"... no praise
can do justice to the superlative efforts of organiser Nick Westgarth
and his tireless team of supporters, to whom a great vote of thanks and
congratulations are owed by those of us who were lucky enough to be
Alan: Nick, where do you
Nick: Penrith, just down
the road and I lived there until I moved up to Carlisle about 5 years
Alan: So what are your
first musical memories growing up there?
Nick: I loved the Beatles
when I was very young and I remember collecting all their memorabilia.
Then I got onto Black Sabbath because at school it was either blues-rock
Alan: Did you have a
Nick: No, not at all. I
started playing drums when I was about 17 but I didnít play very long or
very well. I did a bit of roadying for bands so Iíve been associated
for a long time.
Alan: So whatís your
favourite type of music?
Nick: Well, it changes but
it was always very much pop, and then I got into rock and it was rock
for a long time. Then I went to Maryport Blues Festival, I think it was
the second one, because they had Whitesnake on albeit under a different
name. I had no interest in blues at that time but the Nimmo Brothers
absolutely blew me away. After that night I really wanted to see them
again and I found out that they were on at a little pub, The Black Bull
in Blaydon, but it was sold out, so I really pestered and pestered the
guy with the tickets and eventually he got me a ticket and I went over.
I just loved the venue and the music, they were putting on all the bands
I now know, like Connie Lush, the Night Porters, Ian Parker, Aynsley
Lister, the Nimmos, they were all on so I started going quite regularly
and got friendly with the guy who ran it, Keith Latimer. At one of the
Christmas Parties, Dave Saunders from The Producers asked me why I was
travelling so far and I said, ďThereís nowhere near where I live to see
these bandsĒ, so he said ďWell, do it yourselfĒ. I laughed but he was
really helpful and said that they would come and do a gig for me. The
first one I did was The Nimmos and then Dave Saunders and it took off
from there and Penrith was successful for 7 or 8 years.
Alan: So what was the
attraction of getting involved in organising the events, apart from not
having to travel?
Nick: I really enjoyed the
involvement with the musicians, and it was a challenge at the time and
something to try.
Alan: Looking at the
events youíve organised you must have some stories to tell?
Nick: Whenever we had Nicky
Moore at Penrith, and he was there 3 or 4 times, something happened.
This one time heíd done his first set and he came off looking really
ill, I thought he was going to have a heart attack but he insisted on
going back on and doing his second set and after that I really thought
he was having a heart attack and he promised me heíd go to the hospital,
but apparently he didnít and then two days later he collapsed in the gym
and was rushed into hospital. The next time he came he crashed his car
on the way home and broke some ribs.
Alan: What inspired you
to start the Carlisle Blues Festival?
Nick: When I was doing
Penrith I always felt that I could do a festival, and always wanted to.
No real reason other than the challenge of doing something bigger. When
I moved to Carlisle I met a guy doing a similar sort of thing here to
what I was doing in Penrith so we thought about putting a weekend
together so we put the first one on and it was quite successful. But
the guy I was doing it with, Chris, was working away a lot during the
week and I seemed to end up doing most of it, so when we thought about
doing a second one I said that I was turning away paid work in order to
organise it so Iíd need to pay myself for the time, but he decided he
was too busy and it was better for me to do it myself.
Alan: The festival has
been tremendously successful right from the start and other festival
organisers do see it as a role model. What do you think is the recipe
Nick: A lot of hard work.
Seriously, hard work and attention to detail and a lot of hours. I
wouldnít recommend it to anybody! But thereís usually nobody else to
do it so I just have to. The Festival is fighting above itís weight and
itís pretty obvious that itís doing so because thereís no financial
support and the size of the venue limits the number of people I can get
in, but I canít charge a fortune. Consequently the outlay of the
festival is too great for what the income is, so the only way I can get
around that is for me to take on every role. I donít hire accountants,
I donít hire people to produce artwork, I donít pay people to draw up
contracts, I just do everything myself as I feel thatís the only way I
can run at this level without some kind of financial backing.
Alan: Organising the
festival must be an all-round annual activity. Give us a snapshot of
the annual cycle.
Nick: Weíve just finished
the festival now so Iíve got a few weeks work pulling all the accounts
together, tracking the budget, adjusting the budgets for next year.
Alan: How do you go
about selecting the artists? You always get such a wonderful balance.
Nick: I do put a lot of
thought into it and into having the flow through the weekend. Itís
gratifying that people have started to pick up on that and comment on
how nice the flow is. Obviously I go to quite a number of other events
and see bands so I take note of who would work and where. I try to put
on a variety so thereís something for everybody, although I couldnít
possibly put on a festival whereby everybody likes every artist. But if
thereís a band that somebody doesnít quite take to then thereís still no
denying that theyíve been top quality at what they do. I almost always
try to watch the bands myself rather than just booking them based on CDs
Alan: What artists and
bands perform what, in your opinion, makes a good set?
