Sean Rowley Interview: "Guilty Pleasures just excels at festivals"

The mastermind behind the cheesy pop sensation 'Guilty Pleasures' catches up with Skiddle ahead of his performance at Highest Point Festival 2023!

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 3rd May 2023

There are few people who know how to spin a cheesy tune like Sean R|owley, but what sets him apart is that he absolutely bloody loves them. For nearly 20 years now the Radio host and DJ has been bringing his massively popular pop show, Guilty Pleasures, to radiowaves, clubs, and festivals all across the country. 

The premise is simple. If you can think of a song that you love but have been embarrassed about loving, and hide from your pals, then you can all but guarantee that it's in his playlist. Tracks are pulled from every decade, and every taste, with all facets of the cheesiest of pop from whatever time or place pulled masterfully into the forefront and blasted out without a worry about being 'cool'. 

This year Sean is bringing the show to the grounds of Williamson Park, for a huge, five-hour closing set at Highest Point Festival on the Woods Stage. In preparation for the big event, we caught up with Sean to chat all things Guilty Pleasures, from its conception to its growth into what it is today, with a special focus on what he's going to bring to his set at Highest Point. 

Scroll down and check it out, and don't forget to book your tickets to Highest Point at the bottom of the page!



So, Sean, you're going to be playing at Highest Point this year with your Guilty Pleasures show; Will this be your first is it your first festival of the year?

Well, it is my first outdoor festival of the year. My actual first festival of the year was in was down in Butlins in Bogner, Regis at the end of January. I'm involved in running a big festival down there called Mighty Hoopla, and we do a Winter Weekender. But this is the first proper festival where we’ll be outdoors and all that, and I’m proper excited for it.


You’re going to be closing the Woods stage at the festival, and with a huge five-hour set, how much are you looking forward to sinking your teeth into that?

What I do have to say… most people, and most DJs, would baulk at a five-hour set, but I get really excited about them. By nature of what Guilty Pleasures is all about, which is banging pop, a set of this size allows me to give it a really nice build and then get to a point where it's hitting the crescendo.

I really enjoy that, because it means I get to play stuff that wouldn't usually. You wouldn't walk out on a festival stage and play something like Avril Lavigne's ‘Complicated’ or TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’. We tend to do headline sets at festivals, and those are tracks that go down really well, but we wouldn't play at those shorter, more standard headline gigs, so this gives me an opportunity to spread my wings a bit.

Image: Highest Point on Facebook

It’s no easy task keeping people engaged and dancing for five hours, even if they do know all the tunes, what's the secret to keeping people involved and enjoying it throughout that whole time? 

Well, the secret is to play tunes that just connect and just to keep people engaged, you know? So, if it starts with more of a sing-along anthem type of vibe, it will shift through and start to build into something people dance to. 

But it's also about connecting with the decades of pop's greatest moments. That will go, right back to the 1980s. So it's the eighties, through the nineties, and also the naughties. It's all the biggies from those decades that will be played.

But the secret is keeping people connected to what you're doing. By nature of what Guilty Pleasures is, it's not like we're being clever, we're not trying to educate. I've had amazing moments in clubs over the years where I've heard music that just takes you to another level and you haven't heard it before. But that's definitely not the remit for Guilty Pleasures. 

Guilty Pleasures is Take That, next to the Backstreet Boys, next to Atomic Kitten, next to Black Eyed Peas, next to Toto. You know, it just runs through the gambit of pop.


For sure, I do just love the idea of it because, at the end day, I think everyone's got a guilty pleasure. It's a universal term and it means that absolutely everyone can enjoy and get something out of your shows. It’s absolutely perfect for a festival, isn't it?

It absolutely is, and we at Guilty Pleasures just excel at festivals, because it's just all the hits that people love. 

What I love if I'm DJing this at one of these festivals or events, is seeing that look of recognition that comes on someone's face as they realize exactly what it is they're dancing to, and they just lose their shit in the moment. 

Listen, it's not rocket science, I just play pop, but you’ve gotta nail it. Although I'll have a fairly good idea of what I'll be playing on the day, I won't be sure until I'm literally standing there with the crowd in front of me that I'm looking at them and judging what age group and vibe I've got in front of me.

But this is why festivals are brilliant for us because it's just right across the board as far as age groups go, and you know, I've got to keep that in mind. So that's why, you know, something like ABBA is literally a get-out-of-jail-free card because everybody knows it and everybody loves it and they want it at that moment, and that’s what we deliver.


Just touching on the age group and the age diversity within your crowds. What's it like seeing the old and the young coming together to belt out a song that could be from either of their youths and being the person to initiate that and see it all unfold?

I'd call it a spiritual experience [laughs], I jest but I also don’t really. The level of community that comes together for these tunes that people can be embarrassed to love, that's really exciting, and that's when I get excited; and if I'm getting excited, the crowd are getting excited. It just turns into this beast where everyone feeds off each other and it can turn into something really special.


Do you take a different approach at festivals than your club nights? And if so how has that approach shifted over the years you’ve been doing it?

