There was a time when going to a festival inevitably meant travelling out of Wales. Not so in 2017. It is now possible to spend almost the entire summer in a field listening to quality music surrounded by friends and never needing to cross the Severn Bridge.
And with Wales being what it is, many of the festivals find themselves comfortably nestled into sites that provide stunning backdrops. The picturesque Pembrokeshire coast, the surreal Italian village of Portmeirion and the majestic mountains of Mid Wales are just some of the settings for a summer of discos in tents.
Landed Festival, set in the grounds of Doldowlod House, just south of Rhayader in Mid Wales, is one such spectacular setting. And what’s more, it is incredibly friendly, reasonably priced and has an awesome vibe.
This year’s line up includes headline acts Captain Ska, Roughneck Riot and the Defekters, alongside the likes of Headgames, Lonesome Stampede The Chalk Outlines, Lacertillia and Cosmo.
Taking place between 18th and 20th August 2017, despite competing with some pretty heavyweight festivals that weekend, it has probably the best line up of the weekend, almost certainly one of the best locations and is definitley the best value for money.
Last year, the organisers took time to e-mail us some pretty detailed answers to questions we had about the festival. How could we top that this year we thought? Simples. Go and talk to them in the flesh.
Unlike many festivals, which have to hire in 80% of their infrastructure, such as fences, stages and tents, 80% of the Landed infrastructure is in the shed of Doldowlod House – and festival director Grubby has taken up residence in a cottage on the estate.
So we rocked up to Doldowlod House, ancestral home of the Gibson Watt Family, to sit down and have a natter with Gaffer Grubby, Ticket Tsar Tina and Shepard of Stewards, Bella. We sat in the kitchen, under the watchful gaze of a portrait of James Watt the First (him what invented the steam engine), drank coffee, munched on biscuits and chatted.
Landed has traditionally taken place over the Beltane weekend, late April, early May. This year it has moved to August. We started by asking why – although having attended last year we were confident we already knew.
“Snow was one factor”, Grubby kicks off. “But the main reason is that Landed started out as a test event for our equipment, but it has progressed into something else. We are happy with moving to August, although I did like the hard-core vibe to it last year; it just wasn’t good for punters”.
The conversation then breaks down into a debate about whether or not it was fun working and partying in the snow and ice. It was dropping to minus four Celsius overnight.
“There were snowmen in the arena”, Tina chips in with a big smile, “and people got frozen into their tents. As you walked around in the morning you could hear people breathing on the zips of their tents trying to defrost them”.
We can confirm this, although we did not rush to get up in the mornings. The frost formed layers on our tent thick enough to crack when the tent moved.
“Landed is made up of technical teams that work many other festivals throughout the summer”, Grubby continues, “So it worked well for us for the first seven years, holding it around Beltane. It was also easier to get acts to play for us because there were no other festivals on that early. And as we have found out this year, it is easier to advertise at other festivals, rather than telling people it had already gone”
Grubby has slowed other work down, to concentrate on Landed, but his trade lighting. “I do lighting for indoor and open air events, Jodie does Opus Sound, so he does stuff like, Beat Hearder, Bearded Theory, and Glastonbury (Glade). At the moment I tend to do the more grassroots stuff, like Blue Lagoon, Surplus, Kaya, Freerotation, and Equinox (the old Alchemy). But landed takes up a lot of my time now. Most of the crew live locally, many actually live on site here, which makes my life a lot easier.”
Whilst the hills are alive with the sound of festivals these days, Wales has not always been like this. But Mid Wales had a bit of a reputation ‘back in the day’ for free parties. Understandably the gang are a little hesitant to say too much about it but that do confirm they have all grown out of the scene.
“That’s how we know so many people form so many other festivals, we are all part of one big family”, Tina reflects.
“But it needed to change to something else, it could not go on the way it did”, Grubby reflects. “The old days are exactly that, the old days. Most of today’s festivals are much safer environments, which is good, but you can definitely tell the people that have grown out of that life style and those that have not. If you walk into a festival and it is a hired crew there to do a job, you are not seeing the festival vibe from back in the day.”
“Landed was built because I had had enough of going to events that were called festivals but they were just outdoor music concerts. I felt I had to do something, and landed was created. It was created to take things back, as closely as I could, to the old days, but keeping it within the modern way of doing things.”
“But we are completely independent, we have no backing from anyone, because commercialisation just kills the spirit. You won’t find huge fences with barbed wire and massive security here. We take the hit if it goes wrong. But that is how we manage to get the proper vibe and feel to the festival. I’m glad we have no money because money corrupts.”
“Things develop over the years, we started out with the free festivals, then there was the rave scene and things just keep changing”.
“There has been a commodification of festivals”, Tina thinks out loud, pondering on the whole philosophy of festivals. “But landed is the antidote to all of that”.
“Festival organisers have figured out that that they can refine the market. For instance, Freerotation (electronic dance festival in Hay on Wye) appeals to a very specific market and people will travel from all over because they are coming for individuality. Whereas events like Landed have a more general appeal. There are so many different variants on what you can do. Different people are into different festivals and the more music diverges, which it does all the time, the more variants of type of festival spring up.”
