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Sony’s Senbla acquires first festivals

London-based promoter Senbla has acquired its first greenfield festivals, snapping up boutique UK events Strawberries & Creem and The Cambridge Club.

Senbla – itself acquired by Sony Music last year – says the deal will allow S&C Productions, the company behind the festivals, to expand their offering, with both events expanding to two days, with larger production and capacities of up to 20,000 apiece in 2021.

Founded in 2014, Cambridge’s Strawberries & Creem has grown from a small club event to a 10,000-capacity greenfield festival, having hosted performances by the likes of Skepta, Nelly, Kano, J Hus, T-Pain, Shaggy, Stefflon Don and Ms Dynamite.

The Cambridge Club launched in 2017, with past performers including Sister Sledge, Gabriella and Craig Charles.

Senbla CEO Ollie Rosenblatt comments: “We’ve been looking to move into the festival space for some time now, and this young team, full of positive energy, have created two unique events that have the potential to have a seismic impact on the UK scene.

“Strawberries & Creem should be the biggest multi-genre festival in the country, celebrating an array of brilliant and ground-breaking artists alongside legendary acts across hip hop, rap, dancehall, Afrobeats and electronic dance music, while The Cambridge Club will have a totally unique entertainment offering across music, comedy, theatre, technology, food and drink for all ages, taking its inspiration from the heritage of the great city in which it is located.

“We have reached the point where our festivals deserve to be standalone, weekend events”

“I truly believe these are two of the most exciting properties in the marketplace, and both will be major events in the festival calendar.”

The festivals will continue to be led by William Young (managing director), Chris Jammer (brand and partnerships), Preye Crooks (music and talent), Sam Mellor (marketing and communications), Frazer Robinson (event promotions) and Louise Young (finance and operations).

“We’ve been growing our festivals year on year since we started and, after laying the foundations and building two strong brands, we have reached the point where they deserve to be standalone, weekend events, with expanded capacities, upgraded production and improved experiential offerings,” explains Young.

“With the backing of Senbla and Sony, we’re confident that we can take all of these key elements to the next level, as well as enhancing our ability to compete for world-class artist bookings. We want both Strawberries & Creem and The Cambridge Club to be the leading festivals of their kind in the UK, and this is the best possible next step to achieving that vision.”

Past Senbla events include concerts by Burt Bacharach, Diana Ross, Marc Almond, Michael Bublé, Ennio Morricone and Quincy Jones, and screenings with live orchestra of Love Actually, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Beauty and the Beast and Joker.


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Calls for inquiry into Cambridge Live bail-out rejected

An inquiry into crisis-hit Cambridge Live, the trust which runs the Cambridge Folk Festival (CFF) and Cambridge Corn Exchange, will not go ahead. Concerns arose following a £750,000 bail-out from the council.

Last month, Cambridge City Council brought Cambridge Live back in-house, after the trust encountered persistent financial difficulties.

The Council granted a £500,000 support package to the trust in June last year, later followed by an additional £250,000.

The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment calling for a full inquiry into the reasons for the trust’s failings:

“Recognising the substantial potential public cost of this rescue and the need to decide whether Cambridge Live should in future continue in-house or be re-launched as an independent organisation, it is important to properly understand what went wrong in Cambridge Live and in the council’s relationship with it, both as its founding sponsor and major partner and customer.”

“It is important to properly understand what went wrong in Cambridge Live and in the council’s relationship with it”

“We therefore request officers to recommend terms of reference for a cross party members’ inquiry addressing these issues.”

However, the amendment was rejected by the council. Chief executive of Cambridge City Council, Antoinette Jackson, responded saying: “Our priority at the moment is to stabilise the organisation. We do not have the officer capacity at the moment to support an inquiry.”

This is not the first time such a bail-out has happened. Cambridge council awarded the 2007 and 2008 CFF ticketing contracts to online ticketing platform Secureticket Ltd. The company later went into administration, leaving the council to cover £618,000 in ticket sales.

