Headstock: the festival on a mission to save a village

We speak to organisers, Field Music, Frightened Rabbit

Headstock: the festival on a mission to save a village

Photographer: Sara BowreyChris Swindells on 09 September 2010

Newstead in deep Nottinghamshire knows the grim, inescapable realities of a recession-led slump in fortune after the mining village lost its lime pit and its lifeblood to national economic pressures in 1987.

“Newstead is a really deprived, ex-colliery village,”
organiser Jules Thistleton-Smith explains. “It's still suffering even though the pits closed over twenty years ago.”

Jules was chosen to lead a team of hundreds from the local Newstead community, who together have taken responsibility for building the village its very own music festival.

“The reason we chose a music festival for our business venture is that people here have a real incredible history of doing things for themselves,”
Jules explains. “What they have done for the past ten years is put on a free community festival called Tree Fest and that has attracted up to 10,000 people, so it's been really successful.” With the 220 acres of National Trust land and a team of over 300 local volunteers Headstock was born, and in just over three months it’s been a whirlwind journey to where it is now, the week before the big event.

“There's a huge amount of both anxiety and stress if I'm honest. Most people putting on a first time festival have eighteen months or at least year to put together a festival but we had just three months so it's been crazy to say the least.”

The once written-off pit town has had this injection of new life with the help of Village SOS, a partnership scheme between the BBC and the Big Lottery Fund. All the decisions and ideas are fed up through the local community and any profits it makes will be ploughed back into the project and community to safe guard its growth for what they hope will be years to come.

When it came to the musical line up Jules knew exactly what she wanted: acts and artists that not only brought into the vision and ethos of the festival but about whom people would say, “Wow you're punching above your weight.” With that sky high goal Headstock have seemed to surpassed their biggest aims with their multi-million album selling headliner, “We had a massive coup with Ash who were really passionate and supportive, they've finished their South African tour early just to come play the show,” boasts Jules. “They said Headstock meant more to them than Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds which was really lovely and heart-warming to hear.”

Peter Brewis, vocalist with Field Music had sympathy and support for the scheme and people of Newstead after having a personal involvement in organising Sunderland's very own community-led music event, Split Festival. “I've been away for much of the year but it seems like it's going to be a lot bigger and there's more outside bands playing it and more opportunities for local bands. So it becomes an aspirational thing for local bands to play alongside someone like Maximo Park.”

Projects like Headstock and Split Festival aren't the only ones putting the community before profit ethos back into the UK music festival scene. Bingley Music Festival and Bristol Harbour Music Festival are two other events built and designed by and for local people. The new fashion for communities, civic organisations and individuals to take the initiative to create music events like Headstock can only benefit towns, villages and even cities in this most uncertain of economic times. Newstead may still be recovering from the last recession but it's hoping Headstock will be the village's ticket out of the current fiscal woes and future-proofing the village for what's to come.

Jules may be humble and unassuming to speak to but her outlook for Headstock is anything but modest. “If we had more time we would definitely had done a weekend event this year, that's definitely the grand vision. We have a lovely 220 acre site, so we've got room to expand.” With a wry laugh Jules declares, “Even Glastonbury started somewhere!”

Frightened Rabbit
were one of the last bands to be confirmed for the Headstock bill and lead singer Scott Hutchinson is looking forward to the festival and the sense of closure it brings the band, “It's been a great festival season for us, but we're really looking forward to this one because it's officially the last one of the summer for us. I think it will be a good end to the summer.”

“We've actually played on the same bill as Ash a couple of times over the summer and met a couple of the band so we're looking forward to seeing them again.”
Scott says as he reflects on Frightened Rabbit's last show before the band go on a long road trip, touring from October until the end of the year when they'll play Belle and Sebastian's curated ATP.

Headstock will also be one of Field Music's last festivals of the year Peter Brewis reveals to VF, “We go into gig retirement in December, semi-retirement at least... just to be in the house for a bit, set up a new studio and write some new music.”

Peter admits he will have one eye on the time when Field Music play the main stage this week though, “Penguin Cafe Orchestra are one of my favourite bands, they've just released some of my favourite records... they play right after us on a different stage so I think we're going to just play and pop over to the other stage.”

Tickets for Headstock Festival 2010 in Newstead, Nottinghamshire are still available priced at £30 for adults and £12.50 for concessions, with camping tickets available for £5.

Click here to buy Headstock Festival tickets.

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