The small but perfectly formed Warhorns festival has become a bit of a highlight over the last few years. Nestled deep in Viking country in Selby, North Yorkshire, a short stone’s throw from historic York/Jorvik, it has a warmth and enthusiasm rare these days and a knack for surprising and exclusive names that can swell the heart of any underground metal fan. Ave Noctum managed to get hold of the determined warband behind it and shed a little light on why this festival should be in your diary come September.
AN: Hi Warhorns. Thanks for taking the time out from your busy preparations to chat to us, it is appreciated. So for the curious and uninitiated; what’s a good one line description of Warhorns Festival?
Glyn: An epic gathering of Viking, Folk, Black, Death & Doom Metal! \m/
AN: Right, to get down to serious business; who is the Warhorns team? Is it a ‘peoples’ collective’ or a ‘benevolent dictatorship’? Most importantly what makes nominally sane individuals decide to put themselves through the stress of putting on a festival of underground metal? What was the inspiration and the original goal of Warhorns? Has the inspiration or goals changed much over time?
Glyn: The Warhorns team consists of Marc Ollis, Glyn Beasley (myself), and Elliot Vernon. On the day we’re supported by Toby, Teds, Alex, Kayleigh, Laura, Shamsi, and Joanna — and we also have support from Ian Wright (the Venue owner) along with his staff, and of course the Northern Darkness metal crew. I know it’s cliché, but we’re all fans first and we look at Warhorns as a hobby and that we’re doing a service for the metal community. The inspiration and original goal of Warhorns remains the same. That is to try and emulate European styled festival in the UK and bring to the UK international bands that rarely (if ever play the UK) and showcase them alongside the finest UK bands in a predominantly themed Viking, black & folk metal festival.
AN: I think it’s fair to say that North Yorkshire isn’t exactly overrun with pagan/folk/black metal gigs and festivals despite the history of the area and the huge presence or York and the Jorvik centre. Does it present any extra particular issues or just help you stand out? Does the very close proximity of your current home (Selby) to York where you started out help and why the move?
Glyn: We originally started in York as it’s the Viking capital of the UK. There’s no doubt that there are stronger scenes in other parts of the UK, but we wanted to be a bit different, not to mention the original plan was to have the beautiful city of York as part of the appeal of the festival. The only problem with this was that York is, obviously, very expensive in every way. Also, when it came to the original venue, it soon became clear that there was going to be zero flexibility. They were only interested in their club night afterwards and actually at one point had a DJ setting up on stage for their R&B night whilst one of our headliners were still playing. Another difficulty therefore with the previous venue in York was that there was nowhere for the metal folk to go afterwards.
This is why The Venue in Selby is perfect for us. It’s the right size, and has excellent visibility. Also, Ian (like ourselves) is first and foremost a metal fan and musician, and therefore is able to empathise with what both our clientele and bands want. As well as the live music room, The Venue also offers chill out areas, a beer garden, and even a Tacos restaurant attached. What more could you want!
I’ll admit that Selby is not as immediately ‘appealing’ as York from a tourism standpoint, but those travelling from afar can still get to wander around and enjoy York on the Friday beforehand and/or on the Sunday afterward, as it’s only a short journey away.
AN: You’ve been going now for five festivals. With this year again there are so many casualties big and small amongst your peers attempting similar things how do you keep on going? What’s the secret?
Glyn: We do it because we love it. We don’t expect to make money, if we break even it’s a bonus, haha. There’s always a financial risk with anything like this, and I think some small level festivals simply bite off more than they can chew and then get twitchy a few weeks before when there’s not enough pre-ticket sales. We’ve actually found that a high percentage of ticket sales actually occur in the final 2 weeks leading up the festival. Sometimes, it can be purely down to bad luck or when dates of similar events clash.
I think where we have gotten it right so far, is by keeping the theme and ethos of the festival the same year after year. Consequently, people know what to expect and most of our clientele return and hopefully bring more friends with them the next time. All of this means that we steadily grow. We’ve never actually sold out, but we’ve come fairly close to it. Hopefully, this is the year that it happens. Bear in mind also that some small levels festivals rely purely on social media. Whilst social media is essential in this day and age, old school posters, flyers, and word of mouth still play an equally vital role in promoting a festival. We also try and keep our ticket prices down to the absolute minimum (£25 for a weekend ticket)
AN: At its heart Warhorns was a folk/pagan/Viking metal centred festival but always with a habit of delving into black, thrash and even death metal. Was this a conscious decision to expand or simply a natural progression?
Glyn: It was a natural progression. As I mentioned earlier, we’re greatly influenced by festivals like Black Troll and Ragnarok in Germany. In terms of sub-genres, there is already a huge cross-over between folk/pagan/Viking metal and black and melodic death metal anyway, so it doesn’t feel too jarring. This year, we’ve also incorporated some doom, power, and straight-up death metal into the line-up, however these bands (Solstice, Sellsword, and Scarab) all incorporate folk or traditional elements in such a way that we feel suits the ethos of the festival. We also like to be a little bit different and try some new things, such as having some acoustic artists on the bill this year.
