Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Bloodstock booker Vicky Hungerford “When the festival opens this year, we will all cry” Road to Bloodstock 2021

If you’ve ever been to a festival or wanted to go to one, you have probably wondered how it happens as well as the care that goes into crafting that wonderful weekend. As you know, RAMzine is always at Bloodstock and in 2021 it’s the most anticipated weekend for any metalhead. We caught up with the woman behind the line-up, Vicky Hungerford, to talk about what goes into booking Bloodstock, her most desired bands, the 2020 pandemic, the history of the festival, how you could play Bloodstock, as well as what it takes to put on such an event.

In a nutshell, tell us what you do?

It’s very boring really. I’m one of the Directors of Bloodstock and my job is to book bands for the main stage and Sophie Lancaster stage. I don’t have a proper title other than ‘band booker’.

So what is your day-to-day schedule, as it probably takes all year to book a festival like Bloodstock?

I spend my life negotiating with agents and liaising with artists and bands. We have about 130 bands plus, [actually] even more. My job is to liaise with bands, managers, agents. Sorting how we will get them there and booking them. I don’t just book one year, I’m looking at two years at a time, so currently I’m looking at 2022 and 2023.

Vicky Hungerford and Rachael Greenfield at Bloodstock.

So what’s the process in choosing which bands to play? Is it who you want, or the fans?

It’s not me, God no! We have a team, an inner core team which consists of myself, the family, and some other people. We know who the fans request, so we do take note of who they want. We also look at which bands maybe haven’t played or if they have, do they have a new album out or new material, or maybe they haven’t played for a number of years at Bloodstock, or even if they’re touring. So there are a few factors. It’s not as easy as people seem to think when booking a festival. We don’t just call them and hope for the best!

If it really was up to you who would like to book, do you have a sort of ‘bucket list’ of bands?

Luckily, we’ve booked all the bands we’ve wanted through the years. It might be an out-there choice but I’d love to book Body Count. Which would be amazing! We’ve never had Clutch. I’d love them to come over and play at the festival. Thing is, we’ve usually managed to book the bands we want but again we’ve never had Killswitch Engage, for example. Booking a wild card a band like Limp Bizkit on a Sunday night to close the festival would be killer!

Please make this happen!

It is a [controversial choice] but the way I look at it is, you have a valid lineup over the other days then you have a great band like Limp Bizkit to close it. They are such an incredible band, I’ve seen them a number of times live and they are SO good. There is a bucket list of bands. For instance, it took us a while to get Judas Priest the first time around. I make it known when we’re after these bands. I Tweet them to death so they know that we’re after them. I get tagged a lot on social media, like on Instagram saying ‘please can we play Bloodstock’ so it’s a good way to make it known.

So would you say that’s the best way to get your attention and get you to hear their music?

To be fair, when bands Tweet me, message on Instagram or Tik Tok, I will check them out. Tik Tok is good because you can check their music out straight away. I always say you should have a video or something on Instagram so we can hear you. No one wants to be trawling through 900 posts to find out what you sound like. You want quick access to it. Tik Tok is something that you might not realise bands and industry types use but it is one of the biggest social media tools for music. So it’s great to get on it if you’re not already.

Vicky Hungerford

Do you agree with Gene Simmons who infamously said “Rock is dead” in an interview not too long ago?

That’s bollocks. And someone who is in a rock band, I can’t believe that came out of his mouth. We only have to look at heavy metal bands (who maybe 10-20 years ago didn’t) are now getting albums in the top 20 download charts. Which you previously might not have seen. So that’s bullshit. You only have to look at the Metal 2 The Masses initiative that we have, they sell out venues of people going to see unsigned bands, that no one’s heard of. So it’s more alive than ever. Some artists don’t usually get that in other genres. Also, there’s the fact that there are 948 subgenres of metal. Which makes me smile. You could start a band and launch your own genre tomorrow. There’s not any other type of music that can make up a genre on the spot.

Going back to social media and Tik Tok, do you feel digital platforms help or hinder the music industry?

It’s a double-edged sword. I’m old school, we started Bloodstock without social media and we did things like leafletting. Social media is an incredible tool, the only problem with it is there’s a lot of negativity with it. It’s easy for someone to hide behind a keyboard and be abusive. And be negative about bands, or directly be negative towards them. Yet most of our advertising isn’t in the printed press anymore. Gone are the days you would find out about us via magazines. It’s now Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, Twitter… and we get so much traction from it. That’s where we sell most of our tickets. I remember years ago it would be forums, and I would go on forums. I haven’t been on one for years and why would you with all this information at your fingertips? Forums are definitely dead. The internet and social media are wonderful, but like anything, it has a dark side to it.

Although you collaborate and partner with other festivals in Europe, is there ever any rivalry or conflict on bookings?

