This year’s Call Of The Wild Festival has been postponed from May to September but don’t expect the coronavirus to dampen spirits. Co-founder Dave O’Hara tells Simon Rushworth to expect even wilder times in 2020.

Rushonrock: Take us back to the birth of Call Of The Wild?

Dave O’Hara: It all started following a conversation I had with Raz (White, co-founder). We’ve both worked with bands for quite a long time now. Raz has been a promoter for many years and I’ve managed a few bands – right now I manage the Newcastle band Tomorrow Is Lost. Music is in our blood.

Rushonrock: What was the motivation behind curating your own festival?

DO: The main thing for the pair of us at that point was that we were looking at the level that a lot of these bands were playing at and there was some real talent out there. Things have got so much better for bands in terms of what they can record and the ease of recording. But the music that they’re making just doesn’t seem to be recognised as so many rock fans are still stuck in the 80s or 90s. The likes of Kiss and Whitesnake are still doing their ‘final’ tours after all these years but those bands are going to fade away one day soon and you need other bands to replace them. Some of the bands we’ve seen and we’ve worked with are more than capable of going on to the next level. We wanted to help them to get there.

Rushonrock: But festivals are fraught with disaster…

DO: True. The other side of the business is that bands are constantly getting ripped off and punters are losing faith on the music they love. These days anyone who puts on one or two bands in the back of a pub can call it a festival. It frustrated us but then we said ‘you know what, we need to stop talking and put our money where our mouths are and have a go at this’. 

Rushonrock: How did you settle on Lincolnshire Showground as Call Of The Wild’s home?

DO: We ended up there by accident – but it was the best thing that could have happened to Call Of The Wild! We had a look around and one area that doesn’t have a lot going on as far as a rock scene is concerned is Carlisle and Cumbria. Raz knows the area well and he’s been promoting shows and his Rockmantic Festival over there for years. We came across Kirklinton Hall and realised it was the perfect destination for a summer festival. The planning was going really well. We’d booked The Wildhearts and sorted out the licencing and everything looked good. But having got everything in place the police turned around and said that because of the Appleby Horse Fair taking place at around the same time we couldn’t do Call Of The Wild that weekend. At that point we went into full panic stations mode!

Rushonrock: But Lincolnshire saved the day?

DO: Like Cumbria, another place that doesn’t see a lot of rock action is Lincolnshire. Raz used to live in Lincoln and he’d seen that someone had just cancelled an event at short notice at Lincolnshire Showground. We gave them a call and we were in! On reflection, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We saw the place and our instant reaction was let’s do a festival here. We had about a week to get everything sorted and we didn’t hang about. We had The Wildhearts and The Virginmarys booked and the priority was ensuring they could still perform. Once they confirmed we just went for it!

Rushonrock: Can you describe the experience of running your own summer festival for the first time?

DO: I don’t know how to put into words what we went through putting on the festival last year. There was plenty of apprehension and going from not having a cigarette for five years to smoking 30 a day! There was the sheer joy of getting through to the headliner on the first night and watching The Virginmarys light it up. I had to have that band headline my first festival – I’ve known them for years and I told them that one day I’d have them headlining a big stage. That was a really special moment. I look back with pride on the overwhelmingly positive reception from the punters and the bands and how smoothly it ran. Everyone was so happy and there was no hassle or trouble. I can still picture The Wildhearts having their breakfast while kids played football in the main arena. It was a whirlwind of a weekend.

Rushonrock: Are there any bad memories?

DO: Bad memories? Not many but there was the sore feet, the damaged knees and the dehydration! We spent most of our time in and around the main arena and while there’s always a little bit of firefighting to be done it wasn’t too bad. Generally, we were able to wander around with the punters and take everything in as it happened. We’ve known a lot of these people for years and there was something pretty cool about the fact that they were there to enjoy our festival.

Rushonrock: From a business standpoint did it go as well as you’d hoped?

DO: Numbers-wise it was always going to be tough to get loads of people there for our first festival. We had 500 people every day and almost 600 when the Wildhearts were on stage. The first festival cost us money and we made a loss but it was a great experience. People came from all over the country, right across Europe and there was even a guy there from Canada – en route to Sweden Rock.

Rushonrock: Were you always planning to repeat the trick in 2020?

DO: The plan was to get 2019 done and dusted and look at the future a few weeks down the line. But during the weekend people were having such a great time and enjoying themselves so much that they started asking if they could buy tickets for the following summer. We hadn’t even booked a band! Anyway, we decided to put some early-bird tickets on sale and we’d sold 90-100 by the time we left the site on the Sunday. We just thought ‘wow’!

Rushonrock: And has the decision to stage COTW2 paid off?

DO: This year we’re well up on ticket sales compared to last year. We’ve surpassed last year’s total but there’s always room for more and we’re not sure how the change of date will affect things in the long term. But we’ll still have more than 50 bands playing across three days on three stages. 

Rushonrock: What did you enjoy most about 2019 and what are you looking forward to this year?

DO: When it comes to pulling together the line-up for a festival I suppose you can’t just fill it with your favourite bands. You can maybe pick one if you’re lucky. But what I loved about last year was going to check out bands that I didn’t know – just like everyone else. The personal favourite for me this year is Phil Campbell. He’ll be performing on a stage named after Lemmy at a festival selling Motörhead’s Röad Crew beer. It’s the perfect storm.

Rushonrock: You’ve postponed the festival and offered fans a range of options to ensure everyone is catered for – how important was it to do things right in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak?

DO: You have to think about the fans AND the bands. Sort them first and everything else will fall into place. We’re offering 500 weekend tickets to NHS workers and, while we’d love all existing ticket holders to join us in September we realise some people will have prior commitments. All the details are available on our website.