DPRP’s Alison Henderson in conversation with Jon Patrick, Geoff Banks and Kerry Kompost about the upcoming Celebr8 festival

London’s 2012 Olympic Games in August have meant two of the UK’s biggest rock festivals, High Voltage and Glastonbury, are not going ahead this year. However on the first weekend in July (7 and 8), one of the most illustrious line-ups of prog bands ever seen in London will be playing at a brand-new, custom-made festival Celebr8.

The festival is an entirely new concept because it has been put together by two prog fans, its aim being to showcase the best of prog music not only to die-hard fans, but to a much wider musical audience.

The bands they have signed up to play at the festival are, in no particular order: IQ, It Bites, Pallas, The Tangent, Magenta, Tinyfish, Sean Filkins and the Dec Burke Band. Not only that, the highly acclaimed US band Mars Hollow will be flying over from California to play exclusively at the festival, their only European date for the foreseeable future.

With day tickets for Celebr8 going on sale on Friday (May 11), DPRP’s Alison Henderson caught up with organisers Geoff Banks and Jon Patrick before a Tinyfish/DeeExpus gig – and put in a call to Kerry Kompost of Mars Hollow – to get the low-down as to how the festival has come about and why it is the UK’s “must attend”prog event this summer.

What is the background to the festival?

Geoff Banks: For the past two years, Jon and I have been talking about putting on a festival. This would be based on the House of Progression which is a regular series of prog gigs that Jon promotes at the Peel in Kingston-on-Thames in south west London. The first task was to find a suitable venue. We first looked at a police training ground in the borough and then Jon looked at the football ground which is just down the road from the Peel. In the end, we found that the Hippodrome, one of the town’s nightclubs, was absolutely perfect for what we wanted to do.

Finding out that High Voltage was not going ahead this year then gave us the added incentive we needed to go ahead with our festival.

However, it was always our intention not to go for the older more established bands, but instead go for those who play regularly at the House of Progression. This meant we would be featuring the bands who were part of the 80s new wave of prog, or neo-prog as they are generically labelled.

These were the bands that originally supported the whole concept of what was happening at the Peel through the House of Progression.  Twelfth Night was the first band to really get behind the idea. We offered them a slot on the bill to acknowledge this unfortunately, they have had to decline on this occasion so Magenta has come on board instead.

Jon Patrick: I have always wanted to do a festival and because High Voltage was called off, we decided we should do it in the summer but well away from the actual start of the Olympics themselves. However, what we did not taken into account was the fact the Wimbledon Tennis and the Hampton Court Flower Show were also happening at that time! But because I had invested so much time and my money into getting it off the ground, we have just had to go for it as we could not leave it any later.

The great thing was I approached all the bands I wanted there and they all agreed in record time. I had the whole line-up more or less in place within 48 hours.  Geoff was also talking to Pallas with whom he works after which he got in touch with Mars Hollow. He also contacted Sean Filkins who said he really wanted to play there. So when Geoff called to tell me that both Sean and Mars Hollow had agreed to play, I remember I swore very loudly.  As I was in a supermarket at the time, I got some very funny looks!

Wow, I doubt many promoters get that many acceptances so quickly when they put on a gig. What is the secret of your success?

Geoff: I have to say it is a fantastic line-up, better than we could ever have dreamed of. The most terrific part of it is both Sean Filkins and Mars Hollow will be making their official debuts at the festival and for Mars Hollow this is their only European date.

But there is much more to it than that. I wanted to create a festival where each band has something extraordinary to bring to the occasion. In the case of IQ, they will be playing all of Subterranea with all the theatrical props and production that go with it. This is the first time they have played it in its entirety in the UK for 13 years and because of this, we have made every conceivable effort to get the stage absolutely right for them to present it.

Jon:  Since I have been doing the House of Progression, I have always had my own set of rules and top of the list is that no-one gets ripped off. That is why we do not charge any of the bands for putting up their merchandising stalls nor do I expect a percentage of their proceeds afterwards.

To me, looking after the bands is the most important thing of all but at the same time, we want to make sure the gig and festival goers do not get ripped off too. Although we have now had to start charging a booking fee, the way I structure the prices at the House of Progression and also at Celebr8 ensures all the costs are absorbed and everyone stands to gain as a result.

So how did you go about deciding what bands you wanted to play at Celebr8?

Jon: We deliberately did not go for any of the big bands from the 70s. As Geoff said, we wanted the bands who re-invented prog in the 80s as these are the ones who have stuck at it through thick and thin and are still touring.  However, there are certain people who have a very blinkered view about prog and do not think it has moved on since about 1971. That to me is not progressive!

Geoff: There is not a single band in this line-up which has not had some kind of recent acclaim. Take Pallas – they have completely reinvented themselves over the past couple of years. They always had something of a hard rock following and it is great to see people turning up in Saxon or Iron Maiden tee-shirts to see them. It Bites is another band who are back on the scene in a big way with their new album getting lots of attention. Sean Filkins is so enthusiastic about this festival because it is the first time he has played songs live from his album War And Peace & Other Short Stories and of course, IQ still attract 600 people to their annual Christmas concerts.

