Interview: Jason McGuire – Breaking Bands Festival and HRH Radio

Love him or loathe him, the former “certified pisshead” of TBFM has never been one to shy away from controversy. But whatever you think of the larger than life character that is Jason McGuire his commitment to music is unquestionable. Mark Bestford caught up with him at HRH AOR earlier this year to talk about Breaking Bands Festival, HRH Radio, and the importance of smaller festivals for unsigned bands.

Breaking Bands, this is your fourth year this year

“Fourth year, yeah”

And you’ve already got year 5 pretty much nailed down

“Year five we’ve just made some announcements, we’ve announced that we’re going to be bringing bands back from the first four years to celebrate. Five to us is a big number, it’s not a massive number but for a festival that people thought was not going to go further than year one we want to celebrate the fact that we’ve managed to do five years, we’re not owing any money, and everybody’s happy. That to me is a successful festival. So we’ve got five bands coming back from each of the first four years and five new bands, but it’s invite only. We’re not opening applications. After this year we had 1300 applications and bands are still trying to apply now to play so we’re actually doing it as invite only for next year but also we’ve launched the Breaking Bands Festival Foundation which is an inner community helping us with the ideas to shape the future of the festival. We want people to help us choose the bands but instead of an open poll where whoever’s got the most fans can get their band on even if they’re not a brilliant band we wanted to be the people who buy the tickets for the festival actually telling us which bands should play. Which everybody starts out trying to do but it goes out of hand because an online poll can be cheated.”

So coming up to 5 years, what do you think has made the festival so successful?

“Honesty was the big factor right from day one, because we announced our festival not long after Alt-Fest collapsed and that was a terrible thing for the music scene. So we actually showed our bank account details to the public and showed our receipt for the venue booking and said right, this is how much we’ve got in the bank, we’ve already paid for the venue, whether you buy a ticket or not the festival is going ahead. It can look like an arrogant thing but we felt we needed people’s trust so we wanted to be open and honest, and we’re completely honest all the way through. We talk to our community for absolutely everything, even down to when Deli-Kate retired last year, who’s one of the well-known veggie and vegan food traders, at all the big festivals. We had to replace her and we asked our community who should we get? We found somebody who might have been good and we got them to give us a menu and we got people to discuss whether the menu was right and if the prices were right. Some prices were too expensive and we said no, we want them cheaper and they were agreed to be cheaper because the community are the ones who are paying for the food. So it is about trust, it’s about honesty, it’s about family as well because a lot of festivals are hotels, you’ve got to stay in hotels, it’s expensive. We’re a campsite. An example such as Bloodstock back at the beginning, 500 capacity with Saxon headlining and you could park your car next to your tent and walk two minutes to the venue. We’re exactly the same, just fifteen years later! So yeah, I think that attracts a lot of people. Its Whitsun weekend, and it’s the start of the festival season proper because it’s the summer, Download’s two weeks later so people get to air their tents and it’s affordable.”

The last couple of years have been quite a tough one for you with TBFM closing down and moving into Hard Rock Hell, did you envision at the time that Hard Rock Hell Radio was going to be so big for you at that moment?

