"My parents weren’t really into music. By the age of 11 I’d amassed more tape copies of albums than they had in their whole collection. I was into pop, I taped all the charts, then the first vinyl I got was Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and [Guns N’Roses’] Appetite For Destruction changed my life. I got into hair metal, Metallica, Maiden, and I used to listen to The Friday Night Rock Show.
I got into Dream Theater through Tommy Vance. He played Learning To Live, from Images And Words. I thought, ‘Wow, this is long!’ As a kid, prog had the identity of ‘What’s this old man stuff?’ Yes, it was long, but Dream Theater were unique because the complexity and length had melody and you knew where it was going. I liked James LaBrie’s voice; it was quite progressive but fitted in with metal. They probably were held back a little because they were too heavy for Genesis fans and too prog for Pantera fans, but I just loved it. I saved up the money from my paper round and got the CD. I’ve seen every London show by them since. When I was 15, I got a Saturday job in Abingdon, in a small independent record shop called Modern Music that sold everything from the Top 40 to back catalogue and classical. My boss was an older guy whose shop had been there for ages, a bit set in his ways, and we used to fight over the stereo. I’d want to put on something new, but he’d want Pink Floyd, or Foxtrot, or Close To The Edge. At first I was going [disdainfully], ‘What’s this?’ and then it got ingrained in me a bit. One of the artists that grabbed me was Peter Gabriel, particularly the album So. That’s still one of my favourite records, and we now work with him! I grew up in Oxford, and not much rock stuff was coming through when I was at home. At University in Portsmouth, I helped restart a rock society and ran club nights in the student union. When I moved back home, I started promoting because the rock side was missing. Bands were coming to the town but not playing to many people, so me and my friend Dave said, ‘We can have a go at this.’ We started off in a pub 14 years ago with a cash tin. I was soon giving my job up and promoting everyone from James Blunt to Porcupine Tree! Radiohead are a massive influence on me, and they’re also local heroes. I’ve been seeing them play since The Bends, and when I used to work in the record shop, Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway would come in and buy records, and Phil’s parents would come in and ask for every format in each release! My favourite record is OK Computer. In 2001, their gig at South Park brought the music community together and showed that someone from the town could make it big. I think Foals have taken up their flag creatively now. One of my favourite albums ever is Lateralus by Tool. There’s a lyric from the title track, ‘And following our will and wind we may just go where no one’s been’ – that sums them up and how progressive they are. Epicloud by Devin Townsend stands out as the pinnacle of his ability to be a progressive musician with massive hooks that bring you in – even though he hasn’t written a normal song around it. I did a massive show with him in 2013, Retinal Circus [at Camden’s Roundhouse], and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever booked. Now we’re doing the Royal Albert Hall [in April 2015]. I’ve been a fan of Devin since Ocean Machine, which came out when I was about 20, so to go from that to having sold out his biggest show to date is quite something. And, of course, it’s very cool to work with your heroes. Messenger’s Illusory Blues is just great. I’ll put it on to chill out. There’s Floyd and folk in there, drawing from lots of 70s influences but still sounding current. As I’ve got older, my taste has definitely got broader. Are Mew prog? If they are, I’ll take And The Glass Handed Kites. They’re a great Danish band telling a huge story and all the songs meld into each other. I don’t know why they don’t get written about more. [Maybe the rumoured release of a new album in 2015 will help – Ed.] I’m a fan of the tech stuff like TesseracT – what they do is just crazy. There aren’t many bands that have jumped out of the djent scene but TesseracT did ’cos they’ve got good songs. And good songs are also key with Mastodon, who’ve pushed the boundaries of rock so far. Crack The Skye is one of the greatest prog opuses of the last 10 years. Their latest releases have seen them loosen up now, but they’re a band I love and are great to work with. After years of being the person booking gigs for Oxford and Reading, eventually Stuart Galbraith from Kilimanjaro approached me to help start Sonisphere festival and to book shows across the country. I’ve booked Sonisphere since the word go and this year it was said that I’d put the prog into it. That wasn’t intentional. We booked bands that a) we like, b) we know people want to see, and c) have great records out right now. It shows that the music in this genre is still current, and as vibrant as it’s ever been, from Devin Townsend to Karnivool to Mastodon. These bands are all cool and deserve to be in there. I did a show with Winery Dogs and met Mike Portnoy. When I first walked in, I could tell he was like, ‘Oh, another bloody promoter,’ but when I mentioned he was one of my heroes and I first saw him play a gig at Ronnie Scott’s with Dream Theater in 1995, his ears pricked up: ‘Really?!’ He told me to check out Flying Colors, and I thought they were brilliant. The latest record, Second Nature, is a progressive monster. I instantly took care of booking their shows. We’re planning Sonisphere right now. Weirdly, as a promoter, I hardly get sent any demos, although I’d like that. I’m a sucker for catchy choruses and things that are immediate – prog may be long and intricate, but it can still make a hook. I’m always looking for things that are unique and there’s a healthy scene to pick from – Animals As Leaders right through to Haken – so watch this space!” Sonisphere 2015 will take place July 3-5 at Knebworth, Hertfordshire. For more information, see sonisphere.co.uk.
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