By Peter Keevil
This is a transcribed interview we published in audio format earlier and you can listen here or continue reading it below. ‘Cos we are good to you like that!
Hi Andy, how are you doing?
Very well thank you, very well.
Excellent. So we’re obviously talking about Download. 10 weeks to go! How’s it going? How is it feeling?
You’re making me nervous saying it’s only 10 weeks! I hadn’t realised. Good god, yes it is! I mean it just comes around so quickly year on year, but everything is going good, we’ve got virtually everything booked and locked in now, which is exciting. You know, the weather looks like it’s on the turn for us which is for the positive. So that’s good. So yeah, we’re getting in the festival spirit.
Excellent. So at this point is there much left for you to do, or does it all go over to Mr Probin to sort logistics and site stuff.
Yeah mostly! I mean there’s a few things that I have to iron out before it goes onto the production side of things, but in terms of the bill being booked, virtually everything is done now. I’ve still got to announce the Jagermeister acoustic stage and the acts that are performing on that which hopefully I should get done next week. I’m loathed to say my work is done because it’s never done but, in terms of the real graft and the hard work and getting the bulk of the festival booked and locked in, that’s done now.
And how much time does it take up in your day because obviously you do more than Download don’t you? So how much time does Download take?
I get asked this question a lot. The thing is Download’s now become a 7 day week, 52 week a year project. It really is. I’ve already, over the last month I’ve put 3 offers out for headline acts for 2015 which seems insane that I was doing that in March over 3 months ahead of the festival itself for the following year. So you know, that’s how it is. It does take up a huge amount of my time and obviously I fit in that with the portfolio of other artists that I work for their regular touring business. You can’t afford to be any less.
And is it just you then? Or do you have a team around you?
Yes we’ve got the team. In terms of the actual booking, I do the bulk of it. I’ve got one of the Junior Promoters here that helps me as well, particularly in the lower level, new acts and kind of juggling the smaller stages, but it all kind of rests on me really.
Wow. Ok. But you’re an old hand at this aren’t you, so do you still get the same buzz? You’re talking about 2015’s line-up, does that give you nervous energy thinking about that, thinking that’s got to come off?
It certainly does. The festival’s built itself up to such a degree now that there’s a huge expectation on what kind of acts are going to be playing and what’s the festival going to look like, are we going to continue to be a success. We can never rest on our laurels. We take nothing for granted. We just have to work really, really hard and deliver the best festival we can with the best bands that are available to us. So far we seem to be doing quite a good job of it but you know, you just can’t let up. There’s always something else to do.
And as Live Nation do you take a judgement call as to whether a certain number of years ahead you will be committed to the festival irrespective of who you can actually think you can get to headline, or is it driven by the headline acts?
We’ve gone every year there’s absolutely no question about that. That puts a huge amount of pressure on us because you are at the mercy of whose available – what headliners are around.
Thankfully we’ve operated non-stop since we started in 2003 and we’re going to continue to do so. Hopefully we’re going to see some more bands come through over the years. There’s still a number of acts that we haven’t had headline the event yet which I’d like to see headlining in the years to come and that’s anyone from Green Day, Muse, Blink 182, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bon Jovi.
Bon Jovi headlined Monsters Of Rock back in the day, but has not headlined Download. There’s still a number of acts. People say that there’s only a small pool to draw from and I agree with that to a point but, when you start writing down the bands – actually I did it the other day – of potential headliners, and even if it’s bands that have already played the festival. There’s nearly 30 acts that you can pull from and draw from. It’s down to us make sure that with these act that we’re on their radar so that when they’re touring that Download is the festival they’ll look at.
And so you’ve put out your three offers for 2015. Are they for the three headline slots or are you just trying to secure the main one, then the others are Plan B there. How does it work in your head?
Headliners is where you look at first. They’re what you would call your anchor bands. They’re the ones that are going to show the form of the festival. Headliners are the ones that you go for first. I’ve got the three offers out with headline acts for next year. Hopefully they’ll all come through but if not – hopefully one or two of them do – and then I’ll go looking and see what else is out there.
I suppose you can’t really be putting out these offers for the headline slots for more bands than you’ve actually got slots for because you’ve got to wait for them to politely decline haven’t you…
There’s definitely an element of that. There’s also an element of hedging your bets where you think, they’re not necessarily all going to confirm, so you kind of say ‘well listen I’ll put you on a deadline and if I haven’t heard back from you on this day…’ then I am going to make offers out afterwards. The main priority is to get headliners. I can’t sit and wait for months on end if the bands are going to turn around and say no they’re not doing it.
