Every year, as the months leading up to the Gibraltar Music Festival thin out, the streets are rife with speculation over chosen acts in anticipation of Gibraltar’s favourite weekend of the year. It’s the talk of the town. The pressure on organisers goes unnoticed by the masses.
Last year, for the first time, the GMF was extended to two days with 14,000 keen festival-goers passing through the completely sold out venue over the duration of the weekend. In 2015, sixty-five acts performed across four different stages with the line-up boasting a slew of Glastonbury veterans, from Madnessto Paloma Faith, James Bay and mammoth American favourites Kings of Leon. ‘For them, it was an opportunity to come to somewhere they wouldn’t otherwise come to. They’re an amazing live band and it was a great privilege to see the way they operate. Everything is planned to the nth degree and to a level that we hadn’t worked to before. It’s helped us to aim to do things like this.’
With the massive success of 2015, organisers Word of Mouth and Axle Media face a challenging task in keeping up the forward momentum for the ever-growing festival. Thus far, the bill boasts a number of hugely recognisable names. From alternative rockers Stereophonics, who have been navigating the festival scene since the early noughties, to their alternative-rock comrades, Travis, who are also signed up to take on the GMF main stage. Another familiar delight from the early 2000s, All Saints, will please music fans yearning for the bygone years of classic pop hits, offering crowds the opportunity to fall back in love with the girl group and welcome their comeback album Red Flag released earlier this year. For the seasoned festival-goers, Bryan Ferry will bring a taste of the 70s. American chart topper Ne-Yo will also grace Gibraltar with his presence during a mini-European tour that has no UK dates. Two of the acts generating much of the buzz are strong female vocalists Jess Glynn and Zara Larsson, both of whom are currently dominating the music scene.
The booking process
I manage to grab organiser Jonathan Scott for an insight into the madness behind the scenes and he tells me, ‘most of the acts are already scheduling for 2017.’ He comments on the short time-frame they are given to decide on and approach potential acts. ‘In many ways, I really think the bill is much stronger than last year even though it really was a difficult line up to follow.’ The festival prides itself on its truly family friendly nature. ‘We need to reflect that when we choose artists,’ Jonathan notes. ‘The hardest thing is bringing all the acts together in a way that doesn’t look completely random. You want somebody to be able to enjoy the whole offering for the whole weekend. We get so many requests, which we go through to see who the most requested acts are. There are a lot of factors that dictate whether you can bring somebody or not, some of them are quite personal to the artist.’ We discuss how the booking process has become easier over time with the GMF having developed a hugely positive reputation amongst booking artists. ‘If you’ve done Kings of Leon, or Duran Duran, or Kaiser Chiefs, as we have now, Gibraltar is a relatively easy sell. We can manage those big artists. Gib is a very welcoming place and people who come for a short period of time really feel that. Also, we’re not like a green fields festival where you have to make do with whatever substandard facilities are available; here artists are well looked after from the moment they land.’ Interestingly, Jonathan tells me that this year they received proposals from other similar festivals booking for the same weekend. ‘When we were booking our headliners, we were speaking to an urban festival in Amsterdam. We spoke about potential artists, and we both managed to get Ne-Yo because we were able to offer him two headlining shows and so we managed to get one of three European shows for him.’ This year, the festival grounds will offer six stages, with the newly added acoustic stage and comedy stage. ‘We’re giving more prominence to dance music this year. We’ll have a dance stage and we’re talking to acts that EDM fans would instantly recognise. It’s quite difficult because they are so much in demand.’
Scoring local acts
This is the first year that the organisers already have a blue print outline for the festival, having spent the past four years developing the event and growing it from four hours and a handful of performers to two days and a hundred acts. ‘We think the format works. It’s just about tweaking the plan this time, it’s already there.’ The comedy stage, Jonathan notes, will offer both a few recognisable names and others that comedy fans will be pleasantly surprised to discover. ‘The same applies to the music. We want you to come and discover someone new. We have had to think a little bit about what sort of humour Gibraltar will appreciate.’ So which has been your favourite year thus far? I probe. ‘Good question; I think it would be last year, and the move to two days. Oh, and being able to put on Kings of Leon who I personally think are an amazing live band.’ The difficulties in the process come from dealing with so many different organisations, and having ‘no margin for error’, everything is scheduled to a tee and there is only one opportunity to get it right. Social media and marketing play an integral role in the lead up to the festival, as the acts are fed to eager festival fans in groups. ‘It is in our interest to get the names out as quickly as we can, but there is a process that needs to be followed and legal documents that need to be prepared.’ When booking local acts, organisers are keen to draw in established, hard working performers. ‘We look for acts who are working their trade as often as possible. We strive for an element of freshness. For example, Adrian Pisarello formed his new band recently, so we thought “we love Adrian and, although we had him two years ago, this is a new band so let’s book them”. We do get quite a few locals approaching us too. There are some bands really working hard and as soon as we mention the music festival they are really keen. We’ve got a good relationship with a lot of the local musicians. We try to involve as many of them as possible.’
In 2015, 4,500 tickets were sold overseas, resulting in flights to Gibraltar and local hotels being entirely booked up over the course of the weekend. Jonathan notes that music fans travelled from across Europe, and as far as Abu Dhabi to engage in the festivities. ‘Many come from the Costa, both Spanish and expats.’ The festival offers a coach service from specific locations along the coastline, to aid the travel process for many. On the subject of tickets, Jonathan explains that tier two tickets were recently released. ‘This is partly so we are able to plan for how many people we are going to have. We’re trying to encourage people to buy early, whilst tickets are cheaper, so we have a better idea of how many people we need to provide for, everything from food to emergency exits. Later in August, we’ll move into tier three.’ The cashless wristband system will be used once more this year, and refunds will be provided. Wristband wearers will be able to top up their bands with credit, and obtain their refunds online, both before and after the festival, avoiding any queuing on the day. As the plan comes together, it is clear that the organisers are working tirelessly to ensure it remains Gibraltar’s favourite weekend of the year!