Summer Sundae Weekender & The Big Session interview

Rob Challice exclusive interview

published: Mon 7th Dec 2009

around the festival site (2)

Friday 13th to Sunday 15th August 2010
De Montfort Hall, Granville Road, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 7RU, England MAP
£105 weeked - sold out, only £40 Friday, £45 Saturday available
last updated: Fri 20th Aug 2010

eFestivals spoke to Rob Challice, of CODA Music Agency, in London, who started both events with Richard Haswell about the plans for next year's Summer Sundae and Big Session festivals.

Rob traditionally has been the lead artistic booker on both festivals, and he also licenses the use of the brands Summer Sundae and Big Session to the Council and De Montfort Hall, and is part of the team that puts together both festivals.

around the festival site (1)
With one of the driving forces behind both events, festival figurehead, organiser and Hall manager Richard Haswell currently suspended by the Council, alongside two other members of staff, and unable to take part in the organisation of next year's planning. Has your role had to change this year?
Yes, as it stands at the moment I have to do the managerial work. There's a number of us that have to step up to fill in their roles. We've also gone for a little bit of re-structuring with the management as well, so there's a tighter group of people organising the festivals.

Does that mean the feel of the festivals is likely to change as well?
No, we want more of the same, but better. With Summer Sundae we're celebrating our tenth anniversary and I think that is going to be a celebration of what we've achieved over the last nine years. I can't see any major changes to either event. We're discussing with the other organisations that have been involved with them, like those that run the other side stages at Summer Sundae. The Big Session doesn't have the same set up of five stages, it just one main stage, one second stage, and the bar. I see no radical changes really.

Was there any doubt in your mind that the festivals might not happen?
Not the kind of doubts that have been reported in the press, especially the Leicester Mercury, I suppose I was always confident that if the Council were ready to listen to our recommendations then it was possible to have both the festivals next year. What I wasn't expecting was the amount of support which is there, from the top to the bottom of the Council to keep the festivals happening. That's something that they have been keen to express to me over the last month or two.

I was surprised when the Leicester Mercury ran the story on the 17th November stating that the festivals were doubt, especially when I'd put out a positive message to the Leicester Mercury stating that there would be an announcement in December. I think the Leicester Mercury have realised that they have been less than helpful with the message that they put out about the festivals, and now hopefully they are going to get behind us. I think whatever they've got with the Council it shouldn't effect the festivals or the morale at De Montfort Hall, and if they feel they should be more responsible and get behind the festivals then that would be good.

There's also been a lot of support from the public, they are clearly well loved festivals...
Absolutely, we're proud of that and always knew that that existed, but to see it in writing just brings home what a key event it is for the region. Both festivals sold out this year, and we can't really ask for more than that.

I was expecting you to ask me about indie landfill....

I was just about to.

To explain eFestivals had met Rob at the festival this summer, where we'd mentioned the main criticism of last year was that the main stage line-up was predominantly indie bands, although I had pointed out there were more musically diverse offerings offered on the other stages.

I personally have taken that on board, and if we can mix it up more next year, we will. I personally really enjoy getting the feedback, on the message boards or where ever about the bills we put together. At times I will feel a bit defensive, but most of the times I just feel it is positive stuff.

Talking of the bill, will you be announcing big names shortly?
The earliest we have announced Summer Sundae has been January/February time and I think it will be the same. Next year Summer Sundae will announce in January and Big Session in February, that's a bit later than we normally announce the Big Session.

Is that because of what's happened at De Montfort Hall, have you been held up?
Yes, it was. I didn't want to go out and book headliners when we didn't have the budget confirmed, we didn't know what budget we were working with. We have now made offers to a whole handful of acts for the Big Session.

Do you feel the delay in waiting for a decision on the budget has meant you have missed out on anybody?
No, I've been in contact with the people who represent these acts for the last few weeks, those people are quite patient, and have waited for the offer. Big Session, myself, and the people involved who represent these bands do have this relationship which goes back several years. We've just told them that an offer is pending, and that's usually enough.

With the festivals' figurehead Richard Haswell out of the loop in the planning of the festivals at the moment change the feel of the festivals?
The key point is that these festivals would not have happened without Richard at De Montfort Hall, Richard, and I, and the people involved have set up these festivals over the years and there's a lot of personal input that we've put into these festivals, they just wouldn't have happened without Richard. I have to say the festivals would be better if Richard was back and part of them. I still think of him MCing Summer Sundae, but for the time being it's really a matter between Richard and his employers, who have currently given him his suspension. Unfortunately, these things do take time.

I do want to stress that some people on the outside they think it's just Richard and I who run the festivals. We don't, there's quite a large team at De Montfort Hall who have got a lot of experience over the years. Jake Webb and Jim O'Mahoney who run production, Brian Lisowy on artist liaison, Jeremy Arndell who used to work at the Hall and now works with me. Vikki Clayton who runs the kids' area, and David and Gabby in marketing, plus Family PR and plenty others - there's a lot of experience there that we call on. Not just at De Montfort Hall but also within CODA if we find ourselves in need of this assistance.

I think you touched on a key point – that Richard is a figurehead, he's the guy that walks out an MCs at Summer Sundae.

You mentioned it was the big tenth anniversary of Summer Sundae, do you have anything special planned?
I for one, with the booking of acts, want to get back bands who have hits from year one. Without giving anything away, we've had bands that we've booked on the Rising Stage that are now, if not headliners, quite major acts, that doesn't mean we're booking Keane or Kasabian. It's great to go back over the old posters, and go 'oh we had them, let's see if we can have them back next year. It's going to be a mix of acts who have never played the festival before and a handful that have over the years – acts who have put on major performances over the years on the smaller stages or main stages. I think that's something that we all want to achieve at the festival next year.

I'm sure Jeremy would like to dress the site up more. The whole village area that we've built up and the garden at Summer Sundae have become key points of it and give the festival goer much more.

What happens with the campsite next year?
I know the Regent's Park campsite is in discussion. There were something that worked by having all the camping on Victoria Park and some things that didn't, like the pinch point as you went into the campsite, that was a major problem. I think it's more than likely it will be one large campsite, but learning on experiences from this year. It falls to other people to other people to organise that, rather than me.

The Big Session Festival dates for next year have been confirmed as Friday 18th until Sunday 20th June 2010, with Early Bird tickets on sale today.

The dates for the tenth Summer Sundae Weekender have been confirmed as Friday 13th to Sunday 15th August 2010, with Early Bird tickets on sale from Tuesday 12th January 2010.
interview by: Scott Williams

Friday 13th to Sunday 15th August 2010
De Montfort Hall, Granville Road, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 7RU, England MAP
£105 weeked - sold out, only £40 Friday, £45 Saturday available
last updated: Fri 20th Aug 2010

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