What sort of commitment do you get from them when you’re putting out these offers. Is this just like the tentative feel or have you already done that process before the full offer goes out? Is it at contract stage yet?
It’s only at contract if the bands are going to confirm. So in terms of that I’ve sent out ‘formal offers’. In some cases you have conversations prior to that, certainly on one of the acts I’ve been approached first about whether I would consider them and the answer was yes, so I made a formal offer. The other two I’ve gone in cold and sent the offers out, even though I’ve got a little bit of background that they are potentially touring in 2015.
Interesting, very interesting. I can just picture your office now with post-it notes all over the wall with your plan of attack.
Let me tell you know, my office, is an absolute tip at the moment. I’m ashamed of it. I seem to be able to work in chaos. I shouldn’t do, I should be a bit more regimented but my office is just like a building site.
I can picture it now.
So obviously you have competition within Live Nation itself, also with Calling Festival and things like that. You also have competition with Sonisphere happening this year although obviously it’s an anniversary date and may not continue. But then you’ve got BST and AEG doing their stuff and, then you’ve got the independents doing their stuff with Pearl Jam and Kings of Leon, Reading and Leeds obviously. When you’re looking at the grand picture of festivals within the UK, how does that make you feel? Do you get trepidation thinking I won’t get the acts I’m after because there’s too much competition or does it just fill you with confidence because the market is buoyant?
You know what, there’s a little bit of everything there. I think that there’s a certain part of you that goes well the market is buoyant because all these bands want to be touring and, these bands are at a certain level and they’ve got to play somewhere. There’s an element of you that goes, I really wish there was nobody else out there and it was just me.
But there’s always competition. What I try and do is just focus on what we do at Download and just do the absolute best that we can do. Certainly our track record is unbelievably strong. We’ve been very, very lucky that the festival has won numerous awards since we first started and, we’ve built ourselves up to be one of the most recognised festivals in the world let alone just in England and Europe. We are the biggest rock festival in the world bar none in terms of the amount of tickets that we do year in, year out. I think we’re very lucky and very honoured to be in that position. And you’ve just got to be out there fighting, like I said earlier – you can’t take things for granted. You’ve got to be out there and be sensible and make sure you do it the best you possibly can. That’s what I try and do every single year.
How are you handling the curveballs this year? Are they going okay for this year’s festival?
If I didn’t get curveballs, problems whatever they may be, I’d think something was wrong. Do I wish that they didn’t come? Yes, I wish they didn’t come but you know what, it stops it from being boring. There’s always something for us to sort out, so I’m definitely on my toes.
Anything happened this year that you can share with us that has thrown you sideways and needed you to take a step back and rethink?
Ermm yeah. I had one band that had confirmed to do the festival. In fact I had two bands confirmed to do the festival and both of them decided that they weren’t touring after having confirmed. So that kind of blew the wind up me a little bit.
You just roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. You can’t sit there and moan and groan. I swear a little bit and I get a bit angry but once that’s died down you just go out there and secure the acts that you possibly can.
And of course over the years you’ve had some potential hurdles to overcome. Things like Lars pulling out at the last minute of Metallica’s first time I think. That must have been scary. Even a couple of years back. How close was the festival to being pulled because of the rain and because of the safety issues in 2012?
We were told by the health and safety in 2012 that we couldn’t open the doors. That’s basically what they said to us and we said well we can’t do that we’ve got 100,000 people ready to come in here. It’s just going to cause some unenviable problems. Subsequently, they saw the error of their ways.
We’re not stupid. We don’t want to put anybody at risk, but I think that there are certain times where you’ve got to use an element of common sense. One of the greatest stories about that year was they said there was too much mud at the front of the Main stage. So we basically brought in a snow plough and took away the top layer of mud to make it safe and then we laid down loads of straw on top of it. The bizarre thing was then the health and safety said to us that the straw was a fire hazard and we couldn’t open. So we said, “You know what there isn’t going to be a fire. Do not fear. We are opening the doors. We’ve eradicated the mud problem which was obviously more serious. Please let us open the gates to let these 100,000 people in.” Which we did. I mean I couldn’t believe it when I heard that. First you can’t open because of the mud and then you can’t open because the straw which you’re putting down to protect people could be a fire hazard. That’s when common sense had to prevail.
Has that put the insurance premiums up at all?