Launched in 2015, Cambridge Live puts on events including the long-running CFF (10,000-cap.). Speaking to IQ last year, CFF boss Neil Jones spoke of the need to widen the festival’s appeal and the pressure of competing with live music behemoths such as Live Nation and AEG, with the exclusion zones such companies enforce.

Cambridge Live also runs concert and event venue the Cambridge Corn Exchange (1,700-cap.) and family-friendly community event the Big Weekend (15,000-cap.). The council will now be responsible for all services formerly provided by Cambridge Live. All events and concerts will continue as planned.


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Trailblazer: Becky Stewart, Cambridge Folk Festival

Welcome to the latest edition of Trailblazers – IQ’s regular series of Q&As with the inspirational figures forging their own paths in the global concert business.

From people working in challenging conditions or markets to those simply bringing a fresh perspective to the music world, Trailblazers aims to spotlight unique individuals from all walks of life who are making a mark in one of the world’s most competitive industries. Read the previous Trailblazers interview, with WME’s Sam Kirby Yoh, here.

In the hot seat this time is Becky Stewart, operations director for the UK’s long-running Cambridge Folk Festival, which celebrated its 54th anniversary last month with a bumper bill topped by big-name headliners Patti Smith and First Aid Kit.

Here, she speaks on her journey from adolescent morris dancer to running Britain’s best-known folk music event; the challenges of competing with moneyed corporate festivals; and why she’s proud to lead a mostly female team in a male-dominated world…


How did you get your start in the industry?
Well, I blame my parents, really. They took me to my first folk festival, which was Warwick, when I was about six years old, and then we spent every summer from there after dancing – yes, morris dancing. At around 17 I worked out I could get a ticket for free if I volunteered, but it would take a few more years till the worlds collided and I got to start doing the fun stuff.

I worked artist liaison at Shepley and Beautiful Days, then I stage-managed at Towersey for about five years. In ‘real life’ I ran a pub, then started working in the events world. There isn’t one single point I can say that was my start – I just kind of ended up here. The first year I came to Cambridge I knew I wanted to work here, though. Never thought I’d end up running it.

Tell us about your current role.
I am operations manager, which in the simplest terms means I make it all fit together. I make sure everyone from staff to artists have all the information they need to do their job; I manage the booking and contracting of all artists, staff, caterers, traders; and I programme and book the fringe performances, street theatre, morris teams, workshops and sessions. Other things we look after include merch, site art, transport, accommodation and anything else you can think of.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
So long as most people have a nice time, I’m happy. That includes audience, staff and performers.

And the most challenging?
I take things very personally. If we get a complaint, especially about something that that person probably has no idea about, it annoys me. I try not to let things wind me up but they do.

Also budget restrictions –they upset me massively!

“At our core is the want to be a musicians’ festival, giving a platform to the best in the business”

What achievements are you most proud of?
This! I am apparently responsible and grown-up enough to be in charge of Cambridge Folk Festival. It still blows my mind. It’s great.

How has the business changed since you started out?
In some ways, not at all. In others, massively. In my case, folk music has a very interesting way of flowing in and out of mainstream music. Cambridge very much sits in a bubble between mainstream music and the smaller folk festivals, and I think that transfers to how we run as well.

We have lead the way in innovations in terms of how to run a site environmentally. We have a 50/50 gender split on our bill, as well as on our crew; we have a female sound tech, the majority of our crew heads are women and the core team are predominantly female. There are still things that we, and the industry, need to get better at.

At our core is the want to be a musicians’ festival, giving a platform to the best in the business – we’re not about bells and whistles.

“We need to be better at looking after ourselves and each other”

What, if anything, could the music industry do better?
We are an independent festival and we, along with many others, are getting priced out of the market by the bigger agency-run festivals.

Gender balance is a big thing. We’re super-proud to say we’ve got it pretty good at the moment, but we’re always looking to be better.