“No. I’d been coming to HRH for eight years now, I’m not new to this, so all the way through the TBFM years we’ve been here as TBFM, we’ve been here as just a paying punter, and now we’re here as part of it. I believe Jonni picked on me because he saw the potential in TBFM but he knew it needed an investment, it needed a push. It needed a new vision. So with Jonni getting involved and giving me some really good pointers, bringing me into the family, it made a big difference and you look a year later and no, we didn’t envisage having over a million listeners which we did in the first three months. It was just incredible, we couldn’t get anywhere near that as TBFM and we’ve barely changed anything. We’ve changed the name but apart from that we’ve not had to change much and we’ve just exploded and that’s the HRH mentality, the respect that the HRH brand has, has made that crossover better. I did have to sacrifice a few things. I did not want to sacrifice Breaking Bands, that’s mine personally, it’s nothing to do with TBFM or HRH, a few people think it is but it’s separate. It’s the people who started TBFM that then wanted to put on a festival and the festival is actually a celebration of TBFM because it’s on the anniversary of when TBFM started which was the 31st of May 2009, that was when it founded, and every year we had a TBFM birthday bash and we’d put on a gig and people would stay in a hotel and we’d have an all-dayer. But we saw it as too expensive to stay in a hotel, 60 – 70 quid for a hotel, for a five quid ticket into a pub. It was just too much, and people couldn’t bring their kids because the kids couldn’t stay late, you can’t leave them in a hotel on their own, and we just said no, we need to do a festival. So it did come from TBFM but it was something on its own, it is on its own. But it always incorporates everything that’s HRH as well and TBFM. We are all working together, there’s no competition.”

Just recently there’s been an announcement by a lot of the major festivals that they want to try and bring in gender neutrality by 2022. With the rock and metal scene the way it is, is that something that you think is possible?

“A few of us have had conversations, there’s four of us that run Breaking Bands Festival, four directors. Me, my good lady Stacey, the production manager Steve Jacobs, and Jude Jacobs, his wife who’s our financial director. So we have our uses if you like. We spoke about this and we said absolutely never. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s just, it’s actually a bit embarrassing. When I see these all female festivals, I think, well in that case why not have an all-male festival? But you never see that. We would never book a band because there’s a woman in the band, or an all-female band because we need to balance the books of male versus female ratio. If you’re good enough to sing or good enough to play guitar or good enough to hit those drums then you’ll be on the festival. I don’t care what colour you are, what sex you are, what race, or religion, that does not come into it. If you’re good you’ll get to play a festival and I think anybody who starts doing these gender neutral bloody festivals, I think it’s the wrong way to go. It sends out the wrong message.”

Along with moving into HRH Radio, Breaking Bands still going strong, you’ve also moved back into band management as well. How’s that going for you so far?

“Really really exciting actually. We launched Torpedo Recordings at the start of February, exactly a year after HRH Radio launched. That’s my company again I’m working with the HRH team. I’ve got the backing of Jonni Davis, the CEO of Chic Festivals, and having that it makes a big difference. When I did management before it was through TBFM and reputation is everything, people want to sign with you because they know that you’ve got something. Look at bands like Stone Broken, Massive Wagons and even a band I was managing, Hell’s Addiction, they have all had management and all starting to breakout into bigger events. Five years ago I was singing their (Hell’s Addiction) praises and no one was listening to me. And then when they played Download they exploded on the scene and then into the HRH circles, did really well and now they’re buzzing, they’re a fantastic band and they’re getting their rightful place on the music scene. With Torpedo we haven’t actually got any announcements yet. I spoke to a band this morning, I’m speaking to another band this afternoon. I’ve already spoken to about five or six bands in depth, ready to sign, but we can’t announce anything yet. We’re not rushing this, it’s got to be done properly. Torpedo is about more than just management now. We are management, consultancy, record label, distribution, marketing, tour operators. Anything a band needs, they don’t have to go to twenty different companies, and they can come to one company who can deal with it for them. So they can concentrate on what’s important, making music. Bands don’t always know about anything around the business side of things, they’re musicians, they want to do music. So we want to do the rest of it for them, take all that out and boost them up a few levels and hopefully get them to a good place. We have some very amazing bands that we’re in extended talks with right now that are very close to signing deals and I’m hoping in the next month or two we’ll be starting to announce them. We’re not going for too many, we want quality over quantity, but we’re very excited with what we’ve got coming.”

Back to Hard Rock Hell now. Hard Rock Hell made its name with small festivals like this, this one’s dedicated to AOR. Prog, Rock, Stoner, Doom, and these are all staple names now. You’ve broken out into new territory just recently with Hard Rock Hell Vikings and Hard Rock Hell Crows, is this the scene going forward more and more genre specific?

