INTERVIEW: John Fell – Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17

John Fell - Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

Words by Damien Russell / Pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe

Feeling like a lazy Sunday afternoon despite being a Monday (thank you Bank Holiday), sitting in the shade at Eastside Park has got something of a ‘last day of a festival’ feel.

Convenient really as I’ve braved exhaustion and headed out to into the sun to see a man about a festival. That man is John Fell and the festival is, of course, Beyond The Tracks.

I say ‘of course’ but given that Beyond The Tracks (for those who have missed the promo so far) is the newest addition to the Moseley Folk portfolio, it may not be as clear cut as that. This new city-centre, three day event  is nestled comfortably alongside the Moseley Folk Festival itself, the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival, and the Lunar Festival, all under the Moseley Folk banner.

And John Fell is, “kind of Festival Manager, really, so to be honest I do a lot things from booking the line-up to the marketing, to the press, the finances, I get involved with a little bit of kind of planning the site and things like that. All the staffing. So, it’s a lot there really.” If he does say so himself. And I agree, it is a lot; they’re big events with stellar line-ups and not exactly spread out in either area or through the year.

Curious about this, I ask about the rest of the team. “Well, there’s me, full time, and then there’s two directors (Gerv Havill, Carl Phillips) that are kind of more part time on the festivals. They’ve got their other businesses. And we’ve just taken on a new member of staff as well and she’s become a kind of Festival Assistant, so it’s slowly growing but it’s not a big team for all the things we do really”, Fell explains.

John Fell - Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham ReviewNot a big team at all. And with a variety of other events as well as the festivals, it must be a lot to take on. John Fell is a collected man and while he will admit that focusing on so much is “quite difficult”, he quickly adds, “I’ve always been quite good at that really. I’ve always… I don’t sit still very often”. I’m glad we got him pinned down for half an hour to talk to us.

So how did it all begin? And how did it become Beyond The Tracks? “When I joined we’d just created Goodnight Lenin”, Fell says, taking us back to both the start of his band (recently announced to be on hiatus) and his time with Moseley Folk, “and JJ from the band asked me to go round and come and play music at 3 o’clock in the morning because they’d been up all night drinking. Normally I would never do it, not if I hadn’t been out already, and I thought ‘you know what, fine, I’ll go round’. If he wants to play music, I’ll do it, whatever time of day”. And a 3am video became Goodnight Lenin’s application to play Moseley Folk Festival. “Carl who ran the festival rang us up and said ‘I wanna come and see you play’ and he wanted to manage the band and put us as headlining the second stage, the Lunar stage” Fell expands, describing an opportunity most bands would do something their mothers would disapprove of, to get.

It isn’t surprising but it is good to be reminded that Moseley Folk (both festival and company) have always been committed to local talent. And actively looking for it has “always been an ethos of ours, to support that and provide a platform for that. Which is quite cool”. And not just at the festivals. They “do loads of cool shows throughout the year… and because that’s not really our… job, I guess, our festivals are where we kind of scrape our salaries… we can book who we want. We’re not pressured to book gigs, we don’t just put gigs on for the sake of it; we can book who we want”.

An envious place to be. And a powerful place. Free from the constraints of popularity and to a certain extent cost, Moseley Folk remind me of the record companies of old – able to take risks and trail-blaze if they wish, whilst hosting the type of gigs many bands dream of getting to play at.

With such an open opportunity for booking talent, I wonder how the Beyond The Tracks lineup was approached. The answer lies in being different to the other festivals in the Moseley Folk portfolio, “with Folk and Jazz, Lunar’s a bit more psychedelic… we wanted to essentially make three different gigs. I mean, originally we didn’t put weekend tickets on sale because we didn’t think there would be that much demand. Essentially it was an electronic night, an indie night and, I guess, like a post-punk, shoegaze kind of Sunday, which is cool”.John Fell - Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham Review

Planning, then combining, three different gigs sounds like an unusual way to approach a festival, but less so when originally it was “going to be an Ocean Colour Scene gig with, you know, Maximo Park or whoever, and it grew into a festival which is, you know…”, John Fell leaves me to offer the rather clichéd ‘really cool’ but charitably goes with it. “It is really cool. So the whole thing has just been, like, a really natural progression”.

Choosing this site, currently just open grass and quiet couples, was also natural progression; John Fell takes us back to 22nd January 2016, and to the 20th anniversary shows of Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals in Moseley Park. “And that was just incredible”, Fell says, and shortly after those shows “we were just sat outside the pub, the Eagle and Tun, and looking at this space and were like ‘why have we not done a festival here?’ Or at least a gig here” so they decide they should and went full on for Beyond The Tracks.