AN: How much does any line up reflect personal taste? You have a rare knack of combining foreign bands rarely seen in the UK with established UK bands and new/up and coming groups. How do you tempt over these foreign bands like Manegarm this year? Or veterans like the superb Solstice? How do you find out about new-ish bands like Daemona or Stahlsarg (just to name a couple of personal highlights on the bill)
Glyn: You are correct: our collective personal tastes massively influence the line-up of this festival. We’d never book a band we didn’t like, or that we didn’t think would be an asset to the festival. We discover bands in a number of ways, not in the least by traveling to and from the Continent for the past decade to attend various gigs and festivals. I think we first saw Manegarm live sometime in 2007 in the Netherlands, and we’ve been trying to get them to come here ever since but we had to wait till we thought it would be worth their while. In 2009, we befriended Dom from Nothgard when he was camped next to us at Ragnarok. At the time, we had no idea how good his band were, we were just mates hanging out together at a festival. There are many ways we go about selecting bands. One method is by listening to what people on our Facebook page recommend – this is how Saor got on the bill. Solstice were actually recommended to us by Ian (The Venue owner). Stahlsarg got in touch the old-fashioned way, via e-mail. A member of Daemona attended last year’s festival as a fan and then got in touch us with, as did Sathamel and Countless Skies. So, while our personal tastes most assuredly influence the ultimate line-up, we are always open to suggestions from friends and fellow fans, not to mention direct applications from the bands themselves.
AN: Do you set out each year with a wishlist? How do you actually build an exciting and more importantly balanced bill?
Glyn: We always have an idea of potential headliners — it’s then a simply case of building the rest of the line-up around them. As mentioned earlier, we ask people what bands they are interested in seeing and take that into account, along with the hundreds of band applications we receive. We then draw up a short-list into 4 categories. Headlining bands (such as Manegarm, Skyclad & Skyforger), followed by Special Guests/Main Supports (such as Saor, Solstice, and Wolfchant), along with Signed UK bands (such as De Profundis, Cnoc An Tursa, and Old Corpse Road), and finally Top Draw Unsigned bands (such as Atorc, Mountains Crave, and Haerken). After narrowing these down, we still like to keep a bit of space on the bill and budget just in case a suitable touring band becomes available. The latter method has thus far worked out very well for us this year, as seen in the additions of Whispered and Scarab (and with Skiltron last year and with Mael Mordha in 2013).
AN: You have longstanding links with Trollzorn records. How did this come about?
Glyn: Over the past 10 years we (especially Marc) have attended a huge number of German festivals, and over the years befriended the Trollzorn guys. We always ensure that there is at least one Trollzorn band on the festival line-up. Trollzorn are a fantastic label that really captures the spirit of what we are trying to emulate at Warhorns. We’re honoured to have them on board with us.
AN: Tell us about the seemingly ever present Northern Darkness Heavy Metal Crew. I’ve found them a really friendly bunch and they seem to put in a lot of work around Warhorns over the weekend. How did that start?
Glyn: The same as the above, really — Marc, Toby, and Teds are the UK representatives of the club.
AN. Like any live event you can be hit with the unforeseen but Warhorns seems to handle this well. How?! Last year your bill got hit by illness weeks before, a road accident the day before the opening night and the old broken tour bus on the day and yet the weekend still proved to be a wonderful event.
Glyn: It was tough last year, but there was only really one option for us, and that was to simply get on with it. These circumstances couldn’t be avoided. I think the majority of our clientele understood and accepted this, and it meant some bands got to play longer set. One silver lining was that we got the fantastic Aklash on the bill at short notice, and what a discovery they were.
AN: What’s the worst thing about organising something like Warhorns? Do you ever get to enjoy it fully?
Glyn: There’s always a certain stress level as there are so many things that can (and do) go wrong. While we try to have contingency plans in place, sometimes things just happen that can’t be predicted or avoided. Usually by the time the last band is on we can relax a bit, but we don’t wind down till the following day when everyone is home safe and sound.
AN: What have been your personal musical highlights over the years?
Glyn: I really enjoyed my first Ragnarok Festival in 2006. Paganfest 2007/2008 (the line up with Ensiferum, Moonsorrow, Korpiklaani, Tyr, and Eluveitie) was likewise outstanding. Possibly my personal favourite festival was the now-defunct Ultima Ratio Festival. Back in the day, I also really enjoyed the early indoor Bloodstock Festivals (from 2001-2005).
AN: Warhorns has seemed to me on my visits a genuinely warm and friendly event and admirably unselfconscious in its love of metal – no irony, no bullshit. What’s the secret?
Glyn: I’m glad to hear it! There’s no secret, really. I simply that we (and I include everyone, bands, crew & fans) are genuine, honest people, who do it for the sheer love of the music.
AN: So if you were given a wand, who would your dream headliners be? Who do you want to get that you haven’t been able to secure yet?
Glyn: I don’t want to say, because maybe we’ll book them next year and it will ruin the surprise.
AN: How will things be different in 2017?
Glyn: We won’t be changing things too much. Warhorns will still be a half-day Friday and full day Saturday festival, and will continue to feature a mix of international and UK-based bands. It would be nice maybe to finally get some re-enactors doing some form of medieval combat, but we’ll have to see.
AN: Any last words?
Glyn: Yep, thanks for support and please keep spreading the word of Warhorns. Please keep buying the tickets, and the T shirts.
AN: Thanks again. I really wish you all the best and look forwards to the next festival. Thanks for time.
Glyn: Thank you, and here’s looking forward to September!
There you are: By dedicated fans for dedicated fans. A simple ethos and a fuck of a lot of hard work make it one of the best weekends away you could plan in the UK. My thanks to Glyn and the team for their time. Now, you lot hit the links below and plan your raid on 16-17 September 2016.
You won’t regret it.
(Interview – Gizmo)