Features - Interviews

Putting Their Back Into It: We Meet Small Northern Irish Festival Our Back Yard

OBY Poster for Social Media-03

If there’s one thing the island of Ireland isn’t lacking it’s a well-attended and well put-together summer musical festival. But in the North – beyond the sway of Stendhal and Sunflowerfest – there’s still some scope for expansion; a little leeway and growth for annual showcases that put affordability and community at the heart of their manifesto. One such festival currently spearing their own thing is Our Back Yard, a festival that embody the “small but massive” mindset spearheaded by legendary NI DIY festival Glasgowbury. Ahead of its return to Gilford – just outside Portadown – on July 1, we talk to OYB’s operations manager Ryan Bentley about the bright journey so far and their plans for the future.

First off: when were the seeds first sown for Our Back Yard and how has the journey been thus far?

The seeds for Our Back Yard were actually sown sometime in late 2013 at Southern Regional College, Armagh. I was studying for my HND in Music and one of our modules culminated in a brief trip to Europe, the only catch being that we had to do our own fundraising in the lead up. Naturally, being that we were a bunch of music students, we gravitated towards organizing and promoting our own series of concerts with local musicians and the whole exercise proved to be, not just very effective, but also incredibly satisfying. Around this time, one of our lecturers, the lovely Sarah Champ, seemingly buoyed by our success as amateur promoters, expressed her long-held ambition to host an outdoor festival event on the premises of her own home. It’s now almost four years later and looking back, it all feels a bit serendipitous.

Were you inspired by any other Irish festivals, or did your vision come together from examples further afield?

Historically, we haven’t paid all that much attention to what anyone else is doing. Obviously we’re aware of the prevalence of independent music festivals in Ireland but at this stage in the Our Back Yard life span we’re honestly just focused on ourselves and continuing to make forward progress on our terms.

There’s quite a few Northern Irish festivals, many of which are new and gaining traction. What sets Our Back Yard apart?

First and foremost, we’re among the most competitively priced cultural events in the country. Tickets for this year start at £20.00 and have been as low as £15.00 in previous years. This stacks up pretty favourably against the myriad of other music and arts festivals that have popped up in recent years. Furthermore, Our Back Yard takes place on a farm, granted that’s not especially unique, but we do convert an entire barn into a bespoke communal area featuring a fully stocked bar, provided by the Gilford Inn, big screen TVs, a selection of local food and even toilet facilities with convenient disabled access. If that doesn’t pique your interest, we’re also extremely committed to fair and ethical payment for our performers, something we take very seriously.

You are actively involved in further education and development of young adults within the music industry. Is that commitment at the heart of your drive as a relatively new festival?

Yes, to this day we are still very much involved in further education. Further education provided the foundation for the genesis of Our Back Yard so we still feel massively indebted to establishments like the Southern Regional College. Sarah is still an active lecturer in both Armagh and Lurgan, while Jenny McParland (fellow Our Back Yard director) and I are both SRC alumni. We are steadfastly committed to the development of young professionals within the creative sector, so much so that we have previously had student involvement in the form of videographers, stage crew and even some student bands on the bill.

We’re sitting on a bit of a goldmine at the minute when it comes to homegrown talent. How are things shaping up for this year’s festival, in terms of line-up?

We’ve made great strides in this department and I can say without hesitation that 2017 will be the best line up yet. We’ve got The Bonnevilles, The Emerald Armada, No Oil Paintings, Gascan Ruckus, Petty Youth, Gypsy’s Wish, The Twisted Sisters, Hello Casanova and Willoware Jackson with more announcements pending. As a guitarist myself, I am probably most excited about seeing Gypsy’s Wish and The Emerald Armada tear it up. Absolutely must-see.

Your model has proved successful in the past – many now established festivals started in similarly low-key set-ups. Is the aim to grow it to something much bigger, or to retain/maintain the intimacy of your current model?

There is definitely a balance to strike between the two and I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive, but our short-term goal is definitely to maintain the integrity of the event whilst slowly consolidating and improving. We’ve generally found that punters and performers are more receptive to an event that has a face and a personal, communal aspect so that’s something we absolutely cherish and respect, however, we’re a very motivated and ambitious group and are fully aware that this could become something much bigger some day.

How would you encourage people interested in getting involved in helping out with the festival?

We always canvas for volunteers in the lead up to the event. The best way to keep tabs on this would be to give us a like and/or follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Finally, without giving too much away, what can we expect from this year’s outing?

This year’s outing will hopefully see a packed house, a few extra bells and whistles in terms of production, some familiar faces and a few of the best bands in the country. Cheers!

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.