No. Basically, we work with about nine other European festivals that are in August. They take place in countries like Spain, Germany, Belgium, France. They’re all independent festivals like Summer Breeze and Brutal Assault for example. They’re all well-known. It’s so much easier working with them, like when I go to an agent and so do they, we talk between us and have a plan of action. Mainly because an agent can turn around and say they need a number of festivals the bands can work. So if you know that 4 or 5 of them want this band it makes it so much easier to get that band from wherever they’re from, whether it’s Japan or Australia, or wherever. It’s far more affordable getting them to play those 4-5 events. We have the European Metal Festival Alliance, we’re all independent – but it’s just brilliant. It works so well.

Have you ever been told ‘no’ by a band and they’ve played somewhere else, which causes problems?

Yes. I take personal offence when that happens. They may pop up that weekend or the weekend after somewhere. Sometimes for no good reason. That really upsets me because I put everything into booking a band. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and I get that and I’ll try and get them for the next year. Sometimes you’re blown out for no good reason and you never really get an answer. It’s always been something that’s the bane of my life. That’s just the way of band booking. Fans sometimes don’t appreciate that and think ‘why haven’t you got them?’ It could be that they are literally flying in for those three dates.

Do you ever see a band at a festival or gig and think ‘I want this band to play Bloodstock’?

Always. I go to Download and there’s a number of bands that I want to play Bloodstock too. I call it ‘The Hunting Ground’. And I’m sure Download and other events do it with Bloodstock. Because you’re not going to know of EVERY single band on the line-up. It’s not until you see them perform that you truly appreciate a band. I remember first seeing Ghost at Download in a small tent, and I remember someone saying “these are going to be absolutely huge”. I remember thinking they were so different and I absolutely loved it. So that’s kind of how it works.

Has there ever been a band you have, or almost have, hesitated to book in fear of fan backlash?

No. If I’m after a band, they’re going to get booked. I knew there would be some tension from people when we announced Parkway Drive but I call it “growing pains”. Occasionally we will book a band where people will say ‘that is not a Bloodstock band’. This really annoys me because it’s a heavy metal band. They are justified to play this festival. They can fill a 10,000 capacity event, on their own. What would make them ‘not a bloodstock band’? Bloodstock used to be a power-metal festival; if we were still a power metal festival, we would have gone bust a long time ago. Because you’ve got to evolve, and you’ve got to grow, you’ve got to look at new bands. It’s like what I’ve said about Limp Bizkit, they would be a cracking addition to the festival. Parkway Drive was a cracking edition, but it caused “growing pains” and moaning. If you don’t like a band, don’t watch them. It will never stop us from booking bands if people start throwing toys out of the pram. It comes with the territory though, you won’t please all 20,000 people in that field. It’s the same when people complain we book the ‘same old bands’ but when we book someone different it’s like “but we don’t want that!” I could say this of bookings for 2022, they are cracking bookings. There are a few out-there bands that will make you think “oh wow, okay…” I’m expecting that, but they will work brilliantly. I think metalheads have quite an eclectic taste. You would be surprised what I listen to in the car.

Going back 20 years now … how did Bloodstock actually start?

My Dad [Paul Gregory], in 2001, had a drunken conversation with his mate Vince [Brotheridge], who used to work in a record shop in Nottingham. My Dad knew him for years and used to go to the shop all the time, bought a few LPs, and struck up a friendship. They were talking about how there were no ‘proper’ festivals anymore as Monsters Of Rock had ended and this was before Download. In 2001 there wasn’t anything, so they thought ‘how hard can it be to organise an event?’ They put on the first show at The Derby Assembly Rooms to around 700 people. My Dad does the artwork for Saxon and a number of other bands. He approached Saxon and said, “I need a favour – can you headline this indoor event we’re doing called Bloodstock?” Biff [Byfordson, Saxon Frontman] just turned around and said “yeah, okay”. So that was the headline act. My sister, Rachel, and I were the merch girls. The glamourous assistant selling you t-shirts and baseball hats at the merch stand. So that’s how it started. So in 2001 it was the May bank holiday and it got 700 people. Which isn’t bad for people who probably didn’t know what they were doing… which we didn’t.

The Gregory Family

So how did it go from an indoor event to a huge outdoor festival?

Vince had to eventually back out for a number of reasons. So my Dad took it on as a sole owner, and he took me and my sister on about a year after that as directors. In 2003 we sold the festival out. Nightwish headlined and that sold the whole place out. In 2004 we had another sell-out year. So my Dad had this idea of “why don’t we take this outside?” So have an indoor festival AND outdoor festival, which sounded like a great idea at the time. Indoor events and outdoor events are very different. Outdoor is…outdoor – so you have to build it, you have to build the stage, you have to bring things into a field. 2005 was the first outdoor with Sebastian Bach headlining, and we had 15,000 for that event. We couldn’t run both at the same time. We weren’t big enough and the money was astronomical to put on two events. So we got rid of the indoor and decided to concentrate on the outdoor. So I took on the role in 2004 of booking bands. So we looked at members of the family and took on roles such as my brother Adam is good at sales and sponsorships, so he does that, Rachael is good with logistics and accounts, so she did that. I was very feisty, so I was the perfect person to book bands. People think there’s a massive science behind it but that’s how we did it. It worked, obviously.