The insurance premiums seem to go up every single year. They look at every kind of possible excuse whatsoever to say well we’re going to have to put your premium up. You know what, if it just gives us that little bit of comfort that in the unlikely event something untoward happens at least we’ve got it covered.
Including Spitfires of course!
Including spitfires! In fact I left that one to Iron Maiden.
I don’t blame you on that one!
Download is obviously famous for its diversity and you continue that and that’s to be commended. I’ve read elsewhere that you’ve taken some flak about Avenged Sevenfold and you’re committed to trying to promote these bands that might be deemed, if I can use that term, to ‘not be headline acts’, but to challenge them to become headline acts so they are the headliners of the future so to speak. Do you take that diversity into account right at day one when you’re planning your three days?
You have to do. It actually angers me when I hear people saying that these bands don’t deserve to be headliners. Where are our headliners of the future? We look at this realistically. In ten years’ time Metallica won’t be touring, in ten tears time Iron Maiden won’t be touring, AC/DC won’t be touring, Aerosmith won’t be touring. They won’t be touring because they’re too old. We’ve got to see a new breed of artists coming through. I remember taking a huge amount of stick when I booked Slipknot as a headliner back in 2009. I mean people wanted my head for booking Slipknot and now they’re perceived as a festival headliner in the same that way that festivals have done the same for Biffy Clyro. Okay Biffy Clyro aren’t necessarily a global act but certainly in the UK they are a headline status pack. They’re going to be headlining T In the Park this year, they headlined Reading and Leeds last year, they’re headlining Isle of Wight Festival this year. Great, we’ve brought them through in the same way as what I’ve done with Avenged Sevenfold. You’ve got to support these acts. If you look back, I think it was 1985 that Bon Jovi was just half way up the bill on Monsters of Rock Festival, 2 years later he was headlining. That’s what happens. Metallica the same. Metallica were mid-way down the bill in the mid-eighties and then come the early nineties they’re at festival headliner status. You have to grow these bands. When they’re first there and they’re in those lower positions people aren’t thinking oh my god they’re going to be a headliner in the future. It needs promoters to look at the stats, look at the facts and then go, you know what their album sales are going that way, their ticket sales are going that way. I’ve got to stick my neck out and build this band so that we have got headliners of the future and we’ve got to continue doing that.
I don’t know who the next ones are going to be. I think there is a potential possibly in years to come for Bring Me The Horizon, Five Finger Death Punch is another band… they’re like one or two great albums away from being a festival headliner, or, they’re one or two poor albums away from never being a headliner. That’s how it works.
And so, taking this years’ line-up then… You’re talking about that there’s 30 acts out there that you would like to attract as a headline act. And then on the Friday we’ve got Avenged Sevenfold, which in the greatest respect to them, they’re not in that collection of 30. So do you take it on board when you think of next year, do you think I want to find another band that I can push up? Or, is that, if I can say this, the fall-back position to say okay I haven’t been able to attract The Rolling Stones for example but okay let’s look at our up and coming bands and see what we can do with them?
I kind of look at everything. Say for example with Avenged Sevenfold, I made the decision very early that I was going to book them as a headliner and the reasoning was I had watched the band grow, they’d played 2nd on the bill to System Of A Down in 2011 and I actually thought Avenged Sevenfold wiped the floor with them. They were really, really just a strong act and set, up the day. Oh and an album coming out which was a huge success, and I’d had some tour dates on sale which were a roaring success in arenas and I just thought to myself, you know what, it’s now their time, it is their turn. So I took the punt on it.
So that was an early decision?
Yeah and I’ll do the same for next year.
Right okay, so we’re going to expect another band coming through that’s going to get you the flak.
Part of me thinks that I love getting abuse! I think there’s something wrong with me! I look at everything. Could there possibly be a new act coming through headlining next year? Yes there could. Or is there going to be enough of the headliners, tried and tested festival headliners around that I could have headlining Download? Yes there will be that too. So you know there are numerous options available to me.
And do you get a sense when you’re making those decisions or at least planning for those decisions, that they are the brave steps of thinking “okay well I like the idea of this but it’s going to get me a bit of flak so do I want to stick my head above the parapet again?”
