John Davis, Hammerfest organiser interview

eFestivals gets hammered

published: Thu 19th Feb 2009

around the festival

Friday 24th to Saturday 25th April 2009
Pontins Holiday Camp in Prestatyn, North Wales, Wales MAP
from £85 per head, based on a group of seven people sharing
last updated: Wed 11th Mar 2009

Having seen Hard Rock Hell become one of the highlights of the festival calendar after only two years in existence, founder and organiser John Davis took it upon himself to gatecrash Pontin's holiday camp once again with the inaugural Hammerfest. Promising a springtime feast of delectable heavy metal mayhem featuring Opeth, Bullet For My Valentine, Saxon, Alestorm and Hammerfall amongst others, the festival looks set to replicate the success of its December cousin on a grand scale, and eFestivals was chuffed to nab John for a quick natter as the bill began to take shape.

Hi John! So where did this whole 'metal-meets-Pontin's' idea come from in the first place?
Well it's strange really as I've been involved in various festivals and music genres over the years; it's never just been rock and metal as we've done different things all over the world. I've always wanted to make use of those purpose-built leisure centres and entertainment places, as you don't have to worry about better weather like you do with the open air festivals, and you've got everything that you need right there, and there’s a strong community aspect to it.

What was it that drew you to bring that aspect of a festival to hard rock and heavy metal audiences? There wasn't really anything like it in the UK before...
Exactly, there wasn't, and the funny thing about it is that it came from just me and a few friends including a few people from the Future Publishing group behind Classic Rock and Metal Hammer sitting round a table discussing a few things. One of them said "John, why don't you do a rock festival?", and it literally just grew from that. And no, no one had really done anything like this – I think Kerrang have done a few tours and suchlike, but nothing like [Hard Rock Hell].

And so that was the basis for it, and from there I had to think "Where do I want this to go?" I wanted it to be something for the community and I wanted there to be a lot of active things there, and that's where the idea came from. Everything we do is perception-based, and after the first one people said "Change this, change that", and so we changed things around, but people generally seemed to like it. And the thing is with Hard Rock Hell is that we wanted a decent composition of different bands, so you've got space for the battle metal and everything else as well as some slots reserved for newer upcoming acts.

It was great to see such a strong contingent of new bands at the last Hard Rock Hell, and they all seemed to go down so well!
Exactly; it's difficult enough for new bands to break through, so it's great to give them an opportunity.

So how did Hammerfest come to fruition?
Well after the first Hard Rock Hell there were people asking "Why can't you do another one in the Spring so we have to wait six months instead of a whole year?" The people that were saying it were more the metalheads than anyone else, so we thought we should try and do something more metal. So we got Metal Hammer onboard and they were really into it, we decided to call it 'Hammerfest' and decided on a more metal composition of bands. Of course there'll be a few hard rock acts, but overall we're looking at it being more metal than classic rock.

Speaking of which, young metal upstarts Bullet For My Valentine will be headlining one of the nights. With their fanbase leaning towards the younger side of the metal spectrum and the recent decision to lower the age limit to 16, is it safe to say that Hammerfest is catering towards younger audiences more than HRH?
That wasn't the intention at the start. We kinda have this ground circle of people which includes a few people from Metal Hammer and Classic Rock, a few people from the industry and a few punters as well, and we were looking at who was available to headline.

Bullet was a name that came up for two reasons: that they're a good young band who are starting to hit it big and starting to attract the older market as well as the younger market, and for the fact that they're Welsh! They're all from North Wales and [frontman] Matt Tuck lives just down the road from Prestatyn, so he can have a cup of tea with his granny before the show!

So we spoke to their management and it came about from that... the people that complained about the age limit were 16-17 year olds who wanted to go with their parents or their friends, and they basically said "Bullet are our favourite band, please don't keep us out!" So we had a word with the authorities and they let us lower the age for this event.

Sounds fair! You mentioned that Hammerfest will be leaning in a slightly heavier direction musically, but can we expect any difference in the set-up of the festival compared to Hard Rock Hell?
Well there's going to be the same amount of arenas and the same places, but there'll be a few new things - we're going to be putting in some guitar tutorials with Marshall and Total Guitar. We'll also be making a few changes to the VIP aspect of it, making things feel more special and so on... obviously I don't want to give too much away, but we still have a few ideas we're looking at.

And what about the line-up? Are all the slots filled now or are you still looking to book some bands?
For Hammerfest at the moment we've got eight slots to fill - I'm actually trying to sort out the website's front page at the moment because there's not enough room for all these band logos! We confirmed Wolf and Architects amongst others the other day which was really cool, but the one area we're looking to flesh out at the moment is the power metal stuff, so there are two or three bands we're looking at to fill that. So there'll be more to come on the power metal side and a couple of surprises in there as well.

You've mentioned the power and battle metal side of things a couple of times, has there been a conscious effort to cover those genres with these events?
Well they're genres that have been requested highly for both Hard Rock Hell and Hammerfest. We had bands like Power Quest go down really well at HRH, so we've booked bands like Kiuas for Hammerfest, and we have a few more slots to be announced.

We look forward to it! Finally, for those who are attending Hammerfest but have never been to Hard Rock Hell or even a music festival before, what can people expect in April?
I'd expect them to have their minds blown to be honest! The great thing is that there's so much going on behind those doors and you can just stay in there for as long as you want. If you don't want to turn up until 10 each night you don't have to, and we won't have the music finishing at 11, but going on much later. We have so much to keep you going up there, so you can just sit back, enjoy it and navigate your own musical destiny!

Sounds immense! Thanks chatting to us John, and see you at Hammerfest!
No problem, see you soon.

interview by: Merlin Alderslade

Friday 24th to Saturday 25th April 2009
Pontins Holiday Camp in Prestatyn, North Wales, Wales MAP
from £85 per head, based on a group of seven people sharing
last updated: Wed 11th Mar 2009

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