Dan Wiltshire is the founder and artistic director of the One Love Festival in England. It was first staged in 2008 at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica. Two years later Dan made history by moving the third edition of One Love to Hainault Country Forest Park in Essex – the first specialist reggae festival in greater London in almost a decade. Fast forward another two years and the summer reggae festival market is considerably more crowded – with the 12 day Respect Jamaica series at London’s Indigo2 and Bristol’s Boomtown Fair clashing with One Love the same weekend. And this year Dan has decided to take his 3 day party away from the capital to Paddock Wood in Kent. Taking place from August 10th-12th the bill includes Cornell Campbell, Freddie McGregorand a clash between the legendary Coxsone and Saxon sounds. Angus Taylor caught up with Dan to discuss the past present and future of the event and how reggae music turned his life around…
How did One Love get started?
In 2008 when the 30th anniversary of the One Love Peace concert was coming up I was looking around and doing internet searches and nothing was being mentioned. Because it was quite a big thing in my life, and even though I’m not Jamaican and stuff, as a kid it was quite momentous. So in my subconscious – and I know it sounds a bit deep – there was something about it that was really special. I knew the people who looked after Bob Marley’s publishing and his image from previous stuff I’d done so we had a meeting and I said “Look there’s nothing going on” and ridiculously they were saying “Is Bob Marley’s influence as strong now as when he was alive?” and I was like “Course it is!” So I said “Would it be a good idea to do something like this?” and that’s where it started.
How has the festival grown since 2008?
I found a site at Herstmonceux Castle and I don’t think the council or the owners knew what to expect. I mean it took me a long time to persuade them to put a reggae festival in this very rural location in East Sussex where there wasn’t much interest. But we sort of created a monster really! It wasn’t an overnight success. It would have been if we had stayed in one place but we kind of got chased out. When they saw it was really popular they didn’t really want it in that area which was quite conservative. So the next year we took it to Kent at the last minute because we had this big fight the second year – bloody hell! – courts, barristers chasing us down. We took the fight to the highest point it could and they weren’t going to give so we decided to bail out of East Sussex in 2009 and take it to a zoo in Kent. All our dreams and what we wanted to achieve were tangled up in politics and although we survived it we thought “let’s take it to London”.
I’ve fought all my life. Every year there’s a new challenge
What was it like putting on a festival in Hainault Greater London for the first time?
There they were very welcoming in the darkest dingiest part of Essex. There was a multicultural council – Asian, Mexican, Caribbean, it was a completely different take on what we were trying to do. I mean bloody hell, there was no sort of pre judgment on us, only on our ability to run the show – that was all they were worried about. What a sigh of relief that was! Previous events in that site before had had people being mugged on the way down and people setting fire to the tents – but we didn’t have one incident. I think that was because we were just left to get on with it because they thought we were quite streetwise. I mean, people who do these kinds of things are bullies and bullies are generally cowards. Also these other festivals base was teenagers whereas our average age was about 36.
So why did you decide to move to Kent this year?
My thoughts were always that we needed to take it back to where we really started. That’s where the vibes were and when you tried to promote a camping festival in London people were like “What?? Camping in London?” We did some nice events there but in the back of our minds we thought “We have to take it back to the place where we were when it started and sort of give it a chance festivalwise as a sort of camping thing.” I think bringing it out of London opens it up to a whole new area – making it accessible to people in villages and towns where there’s a sort of growing undercurrent of young people. Our major sales point is still London but we still hope to get a lot of people in from other areas.
What do you like about the new site?
The site is just perfect whereas the park was a public park – we had people coming round nicking our electrical wire, we had dog-walkers wanting to come through when we were setting up and stuff like that. Whereas this site is ours – a secure private place. One way in, one way out. Anyone who’s on the site is coming to the event. There are showers and good water access, good electrical hook-ups for the vehicle area. It’s a lot more suitable for the event and our sales have reflected that. So my hunch was correct – we moved to a site more accustomed to outdoor events and our sales have never been so good.
As the festival has grown how have you grown with it?
I always was quite stubborn and I’ve always been able to deal with a crisis quite well and keep a straight head and deal with problems as they arrive. I think it’s part of your mechanics that you can do this stuff and if you can’t you can’t. It’s the way you deal with it that matters. I think you are born to do stuff like that. I think you’ve got it in you or you haven’t. You need to be stubborn and determined in case there’s a fight and I’ve fought all my life. Every year there’s a new challenge. It keeps me 100% occupied and I love being occupied so it’s my ideal job. It consumes me.