I have to do it. I can’t sit here and say it’s down to festival promoters to get behind new bands and then not follow through with that. I feel immensely proud of taking the stance with a band like The Prodigy for instance when I first booked them in 2006 when they headlined the second stage and then we built them and built them and made them into a festival headliner in 2012. The same with Slipknot. It’s absolutely going to be the same with Avenged Sevenfold. I want to do it. I really want to be that guy that has gone in the face of adversity, taken a chance and hopefully our audience believes in my judgement. They don’t probably believe in it the day I made the announcements, but once these bands step up … ‘cause that’s another thing… you’re relying on the acts to make sure that they deliver a full-on headline performance and I know for sure that Avenged Sevenfold this year are going to do that for us.
Again a very interesting answer. Because you must get a little bit of comfort or there’s a little bit of a safety net to that risk that you feel that you might be taking with the fact that you can book Linkin Park and you can get Aerosmith on board and as a collection then, as a three act headline bill you think “okay if Avenged Sevenfold don’t do it from a ticket sales or punters point of view, then you’ve got the balance”, haven’t you?
Yeah and that’s absolutely right. Yeah, if I’ve got [so-and-so band] you know I can take a chance for another headliner but you’ve got to be sensible about it, as I say, you’ve got to have all the facts to hand which luckily for me I have. You can do that because they can sit alongside the more established acts and the more recognised festival headliners.
You know the three headliners, you then put a strong bill underneath. [Get] all the headliners where you can… you then try and have somebody strong on the second stage, so there’s always an alternative [for the punters] and then just in the whole breadth of the bill itself – I think benefits all the bands.
And you talked about that you’ve got staff that assist with the undercard. How much involvement do you get in the full hundred band line-up? Do you approve everything?
Everything. Absolutely everything. It all falls on my shoulders. Literally, this year is the first year that I’ve got one of the other promoters, one of the Junior Promoters at Live Nation assisting me personally, bringing through the brand new bands and that’s a big help to me, but ultimately it all rests on my head. I have to make the offers and you know 130, 140 odd bands you know it’s Andy Copping at the bottom of the paper signing it off.
How many bands will it be this year do you think?
I’m not sure. I think it’s going to be between 130-140 bands this year altogether.
And out of those who do you see that are going to stand out? There’s always that festival buzz about someone… somebody actually on the day really breaks through. I can imagine the ‘Newport Helicopter’ on the Main stage is going to be awesome this year.
That’s going to get people going. That’s going to be great.
Rob Zombie’s stage show is always good. Watch out for Bring Me The Horizon. I think they’re going to show just what a big and strong band they are. Steel Panther are always going to put on an amazing, amazing show. That’ll be great. Status Quo are going to do just a purely greatest hits set on the Saturday night on the second stage. I think that’ll be amazing.
There’s a couple of young bands out there you should watch out for. A band called Royal Blood who are just starting to make some noise now, Lonely The Brave who I’ve been championing for about a year, Kid Karate another act that are starting to make some noise out there. So there’s some good young bands to watch out for as well as some of the other big hitters.
We’re Midlands Rocks, we’re obviously interested in the big acts that come along but we are very into the undercard as well. Tell us what Download does for that undercard. You’ve got the Red Bull stage. Does Red Bull bring that idea of having the competition and the winnable slots or was that part of your own philosophy?
We work together on it. They provide us with 12 acts altogether, across the weekend on the Red Bull stage and then I book the rest of it. I work with them on who those acts are going to be as part of the Bedroom Jam competition process and there’s a varied amount of other ways that bands get onto the bill. There’s ‘The House’ programme that we work with, with Parliament. Again it’s a very similar Battle of the Bands breakthrough process that we use.
Then there’s a website called ‘Get Me On Stage’ where new bands can get advice on how to work their way up the ladder. We select a band from there that ends up playing Download.
There’s the ‘Marshall Amps Ultimate Band’ competition, again where bands can put themselves forward. There’s a panel of judges that will pick the band to play on that.
We do what we can to nurture new talent as well as going out and seeing new bands and getting excited by them. It’s like “yeah I want to see them at the festival”.
I’d love your thoughts on the wider aspects of the festival. Are there any other new innovations that are coming through? There has been talk for a while about financial wristbands where people can swipe the bar code rather than carrying cash. Through to entertainment… where you’ve tried comedy stages, you’ve tried a zip wire across the arena. What type of things are you planning? Is that something that you get involved in?
It is to a degree. Those things do kind of get put under my nose. I make contributions to it. We want to make the festival site look very different from others and I think people are going to be surprised with what they see this year.
We are going to be making some changes actually within the main arena so when people are walking around there is more to see than just the bands themselves. I think the zip wire will be back because that was a huge success last year, but we’re looking at other similar kind of activities that will keep people occupied. We’re looking at stepping up the after- hours entertainment as well.
