Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Interview with GizzardFest organiser Chris Hardwick

Saturday November 24th sees GizzardFest taking place at the Trades Club in Rotherham with an outstanding lineup consisting of twenty great metal bands over the course of the day. It's a great thing for the local metal scene, right on our doorstep so it's one I've been more than happy to support. With that in mind, I spoke recently to Chris Hardwick, the man behind GizzardFest to get some insight into the festival and find out what goes on behind the scenes with an event such as this. Here's what he had to say......

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for taking part in this interview, I’d like to ask first what made you decide to start up GizzardFest to begin with?

No problem Paul. I appreciate you wanting to speak to me about GizzardFest, it's people like yourself giving me a platform to speak about the show which has really let it to grow, so I figure I owe you a thank you.

As for GizzardFest it was conceived by a local Rotherham promoter called Daniel Brown - he wanted some help doing a larger all-day show. Rotherham has the venues for these larger shows, but nobody was doing anything of the same nature as GizzardFest. Seemed a missed opportunity. This resulted in the first GizzardFest at The Cutler's Arms in Rotherham, a show which saw the Slomatics go from playing Psycho Las Vegas (a huge US festival), to then playing Rotherham, they really helped kickstart our event along with all the other bands that played - I'll be eternally very grateful to them for taking a chance on GizzardFest. It actually went surprisingly well, although I ended up being the financial risk taker for various reasons I won't bother going into, so this year was more me wondering if I could make the show larger pulling on the experience of the first one.

So far this definitely looks like it's going to be the case.

What’s the general vibe you’re aiming for with GizzardFest, are there any particular kinds of bands you look for?

It's a celebration of good heavy music played by some really awesome bands, who I believe all have amazing potential to go further than they already have. And some of these guys have gone far already, take Kurokuma the small stage headliner, they've done a European tour this year and toured Japan with Conan as well as releasing "Dope Rider", there are great things in their future I'm sure. 

Any of the bands that are on the bill are there because I personally dig what they're doing, there's no hierarchy to any of it. I've been to see every band on the bill with the exception of Geomancer, who I basically booked from the strength of their last LP, and their connection with Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings. I've aimed to represent every region of the UK to the best of my ability, but alas - I've missed many great bands, and not everywhere is being represented sadly.

Throw in the festival headliner Sunnata, from Poland and I think it makes for a particularly special event.

Is there a team of people involved with putting this on, or is it mostly just yourself?

Out in front it's just myself and Chris Bingham (from Psython) - I'm the more vocal party, but it's still involves the core team from the first GizzardFest in various different roles. My brother, James, he deals with the stage management (something he did professionally for years, but now it's his idea of fun) but he also helps me get places I need to be when I have had to travel. Richard Sayles who was the photographer last year is returning to take some snaps of the show, and new people have been pulled in like Danny T who's been responsible for the poster artwork, and Daniel Brown has a few contributions that he's working on also which hopefully will come to fruition, he's also contributed some great promotional ideas during conversations.

This year has also added The Trades staff, Richard, Mark, Sylwia and James have all been very helpful across the board in helping pull the event together. Which is great - as I'm getting to work with the number one venue in Rotherham, The Trades. It goes larger than that though, the general Rotherham community has been behind it - Riverside Records, and how could I forget The Bridge Inn which is situated next door to The Trades... I've done some interviews there, and they let me hang posters inside. It's this kind of support and cooperation within Rotherham which hopefully will serve the event well. People are behind it, and hopefully everyone will benefit.

What are the biggest challenges you face in organising an event like GizzardFest?

It's all about planning ahead, a lot of work goes in beforehand so that the day is a breeze. Lots of folks will just ad hoc on the day, which is fine for a small numbered bill, but would be chaos for an event like this. Everything is meticulously planned and communicating with that many people can be a hell of a challenge.

Everyone’s been great though this year, especially the bands who have been more than happy to help me with my requests.

Which aspects of organising this event have you most enjoyed so far?

Actually - watching so many of the bands perform through the year, getting to know different members of the bands, and seeing some of those bands achieve amazing things. Hundred Year Old Man for example are just on fire, they couldn't have had a bigger year. They've still had time for me though, and that says a lot about the characters in that band. Same could be said about loads of bands on the bill - there's been little to no ego at all, and everyone is helpful - and that's a massive credit to the people in all the bands.

It's just as much the bands event also, they've been ace, every last one of them.

How easy, or difficult is it getting such a large and diverse line-up together for a one day event? Has it been easy getting the bands you wanted on board for GizzardFest?

Other than the fact I knew some of the line-up would inevitably change it's much easier to put together than you'd think. It's a matter of asking what bands need and making decisions based upon their requirements. I had a lot of the bands shortlisted after last year’s events for several reasons.
Sunnata was always going to be my first pick as the main headliner, so in many respects I organised everything from the date to suit their needs, and that seems to have worked out well.

Which bands on the line-up are you particularly looking forward to seeing yourself?

