The Fell guy

In which we talk to John Fell, promoter of the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival.

You’ve got the jazz festival preparations underway, the line-up for the folk festival has just been announced and Lunar is coming back for 2020, so you’re a bit busy.

“As always. This is the first year we’ve had two festivals instead of three for a few years because we did Beyond the Tracks as well so it’s been a bit hectic. We’ve got a bit of breathing space but we’re using the time well.”

And still people think you only work for a couple of weeks a year.

“Exactly. It is a bit more than that, it’s an all the year round job.”

The Mostly Jazz Festival began in 2010, it came from nowhere but had a load of big names from the start.

“I think so. Because we had the folk festival, so having it in the same location and the name helped get us the good artists from the start.”

It must also be the most mis-spelt festival in the world.

“It was a bit of a play on the word ‘Moseley’. We started off as a jazz festival but then the soul side came in and to call it Moseley Jazz meant we were missing out a bit so Mostly it was. There are so many jazz and soul festivals that we wanted to stand out a bit.”

And inevitably I have to ask which acts have stood out.

“The one that stands out is Chic. Everyone knows their back catalogue and we knew they’d be a really great show but between booking them and the festival the Daft Punk single came out and the whole thing exploded, shining the whole light on Nile Rogers and Chic.

“We could never have afforded them after that but we were lucky. It was the sort of thing you hope for, that Get Lucky single was everywhere, everyone was aware of what Nile had done and it was just a great party atmosphere.

“The other big one was Public Enemy. Sugarhill Gang pulled out with a month to go but we managed to bury that bad news with some good news and they blew everyone away with a great show.”

And anyone you wouldn’t ask back even if they paid you?

“We’ve never had anyone bad; we’ve had a few people we knew were going to be difficult and I think if they weren’t we’d have been disappointed. From memory I don’t think anyone’s been an absolute nightmare. There’s been some characters.”

i can’t see anything like that this year.

“Burt Bacharach will be a cool way to end the Sunday. We’ll have two big parties on the Friday and Saturday with the Jacksons and Brand New Heavies, then Sunday will be a big singalong with Burt. Our whole team saw him at Glastonbury in 2015, he played the Pyramid Stage and it was one of those gigs when everyone in the audience knew every word.”

With Burt there’s always the risk that a festival audience might not know him so well and think he’s just doing other people’s songs.

“Like Chic, it will be one of those times when you have to educate. If you’re a fan you’ll know what he’s done but otherwise you have to let them know he wrote these songs, he was the man behind all those hits.”

Who else is there to look out for?

“There’s JP Bimeni on the Saturday, who did Craig Charles’ album of the year, that’ll really rip it. You might not know him but you’ll be Spotifying him afterwards. One of the obvious ones is Brian Jackson, who did all the work with Gil Scott Heron. He’ll go down really well. There’s Ibibio on Friday, their album’s just come out. Then Khruangbin on Sunday, there’s a whole nice new jazz approach then going into Burt.”

It must be difficult to run a successful festival now, with the exchange rate not helping and sponsors being harder to come by.

“That’s the problem. A few of the American artists will only accept dollars, which we understand, and there’s been slight rise in fees, which isn’t ideal and that’s manageable. We’ve always been self-funding, we only once had some council funding. We are looking maybe to see if there’s any outside projects that could bring new groups into the festival. There are bigger festivals but our uniqueness in the venue does help us get big names.”

Are there any problems with the neighbours?

No, considering we’re surrounded by houses. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make sure the sound systems are directional away from the houses and I don’t know whether other places get anticipated problems rather than actual complaints but I do think our events are well protected, the council appreciate that we were here first.”

There was once talk of all the festivals in Birmingham coming together at the same time, so we’d have a huge Edinburgh-style event. Would you want to get involved?

“I’m not sure. When you put it all together there are a lot of stand alone companies and if you put it all together you’d see lower sales because people wouldn’t be able to afford them all. We’ve seen it ourselves when we’ve had events close together and we’ve felt that it’s affected sales. It’s an interesting idea but I don’t think it would be viable.”

And you’re staying in Moseley for the foreseeable?

“Of course, it’s our home. It’s a blessing that we have a limited capacity because you see some festivals trying to grow and it only takes one year of bad weather or something going wrong and you’re stuck. We like where we are; it’s a limited capacity and it can only get better rather than get bigger.”

The Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul festival takes place in Moseley Park from 12th-14th July. Details