The conversation wanders for a bit, as everyone ponders on the philosophy of festivals, so we try to focus the discussion by asking how this festival found itself in the grounds of Doldowlod House.
“I’ve lived in this area all of my life”, Grubby informs us. “I sort of knew the Gibson Watt family, well, I knew their son Luke. He does geo-domes at festivals, and I spent a few years touring other festivals with him. Eventually we came up with the idea of Landed. We spent the first year – well, eight weeks – planning it and putting it together. During that eight weeks we came up with the plan to hold it here and after that first event I moved in and have been here ever since”.
But it’s all just a growing family, many of the crew live on the estate and the family is as much part of this event as we are. They will do anything to help us out. They are astronomically friendly people. And you will find them down by the stage, or in the dance tent or at the bar. They love it.”
“There are no events inside the house but it will be full of family and friends. We have a 97 year old gent coming this year, so he will be in a bed here rather than a tent. They let me use the house to project lasers out of the window and I use the house as a backdrop and paint it with lights. The house and family are fully integrated. I do some gardening around here and such like, we are here all year round. Doldowlod house is part of the festival and the festival is part of Doldowlod – unlike most other festivals where the venue is just a venue and the event is just another event”.
This is just the latest chapter in the story of Grubby Welsh. “I started out when I was twelve years old and I built my first lighting rig with car headlights and batteries for the local community play. I ran youth theatres as a twelve, thirteen year old, I was a bit of a loose cannon and the teachers were happy that I was doing something else. I went to college doing lighting engineering, then we set up a theatre groups called Hack and Slaughter Associates doing gothic horror and I did the special effects”.
“Then I moved to London and did the lighting for Starlight Light and Design, which meant I was doing the lighting awards ceremonies and that sort of thing. Then I came home to start something fresh. I’m still back and forth London doing rigging and green screening and lighting.”
Grubby also did the lighting recently for a benefit gig for the victims of the Grenfel Tower Tragedy. “It was extremely emotional, but it was nice to put a few smiles on faces. It is appalling to hear of some of the atrocities that happened, because nothing is being spoken of. I’m happy to drive from here to anywhere in the country to do gigs like that”.
Talk comes back around to Landed. “We have two new stages this year”, Grubby confirms. “We have sort of merged with some really lovely people that run another festival (The Magical Crew from Aberystwyth) we work with, They have taken over the Spiney area of the site. They have a dance area, a live stage, fire breathing dragon sculptures and a fancy dress stall as well. I think they have some sort of theme going but they have not told me yet”.
“For once we have not changed the layout of the site. That will be the first time in seven years I’ve not moved everything around. We have a ‘food court’ this year. There will be entertainment in that area so you will be kept happy whilst at the bar or eating. Also this year we are staggering things. For instance the mainstage will be used for children’s activity before turning into a stage at six o’clock at night. So during the day we will be concentrating on stuff like the poetry stage and all the beautiful stuff happening down by the river (the legendary river Wye runs through the site)” Mmmm. This does not really sound like they have ‘not changed the layout of the site’.
With the core crew all living near each other, Landed is never far from the topic of conversation. “With the move to August, I thought that it would be a doddle, cos we usually have it all planned and prepared by May, so I thought it would all be sorted by now, but no, it don’t work like that. We are still running around like headless chickens, but everything is going to plan”.
With the reputation of the festival growing over the years we wonder if they have to go looking for bands or if bands come looking for them these days.
“I snipe some bands”, Grubby confesses. “When I saw Captain Ska’s new video I knew I had to have them so got chatting with them. They were really friendly and agreed straight away. I am so chuffed to have them on the bill. Especially as they only have a few gigs lined up this year, cos they are not really a band, they are a group of session musicians. But I like what they do, I like what they say and I like the way they say it. I booked them five days before the election and we did have a discussion about whether they would still be relevant in August, because some of their songs are bound to specific events and people, but I simply said I don’t care, I just love them and I want them.”
“Other than that we get mountains of applications, in excess of four or five hundred applications from bands that want to play. The first year we literally advertised on Gumtree and we have had some huge names get in touch since then. We always explain to bands that we have no money, but they want to play anyway. We make sure bands are not out of pocket and if we make money then we give them a bit more. Many of them come back and say, look we will just play for fuel, or whatever, because we are supplying them with an audience. We don’t go hunting for bands, the vast majority come to us. Although sometimes we will be working at other events and we come across things we really want. I have not got him for this year but hopefully he will come next year – but I found a guy who does gold panning with children”
There is one negative to running your own festival though. “In seven years, I’ve never been able to work my own stage, not even light it, I’m just too busy running the festival, which is gutting”.
At this point the conversation wanders off in all sorts of directions. It is clear that these guys eat, sleep and breathe Landed and this truly is a labour of love, which is becoming increasingly rare in the world of corporate festivals.
They have no money, and apart from the need to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head, they do not really seem driven by money. This is a festival put on by people who love partying in the open air, for people who love partying in the open air. A life time of doing this sort of thing means they have a massive address book full of likeminded souls and are able to do things with a bit of class.
Add to this, the fact that the gig is framed by the mountains of Mid Wales, with the River Wye running through the site, it has Doldowlod House overlooking proceedings and you have the recipe for once of the best events this summer.
To listen again to our Landed 2017 Radio Special check out the mix cloud below