And what a festival it’s pitched to be. “It’s Birmingham’s, you know, I guess biggest inner city, kind of ‘band festival”, in John Fell’s words. “Obviously you’ve got things like MADE which are doing incredibly at The Rainbow and a lot of other events going on” he continues, “I suppose it’s not like a Great Escape but that kind of inner city festival, Tramlines in Sheffield, that kind of thing. And we thought for the first year we should really celebrate Birmingham music. We already had Ocean Colour Scene; Editors have got strong Birmingham links. So then we just go ‘right, okay, we want to support other bands’ so, you know: Superfood, Jaws, Victories at Sea, Dorcha, Table Scraps. We just added Hoopla Blue and Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam, there’s so many bands… The Leftfield guys are coming to DJ, Magic Door guys coming to DJ… So it’s a bit of a Birmingham love-in really. It’s gonna be really cool.”

And speaking of Hoopla Blue… I ask John about the sad news that Goodnight Lenin wouldn’t be playing and would be replaced by, you guessed it, “Hoopla Blue. Yeah, we wanted it to be a local band and Hoopla – great band – they just jumped on it straight away. It is a shame but it just felt right to end Goodnight Lenin with Liam rather than playing another show, it didn’t quite make sense”. I don’t ask about the conflict of interest in booking a band you play with; if John Fell began working for Moseley Folk through Goodnight Lenin, it stands to reason Goodnight Lenin would still be one of Moseley Folk’s regular artists.

John Fell - Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17 / Eleanor Sutcliffe - Birmingham ReviewThere’s certainly plenty of Birmingham music at Beyond The Tracks, possibly more Birmingham on the stage than in the audience at times, as to my surprise, “Friday night’s about 40 percent people coming from outside the Midlands. Which is pretty incredible. It’s very similar numbers to the Jazz and Folk, to be honest with you, it’s like, high 30’s from outside the Midlands. Saturday here with Ocean Colour Scene and The Twang, is obviously more localised but it’s still a good 25 percent from outside the Midlands and Sunday as well is about 30, high 30’s. So, we are actually bringing people in,” and in saying so Fell sounds proud. And I believe he is, proud of what Birmingham has to offer and proud to be a part of it.

And not without merit either; four major festivals are not organised through hope alone, that kind of work needs vision. The vision that Beyond The Tracks is “what Birmingham needs really just to kind of give it that other, kind of, star next to its name of what we have here to offer”. The drive to “bring people to Birmingham and actually show them what we do”. And the eye on the future looking to “see what else we can do for the city now”.

But with the rise of Beyond The Tracks, we’ve seen the fall of the Lunar Festival; this yearly switch looks set to continue, as the original three year access to the Beyond The Tracks site has been scuppered by the HS2 development. “We are bringing Lunar back next year and then… we don’t have the land for this (Beyond The Tracks) next year”, Fell explains, taking me a little by surprise. “We were told two years, we could have it… three years we could have it and HS2 is being built on this land. So they’re acquiring the land. So it might be the case that we maybe have a year off Beyond The Tracks, bring Lunar back. We’ve been refining that (Lunar Festival) so we’re quite excited to bring that back. Erm, and then, you know, hopefully we can bring Beyond The Tracks back the year after, maybe”.

Maybe, maybe not; there is always the fear that “it’s four festivals. You do start eating into your own audience as well. People only have so much money”. So maybe one on, one off could be on the cards. Or maybe it’s just a one-off.

Either way, when you think that “Friday night’s going to be crazy with Leftfield and Orbital and the light show they’ve got, here, in the city centre on a Friday night”, then the local focus lineup on Saturday and Sunday, with “Fairground Rides in the middle… a Ferris wheel and everything” it’s hard not to get a building sense of excitement.

And as I walk back across the site toward The Woodman pub, thinking to myself ‘stage there, fairground there, bar somewhere here…’ it’s also hard to disagree with John Fell when he shares the sentiment, “It’s gonna be quite cool. I mean it’s gonna be phenomenal, you know. It’s costing the world, really, so it should be…. But yeah, it gonna be cool, man”. Cool indeed. Phenomenal sounds about right too; I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Beyond The Tracks comes to Eastside Park in Birmingham City Centre, running 15th to 17th September. Tickets for this event are £54.45 for individual day tickets, £145 for a weekend pass, with a host of after parties after each day. 

For more on Beyond The Tracks, including full festival details and online ticket sales, visit www.beyondthetracks.org

BPREVIEW: Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17

BPREVIEW: Beyond the Tracks @ Eastside Park 15-17.09.17

Words by Damien Russell & Paul Gallear

Birmingham’s Beyond the Tracks festival is set to take over the Eastside City Park, outside Millennium Point, from the 15th to the 17th of September.

This new three day addition to the Birmingham festival scene has a stellar line-up and caters for an eclectic audience incorporating rock, britpop, dance, electronica and more. And it’s not just music that’s on offer, the festival website boasts a ‘great selection of gourmet caterers to suit all tastes and appetites’ as well as ‘a choice of well stocked and well staffed bars’ which, while not essential for the festival experience, will certainly be reassuring for some (me included).

