Interview: Paddy Glasgow Goes Forth
Glasgowbury music festival founder on receiving Michael Eavis' blessing and welcoming City of Culture
Back in 2000, Draperstown musician Paddy Glasgow got some bands together and put on a gig to raise money for the Ulster Cancer Foundation. 13 years later, Glasgowbury is Northern Ireland's longest-running independent music festival, bringing together 5,000 people at Eagle's Rock, near Draperstown in the Sperrin Mountains for one Saturday every July. View the full festival programme.
This year's festival will be the biggest yet, however, as the line-up is spread over two days for the first time, from July 19 – 20. On Friday, July 19, festival-goers will pitch their tents to the sounds of The Japanese Popstars, And So I Watch You From Afar and several other bands from Derry~Londonderry and the surrounding areas, in a UK City Of Culture link-up that excites Glasgow greatly.
'Some of the City of Culture people came and spoke to me,' he says in his breathless, mile-a-minute patter. 'It was a good opportunity to align the city with the county as a whole. It's fantastic to be part of it, taking the City of Culture out into the rural areas.'
The full festival line-up has already been announced, with Downpatrick rockers The Answer returning to headline for the first time on Saturday, July 20. Glasgow talks excitedly about appearances from the returning Jetplane Landing, north coast punks Axis Of, Lurgan blues rockers The Bonnevilles and more, but it's clear how much he is looking forward to the headliners' set.
'It's The Answer's year to headline Glasgowbury and I'm really excited about that,' he beams. 'They first played the festival in 2004 and went on to represent Northern Ireland in some of the biggest arenas in the world [supporting AC/DC on their 2008-9 world tour]. To me, it's only right that they headline Glasgowbury. The time has come.'
For its inimitable founder, Glasgowbury has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a charity fundraiser in memory of a late friend. That first gig may only have been attended by a few dozen punters, but it planted the seed for something much bigger. Not only did people want Glasgow's get together to continue, but Glasgow recognised that it was filling a gaping void in the Northern Irish music scene.
'It wasn't supposed to be a long-standing thing,' admits Glasgow, humbly. 'I was a musician, so we just said, "Let's do a gig". I thought it was just going to be a local fundraiser, but I got feedback from people who wanted it to keep going. Even if it was only 80 people at the start, it was 80 voices you were listening to. 13 years ago, that was a lot. There was no infrastructure for new music at all, and especially not outside the two main cities. It wasn't filtering out to the rural areas.'
That being said, the festival's early days weren't all plain sailing. Glasgow now has good relations with the festival's primary funders, sponsors and the local community, but Glasgow was forced to fight hard to win over hearts and minds for the long term.
'The biggest challenge early on was getting the right message across to the right people in the right departments,' he recalls. 'In Northern Ireland, anything that is innovative frightens a lot of people. If it's a duck race or a bouncy castle, that's all well and good. But someone pitching a rock and roll festival up a mountain...
'But when people arrived, it wasn't this mad rock and roll festival. People were friendly and came from all over Northern Ireland to have a good time. There will always be people who try to stoke a fire when there's nothing in it, but you find a solution and you plough on.'
In doing so, Glasgow and his very small band of colleagues and volunteers have made Glasgowbury a fixture on the summer music calendar, the 'small but MASSIVE' festival having enjoyed several wins at the Irish Festival Awards and consecutive top 10 placings at the UK Festival Awards.
Although Glasgow acknowledges that 'it's good to be recognised by your peers', he also credits this recognition to 'the power of people'. It's a constant mantra throughout our conversation and, for him, explains the continued success of Glasgowbury during a time of recession, and with increased competition from other arts festivals.
'If people keep buying tickets, we keep returning. It gives you hope and belief. There's the people who attended with their parents, and then started to bring mates once they were able to come on their own. Some of our crew come every year. There are guys that take a week of their own holidays and come up and set up the event. I respect them for that – they're part of the family.'
Glasgowbury has become more than just an annual festival. The Glasgowbury Group also run gigs (the G Sessions at the Cellar Bar in Draperstown), workshops, courses and outreach programmes, but the festival itself garners most attention, and with it, its founder. So what's it like to have a music festival named after you?
'Aye, it's weird,' Glasgow chuckles. 'It's not an ego thing. The Glasgowbury name came out of a joke. A fella called Jarlath McGuigan came up with it. I thought it was hilarious – I laughed for three hours! He tells people at the event, but I don’t think anyone believes him. I asked people whether I should change it, and they didn't want it changed. It just stuck.'
Of course, the Glasgowbury name is also a less-than-subtle nod to a much bigger concern in the south west of England. However, Michael Eavis and co at Glastonbury, perhaps the world's most famous music festival, were gracious in permitting Glasgow to continue with the moniker.
'I didn't think I would have to worry about the great-grandfather in England and half-ripping off their name,' Glasgow laughs. 'It's something that I used to think about, but you contact people and tell them your story and what you're about. It's cool. We were never going to be a threat to the grandmaster. They show respect to us. They're aware of us and we're definitely aware of them. It's a cool thing.'
While Michael Eavis may not be quaking in his boots, global domination was never the plan for Glasgow. Glasgowbury was conceived, according its founder, as a way to raise money for charity. It continued in order to provide a platform for Northern Irish music and experience for sound engineers, lighting technicians and all the other people that make the festival happen.
Over the years, the Glasgowbury Group has expanded as a way of spreading the love and enthusiasm for music in a DIY fashion, throughout the local area and beyond. And as Paddy Glasgow looks to the future, that is his never-ending mission.
'We've been offered a space to go into and create an arts centre,' he reveals. 'As far as new music from Northern Ireland is concerned, I have piles of plans in my head for how I can develop in different avenues. Helping bands in a new arena, being creative, you have to keep thinking of new ideas.
'What's the next stage? As far as the festival is concerned, we try and do something new every year, but there's only so much you can do. It's about keeping things going and keeping the entity alive, because there's the goodwill for that to happen.'