Photo: Our Friends Records – Miles Lacey, Liam Cottrell, Tim Fulker.
by Jarek Zaba
24 hours later than scheduled, myself and Liam Cottrell, 1/3 of Our Friends Records, prepare to conduct our interview in the Rose Theatre. But first, we must prepare – Liam orders two shots of whiskey. There’s a reason I favoured OFR for our feature piece.
With those formalities out the way, we get to business. This Friday the Rose Theatre Main House will be host to one of OFR’s festival highlights, Folk N’ Roll. While the rest of the festival sees them programming events and gigs all over town and in the Rose Culture Café, Folk N’ Roll is their opportunity to take over the entire building which during the festival they call home. “The idea is that whenever an act finishes in the Main House, an act starts in the café,” Liam says. “So it’s going to bounce back and forth. You’ll come out and there’ll be a band playing, you get your booze, watch 15 minutes, go back in.” And what can we expect? “If you’re coming on Friday, bring your dancing shoes. There’ll be no better place to be. The headline act, The Ceilidh Liberation Front, play stunning folk music that turns any venue into a dancefloor.” Liam is an engaging and passionate speaker when discussing music, and grows visually more excited as he discusses the evening. Support acts include Jack Harris – “Nick Drake crossed with Van Morrison” – and House of Hats, “an amazing combo who write genuinely beautiful songs.” It is typically IYAF and typically OFR – an unorthodox event for a theatre hosting an unorthodox combination of musical styles that ensures a memorable evening of vibrancy and fun.
The café, meanwhile, will see the launch of OFR’s very first album, Yolk – The Best Bits of IYAF, with many of artists involved, such as The Mayflies, showcasing their tracks. The record was produced in OFR’s Create An Album In A Week workshop at Hook Studios, which saw them collaborate with their favourite artists and a team of ten young volunteers as part of IYAF’s workshop week at the start of the festival. Essentially the album represents the realisation of a seven year dream for OFR, dating back to their formative year in 2005. “Initially all we did was run open mic nights for around two years in uni,” says Liam, who runs OFR alongside Miles Lacey and Tim Fulker. “We thought we should bring our friends together and make a little community out of it where every band could benefit from each other’s fanbase. Then we thought, let’s get us all on a record and get it out there.” Easier said than done. “I don’t think we thought so hard about the actual mechanics of releasing a record and how financially unforgiving it is. But now with the help of IYAF, we’ve been able to literally make the our friends record – all the people on the record are our friends.”
And how was the process of making it? “The young volunteers were brilliant. They really got to grips with how to set up the studio – stuff like how to mic up and use the mixing desk. A lot of them at the end were saying they really wanted to do more at the studio.” For a company that has benefited from Creative Youth’s mentoring over the past four years, it is significant for both them and for the charity that they are now themselves passing wisdom onto the next generation of would-be music programmers. “That’s how we need to grow,” Liam continues. “I want to get young people programming a bunch of the stuff that we do now – as the festival grows, there’ll be more for us to do, and there’s only three of us so we won’t be able to do it all. So we need to pass some of the stuff that we do onto other people who are going to do really well, who can use our contacts, our guidance, our equipment etc.”
Liam makes no attempt to downplay the role of IYAF and Creative Youth in enabling OFR to expand, as they benefit from the Creative Talent programmealongside six other young companies. “If this hadn’t have come along, I think we’d still just be running open mics. It’s all started to expand in the best way possible, and we’re just so glad that we’ve got ourselves organised and that we’ve got this great opportunity to bring the bands we love to a bigger wider stage. IYAF has been probably the biggest thing to happen in terms of getting us from A to B in realising our goals.” I enquire as to what specific support they are thankful for. “The best thing, apart from all the massive practical support throughout the years, is getting us to work with Continental Drifts.” Drifts are an international events production company who run stages at Glastonbury, Bestival, Lovebox and Secret Garden Party, as well as nights at a variety of venues across London. Liam again speaks with great passion about their help. “It was such an eye opener; we were just a bunch of kids essentially and they turned us into a business. They taught us about getting every strand of an event organised – contingency plans and making sure you have all your information ready for when you need it. And because we’ve listened to them, this year’s festival has been a million times easier for us, compared to last year which was much more of a stress.” The journey from protégé to mentor is essentially the perfect Creative Talent story.
I ask Liam what he enjoys most about IYAF. The answer is direct and straightforward. “The dancing. Not that I can dance, but I try.” It is a trademark of OFR gigs to see Liam and Miles taking the lead on the dancefloor, often in the most exaggerated, hyperactive and sweaty way possible. “I remember doing gigs putting on new bands in Camden years back, and people would just be chilling out and not really doing anything. So we thought, if we dance really stupidly and really hard, people will be less inhibited themselves. I mean, no one can possibly look at stupid as Miles – it’s an impossibility. And I’m OK with looking stupid if I can get everybody to come up and join me. We make idiots of ourselves and have a better time as a consequence.” As for a specific highlight over the years, he points to the set of Alternative Dubstep Orchestra at the Little Bird Festival in Fairfield Park last year, which followed a day of extreme torrential rain. “It followed some of the worst stress I’ve ever encountered. That much rain made logistics absolutely impossible – stages get shut down at much larger festivals when it’s that heavy, never mind something as small scale as Little Bird. But ultimately, people just got together, started coming through the gates, and then we made it a good party. And the band were just biblical, something else entirely.”
And in 2012? “Obviously Folk N’ Roll is going to be the highlight.” (Liam rarely takes his promotional head off). “But so far, [blues artist] Tommy Hare at the market square on the opening weekend. You’ll see him again on Saturday [in the Rose Theatre Culture Café from 1pm] – he has the most incredible voice. He came in at the last minute because somebody else cancelled – he’d had a bit to drink but played an absolute blinder of a set, and then at the end Jaz [Delorean of Tankus the Henge] got up a started jamming with him. Then suddenly the drummer and saxophonist from Tankus got up and started playing, playing things like Rum and Coca Cola and all these old tunes. Everyone was amazed – they’re not household names but they should be.” But Liam remains convinced that something this weekend will better it, either at Folk N’ Roll or the outdoor stages this weekend. “Man, Sunday, Jesus Christ man. We’ve got this band from Birmingham who play a mixture of Reel Big Fish and Fallout Boy, we’ve got Strobe Circus who are going to play reggae and dubstep…”
I interrupt, knowing that if he goes into every artist on this weekend the Rose will probably lock up and we’ll get trapped upstairs. While talking to Liam about music is a pleasure, there is always the danger that it will go on forever and as if to prove the point, we wrap up to find the bar is now closed. Nonetheless, my appetite is sufficiently whetted for this weekend’s programme.
Folk N’ Roll starts at 20:00 on Friday 20 July in the Rose Theatre. Tickets £5 – https://uk.patronbase.com/_RoseTheatreKingston/Sections/Choose?prod_id=Y031&perf_id=1
Our Friends Records will be programming music at the free KTown Stage in the Market Place from 11am-6pm on Saturday and Sunday, as well as their regular festival base in the Rose Theatre Culture Café.