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Twisterella Interview: Middlesbrough’s Award-Winning Multi-Venue Festival

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Twisterella returns to Middlesbrough this weekend for a mulit-venue day of music across the town, with brand new venues and an exciting lineup packed with emerging talent.

The North East festival has gained a strong reputation over the years for uncovering some of the UK’s best up and coming artists, led by co-promoters, Henry Carden and Andy Carr.

The pair separately brought the likes of Wolf Alice, Alt J, The 1975, Mumford and Sons. and The Vaccines to intimate venues in Middlesbrough, before teaming up to launch Twisterella in 2014, offering something a little bit different for the local music scene.

We spoke to Henry all about the festival, discussing the 2023 lineup and some of the highlights over the years. We also discuss future plans to grow the event, the biggest challenges, and plenty more.

NC: Tell us about your experience of the Middlesbrough music scene and how it looks today?

Henry: “Over the years it has been buzzing, we have even brought over bands from Luxembourg, France, Norway, and Italy to the town, and it has been a special atmosphere for those gigs. However, venues have been struggling here recently. We’re putting on a multi-venue music festival in a town losing its key venues, such as Westgarth Social Club, the heart and soul of the local music scene. Some of my favourite gigs over the years were at that venue, like Wolf Alice, and it’s sad to see it go. We also lost TS One and Base Camp so it hasn’t been a great time for music here, but there are encouraging signs locally in Stockton where the scene has been really strong recently with venues doing amazing things. We see this as the most important and challenging Twisterella so far. We have new venues and we want to show people that Middlesbrough can still put on good events.”

NC: Is the appetite there in Middlesbrough for the music scene to develop and recover following the venue losses?

Henry: “Yes definitely. Last year we struggled with tickets sales due to it being the first back after the pandemic, but we’ve already sold more this year with a week to go. There are obviously people who want to come to our event and see emerging artists, and that’s motivating for me. We launched in 2014 and people still seem excited by it today. It’s not the easiest sell due to our focus on up and coming artists rather than the big names, but I feel like people trust Andy and I now with our bookings. People are confident that even though they may not have heard of some of the bands, they’ll discover music they love along the way.”

NC: Who have been the some of the success stories from Twisterella, going on to achieve big things?

Henry: “I suppose the obvious one is Sam Fender, but there aren’t many places he didn’t play in the North East before breaking through to be honest. He played at TS One as a young kid at the first Twisterella. He was just acoustic at the time but you could hear how talented he was and it’s amazing to see how far he has come. Each year bands will have played Twisterella and gone onto bigger festival stages the year after. People like Dream Wife, Lauran Hibberd, The Howl & The Hum, Fatherson, The Snuts. Alongside that, even though they may not be household names, if they put on a good set it’s memorable. I ask my friends at the end of the festival for their favourite performance, and quite often they’ll pick out a local band who have held their own alongside the bigger names from all over the country.”

NC: What can we expect from the 2023 lineup, who are some of the artists to look out for?

Henry: “We always open up with a reverse headliner to kick things off, and this year it’s Dutch Uncles who I have always loved. Normally it is only emerging artists, but there are certain exceptions and Dutch Uncles’ last album was amazing so we’re buzzing to have them as a headliner. We’ve got Prima Queen headlining the Students Union Bar stage, they played five sets at Glastonbury this year. Their EP is probably my most listened to this year, I love it. There’s a band from Wales I saw at The Great Escape called Melin Melyn, they were really fun. I love The Great Escape but when bands know there are industry representatives there it can get a bit stale and serious at times, but Melin Melyn were just a lot of fun, half Welsh indie pop, half cabaret. We like to diversify the genres at Twisterella too so it’s great to have Chef the Rapper coming down from Scotland to play, and we have another rapper performing in Welsh.”

Dutch Uncles

NC: Do you feel a responsibility as a festival organiser to change the gender imbalance we often see, particularly among the larger UK festivals?

Henry: “Absolutely, we are signed up to the Keychange pledge for 50/50 male and female on-stage and off-stage roles at the festival. We’ve heard people talk about how disheartening it is to turn up and be the only female working on a music project, so we work hard at Twisterella to ensure we get a good balance. We can still do better, this year a few of the leading female artists we reached out to couldn’t attend, but we have created a festival where more than 50% of bands are not an all male lineup. It isn’t as challenging as some of the bigger festivals make out, they need to tap into the fanbases and marketing power to take a chance on different artists to create a more diverse lineup.”

NC: There will also be a Twisterella (Un)Conference, tell us all about this?

Henry: “We called it the (Un)Conference because we want it to be informal. Four areas in a room with sofas, where artists can talk to each other and industry experts from radio, press, management, and labels. We didn’t want it to be a stuffy thing, it’s not really a conference as people know it. We have a panel who will listen to emerging artists’ music if they want to put it forward. Avalanche Party managed to get on 6Music through this concept and we’ve had artists meeting managers and getting booked at national festivals as a result. It’s quite wholesome for us organising it every year.”

NC: What do you find is the biggest challenge when organising a festival?

Henry: “I could go on a big rant about industry frustrations but I’ll keep it positive. Andy and I do this alongside other work, Andy is a full time teacher and I have multiple plates spinning at once. Actually being able to do everything we want to do to the standard we want is the biggest challenge. We do this, but it can mean late nights. I was up until 2am this morning making a booklet with artists, stages and times, and I’m no graphic designer. Ideally, if we get some funding, we can get a wider team in to help with things like that and take some the weight off our shoulders.”

NC: What are your ambitions for Twisterella moving forward, are there any plans to grow the festival?

Henry: “This year and last year was about sustainability and maintaining the festival. Next year is our 10th anniversary, so we’ve pencilled in a bigger venue to expand the Twisterella map. We both have a hunger to make it the biggest and best festival so far, but we’ll deal with that after this year’s event rather than give us any more stress and headaches!”

Twisterella Festival takes place THIS SATURDAY in Middlesbrough. Tickets are priced at £22.50 + booking fee – available here – Tickets – TWISTERELLA.

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“If you could go out for a drink with any three musicians, past or present, who would you choose and why?” – That’s what we ask our guests on the Fantasy Pints Podcast! Seasons 1 & 2 are available now. You can check out all episodes on Spotify, Apple and YouTube, including interviews with DMA’s, Clint Boon, Robbie Knox, The Wombats, Jamie Webster, Clinton Baptiste, Scheiffer Bates, Omid Djalili and plenty more

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