Look after everyone at bit better: we talk about mental health in the music industry, but it’s about life in general, really. We live in a world that is too fast for us to keep up with, and I think we all feel that at some point. We need to be better at looking after ourselves and each other.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it in music?
Work, take opportunities, volunteer at everything, take in everything around you. Learn skills – knowledge of what sound and lighting techs do, even if you don’t want to do it, for example.

And if you want to go to uni, do something with a skill attached. I’d much rather employ someone with a proven work record than a degree.


If you’d like to take part in a future Trailblazers interview, or nominate someone else for inclusion, email IQ’s news editor, Jon Chapple, on [email protected].

Cambridge Folk Festival gears up for blockbuster 2018

This summer’s Cambridge Folk Festival – its first year twinned with US cousin Newport Folk Festival – has the strongest line-up in the festival’s 54-year history, according its operations director.

Neil Jones tells IQ the recruiting of big-name headliners such Patti Smith, First Aid Kit and John Prine is a key part of widening the appeal of Cambridge Folk Festival (CFF), which launched in 1965, and ensuring the venerable event is still around in another six decades.

“After the 2016 festival we realised need to restructure,” Jones explains. “We’ve sold out consistently for 23–24 years, but we were reliant on the same audience – and while we’re not trying to build a new audience to replace them, it became clear we needed to widen that audience.”

Part of that, he says, is through the line-up – now outsourced to Killer B’s Bev Burton (also booking the new Black Deer festival) – which this year is the “best yet. We’re really pleased with it – it’s a really, really strong year, no doubt.”

Also on 2018’s eclectic bill – are American folk singer Rhiannon Giddens (also guest curator), English singer-songwriter Kate Rusby, Tuareg world music group Tamikrest, Scottish Celtic fusion band Peatbog Faeries, Malian desert blues act Songhoy Blues and country music legend Roseanne Cash (daughter of Johnny) – a line-up reflecting what Jones calls the festival’s “deliberately broad-church view of what folk is”.

“It’s not lost on us that some people think Cambridge Folk Festival isn’t for them – but we think it is”

“The core [audience] know us and love us, and in the past I think we’ve been guilty of preaching to the converted,” Jones continues. “But we knew we needed to widen our appeal. Part of the PR brief for this year, for example, was to get featured on [youth-focused digital radio station] 6 Music – and 6 Music-type listeners are now booking in their droves.

“It’s not lost on us that some people think Cambridge Folk Festival isn’t for them – but we think it is, and they’d find it really cool. It’s about debunking some of the myths, and saying to people, ‘You might not think the festival is for you, but it is.’”

CFF’s push for a new audience is a two-pronged strategy – in addition to diversifying its programming, the festival is renewing its focus on the visitor experience, Jones says: “People say, ‘What makes a good festival?’, and for me, it’s the people. It’s not just about the acts on stage; it’s the people at the heart of it who are pivotal.

“One of our USPs is that we’re the only festival who encourages people to bring instruments with them, and it’s great when you walk around the site and see people just jamming everywhere…”

CFF last July announced its ‘twinning’ with a similarly illustrious folk music event, Newport Folk Festival in the US, for 2018 – a partnership that will involve the two festivals sharing ideas and jointly nurturing new folk talent, and which Jones describes as a “match made in heaven”.

“We’re really excited about the Newport Folk Festival partnership,” says Jones. “They’re really the US equivalent of CFF – we were set up by an ex-fireman working for the city council [Ken Woollard] who’d seen a documentary on Newport – but we’d never said hello to them, so we reached out with a quick email from this side of the pond.

“Our USP is that we’re the only festival who encourages people to bring instruments with them”

“They said, ‘It’s so great to be in contact, we’d been meaning to do the same!’

“We share lots of same objectives – we’re both competing against the Live Nations and AEGs paying top dollar, with their massive exclusion zones, and we’re both extremely focused on talent development. Partnering with Newport is a way of doing that: pointing us towards that new talent, while also being fiercely independent, in the grand folk tradition of kicking back against the man!”