So it just grew and grew from there?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been growing pains. You don’t make money from the off, you lose money. It’s a money pit, to say the least. Anyone putting on an event or festival will tell you – it’s a gamble, it’s hard work, it’s exhausting. But it’s starting to grow year by year. We’re now at 20,000, shortly about to sell out the festival which is great.

How does it feel to be one of the first big festivals after the pandemic?

It feels emotional. We’ve all said that when the festival opens, we will all cry. It feels a bit numb at the moment because the world has been so horrible for 16 months. This industry has been decimated. The music industry, festivals, and events never happened. It’s bittersweet because I’m half-mourning for all the events that were cancelled or postponed, and half pleased that – touch wood- we’re able to go ahead and have an event this year. So. it’s going to be very poignant I think. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s don’t take anything for granted. It really does make you appreciate the smallest things in life like the joy we get from music and events. Makes me just want to tell everyone ‘for God’s sake go and see the bands you like live, especially small, up-and-coming bands’. If you’ve got the chance, go and do it. They need every bit of support they get.

Vicky with her sister Rachael

Did you use the extra time in lockdown to do anything different from your usual routine?

I concentrated on the future. Like most people, my mental health did take a dip so I focussed on training and on working. We did an online European Metal Festival Alliance event, so I focussed on that too. I took it week by week, month by month, but I couldn’t look too far ahead as we didn’t know what the future held. So I just concentrated on getting fitter. Something I could control.

So if someone reading this wanted to start their own festival, or get into booking, what advice would you give them?

I’d say go for it. I’d never piss on someone’s chips and advise them against something they want to do. I would say, however, go in with eyes wide open. Don’t go in with the naive viewpoint of ‘book the bands and they will come’ because that is literally not true. I would say get experience working with promoters or festivals or you can simply just talk to people. Go and follow your dream, I’m a big believer in that, or else we’d all be sitting doing the same job because it’s easier. You’re only on this planet for a short space of time. Also, do as much research as you can. Don’t be disappointed by knock-backs, just keep going. You might not get it right the first time, you might not get it right the first ten times, but that’s ok – you need to keep going.

Which bands are you most looking forward to seeing?

It’s a tough one but I’m going to give a shout-out to a young, up-and-coming band I’m a big fan of, Party Cannon! In fact, I’m slightly disappointed because we couldn’t get their official logo on the festival t-shirt. If you haven’t even seen their logo, check it out, it’s like a kid’s font. Shame we can’t use all the logos because we can’t fit them in. Go and check them out, and also check out the New Blood stage and check out some unsigned bands. They have worked so hard and we haven’t been able to do Metal 2 The Masses properly this year. It’s so underrated. We’re one of the only festivals that do this.

“The talent on the New Blood Stage is always ridiculoussly good”

Vicky Hungerford on the New Blood Stage and Metal 2 The Masses.

So is the best way for a band to play the festival by Metal 2 The Masses?

It literally is the best way for unsigned bands to get seen. The whole idea is to get yourself out there. Usually, at the M2TM events, we have a lot of industry types, same [with the festival] band managers, etc. will come to watch the New Blood stage scouting for talent. Don’t feel guilty about hounding us though. I’m probably shooting myself in the foot here, but hound us on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok or whatever, if you want, but M2TM is the best way. One of the best things about M2TM is you don’t know what you’re going to get. The number of times I get someone from the industry saying to me “I’ve seen this band on the New Blood Stage, they’re amazing”. The talent is ridiculously good.

Standard weekend tickets have been extended, as it is now a 5-day event in 2021. They remain under a temporary price freeze at £145 (+ booking fees). In addition, child tickets and parking tickets for 2021’s event are available now at the ticket store, as well as a limited number of day tickets for Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun. Wednesday’s fun remains exclusively for weekend ticket holders. VIP and campervan tickets for 2021 are sold out.

 Bloodstock Festival 2021 main stage headliners are DEVIN TOWNSEND (Friday), KREATOR (Saturday), and JUDAS PRIEST (Sunday). The festival will also feature sets from SKINDRED, PARADISE LOST, DIAMOND HEAD, THERAPY?, VENOM PRISON, JINJER, VIO-LENCE, SAXON, THE WILDHEARTS, GLORYHAMMER, BLEED FROM WITHIN, NAPALM DEATH, PHIL CAMPBELL & THE BASTARD SONS, MEMORIAM, RAMAGE INC., GREEN LUNG, CONJURER, ORANGE GOBLIN, RAGING SPEEDHORN, LAWNMOWER DETH, CONAN, SYLOSIS, WINTERFYLLETH, HACKTIVIST, THE CRAWLING, EVIL SCARECROW, ACID REIGN, SVALBARD, BORSTAL, SEIDRBLOT, MOTHER VULTURE, BLOODSHOT DAWN, EVILE, and more, with plenty still being announced…

Neale McGeever
RAMzine Senior Contributor - I'm an entertainment writer ('journalist') from the North East. My favourite bands include Slipknot, Nirvana and Ninja Sex Party... I've freelanced for the likes of Kerrang!,Closer, Front, ZOO, and many others! I'm also big in to movies, video games, live comedy and ...beer!

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