With less than a month to go until HRH’s Prog V kicks off in North Wales, we present the first of our pre-event features: an interview with Chic Festivals charismatic and outspoken CEO, Jonni Davis.
It’s clear from the moment you meet Jonni Davis that here’s a man who is in control. He may portray himself as a party-circuit prince, but beneath this he gives off an aura of a man on a mission. Apparently older than his demeanour would suggest, one suspects that he’s as driven by success as he is by his beloved motorcycles. In spite of his theatrical air and business-minded attitude, a love for rock and roll shines through when talking to Jonni. We caught up with the prog procurator for a quick chat at last year’s event, a feat given the personal approach he takes to ensuring the talent’s hospitality needs are met.
(((o))): Tell us a little about how HRH Prog fits into the Chic Festivals events roster? Most of the events you are involved with are more geared towards a rock and metal audience.
Jonni Davis: We’ve been running Prog for four years now – 2017 will be our fifth event. Each year the festival has grown and grown, from humble beginnings to something unique in the calendar.
(((o))): Until 2016, you’ve co-hosted Prog alongside the Sci-Fi Weekender. It’s an odd coupling, but it appears to work well. Why have you made the decision to split the two events in 2017?
Jonni Davis: It’s purely about size. Now, in 2017, we’ll have the capacity to expand Prog into two arenas. It means we can book more, and bigger, bands for the weekend. Prog is a growing market and it has that demand. You see prog fans aren’t necessarily on social media. The festival’s grown by 30-40% year on year, but it’s done so by word of mouth. People want to come back time after time, and so we keep selling out. We’re now at 6,500 attendees over the course of the weekend, which makes us the biggest dedicated prog experience in Europe.
(((o))): Chalet festivals have a very different feel to outdoor, camping festivals. What made you go down this route?
Jonni Davis: You’ve got to understand what we’re doing here. We’re building a fan-based, personal community experience. Live arenas in holiday camps are a very specific location, but they cater to a fan that is not necessarily up for a weekend in a tent. Communication, not campfires, builds community.
(((o))): Tell us about the line-up for Prog V. You’ve some returning favourites…
Jonni Davis: The whole thing is completely autonomous – the fans tell us who they want to hear, and we book those bands. Personally I’m a big fan of space rock, and it’s always been a dream to have Hawkwind headline. I think Dave Brock is a massively underrated songwriter – I love his solo material as well as the stuff he does with Hawkwind. Of course we booked Curved Air in 2016 but Sonja (Kristina) had a family illness – her son was seriously ill. So it was only right to invite them. We also lost Solstice to illness last year. Once their members are recovered, we’ll invite them back to play, too.
(((o))): Speaking of Curved Air’s late departure, it seemed one band’s loss was another’s gain – tell us about Purson.
Jonni Davis: Purson came in at the last minute to fill in for Curved Air’s peak-time slot, and it broke the band. They’d not had exposure like that prior to the performance. I see them as prog metal, but they fit the bill. Every year will throw up a surprise like that, so I can’t wait to see who grabs their opportunity in 2017.
(((o))): It certainly was telling that the disappointment of fans waiting for Curved Air was short-lived, so much did the audience enjoy Purson’s set. What else is it that makes Prog such a special experience for those involved? Do you have a final message to those making the trek to North Wales?
Jonni Davis: I think one of the things that makes our events different to the norm is that there’s no “green room”. I remember booking Twisted Sister for one of the very first events we did, and telling them “go out to the bar and talk to the fans; if you do that, you’ll learn more about your audience in half an hour than you will in a lifetime of hanging around backstage”. What makes our festivals special is that interaction, between the fans who’ve travelled from all over to partake in the experience, and with the bands. We provide an arena for the fans and bands to meet. And everything we do is fan-driven.
(((o))): Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Jonni Davis: It’s a pleasure. You’re always welcome at our festivals!
Photos by Charlie Gardner.