Ahead of its return on September 4th, we spoke with Weyfest director Colin Webb about the allure of the festival, its history, and the elements that make it one of the most relaxed and friendly events on the circuit.
There's an awful lot to love about Weyfest. Situated in the picturesque Surrey hills, the family friendly weekender boasts one of the most unique locations out there - the Rural Life Centre, a brilliant and unusual backdrop for its top notch blues and rock line up.
Ask anyone that's been to Weyfest though, and they'll tell you that it's the atmosphere that really makes the biggest impression. The mesh of all ages, the gathering of like-minded individuals, and affordable alcohol and gourmet food on site play a part, as does the tireless work that goes on behind the scenes for the rest of the year.
Ahead of its ninth edition at the site, we caught up with Colin Webb, one of the founding directors to talk through some of his favourite Weyfest moments, and discuss some of the key elements that make it one of the friendliest, most chilled festivals in the country.
The Rural Life Centre
I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is when we found a permanent home, back in 2006 - The Rural Life Centre. Before then, Weyfest got its name because it follows the river Wey, which runs though Surrey, and there were lots of venues along the side of the river, like clubs and that kind of thing that we used.
It all kicked off with a thing called National Music Day which Mick Jagger and the then Culture Secretary put together. It was a day where any venue could play music without getting a licence, provided on that day the bands played for free and all the money went to charity.
So we thought 'that's a good idea' - we're all musos so we just asked a few friends if they'd come and do it, Ray Dorset fromMungo Jerry said he'd turn up. I thought he'd turn up and do two songs and go, but he turned up with a full band which was absolutely brilliant, just really nice, and from then it went for years, until finally, one of the guys who was very active with us at the time said 'look, I'm a member of the Rural Life Centre, I'm pretty sure I can persuade them to make it our personal home.'
So we had a meeting with them - I mean the venue is totally unique, its 15 acres of living village history. They've taken old buildings from various villages, rebuilt them in this area, and along with the crafts and things that went with it, they've turned it into this fabulous living museum with loads of things to see and do.
It's also surrounded by a railway which you can take rides on, which is brilliant. The whole site gives off a great, great feeling. Then we thought 'what audience are we aiming at? Why not aim it at people that love great music and keep it like that?' So we did. Our aim was initially 35+ and families, but now, it's for all ages of people that love great music, in this fabulous setting.
Over the years, Weyfest has become an event known by all the artists and attendees as somewhere everybody feels safe. All the artists that come go out into the crowd, everybody does it! Everyone from The Stranglers, who don't usually go wandering around festival sites to Robin Trower. I always remember him saying that it's the first time that he'd ever wandered round in a festival and felt safe and secure, and loved people coming up and talking to him.
We get that from all the artists. So I suppose the second great thing has been to provide an atmosphere not only for the punters, but for the artists themselves, that they feel good about going round and talking to festival-goers - I love that side of it.
What's really nice now is that, when we're getting someone to play at Weyfest, we've gone from really searching for people to people actually saying, 'when can play Weyfest again?' It's a great feeling, it also give you a good feeling for the festival itself.
This year we've got people like Paul Carrack, The Waterboys, Level 42 you know, Nazareth, there's a mixture of really great bands, and there's something for everyone actually. Some acts we've had two or three times, purely because they wanted to have the experience again. 10cc are a classic example of that.
And then we've had bands that have taken a look at the line up and said 'we're not suited to play' - UB40 were one of those, but they went down an absolute storm, they loved it, just as everyone else did. Afterwards they said 'Wow, if we'd have known it was like this there'd have been no worries at all!' So this is why a very eclectic line up works for us.
The band that surprised me most was From The Jam back in 2013 - my God they were good! You do get some great surprises over the years. Roachford was another highlight. He's coming back this year actually, absolute stunning performer and a lovely guy.
This year we've also got The Quireboys on. We've never had them before, so I'm really intrigued as to what they're going to be like. One of the big things that happened this year is The Troggs pulled out, butHugh Cornwell jumped in which is great, you know, we've had The Stranglers twice but we've never had Hugh Cornwell, so this year will be interesting.
The three of us that run it all have different stand out moments, but for me, one of my big ones was watching Newton Faulkner. He came on after The Blockheads, who had about 11 people on stage, and they'd gone down a storm, so I thought 'how is he going to follow this? A single performer?'
But wow, that was a stunning performance. He had the crowd in his hand, it was brilliant (watch footage above). This is where it all gets nice - he was asked earlier in the day if he'd mind doing some signings and he said 'sure, but only for an hour or so'. I thought 'you'll get bored after half an hour'.
There were lines and lines of people waiting to get his autograph, it was extraordinary. He ended up staying there for about an hour and a half, and, you know, that was an outstanding moment for me. To follow The Blockheads and carry out a performance of that quality was just terrific.
Now this isn't an outstanding moment, but it's to do with the whole infrastructure of the place, because, what we try to do is make it a really lovely, safe environment for people. And what goes into that is a tremendous amount of work, for an entire year, making sure we've got the toilets all nice - I hate going to venues where the toilets are rubbish! So we always have posh loos.
And I tell you what, this sounds like a small thing, but just adding the showers - believe me, if you're there for three days, it's really good to take a shower at some point! If not for yourself then for other people [laughs].
And the amount of effort that goes into the car parking, camping, security, the stewards that come and work their rocks off to make it work, those 50 or 60 people are just fantastic. It works so well. So I guess the big thing is how hard everyone works to ensure its all looked after.
Beyond that, I think we're one of best festivals around. It makes the top 100 in The Times, and the top 50 in The Telegraph every year, and we want to keep it that way! There are so many festivals now, you have to have something different to offer people to stand out, and I think we do that well.