Something for the Weekend
Words & Podcast: Toby Harris
Tell us about the origins of the Southport Weekender…
I’m a Newcastle boy. My parents moved to Bolton when I was 14 and I left school at 15. I got into the northern soul scene in Wigan and became obsessed with the beautiful music I heard. Then I started running gigs when I moved back to Durham, and later I started doing club nights. By day, I was working for the council but I always had that love of music. Then someone gave me the opportunity to run a weekender up north in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1987. Later we moved it to Blackpool – we did three there before it outgrew itself. In Southport we were getting about 5,000 people; in Butlins we got about 7,000 and it just ran its course. Only last year we started the weekender festival here in Finsbury Park thanks to my good friends, Slamming Events.
Did your job with the council prepare you in any way for running festivals?
I used to be an emergency planning officer, planning for death and disaster, so I guess being prepared for that helped me with festivals – there are always plenty of disasters! There was an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other; one saying do the emergency planning, the other saying do the discos. And the discos won.
Was coming to London always part of the plan?
No. If anyone had told me 20 years ago that I, a Geordie boy, was going to put on events for 12,000 people in London and in war-torn Yugoslavia, I’d have said you had rocks in your head.
Why Finsbury Park?
I came to a couple of events here – one of them was Hospitality and I was just totally blown away by it. What I like to feel is that it’s a very intimate festival even though it’s 12,000 people. Everything is indoors, in tents, so I like to call it a clubbing festival.
The dos and don’ts of setting up a new festival
1. It’s about tweaking things slowly, not doing entirely new things because the press say so
2. You’ve got to get your health and safety right
3. Stick to what you believe in and that’s hopefully what will work for you, you know
4. Listen to people, especially if you’re young, but also be forceful with your own ideas and go for it
5. Get people in who are good operators
6. Look around, take your time and plan it well in advance
7. Don’t be too ambitious
8. Don’t go too cheap or too expensive
9. Have lots of meetings, lots of talk
10. Always respect your customers; they pay everyone’s wages at the end of the day – that’s my number one motto