In my last festival piece, I was going down the line of a fairly well-established but still establishing South West fest in the form of Exeter’s Poltimore. This time around though, it’s the turn of a festival which still sits ready to hatch in its little incubator of anticipation. The beast about to take flight is Torquay’s Grinagog, taking to the actual streets (that’s right, not fields) for the first time in April this year. I spoke to organiser and Torquay native Chris Macmeikan to find out more about these bizarrely named shenanigans…
What’s your story? How did you get into the festival game?
I’m from Torquay and since I left when I was about 21, I’ve spent my whole life in the culture and specifically music game, playing in bands, DJing and running Continental Drifts, the award-winning entertainment organisation in charge of Glastonbury’s Shangri-La and Lost Vagueness. Drifts is 20 now, and annually we are running stages and areas at around 22 UK festivals and few abroad to at least 2 million people annually. We’re looking to make great and experimental events, and want to bring that to Torquay.
From what we’ve seen, Grinagog’s looking like it’s a different kind of festival to the conventional mud-to-your-knees situation. What’s the deal?
It’s going to be multi-venue and multi-cultural, with Torquay as this amazing mud-less backdrop with great venues, hotels cheaper than a tent, and gorgeous beaches. We’re making Torquay the “frame” to grow the most incredible festival in. I know that there’s no other similar event, but more than just being different structurally, it’s about uniting a towns cultural people and letting them dream a bit. It’s about using really unusual venues to, over the years, present a side of culture never seen in Devon. I’m a Torquay guy and it’s the most ideal canvas to paint a festival on.
You’ve really tried to involve the local community with your social media campaign to perform on the mainstage. Why did you feel it was important to do that?
I could easily programme this gig without anyone’s help, but that’s not the point: we use as many local promoters and cultural people as possible because we really want Torquay to “own” this gig. We try to provide “inspirational”, big headliners to as many demographics as possible but local involvement is essential for the future and our town really needs this. Plus, of course, the local folk really know what will work!
How many acts will be playing across the festival and who’s exciting you most right now?
Around 200 so far. We have big acts for young people like RATBOY, we have the winner of the 2016 Radio 2 Folk Awards Sam Lee bringing 14 acts to play totally acoustically in Torre Abbey, we have Mixmaster Morris the famous Electronica DJ playing (I hope) in a Big Wheel, and we have the largest line up of Vintage Remixed and Electro Swing ever. So much cool stuff!
We like our strange names down in the South West, but why ‘Grinagog’?
Grinagog is a mischievous Devonian devil who comes out of the sea and causes chaos, so in Victorian times was likely to be found sawing the leg off the Vicar’s chair. We’re building our own Grinna who will march around town, being all around cheeky.
What are your long-term plans for Grinagog?
We have a 100-year plan to transform the cultural landscape of Torquay, similar to some of the greatest festivals across the world, but year 1 is all about getting through successfully to year 2. By year 100 we’re hoping we can start in April and finish in September.
What’s your initial impression of the music scene in Devon?
Devon and the larger Southwest is the cauldron from which so much new cutting edge culture spouts and succeeds. It kicks way beyond its size culturally and it’s something we can all be proud of. On the flip-side, as someone who grew up in Devon, there’s so many miles between venues and outlets that somehow as a music fan, the best thing to do is just pick up an instrument and play instead of just going to watch. I’m always proud of the big guys though, the Ben Howards, Metronomy, Muse, Coldplay , etc. Someone is doing something right.
What’s your idea of the perfect festival?
Warm weather, tonnes of art and great art venues, and acts who are full of surprises rather than mainstream pop: essentially Grinagog year five!
Grinagog Festival takes place from the 7th-9th April 2017 in Torquay Town. Tickets, more info and the full lineup are available from the Grinagog website