Well, the thing is, usually if I'm putting on a Guilty Pleasures club night, nine times out of ten, I know who and what age group is coming through the door;  I'm locked into what tunes are gonna work and what isn't gonna work.  But, Guilty Pleasures has been around for about 20 years now, and in that time there's been a natural shift in the musical policy.

We started Guity Pleasures back in 2004. So when it started we were really mining the eighties. That was THE decade, and at that time that was 20 years previous. So you can imagine that as time goes on and the audiences get younger, that decade of 20 years previous is also going up and you're constantly shifting another decade.

So weirdly, now we’re coming up to 2024, and it’ll have been 20 years since I started, it means a lot of the music that I'm playing at Guilty Pleasures is from the Noughties. So the tunes that were hits when I started it are now the Guilty Pleasures of those who come to the nights. It’s a really weird circular thing to be a part of. 


By the sounds of it, and one of the reasons I believe you’ve been so successful, this circular approach has made it a lot less of a throwbacks night, which I’m sure many will look at the night and think it is on face value, and turns it into more of an ‘anti-cool’ night, full of tracks from all eras that people may otherwise be embarrassed to see enjoying, and giving them a space to let loose and freely show love for them, would you agree?

Absolutely, and that thing that you've just described there is really part of the reason why we're still here, the success story of why Guilty Pleasures still works is because we're creating a safe space for people to come along and really indulge themselves in music that  one might be judged by, and go, “oh yeah, no, we love this, we really do love this.”

Image: Sean Rowley on Facebook

You mentioned there that it’s around 20 years back now when you first started. I'm always interested in how these unique and successful ideas first come about. Could you give us a whistle-stop tour of the inception of Guilty Pleasures and how it's changed into what it is today? 

Yeah, so basically what happened was, I've always been a Radio Presenter and DJ and I had a weekly show on BBC Radio London. It was like a late-night, specialist, radio show, and it was the time when bands like the White Stripes were coming through, and that was very much my thing. But, I was pulled up by the head of the radio station, she said: “I need you to play more familiar music,” and I thought, oh God, you know, cause I I didn't have a playlist, I was allowed to play what I wanted and I just thought that that’s the last thing I want; to play what one might, might deem as ‘Predictable’ or just someone who plays tunes that we hear all the time. 

But then I started thinking about it a bit more, and I just realised that, when I was growing up, in the 70s and 80s, I'd always listened to bands like the Bee Gee’s, Fleetwood Mac, ELO. and bands like that. And my mates used to think they were really naff because they were all listening to bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd which I hated. I just remembered how I used to feel a little bit ashamed about this music that I liked. So I used to hide the records when they used to come around my house and pretend to be one of the cool gang.

But that's what I tapped into when I was asked to play more familiar music. I thought, yeah, f**k it, I can actually play these tunes with authenticity because I do really love it. So that's exactly what I did, and I'd heard the phrase Guilty Pleasures knocking around and I thought, that's exactly what that music is. I love it, but I know it's a bit uncool and I know that I feel guilty about loving that type of music. 

So I was able to start that on my radio show, and it got such a phenomenal response that it just literally snowballed, and within six months, I was releasing the compilation album of those tracks on Sony. Then we started doing the club nights, which started really small, about 200 people on a Tuesday night and it just went mental. Within a year I was doing a residency at Koko in Camden on a Saturday night to like 2000 people through on a Saturday night, and it literally just took off. 

I’m just feeling very blessed that, whilst it’s shifted musically over the generations as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s still flying today. 


So, just to finish off, I know you've probably been asked this one a lot, but have you got any tracks that you always keep in your back pocket when it’s not as wild as you might want it to be, that always gets the crowd going? 

You know what, there is no question about it. It's Queen, ‘Don't Stop Me Now.’ It's like an “In case of emergency break glass’ track that one, it never fails. 


Finally, if we're just talking purely Sean Rowley, what are your top three go-to Guilty Pleasure tracks for you? Not for the stage, but for yourself.

I mean, I just have to preface this by saying I feel no guilt, after doing this for 20 years, there's nothing that can make me care what anyone thinks, I love this now. 

Recently, because I'm of an older generation that wouldn’t have seen or heard something like High School Musical the first time around. I picked up on this track that they had called ‘We Are All In This Together.’ One night I just thought, f**k it, I started playing it and it went off. It just went off. 

I do find it hilarious though, what is a man of my age doing enjoying music like that? But once you see the power of it, you can't help it. It’s just one of those tracks that everyone from the generation who watched it as kids all know. But more importantly, and this is really the essence of the whole premise of Guilty Pleasures, it's actually a really good song. 

It's the same with all those S Club 7 records; they're just f**king good songs. So my second one would be ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ by S Club 7, and then finally, we’re gonna have to go with the one that’s always in my back pocket, that we have mentioned, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen. 




If Sean Rowley and his Guilty Pleasures show is getting you wanting a boogie and a singalong, then there's one place you simply have to go to see him, and that's Highest Point Festival, for his 5-hour closing set at The Woods Stage. If you want to find out more information, or some FAQS, on the festival, you can find it all by clicking, or tapping - HERE


Or, if you just want to secure your tickets now, then you can find all of the available ticket options for the weekend in Lancaster's Williamson Park, at the bottom of this page!



Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.








Header image credit: Sean Rowley on Facebook



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