Ticketmaster meets Sonisphere’s Alan Day

Alan Day has the envious job of booking the biggest rock and metal acts for Sonisphere. We caught up with him to talk about this year’s festival and just how you go about getting Maiden and Metallica on the same bill.

Hi Alan, first off – you’ve managed to bag both Iron Maiden and Metallica for this year’s festival. That must have been some feat.

It’s the two biggest bands in the metal genre and it’s the first time they’ve ever played together on the same bill in the UK. It’s a massive coup to get them playing alongside each other on the same bill.

What kind of work goes into getting such major bands on a festival bill?

This year we approached the acts because it’s the 40 year anniversary of music at Knebworth. So we put some feelers out amongst the managers and agents and we got lucky on the headliners. There’s no real rhyme or reason on how you make it happen. You put the fishing rod out, make enquiries and see if they are available and you get a yes or no. Or you get ‘maybe’ and it can take several months. It’s a long process though; we can be talking to bands 18 months before they’re confirmed for the headline slot.

Apart from those two – who else are you looking forward to this year?

Obviously the Prodigy on the Friday night is one of my favourite live bands ever. Ever since I saw them play at Phoenix Festival in a tent touring their album Jilted Generation. It was mind blowing that a dance act could rock live, and ever since they’ve developed into a massive rock band to me.

They’re so unique because you get down the front at one of their shows where you get dance heads alongside people in Lamb of God t-shirts. They just have a huge buzz and they cross over into so many genres. They hold their own against Maiden and the three bands together are just fantastic as headliners for the festival.

How did Chas & Dave end up on the bill? And how do you think they’ll go down?

I met with Martha Kobold, who’s the Lady of Knebworth House and she gave me a list of all the bands that have played every year at Knebworth, and we were looking through to see if there is anyone that we could book.

We’ve always had something fun on one of the main stages at Sonisphere, because a festival is as much about having fun with your mates and having a laugh as it is watching the loud rock bands. We’ve had Bjorn again, Bill Bailey and Richard Sheath from America to come in and do his covers show.

This year it made sense that it was fun and they’d already played Knebworth before, so we asked Chas and Dave and they were up for it – it’s something different. I go to a lot of rock festivals personally and the odd curve ball now and again makes sense, and everyone has said they can’t wait to see it.

The other act we booked is Wilco Johnson – it’s a big coup for us. He’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he just wanted to play. I rang his agent and said ‘I’m not sure if you want this phone call or not, does he want to play?’ The agent said they were really happy I’d called and he really wants to do it.

What’s been your highlight of working on Sonisphere over the years?

Personally, I was a kid who had posters of Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Guns n Roses all over my walls and now Imp involved in putting on an event. The first festival I went to was Monsters of Rock with Aerosmith in ’94 and Stuart, my boss, was involved in organising that. To be in a room booking the equivalent now is pretty mind blowing, and I’m really honoured to be doing it.

I’m just really proud I’m doing it and I love giving bands the opportunity to play, especially the new acts, giving bands the opportunity to play (especially the new acts) on a bigger stage, a band that I really like called The Defiled, we put them on opening the Jagermeister little truck the first year and now they’re gonna open the main stage and from them to Black Spiders to Tesseract, Aelstorm, The Virgin Marys, we’ve given these bands a leg up.

Is there anyone you’d still like to meet?

I’ve never met Liam Howlett, he’s one of my heroes, a music genius,. And Trent Reznor

How far in advance do you have to start planning the festival and how many people are involved?

From the first phone call for the headliners, probably 18 months before the event and then it really kicks in between 12-8 months to go. As soon as we get the headliners confirmed, we’re full on booking all the other acts on the bill. Kilimanjiro is a team of just over 20 people and we promote concerts and events all over the country, It’s a major part of our calendar booking this festival. We have a production company working on all the staging and an artist liason working on all the dressing rooms. Then there are the car park attendents to people running the amrkets, building the tents, there is just a massive lot of people involved in putting on the event.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Everything from getting the capacity and the licensing and the council and car parking plans. The biggest challenge is getting the right line up for rock fans. Althugh lots of festivals rely on that people go to Glasto because its Glasto and it’s the place to go but rock fans very much wanna see whos playing, whats the line up they always wanna know. If Glastonbury has a duff year it doesn’t matter, people go anyway. Rock fans are more worried about a line up than statues going up in flames

What would you say makes Sonisphere different to other festivals?

The major thing is, one of the things we pride ourselves on is we try to be as broad as possible in the genre of rock music so we have everyone from Chas n Dave, Reel Big Fish to Slayer, playing on the event. There will also be more extreme acts playing on the event. A few years ago I put Biffy Clyro on the main stage and then had a fairly Satanic black metal band called Watain who were throwing blood around and fire and animal heads. But we pride ourselves on being very broad in the genre of rock we also are different from other events and major rock festivals in the UK by having 2 stages facing each other and rotating. We think that if youre going to book big rock acts there’s no point putting them all on at the same time and clashing them. Personally Im as big a fan of Limp Bizkit as I am of Slayer and people might think that’s strange. A lot of our punters may not admit it but they definitely are as big a fan of each band even if they quite different in genre. They’re still rock bands and they still play ina rock club. In a rock club you’d hear Machine Head followed by Limp Bizkit followed by Slayer followed by Mastodon followed by Reel Big Fish. We don’t quite understand putting them all on against each other so we rotate the 2 main stages and that happens at quite a few festivals in Europe but I haven’t really seen it happen anywhere else in the UK.

Do you have anything special planned for the 2014 instalment of the festival?

The line up is pretty special, Metallica are playing, Iron Maiden carrying on from their last tour which was Maiden England abnd theyre gonna carry on that theme but change it up a bit basically playing all their hits. Just the bill really!

What tips would you give for surviving the weekend at Sonisphere?

Make sure you bring some shorts, get in the mosh pit! I like to get involved, when its not my show Im very much down in the circle pit.

Sonisphere 2014 takes place 4-6 July 2014 in the grounds of Knebworth House. Tickets are on sale now and available here.