I think the psych rock bubble has still got a way to go before it bursts though, there are still new psych festivals cropping up everywhere and it’s very much a hyped genre. It’s good in a way that the main psych bands I’ve got on at Vernal Equinox, Mugstar and Gnod, have both been doing this music for years and no one can call them bandwagon jumpers. Mugstar even recorded one of the final Peel sessions in 2004! Having said all that, the Psych-boom clearly hasn’t quite made it to Preston yet as the Psych Friday hasn’t done as many tickets as Folk Sunday!
Is it far too early to ask for the 2nd edition of the Vernal Equinox?
I really hope that enough people attend so I can think about doing another one next year. I must admit I haven’t been paying loads of attention to who I might book next year as I’ve been doing my best to promote the first one, but Wolf People are one act that I tried to get this time and would be first on my list for a second edition. I think I’d also try and include some more trad folk, I did try for more this year but a couple of people I had in mind couldn’t make it. It was all booked in a bit of a rush in December, I’ll have more time to plan if I do it again.