When you took One Love to Hainault you had to go to Newcastle for a reggae festival anywhere in the UK. In 2012 there are lots of reggae festivals happening in London. You also have Boom Town Fair happening in the West the same weekend as yours. Did you feel like you were leading the way and how have you adapted?
I don’t think anyone who puts reggae festivals on is looking for high rewards. I mean if you were after a quick buck from making a music event you’d probably be better off putting a country and western show on! I like how new genres have opened up allowing a new generation to understand the origins and appreciate the roots of it all. How reggae has almost come full circle again through the help of dubstep and all the other bass orientated genres. It’s becoming more trendy I reckon and what makes something fashionable is people actually doing the stuff. In terms of more of a market I welcome it. There’s nothing to keep you on your toes like a bit of competition. Me and my crew could be sitting on their laurels but we’re doing more press, more promo, just doing more. I think doing more is a positive thing and if everyone does more it just opens it up more until hopefully one day we are very established. We’re only now five years old. What we want to be is 35 years old – or young! I want to be looking back on what we’ve achieved – and the fights and all that – and seeing people have been conceived at what we have done, engaged or married at what we have done. A lot of people are very involved with our festival already. People are complaining that we are getting too big! (laughs) But we want to be and we’ve got to be. We want people coming from Italy and France to our event like people go from our country to Spain for events.
I don’t think anyone who puts reggae festivals on is looking for high rewards
What is the philosophy of the festival? There’s been a very strong sound system element to the festival since the beginning. As the live musicians side of the performances has grown over the years is there a balance to be maintained?
Saxon Sound has been with us from the very beginning and I think everyone has a strong hope that it is successful. Everyone is part of that and everyone gets involved like on a holiday. There’s a hell of a lot of artists getting paid at that event. It’s pretty much like payday in the reggae circuit! Everyone who’s been there appreciates it. There’s a lot of potential in what we have done. Like when Luciano went over to Saxon’s area afterwards [in 2010] – that’s the kind of interconnectivity we have. It’s a spontaneous event happening. Like there are so many mcs for instance. Sometimes you have four or five mcs and one dj and they’re all doing their thing and you’ve created something magical. People are together adding their creative element. It’s quite a free event – people are creatively free to get on and add their bit. It’s a blank canvas really. Without the artists there would be no picture. Everyone has their input and everyone really cares about the show. We have a lot of people really wanting to get involved with it. We’re quite lucky there. We’re like a family.
How did you get into reggae and what was your background before doing this?
My dad died when I was 10. Some people would say I was a bit of a delinquent – me and my friends weren’t going in the right direction really. We started getting into a little bit of trouble. But then we basically started listening to Bob Marley when I was 11 or 12. We had no real role models or anything like that. No one was telling us what was right and what was wrong through Bob Marley words and I think Pato Banton words as well – reggae was a very positive influence from a very young age. It stopped us from going out and stealing or being rude to people. Then we got involved with sound systems, getting all the tapes, like rarities. We had access to this stuff like Coxsone and Saxon that kids didn’t normally have aged 14 and got more into reggae like that. So it was always, in my life, a strong influence that stopped me from doing other stuff. It took me into university. Reggae guided me into putting my head down and studying.
Reggae was a very positive influence from a very young age
Today is 31 years since Bob Marley passed. This year is also the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence. What can we expect from One Love Festival 2012?
This year is going to be like a Hi-de-hi! environment. There will be permanent toilet structures, showers, little bridges you can go over to get to the campsite, a loud speaker system on the campsite and a hard surface road system to go in and out. It’s going to be very community based and exciting – like a whole world that has been built up for our customers where we’re going to take over this site and make it our own. It’s so well suited for outdoor events that people are going to be walking around in almost pure luxury. No problems with showers, no problems with toilets. If you’ve got a camper van it’s going to be almost like going away to a Butlins holiday but a reggae festival. It’s going to be spectacular. The details, the artists getting bigger, everything’s getting better, more colourful, and it’s going to be a lot busier. It’s going to be busier than anyone’s ever seen it before. I think people are going to walk away and go “bloody hell! This is going to be something that will be remembered for a long time!”