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SPOTLIGHT: SALFORD MUSIC FESTIVAL 2020 PREVIEW

This weekend, the annual Salford Music Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary with a special online ‘lockdown’ edition. Organiser Ed Blaney explains how his event has adapted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic  

Former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook will perform at this weekend’s Salford Music Festival

“We’ve become used to adversity,” says Ed Blaney, organiser and mouthpiece of the annual Salford Music Festival. “In this business, you’re always gonna get knockbacks. But you’ve gotta get up and go again. That’s what makes you a real underdog.”  

     On the eve of its tenth anniversary, musician and promoter Ed Blaney is explaining Salford Music Festival’s proud underdog status within the UK festival scene. Much like the city it represents, the annual Salford music gathering has often been overlooked – an event overshadowed by the bigger, glitzier events in its noisy neighbouring city, Manchester.

     And yet, with typical Salfordian determination, SMF has overcome those obstacles and gone from strength to strength over the past decade. Consistently punching above its weight with its line-ups (The Fall have headlined on several occasions), whilst also showcasing the UK’s best emerging talent (an early pre-fame Catfish and the Bottlemen played the event), SMF is now firmly established as one of the northwest’s most independent-minded, DIY music festivals.

      Needless to say, SMF’s dogged resilience will surely come in very handy this weekend – when the festival faces its biggest challenge to date.  

      With live music events cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s SMF will be moving online for a ‘virtual lockdown’ edition of the festival. So, rather than occupying Salford’s finest pubs and clubs, this year’s event sees a stellar line-up of talent – the likes of Graham Nash, Peter Hook, Ian McNabb and Ren Harvieu – performing special self-isolation sets from the comfort of their homes.

     It’s not exactly how Ed Blaney planned to celebrate his festival’s tenth anniversary milestone. Nevertheless, Salford Music Festival – like everyone else in the music biz right now – has been forced to adapt to the new world order.

     “When they cancelled Glastonbury, I knew things were getting serious,” he says sombrely. “It was hard to get your head around at first – the idea that every single gig and festival around the world was cancelled. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is now. We’ve got to adapt. People have to up their game and change their tactics.”

      SMF 2020, which runs this weekend from Friday 29 to Sunday 31 May, has most certainly risen to the challenge. Just look at the star-studded line-up of names involved. Salford-raised music legend Graham Nash – best known for his work with The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash – is performing an exclusive set and speaking to BBC DJ Janice Long. Another proud Salfordian, bassist Peter Hook, will be showcasing some Joy Division classics with his band The Light. There’s also epic soul balladry from local songstress Ren Harvieu; electronic duo K Klass unleash their famous dancefloor anthems; and former Icicle Works frontman Ian McNabb plays a solo set. In addition, a terrific line-up of spoken word talent includes Tony Walsh, JB Barrington, Mike Garry and the inimitable John Cooper Clarke, alongside DJ sets from Jon DaSilva, Graeme Park and Clint Boon.

     Of course, as you’d expect of Salford Music Festival, there’s also a healthy contingent of emerging music talent. Keep your eyes peeled for sets from LIINES, James Holt, Jess Kemp, Bianca Alana, AAAK, One Sided Horse, Tiki Black, Freya Beer, Haig – and many, many more.

Salford Music Festival organiser Ed Blaney

      It’s a formidable line-up – and one which has clearly involved a tremendous deal of work to assemble. Indeed, logistically speaking, Blaney thinks putting together an online festival is equally as arduous as organising a ‘real’ live music event.  

     “It’s the same amount of pressure organising it,” he says ruefully. “Even though I’m not going to venues and running around in Salford, it’s exactly the same level of stress. I’m still getting by on a few hours’ kip! But that’s probably all self-induced – I’m just determined to make it as successful as I can.”

     Judging by the final festival line-up, all that hard work was definitely worth it. Securing the involvement of Graham Nash, in particular, makes Blaney swell with pride.

     “It’s absolutely brilliant to get someone like Graham Nash,” he beams. “We tried to get him to play a few years ago, but the timing was wrong. But this time, ‘cause of the whole COVID-19 situation, he said ‘yeah, I’ll do it’. Y’know, there’s nothing worse than when people think they’re too big to play your festival – there’s still a lot of that bad attitude around. So it’s great that someone like Graham Nash, a genuine legend, wants to be involved with us. He’s a real Salford lad, and he wants to recognise his roots and give something back.”

      ‘Giving something back’ could be a mantra for Salford Music Festival. After all, from day, SMF has always been driven by a strong community focus – “a festival by the people, for the people,” as Blaney romantically puts it. And this year’s event, despite going online, is no exception. With Salford communities heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, this year’s festival is doubling its efforts to help those vulnerable and needy. Local organisations such as Salford 4 Good, Salford Loaves andFishes and Salford Lads Club will all benefit from donations made to this year’s event. 

     “It’s very much a community thing,” he says. “Getting feedback from all the organisations involved this year, they’re buzzing. It’s brought a lot of joy to people. Salford’s got so much to offer. Yeah, we’re a part of Greater Manchester but we’re also a city of our own. We’re a proud bunch of people.”

     As much as he’s enjoyed SMF’s reinvention as an online event, Ed Blaney is clearly itching for a return to live music. In 12 months time, when civilization – fingers crossed – has settled back to normal, Blaney wants to give his beloved city of Salford the big celebration party it deserves. Happy tenth anniversary SMF – and here’s to the next decade of wonderful live music.

     “Next year, I want to do this in a park, in Salford, and have the whole community involved,” he says defiantly. “After all the hardship we’ve gone through this year, I want next year’s event to be a real celebration of Salford.”

Salford Music Festival runs from Friday 29 to Sunday 31 May. More info at – salfordmusicfestival.co.uk

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