We just want to make the look and the feel of the festival very much different to what we’ve had in previous years and certainly different to some of the other festivals that are out there.
I look forward to hearing that and seeing that. And of course you will have the rain ponchos available for everyone to purchase. (Laughs)
I hope we’re not going to have to use them but they are always there in the… I want to say the unlikely event… but you know we just try and be prepared for everything.
So just tell us a little about you then if you would Andy. You’ve obviously got strong connections with the East Midlands. Is that still the case or are you now a metropolitan guy that never gets back here?
Well no, I’ve been born and bred in Lincoln and I still live in Lincoln. I work in London. I’m up in the Midlands and obviously in Lincolnshire a lot because that’s where I’m from and I know a lot of people round there and still go to a lot of gigs up there. In fact I’m in Nottingham on Monday for Foreigner who are touring. It’s one of my tours so I’ll be poking my head in there. I was at Rock City the only week for the band Haim who is another act that I promote, so yeah I’ve still got very strong, big connections in Nottingham.
That’s good stuff. Do you still get a little nostalgia when you walk through Rock City doors.
Kick the DJ off and say…
Yeah, yeah! All those days are gone. I’ve let the new breed come though now. I had some fantastic times there and in fairness that was where I built up my reputation firstly as a DJ and then as a concert promoter. I’ve got a lot of love for the city and a lot of love for that venue.
Good stuff. But, what gets you out of bed in the mornings? How do you get to chill? Do you get to chill?
I’ll tell you what gets me out of bed in the morning. Just pure drive, ambition, passion. That’s what gets me out of bed because I want to do this, I love it. I’m a music lover through and through and that stands out above anything else. Luckily for me my passion for music and being able to adopt it to the world of commerce and business is just great.
I don’t really have what you would perceive as a regular social life. Social life to me is work because I’m going to shows, going to events and things like that. I’m lucky. If I imagined as a kid at school that this is what I was going to be doing for a living you would never have believed it. This is what dreams are made of, so I’m unbelievably lucky and very, very privileged to be in the position that I’m in and, actually being able to stamp a mark on the music that I love and work on a festival that I’m immensely proud of. The festival was born out of Monsters of Rock at Donington Park for the best part of 15 odd years. I used to go there as a fan and be super excited and now I’m the person booking those bands!
The more I think and talk about it, the more emotive I get.
Yeah you’re right. When I put on Facebook that I was going to be talking to you today I’m getting all the comments – Ask him about this, ask him about that, mention my band and all that, and everybody just wants to do what you’re doing which is fantastic. But there’s only one person that can do it, so we’re going to have to let you continue to do that.
Aww, well thank you for that. I’ll always do my very, very best. It’s good to know that people out there have the passion for the event and what I do and long may that continue.
There’s one thing I must raise with you. You were very good enough last year to allow some friends of mine to scatter the ashes of one Download and Monsters of Rock fan, Helen Deakes, which was greatly welcomed and respected. So thanks getting that sorted and for making that happen.
Oh no problem. No problem at all. We were happy to help.
And of course on a wider and not just a personal note but you’re very active on Twitter. I see you personally respond to people when they’re commenting about the acts and who they can have on. You spend a lot of time just getting out there and reaching people don’t you?
I have to do. It takes up a lot of time and yeah I have to bite my tongue every now and again and sometimes I don’t always bite it, but I’m very passionate about what I do. If somebody wants to attack the festival, attack me, attack who I’ve booked in an aggressive manner then I’ll respond in exactly the same way. I try and get into dialogue when I can with people and ultimately when you get into dialogue with them then they get an understanding of why you’re doing something in a certain way. In the most part people have turned round and understood the reason why I’ve done something. In the same way if somebody comes up with a very valid comment or some constructive criticism I’ll totally take that.
The only reason that the Festival has built itself up to the level that it has is because we listen and we care. The festival is nothing without the people that put their hands in their pockets and buy a ticket to Download. If they didn’t do that, there is no Download. They’re the ones that matter and if we don’t engage with them, communicate with them then we’re just like every other festival and we’re not. We make a big point in letting people feel that Donington and Download belong to them because it ultimately does.
Awesome Andy. Thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule.
You can go and check your Inbox now and find out who has pulled out at the last minute.
(Laughs) Oh I hope not! I hope not! Well while we’ve been talking 25 e-mails have come through so I better get back to work. Sleeves rolled up.
Thanks for your time Sir. See you soon.
All the best. Thank you very much.