Public Enemy and the Happy Mondays are headlining the biggest Stockton Weekender yet. Organiser Paul Burns tells Lucy Richardson how the festival books big acts and why it could fold if fans do not buy tickets
“CHALLENGING” is the diplomatic term Paul uses to describe dealings with music artists. Off the record, the director of Tees Music Alliance (TMA) reveals which middle-aged performer is so vain he insists on being lit a flattering way and the identity of the hard-drinking frontman who demanded a sick bucket by the side of the stage.
Along with the usual bottles of water and beer, some of the contractual requests (known as ‘riders’) that have landed on Paul’s desk over the years have been less rock’n’roll and more M&S.
The Ordinary Boys stipulated a signed framed picture of Stevie Wonder circa 1969 backstage, Maximo Park wanted a book about local history whereas all Cumbrian band, British Sea Power, asked for was a dozen pairs of stout walking socks.
The two day shindig, which takes over the town’s Riverside on July 26 and 27, is like a military operation which takes at least a year to mastermind. Many hurdles stand in the way of TMA’s dream line-up, from dates clashing with other gigs to embargoes imposed by rival festivals banning groups from playing elsewhere until theirs have sold out.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest clincher is money and a lot of time is spent haggling with agents until a figure is reached. While some bands are happy to play in exchange for the experience and Weekender wristband passes, headliners can command tens of thousands of pounds.
TMA was keen to secure Happy Mondays again after their successful 2008 performance and a buyers’ consortium was formed to pin down global rappers Public Enemy, who will fly over from America to also play Tramlines (Sheffield) and Secret Garden Party (Huntington) over two days.
Although visas and other travel arrangements are left to the artist’s management company, Paul says he can never be 100 per cent sure some acts will perform until they walk on stage.
The Icelandic ash cloud nearly scuppered the appearance by Mercury Rev and until The Pogue’s notorious singer Shane MacGowan was on his tour bus and safely checked into a Teesside hotel, Paul admits that he couldn’t relax.
What started as The Stockton Riverside Fringe Festival in 1991, the free music event ran alongside Stockton International Riverside Festival. However the credit crunch forced TMA, a not-for-profit organisation, to restructure the festival and start charging punters from 2011.
Against the backdrop of a radically changing scene which has seen tangible LPs, cassettes and CDs replaced with internet downloads for the YouTube generation, Paul is urging music fans to support the event in its 24th year or it could become as obsolete as MiniDiscs.
“We need people who enjoy consuming live music, presented locally to show their support by coming along and buying tickets, otherwise festivals like ours could be under threat,” he explains.
“We have seen the number of funding streams reduce over the past few years so we want people to take advantage of cheaper tickets and to buy early. If more people did it would make it more secure for the next year.
“It is always a challenge. Teesside is not the land of milk and honey, it has a fiercely proud population and people are very self-deprecating. But we also fall into that trap of taking things for granted," he adds.
Paul says the hairs on the back of his neck stand up at the thought of the crowds of revellers as this year's event gets closer.
“It’s indescribable really and made all the more special because a week later the Riverside is back to being a public car park.
“A memorable moment was when some of my music heroes, Echo & the Bunnymen, were on stage. From the first thought of getting them here to watching a sea of 10,000 faces singing back made me realise that we must be doing something right.”
To buy tickets for this year’s Stockton Weekender call 01642-606525, visit www.stocktonweekender.co.uk or go in person to Green Dragon Studios, Stockton.
Each adult ticket holder is entitled to two under 14 tickets.
Tickets for the full weekend are £45 (£30 per day) until May 31, increasing to £50 (£32.50 per day) until June 30 and will rise again to £55 (or £35 per day) until the festival itself when wristbands will cost £40 per day for last-minute revellers and £60 for both days.
Stockton Borough Council residents get a 20 per cent discount if they quote their postcode when booking.