Beyond the Tracks is one of the biggest city centre festivals this year and although there’s no camping, being just five minutes from Moor Street Station the transport access is good enough to take away the sting of the daily ‘commute’. For direct festival info, including more about getting on and off site, click here. For information and online bookings for all Birmingham city centre stations (Moor Street, New Street and Snow Hill) click here to visit Trainline.com

On Friday 15th September the gates will open at 14:00 and this is definitely your day if you like electronic music. Orbital, reunited and with a new track released this February, are the headliners – with Leftfield performing their 1995 album Leftism in full as part of their anniversary tour. There will be a DJ set BPREVIEW: Leftfield @ Beyond the Tracks - Friday 15th Septemberfrom electronica stalwarts Faithless, with Australia’s Jagwar Ma also providing a touch of psychedelia to the Friday night bill.

Beyond the Tracks opening night also sees the return of the Higher Intelligence Agency (HIA) to our city’s soundsytems, who will no doubt bring the old ambient/Oscillate crowd out from under whatever chamomile flavoured rock of lost serotonin they are currently resting – Birmingham Review’s editor included. HIA are also hosting an unofficial after party at Centrala on Friday night, for direct info click here.

On Saturday and Sunday the gates open at midday, with both days set to have a more rock-based line up. There are also a number of notable local names across the weekend, including Saturday’s headliners – britpop veterans Ocean Colour Scene.

Saturday daytime the event openers are Penkridge based indie-rockers Sugarthief, who have had an impressive festival run this year including Y Not and Kendal Calling. They are followed by ‘experimental’ Birmingham band Health & Efficiency who make me think of what indie would sound like if it were invented in the 80’s. Noise punk fuzz merchants Table Scraps are up next, who recently spoke to our own Ed King at their recent double a-side launch with Black Mekon at the Hare & Hounds – click here for the Birmingham Review of the gig, alongside links to the full interview.

BPREVIEW: Table Scraps @ Beyond the Tracks - Saturday 16th SeptemberAlso performing across the Saturday programme are The Americas, with their driving up-tempo rock (reminiscent of Tom Petty) describing themselves as ‘music to ride a motorbike to’. Then there’s Midlands based artfully crafted classic college-rock quartet Superfood and B-Town indie-pop rockers Jaws, both coming back to Birmingham after some significant success outside the city walls. The Twang, who are celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their debut album Love It When I Feel Like This, Maxïmo Park – touring following the release or their 2017 album Rick To Exist – and The Coral complete an indie side to the day’s line-up. To read Damien Russell’s Birmingham Review of Risk To Exist, click here.

For those still craving more following all that, there is an after party running from 23:00 to 03:00 at the O2 Institute featuring a DJ set from Maxïmo Park, Blast Off DJs and Dave Southam of Snobs – click here for more details or check out the banner ad below.

For those not exhausted by the previous two days partying, Sunday is a more eclectic line-up with artists such as Scottish 80’s alternative rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain – touring their new album Damage and Joy, Reading’s shoegaze rockers Slowdive – promoting their eponymous album (the first for twenty-two years) and Birmingham’s own Editors bringing the proceedings to a close.

Beyond the TracksBPREVIEW: Slowdive @ Beyond the Tracks - Sunday 17th September‘ final day will be opened by Dorcha – ‘a five piece Birmingham band of synths, strings, electronics and heavy beats led by composer Anna Palmer’. Then throughout Sunday we will see sets from Victories at Sea – described by The Guardian as ‘dolorous indie disco with a fresh spin’, Goodnight Lenin – who have recently announced they are recording their second album, and psychedelic industrial rockers BLACKASH.

I think it would be fair to say that there is something for everyone on the Beyond the Tracks bill and seeing big national names with current tours/releases lined up side by side with solid local acts is a pleasure. The organisers seem to have considered every act and made sure they all have a connection to the area or to the 2017 music scene – an attention to detail that bodes well for the wider event.

Speaking of the wider event, while information is a little sparse the promotional video for the festival (link below) goes into a little more about what non-music elements we can expect. There is the promise of ‘fine ales, imported lagers, craft beers, scrumpy cider shack, quality cocktails and fine wines & fizz’ for the drinkers, alongside the aforementioned ‘gourmet street food & snacks’ to soak it all up with and and keep you going.

Then for those moments when the music has got a bit too much, we have some ‘cabaret side shows and walkabouts’ for the grown ups. Not a lot on the programme for children though, with the Beyond the Tracks organsisers issuing the following statement:

‘The event is aimed at an adult audience. There will not be any specific children’s entertainment on site with the focus primarily on the music itself. That said, we are keen not to exclude anyone from the event so have not set an arbitrary age limit for this year. However, all persons do require a full ticket for the event regardless of age’.

But seriously, who under the age of… is going to be losing it to Orbital or The Jesus and Mary Train? Also worth noting Beyond the Tracks has a no re-entry policy and once you’re in, you’re in. Although with a line-up like this I can’t see why anyone would possibly want to be ‘out’.

Beyond the Tracks 2017 – Official Trailer

Tickets for this event are £54.45 for individual day tickets, £145 for a weekend pass, and £11 for the Saturday night after party at the O2 Institute. 

For more on Beyond the Tracks, including full festival details and online ticket sales, visit www.beyondthetracks.org

BPREVIEW: Beyond the Tracks - after party @ O2 Institute 16..09.17