Genuinely, all off them. I've seen some of the bands several times this year, hell Witch Tripper are pushing towards double figures. Though if you were to say which do I think will be the most exceptional sets? I'd probably go with Sunnata & VOW for different reasons.

Sunnata are just that damn good as a band, and they've worked hard for it. VOW, well that's just the gear geek in me - a massive wall of amplification that you won't see at any other event like this and I think that alone will be quite spectacular, and super loud.

Though I know everyone performing on the day is going to bring their 'A' game. It's gunna be great.

Was it easy to find a suitable venue to host the event?

It could have been - but the Trades was there, and they're definitely wanting to break out of the Rotherham cover band cliché - and I'm more than happy to do my bit to help them. Let's just say that the Cutlers really wasn't the right venue for the event to continue to grow.

You’re charging just £10 for twenty bands, which is incredible value, but how do you go about covering your costs and ensuring everything and everyone is paid when you’ve got a line-up like this for a very low admission price?

I genuinely expect people to turn up - it's a good price for locals, and making the entry price good value is an incentive to people travelling to Rotherham for the show. I added up what I thought the average cost of the all day event like this would be to people, and going higher would be more likely to send people to other shows on the same date (24th November is a highly competitive date), or put them off altogether. Failing that I'll end up making a loss... Which sucks, and effects any future events but it's worth the risk to get people on board with the idea of an event like this. All the bands will get paid regardless, and they're due to be paid in line with how successful the event is.

The core GizzardFest team are basically doing this for the greater glory of Rotherham. We all want to turn the reputation of our town around, and we're willing to put the effort in to achieve this. We won't get anything, it all goes to the bands.

Has there been much interest so far with pre-sales?

Enough that I'm managing to sleep at night, but not so much that people shouldn't get out there and buy themselves a ticket. The numbers are in the realms of our initial projections and expectations, but there is always a massive run on tickets in the final weeks. The potential for actually selling out the event is always there, and ever increasing by the day, that said it's a huge venue with a massive capacity, so we'll just have to see.

How do you find the scene in Rotherham generally, is there a demand for metal shows there?

The Rotherham scene is weird, there are far too many cover band events that I just can't bring myself to care about.

I don't want that to be the future of music in Rotherham, or hell even the UK to become cover acts - I see too much of it, that's not to say that cover bands don't offer something. There's a space for it sure, but it shouldn't be all there is.

As for demand - I think it's there, but more expected to happen in Sheffield (which is does). If metal is going to keep going strong it needs events like GizzardFest and for people to take a shot on it and support it.

Have you put on any other events aside from GizzardFest, and would you consider doing it if GizzardFest goes well? 

Nope. It's not really a desire of mine. I fell into doing promotion. I have some idea's as to what I may execute in the future, but nothing set in stone. 

Where do you realistically see GizzardFest heading in the future, and what would you most like to happen both short and long term?

In some ways, if people want this kind of event - it'll get the support from music fans. That kind of thing will secure a more long-term future for the event... That said, I'm unlikely to do this again if the loss is so great because the demand isn't there. It's really about that for me.

I think the demand is there, so I'm taking the risk - and have built the best line-up I can. Some of the credentials these bands have, we're talking mainstream metal music press thinking very highly of these acts, couple that with the sheer talent on display - I feel it's fair to be certain anyone attending is going to come away with in the very least 3 new favourite acts, there's just so many rising stars performing. It'll be a day to remember for all that attend.

Long term, I'll only ever go bigger with GizzardFest. What does that mean? That means more larger international acts, and more larger UK acts. That'd be the long-term goal for me.

Which bands would you most like to have playing the festival in future, if you did this again?

Hmmmm... This is a tricky one. I've joked about booking Fu Manchu in the past, which to be honest isn't a completely stupid proposition. That said there's usually all kinds of exclusivity deals that are made which could preclude such a possibility from ever occurring. I have a list of really solid acts I'd love to work with, 1000Mods or Stoned Jesus would be a good one... In fact, Stoned Jesus could be perfect considering seeing those guys play to 50/60 people in Warsaw, Poland was what started me on this journey.

I'm keen to say this, I would want to book an Irish band, a Polish band and something else International if I was going to do a third GizzardFest.

Is there anything you’d do differently in future years, having had the experience of doing this so far this year?

I'm not sure if I'd do the band video interviews again, I'm really uncertain if they've paid off - it's been quite costly. 

I really don't know if that money and time would have served the event better by being placed elsewhere... As fun as they've all been to do mind. I always have a desire to do more, perhaps do a better job with the interviews. I really don't know, I've done so much more this year to push the event that I'm fresh out of ideas at this time.

The only thing I do know for sure is that GizzardFest will always take place in Rotherham.

Finally, I’d like to thank you once again for taking part in this interview, is there anything else you’d like to say or add before we finish?

No problem Paul, it's been my pleasure. Turn off X-Factor or whatever TV garbage you're watching, log off Facebook, and come to GizzardFest on November 24th, it's a tenner for great entertainment between 1pm -> 2am.