With the third edition of the Manchester festival just around the corner we spoke to Carefully Planned organiser Matthew Boycott-Garnett about what has quickly become one of the most appealing weekend events in the UK...
(((o))): So, to start with, can you just give us a brief overview of how the festival started?
I find it quite difficult to keep things brief. Basically though, the festival started on the back of the smaller events I'd been organising in Manchester and Huddersfield since 2007. The list of bands I wanted to put on was getting longer and longer and so I decided I needed more space and more time. Since I'd been hosting all-day events at The Castle in the Northern Quarter, which is full of decent events spaces, the decision to host a multi-venue event in the surrounding area was an easy one to make. It kind of happened naturally, to be honest. I've been seriously into festivals since I first went to Glastonbury in 1994, so I suppose it was kind of inevitable I'd end up involved in organising one. By 2011, I'd met and worked with Mike Glenister on a gig and finding someone I felt comfortable and excited working with was the final piece of the puzzle. There's never been a decision to make the festival an annual event, but whilst we're still enjoying it and whilst we still feel what were doing can be valuable for people, we'll keep going.
(((o))): What was your original goal when setting up Carefully Planned? Has that changed at all since then?
When I started organising live music events, I lived in Huddersfield and for a while, I ran a night called You Are Invited. The reason I started the night was very simple. A band called Marvins Revolt (from Denmark) were looking for people to organise gigs for their tour of the UK. They made an appeal for help via their myspace page and since some of my close friends had recently started running a night in Lancaster (Transition), I felt like I could potentially pull something off. Being in contact with the band opened my eyes to how straight forward being a promoter could be. Communicating openly, clearly, sensitively, responsibly and respectfully with bands and potential punters alike seemed to be the way forward for me and I feel I've done a decent job of sticking to that. Obviously, as the events have become more popular, it's been increasingly challenging to maintain that personal and intimate feel. It is still a priority though and I don't always get why, but it does seem to still be the case at Carefully Planned gigs. I sincerely believe there's something special about our gigs and I think that stems from aiming to keep things simple and decent.
(((o))): Would you say Manchester’s the perfect location for an event like this?
Manchester is the only location that Carefully Planned could be, because it's where I live and it's where I know. That is important. Anyone with a decent, thorough and sincere knowledge of and appreciation for their local and national music scenes could theoretically host an event like Carefully Planned, wherever in UK they might end up. It takes time and focus and perseverance, but if you keep doing something well for a long time, success will find you. Manchester is great though and as such, it attracts lots of great people – and I won't deny that helps things run smoothly. Perhaps it is the perfect location. I guess I just don't know.
(((o))): How important is the promotion of local acts to your festival ethos?
It is important to support the local scene, but I think the festival itself does that, regardless of the involvement of local acts. I would never prioritise booking a local act above an act based further afield without focusing primarily on the value that act contributes as a performing artist. There are certain acts and bands who have supported Carefully Planned in the past and being based in Manchester often means they're in a better position to be able to afford to do that. I am so grateful to those bands and those individuals and I'm sure they know who they are. I feel that promoters ought to be aware of their responsibility to ensure they are pushing acts of decent quality, rather than those who are nearest or those they are more loyal to for reasons beyond the music itself. Supporting bands regardless of locality is, of course, important to me and I want bands to get out of playing at Carefully Planned what they look to getting out of music in general. Facilitating them in doing that is something I'm proud to be able to do, but at the end of the day, it's the punters who are paying, and for that they deserve to be sure that we look to book top quality acts and not just what is convenient for us.
Crash of Rhinos play The Soup Kitchen on the Saturday at this year's Carefully Planned
(((o))): The line-up is very diverse this year, from black metal to folk pop. Do you simply just book any bands you like or do you try and structure your bookings around having a certain amount of various kinds of bands?
I just look to book bands I like. That's one of the main reasons I feel it ought to be me doing this and couldn't just be anybody. I'm pretty good at putting myself in other people's shoes. I feel like my own personal taste has developed in a way that recognises that personal quality. There are some aspects of my taste that are just for me and I know why I'm so super-keen on bands like The Dismemberment Plan and Loney Dear (my absolute favourites), but a lot of what I'm into is because of what I feel it can do for other people. I think a pie chart of what I listen to broken down by genre would be pretty similar to the same chart of bands playing at the festival this year. In fact, a quick look at my Last FM profile (MatthewJuly) would probably confirm that.