“I can only talk from the radio side of things, I can’t answer for Jonni and Fleur, but the way I’ve seen HRH grow from number one to number eleven, or number twelve this year of Hard Rock Hell and all the other ones coming in, as you’ll see this weekend I think we’ve got the sleaze stage, the glam stage. But when they had a sleaze stage a few years ago at AOR before they had a HRH Sleaze and its brilliant how they test these things out at similar style genres before they split them out on their own. They did it with Metal, HRH Metal existed 3 or 4 years ago at Hammerfest. So did Thrash, so did Stoner, so did Doom. And you only have to look at these festivals and you’ll start to see how they are growing with the trend.  Vikings coming in was a superb move because everything that HRH is about is all very Viking. They’re releasing the Viking ale at HRH Hammerfest too. Vikings is very much what they’re all about, it’s all about the riffs, runes, rock and metal. People still want variety, and HRH Metal for instance goes across from Death Metal to Thrash Metal to sort of Melodic Metal, Power Metal. Even though it looks like it’s a genre specific festival it’s still got big scope within that section.”

With genre specific events, how important do you think these are for up and coming bands? There are a lot of bands playing today that I have never heard of, how important are small festivals like this to those bands?

“It’s a phenomenal way in because to get on some festivals you’ve got to go through six or seven rounds of battle of the bands where you don’t get paid, just too possibly get on an event. With each of these festivals they’re forty band line-ups most of them and around thirty of the bands are underground bands. You might have 25% that have are already big, or have made it, or they’re financially stable and the rest are unknown bands, unsigned bands. And it’s brilliant. We just watched Fugitive and they look like they’ve been around the block a bit and I’ve never heard of them but we went and watched them didn’t we and it’s like okay that’s something new, I can say I’ve now seen that and it’s seriously important because people are here because they like AOR, so they don’t care who the bands are before they buy their ticket. They just buy the ticket because I’m going to see some AOR. And I had Polly from the Idol Dead and Alex from Devilfire in an interview on the radio this morning, neither of them knew each other but they knew everybody around each other and they literally just said let’s do a gig together, just there and then. And they haven’t seen each other yet, so Alex is going to go and watch Idol Dead tomorrow, with Polly on there, and they’re going to do a gig together and that’s the sort of thing that happens. It’s not just about bands getting new fans, it’s also about networking. It’s about going out there and chatting to other bands, watching the bands, speaking to tour managers, they’re all here. It’s about networking with people. So yeah, it’s a brilliant opportunity you don’t get that on a one day gig because everything’s in out in out. Here you’ve got caravans and chalets, you’ve got time to breath. You’ve got all day. You’ve got this media room, a massive media room where you can come and sit and just chat with people and get deals going further forwards. So I’m meeting up with bands to talk about Torpedo Recordings this weekend. I’ve got one lined up later on today and I’ve got a couple tomorrow. So it’s a networking community pretty much. So yeah, I think it’s very important. Genre specific can work, I don’t think gender specific would ever work. If they ever did HRH Girls and HRH Boys I think that would be terrible. For me I just cannot see that ever happen. In the rock and metal scene, if women are complaining that there’s not enough opportunity then they have to push themselves more. Look at Becky Baldwin, she’s in seven bloody bands at any one time.”

She’s actually on tour at the moment with The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing with iDestroy.

“She’s got iDestroy, she’s now permanent bass player for Fury, Triaxis, she’s playing the last gig for Triaxis this weekend because they’re finishing. So when people say there isn’t enough opportunity for women in music, Becky Baldwin, that’s all you need to say. Jackie Chambers, she’s been doing it for 50 years. Nobody can tell me there’s not enough room for women in music. It’s just, it’s very male orientated. Rock is very male orientated, that’s always going to happen. But there is plenty of room for very good women and there are some very good female musicians.”

Interview By Mark Bestford