Nick: Difficult question!
I think the good bands understand the audience and understand how to
entertain. I suppose another of my selection criteria has to be that
the band entertains, in whatever way they do it. The bands that get it
right understand how to work their way through the set. Alan Nimmo
tonight did a set that lifted the audience, then took them down, then up
again, just sheer professionalism. You get plenty of good bands, with a
good sound, but no thought of how they structure their set.
Alan: Tell me about the
stage and lighting crews at Carlisle, how did you choose them?
Nick: They go back a long
way, right back to the days at Blaydon. The guy who ran Blaydon
unfortunately had an aneurism and died very suddenly and it was at his
funeral that I met the sound guys and started talking to them about
coming over to help at the Penrith gigs. Up to that point at Penrith we
were using a small house PA, a tiny mixing desk and a guy who was very
enthusiastic but amateur running events like the Nimmo shows. God knows
how it worked, Iíd never even consider doing anything like that now, My
God, how we got away with that I do not know. So I was at the stage of
getting really good bands and realised I had to lift my game so it was
at that stage that I got Colin Rowell involved and he did quite a few
shows with me. But then he was working on a Channel 4 TV show in London
so and I hired Nigel from Workington so he did the rest at Penrith and
the Festivals until this year.
Colin has done the stage
production for me since the 2nd Festival. That was another
steep learning curve because I tried to do the stage management myself
at the first Festival and I realised very quickly that I needed a stage
manager, it just wasnít my bag. I knew Colin had done the stage
management for The Tube on TV so I got him involved which was probably
the best move I ever made for the festival. Heís an absolutely
fantastic stage manager and I just trust him completely, as I do all my
stage crew. I knew Colin had a production company but I had loyalty to
Nigel so they worked separately for a few years but this year I just
needed to consolidate it all to free me up and so asked Colin to manage
all the stage including lights, production, sound.
Alan: Tell me about a
typical festival day for you.
Nick: This year, I have
really tried to get to the Festival and hope that my work is done. Iíve
got all the right people in the right places and itís taken months of
detailed planning Ė although it didnít work quite as well as Iíd
expected! On the first day, itís up early, sorting out late tickets,
constant phone calls and emails, making sure all the right people are in
the right areas to pull it all together, making sure that all the build
is going to plan, all the bands are arriving at different times, getting
the first band on. My job on the day is just to do whatever needs
doing. Itís taken four years to get to this stage but Iím always
looking to see what can be done better.
Alan: Youíve got an army
of helpers, dedicated people who must also be working a hell of lot.
Nick: They're fantastic.
Iíve pulled the crew together over a few weeks and it needs some
explanation and training, for example explaining my spreadsheets and the
online sales system to the girls on the door, doing quite a few 'recces'
with the sound crew over in Newcastle, lots of little satellite meetings
to pull it all together.
Alan: You mentioned
earlier that you donít get any sponsorship and it must be very difficult
to do all this without any backing.
Nick: To me, if a festival
canít be self-financing then Iím not sure if it should be running. It
is a big financial risk for me, the bands arenít cheap, the sound
systems are expensive, so it does irritate me a bit when I see festivals
pulling out or gigs being cancelled because of ticket sales. Iíve never
sat back and expected people to just buy. If youíre a promoter, youíve
got to promote, not just sit back and wait.
Alan: Thereís a lot of
government support for blues festivals in Europe but there doesnít seem
to be much in the UK.
Nick: No, there isnít and,
of course now they are cutting budgets for Arts. But I still think that
if people are putting something on and they canít sell tickets then they
either arenít promoting it or there isnít a market for it. Itís pretty
fundamental stuff really.
Alan: The 6th
Carlisle Blues Festival in 2012. Can we book it in our diaries now?
Nick: I donít know, I just
donít know. Itís a good festival, itís a good product, I know it is but
itís a small festival with only 400 people to fill the room and this
year I didnít sell all the tickets on Friday or Sunday. So I have to
sit back and wonder why. Is it on the decline? Are the bands Iím
putting on not good enough? Okay, so we have an economic decline as
well but at the end of the day I have to reflect and think about next
year. It takes 11 months of my life and I need to sell 400 tickets.
That's the reality. People always say they really enjoy it but I need
them to come in bigger numbers.
Alan: All I can say is, it
was a fantastic festival and I know everybody who was here
enjoyed it and I really hope we get the 6th festival Thank
you for all your hard work Nick.
Nick: Thank you very
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