Peter Cowap Music Festival 2010
An interview with co-organiser Danny Hardman
How did the idea of the festival come about?
In 2004 we had a blue plaque dedicated to legendary guitarist Peter Cowap in the Old Boars Head and from that an annual concert was established, the Dusting of the Plaque. The day was very successful and drew a large and loyal crowd but it was evident within the first two or three years that we had problems with the size of the venue, some of the people, who had travelled a long way to attend, could not get in to watch the bands. We tried various options to increase the capacity but it was physically impossible to meet the demand. With the audience growing year by year a move to a bigger venue was inevitable.
The blue plaque is a permanent fixture in the Boars Head and deservedly so it doesn’t only represent Peter but all the musicians that met there regularly throughout the sixties. When the move was decided on we didn’t want to lose the relevance to Peter and naming the festival after him seemed an obvious answer.
Was it an easy decision to change venues?
Certainly not, at the ‘Boars’ the small rooms, receptive audience and irreverent banter created a wonderful atmosphere, which was all part of the appeal. Although the small rooms did not lend themselves to the music they were ideal for friends who had not seen each other for years to catch up on old times. We had six very happy years at the Old Boars Head and the risk of losing the atmosphere was a big consideration.
Was it difficult to choose and acquire the new venue?
Choosing the arena was difficult. With a capacity of 300 people we did think it may be too big for the event. The thought of a few bands and a couple of hundred people rattling around in that cavernous space did not feel very atmospheric. But when word got out about the move we were inundated with request for tickets and bands that were eager to get on the play list. The main stage was soon fully booked so we introduced an unplugged session in the bar area to accommodate even more artists and bands. The interest was so overwhelming we had to take on the mezzanine level to increase the audience capacity to 400.
To rent the Arena is quite expensive and as we do the concert for free there was no way we could afford it. Link4Life are not a charity organisation but when we explained the full extent of our proposal and the charitable aspect, they matched our enthusiasm with some generous changes to slim down their rate.
You said it was a free festival, why issue tickets?
The concert is free but representatives of Francis House Children’s Hospice we will be on the door to take donations but that is completely voluntary. The tickets are for a head count, health and safety reasons.
When and where are the tickets available?
The tickets were available at the Arena but as soon as word got out they were snapped up.
Did the council give you a lot of support?
Like the Middleton Guardian and the Civic Association the council have been very supportive. Ever since I first approached the Township Office in 2003 with a passion to have a blue plaque erected in honour of Peter Cowap, armed only with Norwegian journalist Olaf Owre’s biography of Peter, it seemed as if I was pushing at an open door
A number of councillors and members of the Civic Association recognised Peter’s contribution to some of their own charitable endeavours. They accepted that Peter was a man of extraordinary ability who had been a credit to the town and worked hard for those less fortunate than himself, a cause they felt worthy of supporting.
When we decided on the move to the Arena we made the application and in early December we were asked to attend a funding meeting, the councillors saw the benefit to the town and how committed we were to bring it to fruition and they backed our proposal wholeheartedly.
One person who stands out, mainly because we’ve had a lot of contact with him over the months, is Arena manager Graham Duckworth. If he were a soldier he would be mentioned in dispatches for his help and effort, he is like part of the team now.
Did the council pay for everything you needed for the festival?
No. After we received the grant problems arose that had not been budgeted for. The first setback was the Arena’s PA system, although fine for pantomimes etc it was not suitable to put a rock band through. Thankfully Chris Hill at Wigwam Acoustics Ltd in Heywood offered to give us a stadium set-up and arranged for, local boy, Jack Murphy to engineer the show. To give you some idea of their customers, they range from The Isle of White Festival to the X Factor and from Westlife to Radiohead. This equipment is going to make so much difference.
Because the Arena is a public building health and safety insists that all the equipment, amplifiers, keyboards etc, which plug into a power socket, must be PAT tested by an authorised electrician. John Yarwood of RH Brown Electrical Services agreed to test all our equipment free of charge.
Last but not least Jim Calvert came to the rescue after we completely forgot about the advertising budget, his company Total Displays produced stunning posters to be displayed around the town’s shops and other public places.
I would like to thank all these people on behalf of the organisers and Francis House for their time and effort, without their contribution it would have meant the festival would have had crippling debts and may have been cancelled.
Do you do the majority of the arrangement yourself?
No. There is far too much for me to handle and expertise that I don’t have. Roy Costigan has been in charge of the equipment needed. The soundman at music concerts it probably the most important job of all, mess that up and you’ll have 50 musicians baying for your blood. Graham Cooke is the MC, he is not only introducing the acts but has had to form some kind of order out of the ‘chaos of musicians’, some of them in more than one band. Phil Moore has the even more un-enviable task of getting the bands out of the bar and on to the stage, on time and in the right order. In charge of advertising and promotion is John Firth, he has worked very hard but word of mouth seems to have overtaken his commendable efforts. Brian Leicester has done a remarkable job on the charity side, asking people for money is not the easiest job in the world but he has given us a good start that we hope will be increased substantially on the day.
How long has it taken to arrange and was it difficult to do?
We have been putting the show together for over six months now. One of the biggest difficulties is coordination of times and dates when dealing with so many different people, companies, organisations and musicians. I wish we had started a lot earlier than we did.
Was it a costly exercise?
In time? Very much so. We’ve also had some financial expenses but we’ve managed to cover them between us.
Are the bands and regulars who attend the Dusting of the Plaque happy with the move to a bigger venue?
There is some apprehension about the atmosphere but we will have to wait and see.
How many bands/artist are on this year?
I am not sure to be honest. There are 11 bands on the main stage up to press but we also have an unplugged session going on in the bar area with some very good young musicians who will be well worth watching.
Was it easy to engage the musicians for the festival?
Like Peter before them musicians have always been soft touches when it comes to charity events. I think it comes from years of dodgy management and agents; we always felt like we were working for nothing. (Only joking.)
Why do former musicians fly half way around the world to attend and play for less than an hour at the Dusting the Plaque and the Peter Cowap Festival?
Without doubt it is the atmosphere and the camaraderie of everyone involved. Then again, we are very lucky we have some exceptionally talented bands appearing at the gig. With so much talent where in Manchester, or even the North of England would you choose to spend your day? And it’s free!
What are the aims of the festival?
A days free entertainment for Middleton and a chance to raise money for Francis House Children’s Hospice. Barr Construction generously kick-started the appeal along with McBride’s, Concept Metal Products and Crown Windows but there are further pledges we hope will be honoured on the day.
Why did you decide to link up with a charity this year?
We have always wanted to do it but the crush of people at the ‘Boars’ wasn’t the right environment to try and collect for charity.
It is not a money earning event so what will signify a successful day?
If everyone is enjoying it.
What about Peter’s Blue Plaque and the old Boars Head?
The Old Boar's Head is a historic building of great importance and the music connection is an integral part of it, the success of the Dusting the Plaque has proved that and long may they go hand in hand.
Will you be doing it again next year?
I’ll tell you next week.
The Festival takes place Sunday 2nd May 2010