Class Acts and Comedy at the Cornbury Music Festival
"Poshstock is better than S**tstock!"
Since Cornbury Music Festival started in 2003, there have been some ups and downs, a major change in location and an endless stream of top line-ups.
OX magazine went along to meet the man behind the music, Hugh Phillimore.
So you have got Tom Jones at last?
We have! It’s been a long negotiation. We thought we had him last year and it turned out we didn’t. So we just kept on at it and finally got there.
But it’s been a long process. I think probably one of the longest negotiations we have been through in 12 years! Since he has been on The Voice, I think the profile of his fans has become very eclectic. There are not a lot of artists of his age who are known by six year olds.
And you also have Martha Reeves as well?
We do, yes. I don’t normally take ideas from other festivals, but the Martha Reeves idea came from Secret Garden Party. She is the only act that they have ever booked twice because not only was she great, but her entourage were just the nicest people they had ever worked with.
So it has been 12 years now and Cornbury Music Festival definitely has the label of a posh festival. Was this what you set out to do?
Not really. I think we designed a festival that we would like to go to, so we make sure that it has nice facilities and that it’s well run. We started very early on with a members club which then became a VIP area. I mean, it is one of the few festivals where, for want of a better description, you can travel ‘club class’ so you can ‘go through the door and turn left’ so to speak.
When the Poshstock nickname came along I was pretty appalled, but then I rationalised it on the basis that Poshstock is better than S**tstock!
I mean, actually it’s not true to say it is an ‘exclusive’ event because we have got a hardcore of about two or three thousand who buy the early bird tickets and get 25% off which means that it is accessible to a lot of people. So it is not completely out of the question for most families and each event has a lovely feel to it. We have the lowest policing bill of any festival in the UK and I love the fact that all the lost wallets seem to be handed in with all the money still in them.
Cornbury Music Festival isn’t just about the music though is it? There are also projects all around the area that are funded by the weekend.
Well we raise about three to five grand each year from various activities and some of the projects we help support, like Charlbury pre-school, are still with us in year 12.
But it’s not just from donations at the weekend. For example, last year we had a call from a mother whose daughter contracted meningitis and had to have her legs and arms amputated. They wanted to hold a little village fete in their garden and ask the neighbours in the village round and they wanted a package to auction. So obviously we gave them the best possible ticket package and rather amazingly they got £8000 for it at the auction! The whole thing raised a lot of money and they were able to buy blades for her daughter’s legs.
How about your green credentials as well? Is it hard to keep the festival eco-friendly?
Well we always try to hit our recycling targets and I think we are doing a good job with that. Obviously there is always more to do. We have also won a bronze award for our disabled facilities and we were only just off the silver, which we are hoping to get this year. So you know, there is so much still to do.
Ticket sales always seem to be strong. Do you ever panic if sales are a bit low?
The main thing is the festival turns a small profit, that it can survive. Most festivals are operated on a knife edge, even Glastonbury. If you lose 1000 ticket sales one year then that’s £100,000 so you have to be really careful.
We try not to look at the ticket sales every day. We look just once a week and we try various different things as the market is very competitive. As far as we are concerned, if we get to 40 thousand punters, then that’s fine with us. We aren’t greedy and that would cover our costs and make a small profit because it is a very expensive thing to stage. So that’s really what we are looking for.
As QI was ‘invented’ in the area, comedy has always been an important part of the festival. What sort of line-up do you have this year?
There is a great link with comedy because QI was basically invented in the pub down the road and this year, we are very happy to be working with two ladies that we met recently who are comedy promoters . They have booked us an amazing line-up. Kathryn Ryan is great. Aisling Bea is brilliant. Another thing I am really excited about is having John Cooper Clarke in the line-up. We have been talking to him for a while now and it is nice to finally have him.
The poetry is something that in time I would love to develop. I’m desperate to book Pam Ayres as well! But you know, it’s all those kind of things that I think we should be doing, good family stuff. I think having a bit of a sense of humour is important as well. I think we’ve got a good cross section of stuff which is kind of fun really.
Joining Tom Jones, Martha Reeves and the all-star comedy line-up are Razorlight, The Fratellis, Chas and Dave, Billy Ocean, Blue as well as loads of top quality food stalls, a fairground and of course amazing VIP areas and glamping.
To see the full line-up and to buy tickets, visit cornburyfestival.com
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