Festivals For All caught up with one of the Off The Tracks organisers, Andy Cooper, for a brief insight into his views on this year’s bash, and why this festival (a firm FFA Reviewer favourite), has established itself so firmly in the hearts of all those lucky enough to attend over the decades.

FFA – Off The Tracks has been delighting festival lovers for 28 years now … It’s not easy running festivals – what’s the secret of your longevity?

AC – Consistently giving the audience what they expect from Off The Tracks as opposed to trying to match any other festivals. It’s very easy getting sucked into a trap of being paranoid and trying to compete when in actual fact sometimes you just have to look inwardly and think ‘well we’ve got something special going on here and we don’t have to chase what everyone else is doing’. I think that’s why our audience is loyal – they stay with us all the time because they know how we operate, what kinds of things we are going to do – and they obviously enjoy it.

FFA – those in the know return to Off The Tracks year upon year – can you perhaps explain that loyalty?

AC – Year upon Year - that’s it yeah. It becomes an annual thing. I think it’s because we’ve kept small to be honest. Everyone feels connected. They’ll be camping and everyone has little BBQ’s or whatever and they’ll hook up with people in the tents next door etc, and I’m sure they then keep in touch through the year – especially these days with Facebook and everything else – and then a year later they meet up again. I know couples and they say ‘… We always meet so-and-so here’ and they love meeting here again at the end of the festival season and chew the fat on what they’ve done all year and everything else, which is great you know. If we were much bigger we’d lose that because you’d just be one of thousands milling about, whilst we are small and people can actually connect with other people.

FFA – Any advice for new festival promoters - What lessons have you learned over that time?

AC – Well quality is everything. Location is everything. Festivals nowadays are so varied and I think the bottom line is stick with your strengths. …The second festival I did, before Off The Tracks, I booked loads of big bands and I lost thirty grand on it and that was because I knew I could physically do it and yet I’d lost sight of the realities of the situation because I was so hyped up about doing a great festival. I think that’s why a lot of festivals come and go. People have a go at running a festival, and it’s not that impossible to actually get up and run one, and then they think right we’d better get some major artists in, and all of a sudden the bills go up and they lose money – and then they go. … I think realising your strengths and playing to them are the important thing. Grow with the festival instead of trying to push the festival – because when the festival becomes bigger that’s when you can have the pitfalls…. It’s unbelievably easy to book a band, anyone can book a band (laughs), but then you’ve got to actually sell the tickets! Some think that if they book a band, then the band is going to bring the audience, and that’s not true. People can see a band elsewhere. You’d got to get your head around ‘how do I sell tickets?’ … that is exactly what went wrong with me at that second festival. I had a great line-up, but what I suddenly realised was – that it was all the same audience that were coming to see all the bands – each band did not bring their own new audience.

FFA – Off The Tracks have reverted back to the traditional single Summer Festival after many years of offering both a Spring AND Summer event – what were the reasons behind that move?

AC – We just came to point where our competition was getting too stiff over the May Bank Holiday. We were doing ok and never lost any money… but we did not want to wait until we do lose money because that would mess everything up… and let’s face it - this is just our hobby, not our livelihood…what’s the point of trying to compete and risk losing money - and it’s been great for us because it's freed me up a heck of a lot. Like I can enjoy playing myself now with different bands without the pressure. It was twelve months work, whereas now that same workload is spread. It’s less intense and it’s seemed to have paid off as well because we’ve increased about 20% on numbers on the September festival. …Even then you can’t rest on your laurels – you’ve still got to get people in.

FFA – 2016 offers yet another cracking line-up. Is there anyone on the bill who’d you’d particularly recommend?

AC – Well, obviously my favourite band of all time is Ozric Tentacles and I’m always happy to get them back. Treacherous Orchestra will be stunning. …we try different genres just to give people a good time. Like Neville Staple will have everyone up and dancing.

FFA – Are there any emerging artists lower down the bill that we should look out for?

AC – What I’m really looking forward to are The Della Grants and Gilded Thieves – both really really good acts that deserve to be better positioned… they are ones to particularly watch I feel.

FFA – You’ll be personally treading the boards at Off The Tracks again as bassist with Simon Friend’s Seismic Survey – what’s the story there?

AC – Its Simon’s project as it were, and it’s what he wants to do but the only real restriction we have is his availability with his Levellers commitments… We are hopeful of doing a tour next year but it’s all down to Simon’s plans with the Levellers - but we’ll try and work something around that… Apart from that I’ve got some mates that I tour manage, an Irish outfit called The Irish House Party, and I’ve got three of the guys to come over and be in what we are calling the Temple Bar Experience…so we are doing that. I’m toying with idea, only toying, of getting up and playing with them as well – but that will be spur of the moment and just off the cuff! …I may even be playing a bass ukulele!

FFA – Anything else you’d like to mention?

AC – I just hope everybody comes and has a great time; not to worry too much about the weather because 50% of what we do is indoors; you are not sat in the middle of a field. We’ve got over seventy real ales and cider bar. … There’s a huge area for the kids as it’s an all-round nice weekend for the family.

Off The Tracks Summer Festival 2016

Donington Park Farmhouse, Melbourne Road, Castle Donington, Derbyshire, DE74 2RN

Dates: 2nd - 4th Sep 2016

Price: Tickets for adults (with camping) from £80.00

Article by Barrie Dimond