So tell us some more about the venue and the way the festival is going to work over the two days.

Jon: The Peel where the House of Progression is held is simply not big enough to stage such a festival though we have had several mini-festivals there. The Kingston Hippodrome is much bigger and once we had sorted out the logistics of the stage with IQ, we could start getting the word out about Celebr8.

Geoff: The one thing we want people to know is that there is a huge amount of seating within the venue which is well away from the stage as we do not expect people to be standing up all the time they are there. We also found there is a decent pub just along the road from the venue for the groups and fans can go afterwards.  Again, this is one of the real pleasures of prog music is that it is one of the few genres of music where the fans and bands mingle because they all know each other from going to the gigs or through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

I would have thought that would be another incentive for more people to come along to gigs and festivals like these because you are never going to meet your heroes if you are sat towards the back of a huge arena watching them along with around 10,000 others.

Jon: The other difference about this festival is that because we are starting at 2pm and finishing at 10.30pm on both days, the bands will not be getting the customary 45 minutes but instead will each play a full set.  Again, I believe that is giving music fans real value for money because as a result of the admission fee being charged for the festival, each band will be appearing for less than £10 (just over 12 euros).

And turning to Kerry Kompost, Mars Hollow’s mainman, how did you become involved with Celebr8?

Kerry: I’m not exactly sure, I have to say! Perhaps Geoff and Jon saw some of my Facebook responses to people asking Mars Hollow to come play their city, country, etc. I always reply, “We’d love to come play for you; we’ll go anywhere, all we need are the basics covered (transportation, lodging, backing) and we’re there!

As far as Celebr8 goes, our drummer Jerry Beller called me after work one Friday night and man, was he ever excited! He said, “DUDE! I was just chatting with a guy named Geoff Banks on Facebook and he wants us to come play England. Can you believe it?” I’m rarely online outside of work so I immediately logged onto Facebook from home and sure enough, there was a message from Geoff asking if Mars Hollow would consider playing Celebr8.

Without even knowing the line-up or the dates, I said, “We’d love to!” Geoff gave me the details and I confirmed everyone’s availability and next thing we know, it’s being announced on all kinds of Progressive Rock boards and Facebook pages. It all happened very fast and we still can’t quite believe we’re actually going to England.

On behalf of all of us all in Mars Hollow, our most sincere thanks and gratitude goes out to Geoff and Jon for their most kind offer. They are helping all of us reach a milestone, a realisation of a life-long goal – to go to England’s green and pleasant land, the home of Progressive Rock, and to be able to play original music alongside such amazing bands like IQ, It Bites, The Tangent, Magenta, Tinyfish, Sean Filkins and Dec Burke. It’s amazing and we’re still in a state of disbelief.

What your thoughts are about coming over to England to do this “one off” date and what the fans can expect from Mars Hollow?

Kerry: Starting with The Beatles, up through ELP, Yes and Genesis, to Black Sabbath to Elton John to XTC and the Sex Pistols, up through the third-wave Prog bands of the ‘90s right up to today (whew!), England has been ground zero for the music we love and respond to. There’s such a fantastic sense of artistry and craft, of emotional and musical brilliance, all delightfully coloured with that uniquely English sensibility. The fact that so many of our musical influences call England home makes us giddy with anticipation of setting foot on her hallowed soil.

As for what English fans can expect from Mars Hollow? That’s a tough question to answer but all honestly aside, I would say fans can expect an upbeat, energetic and passionate performance of the songs we’ve written, delivered to the best of our abilities with a sense of fun and adventure and above all else, gratitude.

All we can do is get up there on-stage and give it everything we’ve got, taking no prisoners and no holding back. We all, to a one, absolutely love performing and every time we play, no matter where or for whom, we get involved in the performance one hundred percent. There’s something that happens when the four of us start playing – it’s almost as if the music takes on a life of its own, like it’s out of our hands. We’re all hoping we get enough rest and time to adjust our clocks so we’re refreshed and ready to deliver the goods.

Of course we can’t wait to spend time with our English friends (Mars Hollow doesn’t have fans – we have friends) sharing stories and hanging out and hopefully seeing some sights and lifting some pints. Every English friend we’ve virtually met via Facebook and/or other sites have been an absolute delight, to a one.

Meeting these folks is a top priority and we can’t wait to show these good people how much their support — not only for Mars Hollow, but ALL of the bands trying to make their mark in the Progressive Rock realm — means to us. Which in a word is everything!

We’re all big fans of every act on the bill – in fact, we’re playing with The Tangent in a couple of weeks at the Terra Incognita Convention in Quebec City – and we’re extra-excited to meet all these amazing musicians and songwriters, not to mention the enjoyment of their performances.

It’s going to be a wonderful experience and the weekend can’t get here quick enough!

Thank you Geoff, Jon and Kerry for giving us all a wonderful flavour of what we can expect at Celebr8. For more information about the festival and how to buy tickets, go to: http://www.celebr8prog.com/Welcome.html or visit http://www.themerchdesk.com