While most festivals which have sold out every year for the past two decades would be looking to expand, Jones says that, despite CFF’s mission to grow its audience, the festival will remain at its existing 10,000-cap. site at Cherry Hinton Hall, south of Cambridge, for the foreseeable future. “We’ve been too big for a number of years, actually,” he concludes. “It’s a very small, tight site, and of course demand massively outweighs the supply of tickets.

“It’s like Glastonbury: If they increased capacity they could sell more tickets, and it’s the same for us.

“But so much of the charm of the festival is in its location – and if we moved to a large greenfield site on the edge of the city, we’d lose that charm.”

Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 takes place from 2 to 5 August.


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Bands across the water: Iconic folk festivals join forces

Two of the world’s most famous folk music festivals, Cambridge Folk Festival in the UK and Newport Folk Festival in the US, have announced plans to ‘twin’, forming a “transatlantic partnership” that will allow the events to explore “unique and extraordinary artistic opportunities” together.

While twinning is a practice more often associated with cities (and, occasionally, dreary English towns and Disney theme parks), Cambridge Folk Festival director Steve Bagnall says the partnership will allow for coordinated programming “that will excite audiences on both sides of the Atlantic”.

Newport Folk Festival, founded in 1959, hosted the first major appearances of folk greats Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Arlo Guthrie, and is immortalised as the site of Bob Dylan’s (in)famous ‘going electric’ moment in 1965.

Cambridge Folk Festival, meanwhile, was established in 1965 by Ken Woollard after seeing Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a concert film set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Artists who have played the event include Paul Simon, Shirley Collins and Van Morrison, with Jake Bugg headlining this year.

Full details of what the twinning will involve will be released after this year’s festivals.

“We are excited to be working with and learning from a festival that has the artistic heritage and ambition of Newport”

“We are excited that from next year Newport Folk Festival will be twinning with Cambridge Folk Festival,” comments Jay Sweet, Newport’s executive producer. “This move will allow us to share ideas, experiences and some artists from two festivals that have grown up together and in their own way played a role in shaping the folk music landscape on both sides of the Atlantic. This partnership will allow us to bring a little bit of Newport to Cambridge, and vice versa.”

Steve Bagnall, managing director of Cambridge Folk Festival, adds: “Cambridge Folk Festival has always tested the boundaries of folk with its programme, and we are excited to be working with and learning from a festival that has the artistic heritage and ambition of Newport.

“Twinning with Newport will allow both festivals to explore unique and extraordinary artistic opportunities that will excite audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.”


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Cambridge Live’s Eddie Barcan steps down

Eddie Barcan, the long-time festival director of the UK’s Cambridge Folk Festival, has announced his resignation from event promoter Cambridge Live, effective 7 October.

In an email, Barcan – who also programmes the Avalon stage at Glastonbury Festival – says he “put [his] heart and soul into Cambridge Folk Festival” and that leaving “has been a very difficult decision. However, due to strategic developments within Cambridge Live, the time is right for me to move on to new opportunities.”

He continues: “I would like to thank you and all the fantastic people and amazing artists with whom I have been fortunate to work over the last 27 years. Together we have ensured that Cambridge has been the leading folk festival in the country. I never envisaged I would work on this very special event for so long and leave with many happy memories.

“”I am proud of all I have achieved at the festival, including programming 23 consecutive sell-outs”

“I am proud of all I have achieved at the festival, including programming 23 consecutive sell-outs; managing the festival for close to two decades; ensuring its financial viability; awards and acclaim for the standard of organisation, atmosphere and quality of programming; ensuring national TV and radio coverage; [and] seeing the festival’s profile rocket.”

Barcan will continue his work with Glastonbury and says he’s “keen to get involved in new events and opportunities”.

The sold-out 52nd Cambridge Folk Festival, headlined by KT Tunstall and Christy Moore, took place in July and was attended by more than 14,000 festivalgoers. In addition to organising the festival, Cambridge Live operates the Cambridge Corn Exchange venue (1,400-cap.) and runs its own ticket agency, Cambridge Live Tickets.


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