Interview: A Conversation with Huw Stephens

Off The Record, a new music festival organised by the team behind Bluedot and Kendal Calling, comes to Manchester for its inaugural event on November 4th. 

OTR has gathered the likes of Huw Stephens, John Kennedy, Clint Boon, Sean McGinty and many more, to put together 30 of the most exciting upcoming acts who will head into Manchester’s City Centre. There is a twist, however. The line-up of the event will not be announced until 24 hours before the festival.

So with only just over two weeks until the event, we sat down with Huw Stephens at Takk in the Northern Quarter to discuss what made him want to be involved with it all.

What made you want be involved with Off The Record?

Anything that champions live music and new music is good! I remember ‘In The City’ which was brilliant here in Manchester. I used to love coming to Manchester for that, running around the Northern Quarter watching loads of bands.

I just like the idea of Off The Record, that element of surprise. Sometimes you put loads of new bands on a bill and because people don’t know who they are, they don’t go. I like that you’ve just got to trust the festival & the curators and just go for it. There are some great names on there like John Kennedy and Guy Garvey, so I also jumped at the chance.

What do you think people can learn from the OTR conference?

Anything where you can get to chat to other people about your music and what you want to do, is good. Especially now where the industry is in the biggest state of flux that I’ve ever seen it in. It’s crazy right now because of streaming, revenues and venues shutting down. Now, more than ever, we need to get together and talk about things. Manchester is a great place for making things happen. The late, great, Tony Wilson demonstrated that.

A question you’ve likely been asked many times, but what advice would you give to bands starting out in the industry?

Just have fun and make as much brilliant music as you can. You need to gig a lot too. Make music that makes you happy and if it’s really good you will be championed by people. Stick at it and don’t just copy the sound of another band. Carbon copies of other bands just sound like carbon copies of other bands.

What inspired you to get into the music industry?

I wanted to get into radio more than the music industry. I started off doing hospital radio after listening to Jo Wiley and Steve Lamacq and thinking that being a radio DJ would be a cool job. I don’t really want to be a part of the actual industry. What I like doing, like your site, is finding music and shouting about it. I dabble a little bit in festivals and things, but I want to stay in radio. I’m really lucky because I can just play the things that I like.

How important is it that new acts are recognised?

Obviously, it’s very important and it’s the driving force behind OTR. Some people do blur the lines and ‘new music’ almost becomes a genre, but it’s not. The key is for those acts to find the outlets to share their music because that’s what can make it. Playing live, being talked about online, on radio. It’s a vague answer but ultimately they will end up being festival headliners one day.

What is your favourite music venue in the UK?

I’ve not been to all of them! One of the ones that I keep hearing great things about, and really want to visit, is the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. As for my favourite of the ones that I have been to. I have to say Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff. I’ve seen some of my favourite gigs there, I love what they do, they’ve been going for over 25 years and yeah, it’s just a great venue.

Manchester has recently been ranked as the ‘best city in the UK for live music’ – how do you think the music movement has changed in Manchester since the early 80’s?

Jeez… Well I was born in the early 80’s and first came to Manchester for ‘In The City’. Even then, in the mid 90’s, you knew about the history. The Hacienda and everything that went along with that. Now… well you’ve got The Warehouse Project – who are doing great things – and all of the great venues in the Northern Quarter like Soup Kitchen and The Castle. All I know is that when any band tour, they always want to stop off in Manchester. It’s a city with music in its blood.

Which new bands should we/people be checking out?

I’ll go with Caro. I heard about them via your blog and got them to play my night at The Social in London. There’s definitely, definitely something going on there, I was very impressed. There’s absolutely loads, though. Check them all out!

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