About five years ago I was sitting watching the sunset in my favourite bar in the world, Surfer's Bay on the south coast of Barbados, which is run by my dear friend Steve Campbell. The bar was quiet and as Steve poured me another rum and coke he played a track by The Martin Harley Band. As I sat there watching the waves crash in, an internal glow from the rum warming my heart and the cool blues of Martin Harley, one of the UK's leading slide guitarists ringing through my eyes, life was just about perfect.
But that was a pivotal moment for both us. It started with. 'Oh, imagine if he was here playing live' and quickly descended in to 'There is six acres of land here, it would be perfect for a music festival'.
And those two little words 'music festival' have taken over our lives and for five years now that is what we eat, sleep and breathe, although on some days the breathing becomes difficult as the stress takes hold and sleeping is adjourned for us now until Dec 1 when it is all over for another year. There is a bit of cat napping that goes on, but not for long as I awake at 3am and think 'Did I send the flight reference to Charlie Simpson's manager?"
Most people have crazy ideas after a few drinks, laugh it off the next day and move on, but not us, my background is PR & marketing and Steve's background before running bars was exhibition design and build, so the next day we weren't laughing, we were putting together a budget for flights, hotels, transport, stages, lighting and sound. All of these things cost a lot of money but we weren't phased, we were seriously excited!
We had clear roles of how we were going to make this happen, I would handle the business element, run budgets and raise cash, Steve would transform his beach side location. We both love live music and we had a venue - why couldn't we start a music festival in paradise?
So only six weeks later we were back at Surfer's Bay watching The Martin Harley Band play live and now it wasn't just the two of us, the place was filled with locals and tourists who all had a blast. There was seven acts in from the UK and we used this as a show case for upcoming talent in Barbados as well. In fact, it's become something of a musical cultural exchange between Britain and the Caribbean, with a host of acts from either side of the Atlantic collaborating on site and even recording together afterwards.
Despite the tough economic climate both here in the UK and in Barbados, the event has gone from strength to strength with outstanding musicians and by the second year I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar faces in the crowd, returning tourists from the previous year!
These days the event is sponsored by Virgin Holidays and they put together a special package for UK fans to get out to Barbados for the event. To get a better description of why people come to the event read this write up from last year.
Given the last couple of year's winter in the UK, it's not that surprising that people want to come to Barbados and get their winter warmer festival, last year Gatwick closed due to 6ft of snow and I was forced to laze by the pool sipping on cocktails, it was a real bummer but I survived.
Sponsorship is the major headache and this has proved to be an expensive hobby, I open the budget about 20 times a day and have mastered the fine art of balancing the books, but in these tough times it gets harder to stage a major production with good quality sound and excellent acts but we get there by the skin of our teeth.
This year is our fifth birthday and so we are staging five days of the event and try to cater to all musical tastes, it has traditionally been about live music but this year to celebrate our birthday there is going to be a massive dance night with international DJ's, which is also a really exciting element to the event.
Once I arrive in Barbados - I don't live there anymore, but in the rather less exotic surroundings of Watford - my mobile starts to ring and every time I answer it there is an average of nine missed calls, it is around 30 degrees and I am driving around melting in to a hot sweaty mess, not exactly looking my best to meet musicians at the airport. I show them to their hotel, arrange their sound checks, take them on the local radio to play live sessions and I literally do not stop and I wonder why do I do this to myself every year?
Then finally the festival opens and as I am standing at Surfer's Bay watching another awesome band, I look around at everyone dancing around in shorts and flip flops having the time of their lives. It is so different from the usual UK festival attire of wellies and bin liners and I think this is why we do it and every year I have a moment where I catch Steve's eye and we just smile, at that moment I am so proud of how the festival looks, am so proud of Steve for pulling it out the bag again and I give myself a little pat on the back too.
Festival goers relaxing at Surfer's Bay.
I often joke to Steve, never work with animals, children and musicians, it is not for the faint hearted! And I always say the festival will never make us rich - our dream is to break even - but our memoirs will. And man, have I got some stories, which I will share in my next blog as the event approaches for another year and I will sound out my frustrations of being a frazzled festival organiser!
For more information on the event click here.
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