(((o))): What other festivals in the UK are you a fan of, and why?
I love festivals. As I mentioned earlier, the first one I went to was Glastonbury in 1994. I was 9. I went there a few times when I was older too but haven't been since 2005. The first festival I went to with a bunch of friends was Leeds in 2001. I've been at least once to most of the big ones at some point but my favourites are All Tomorrow's Parties and End Of The Road. My favourite festival ever was Connect Festival in 2007. Great times. I was a bit younger then though and prefer the smaller ones now. The ArcTanGent line-up looked great this year so I'm hoping that won't clash with End of The Road next time.
Urban-festivals-wise, I've always had fun at Sounds From The Other City and, I've never managed to get to any of them, but Tramlines, Long Division and SWN all look pretty great. I'd like to get to Truck Festival and 2000 Trees too. I've probably forgotten some others. I love festivals.
(((o))): Are there any festivals abroad that particularly resonate with you? For instance, I went to Incubate in Tilburg last week and that seems to have a similar idea behind it to Carefully Planned, although admittedly on a larger scale.
I've never heard of that one. I'm not that into festivals abroad. I'm sure it'd be great to go to something cool, but I like going on holiday and I like going to festivals and I wonder if I went to one abroad, it might be neither here nor there. But I've never been. So, I guess I just don't know. I'll look up this Incubate thing though. Sounds huge.
(((o))): It would seem that the summer festival market is massively over-saturated. Do you think there’s room for more festivals like yours that take place over weekends in other parts of the year?
I think if you're meant to put a festival on, you should do it. I think clashes are a shame but inevitable. SWN Festival in Cardiff is the same weekend as our event. That won't make either event any less good, but it is disappointing not to have the opportunity to go to both. There's always room for more good stuff though. People always say stuff like 'If it was Christmas every day, you'd get bored of it'. Nah, basically, every-day would just immediately be loads better. I love Christmas. Bottom line is that good festivals are good, whenever they are and whatever is happening at the same time.
(((o))): What would you say you find the biggest challenges behind organising Carefully Planned each year?
Giving myself time away from organising in the few weeks running up to the event is pretty much impossible. There's always something I could be doing to make sure everything goes as well as it possibly can and finding time to sleep and eat and be nice to people becomes increasingly problematic. I'm just glad it doesn't feel like this all year round. I reckon some people have things take over their life in the same way and eventually it's inescapable. For me, it's nice to know that things will get back to normal again a couple of weeks after the weekend itself. Generally, it's nice to know that the more stressed out I feel, the more of a relief it'll be once it's done!
Also, I don't like receiving impolite emails. I find that pretty challenging. People need to be less rude.
Richard Dawson plays the Bakerie Wine Store on the Saturday at this year's Carefully Planned
(((o))): How do you see Carefully Planned developing over future events?
It's difficult, but I try not to imagine things too far into the future. I try and avoid committing to organising the festival every year before I feel confident we can provide an event of the same or higher standards. I think that before you can think about developing, you have to make sure you know yourself. Things progressed pretty quickly from 2011 to 2012 and I think we need to make sure we're not getting ahead of ourselves. Let's make sure we can consistently succeed at the level we've reached so far and when it's clear we know what we're doing, we can have a look at maybe growing or moving or whatever else makes sense.
(((o))): What’s your personal highlight of Carefully Planned over the years been thus far?
There have been many, many proud moments for me over the years. My favourite bands of the festivals #1 and #2 were The Middle Ones and Ajimal respectively. Prior to the festivals, Jonquil at Kro Bar and Epic45 at Saki Bar were big moments for Carefully Planned. Also, on the Saturday afternoon at the festival last year, Plank played at Soup Kitchen. Walking down the stairs to see the Carefully Planned team, my mum and a packed room at our biggest venue, at 4 in the afternoon was pretty great. The club-night on Saturday night at 2022NQ was pretty wonderful too... and the party at my house on the Sunday night. I can't choose one. No, way. I could go on for ages here... Her Parents in The Castle. So many great times...
(((o))): Finally, who are your top three tips for this year’s event when it happens next month?
Argh. That's a tough question. I already struggled to whittle it down to ten for a piece for our own website recently. Probably Screaming Maldini, Richard Dawson and Laura James & The Lyres. I strongly recommend checking them out. Check out the others I recommended for that piece on the festival website!
You can buy ludicrously cheap tickets for A Carefully Planned Festival #3 here.