Sonisphere booker: "Festivals are more than a load of bands on paper"

Next month Sonisphere makes its grand return to Knebworth with one of the most exciting line-ups we've seen. But how did it come together and what is it like booking such a massive event? We talked to Alan Day, the booker of Sonisphere, to talk Babymetal, World War I dogfights and just how mind-blowing Metallica will be.

How happy are you guys to be back after the two year break?

“Obviously we’re extremely pleased to be back, and to be back with a line-up that does Sonisphere justice and does shows at Knebworth justice. It’s 40 years of shows at Knebworth and it’s a show that’s as strong as anything that’s ever played there in the history of the site. So we’re very happy.”

Do you think it’s the strongest line-up Knebworth’s seen?

“It’s one of them, yeah. Obviously Led Zeppelin have played there before so you can’t top that!”

Were you worried about the reception you’d receive after taking two years off?

“Slightly. We weren’t concerned over what people would think of us coming back but we only wanted to come back if we had a line-up to justify it. And when we slammed down Metallica, Iron Maiden and The Prodigy we had more than an excuse to run a party this summer. It’s the first time Metallica and Maiden have played together in the UK.”

What makes Sonisphere different to the other big festivals?

“I think we try and create a big rock ‘n’ roll party as much as anything. I’ve been going to festivals since I was 1516 and I’ve picked up loads of things that have helped influence our festival. I think the flip-flopping of the two main stages is very important so we try our hardest to avoid similar bands clashing with each other. We work really hard with managers to ensure that happens. We also have a big element of fun, and Chas & Dave are a part of that this year. People laugh but we booked them ‘cause they’re fun. And we’ve had fun before with Bjorn Again and Richard Cheese – we’re just trying to do things that are different ‘cause you have to remember that festivals are more than just a load of bands on a piece of paper, it’s an event. It’s about what you want to see after you’ve had a few beers. We’re just trying to create a party.”

Is that how you decide on bookings? It’s about who can bring the biggest party?

“Obviously all bands bring a party but we do think about the fun aspect as well. We’ve got Chas & Dave and Reel Big Fish, you know? People say ‘Oh Reel Big Fish, they’re not a metal band’ but they’re a punk band that everyone loves. And if you go to a rock club you’ll hear Pantera’s Walk then Take On Me, Beer or Sell Out by Reel Big Fish and the rockers love it because it’s fun.”

One of the big talking points is the booking of Babymetal, how do you think they’ll go down?

“Babymetal was an absolute no-brainer – the amount of views online for their videos is insane. They were going to be in Europe around the time of Sonisphere and they approached us about playing and I wasn’t going to say no. One, because of the amount of views, and two we’re always struggling to make rock festivals different and I thought ‘If you want different, that is different’. Everybody is talking about it and everybody wants to see what happens. The fact they sold out a London show in a matter of days just shows that they’re justified to be on the main stage.”

Gimme Chocolate

It’s pretty bonkers that they’re on the main stage.

“I’m 100% behind that decision. Once we announced it it was one of the biggest talking points we’ve had because people want to see it, so we’re doing it on the main stage.”

Who has been the biggest risk booking?

“Babymetal is a pretty big risk on the main stage with Iron Maiden. I’m also really happy we’ve got Frank Turner on the bill with Maiden as well. I’ve worked with Frank ever since he was in a band called Kneejerk over ten years ago and I think that he’s a fantastic rock artist that crosses over from Springsteen fans to heavy rock fans. I was worried when we announced him on the bill but he seems to have been embraced by the whole community. We want to be diverse and broad and I think Frank definitely brings that to the table.”

Over the years, who has been your favourite booking?

“Dream Theater. They’re an arena act but they’ve never really played a big, key slot at a major UK festival. People don’t realise how big that band are and how many songs they’ve got, and I’ve been a fan of there’s ever since their song Learning To Live when I was very young. I’m really happy they’re playing the festival.

You seem to have one of the best jobs in the world, but what’s the hardest part?

“There’s a lot of competition booking bands from the likes of Reading/Leeds, Download, and Bloodstock. Or when you want to book a band but they can’t make it work because they’re not in the country or in Europe, or they won’t play below a certain band… it’s a lot harder work than people imagine. It’s not just picking your favourite bands and sticking them on a poster, a lot more goes into it than that.”

Have you ever booked a band just because you wanted to see them?

“We book as an office and we’re very much a team at Sonisphere, and we have a booking meeting every week where it’s either ‘Yeah that works’ or ‘No Alan, fuck off’, so I do have to convince the office before I make any decisions on bands. I’m a big fan of new bands called Beastmilk and The One Hundred, so I do push for things but I’m not going to book an unknown band because they’re my mates.”

Iron Maiden are staging an aerial dogfight before their set, how did that come about?

“That came from Bruce Dickinson. I was told several months ago to hold a slot in between the two main stages running because Bruce was going to fly some planes and have a dogfight. I was just like ‘What?!’ but he’s done it, he’s got real planes from the World War I era that are going to fight across the festival. I’ve seen the Red Arrows do a flyover at a festival but this is going to be a very unique event that sets us apart from everything else.”

And Metallica are doing their By Request setlist too!

“I saw their first By Request show in Europe in Helsinki and the set is wall to wall bangers. They opened with Battery followed by Sanitarium, they played And Justice For All, One, Fade To Black, Ride The Lightning, they played Frayed Ends Of Sanity for the first time, Master Of Puppets, Sad But True, Seek & Destroy… it was a classic Metallica show and they were on fire. And they’ve got the Snake Pit and brand new visuals and lasers that are insane. The lasers during One are unreal.”

What band, other than the big names, should people check out at Soni?


What would be your dream booking?

“It’s got to be Led Zeppelin. I don’t even need to say why.”

Sonisphere takes place at Knebworth park between 4-6 July. Find out more info here.

Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.