From Beach Bar to Festivals, Growing Tunes in the Sand.
Becoming a festival owner wasn’t exactly Tommy Job’s destiny, but his dad, Bob’s acquisition of a beach bar near home on Cornwall back in the 1970s certainly provided the foundation on which to build a business which now specialises in beach-based events. We got together to plot the development of the Tunes portfolio.
First things first, where did it all start for you?
“I went to university, I was up at Loughborough, came down here and Dad had a bar, the Watering Hole and like most family businesses, was pretty desperate for me to get involved with it and I was like, ugh, quiet, sleepy Cornwall. This was about ten years ago, nothing was going on here and I was like, so I do that? I came back and I came into the bar, we didn’t have an email address, didn’t have a website, no card machines, no social media. And he was like, ‘yeah, I don’t really know what I’m doing wrong.’ And I was like, the bar is in a unique spot it should be quite an easy fix. So, I did all of that stuff and then brought the events into it, then we started booking. The first year we brought things in like beach rugby tournaments, volleyball tournaments. We got a company called Love Riot, did a big rave type thing here, we got a few covers bands. I was noticing I was getting this real buzz out of music; I was like, this is cool. My degree was an engineering-based degree in Loughborough, so I was from a completely different mindset. I knew nothing about festivals and hospitality, but I had this passion because I love music and I found something I actually liked doing. I had the thrill of getting people here, having a good time, selling the tickets and I thought, right, next year, let’s go hard.
“I said, ‘Dad, that wall in the pub, it needs to come down’. We took this wall down, which was separating a whole room, which basically then created a stage, and it added another 300 [to the capacity] and it created a cool venue on the beach. So, then we needed to get bands. I was just on this booking frenzy, let’s get everyone. We brought a guy in called Ben, who helped, who is really enthusiastic. He runs a couple of big festivals now in Cornwall. And we were like, right, let’s book in the Mariachis. DJ Yoda, Sigma, S Club, I think it was S Club Four, Blue. We had The Wailers, Billy Ocean, and it was, because winters were so boring, I was just sat here, just booking and then booking and booking. And the next thing you know, almost half the days booked were music. I was getting a real buzz out of that, and I was sort of on a roll, right, what next? The summer after we kept going and then the Levellers were like ‘We want to do a show at the Watering Hole’.”
What year was this, and how did it go?
“This was 2015, we did it, sold out in probably an hour and we’re like, oh, we want to do some more tickets for this. Should we just put it outside? So, we put it outside, sold around 2000 tickets otside. So, yeah, stage, fence, job done and we did that show outside.
“Then there was this new element of a buzz I got out of it. I was really enjoying putting on these shows, then we asked the council, ‘what do you think of having a festival on Perranporth Beach?’ And they were like yeah, alright, surprisingly because are a bit a lot of people come to Cornwall to get away from it all and retire. But a lot of people like me, especially now, I think times are changing, a lot more people are moving, they want something to do. I was just in shock, brilliant. So, we put up online that we’re doing a festival on Perranporth Beach, Tunes in the Dunes, boom; We just thought it’d be a little party for four or 500 mates and a few locals. We sold 1500 tickets in less than 24 hours.
“We were like oh blimey, we’re going to have to book someone now, who should we get? People are expecting something quite big. And I was, I don’t know, I’ll just send a few emails, see what we can find. So I just sent them out and one of the agents says, Status Quo are available. We get Status Quo playing on Saturday, job done. And then we got Tom Odell on the Sunday, and then we got Scouting for Girls headlining on the Friday. So, I think something that we thought four or 500 people with a few mates turned into, I think the first year we had about 5000 people there on the Saturday and it was crazy.”
We usually ask at this point about year 1 lessons learned. Do any spring to mind?
“It was one of those, we only had one food trader, so we just got a guy in a tent selling food and he was like, yeah, it’ll be fine, I’ll be able to provide it all. It all sold out within the first hour or two on the Friday. So, we had no food for anyone. And then we had just one bar, it was a massive learning experience. Then we thought, blimey, we’ve got something here.”
Lessons learned for year 2 then?
“In the same year we turned some events at the front of the pub. We put a stage up for like 3000 people, we call those Bands on the Sands. So, we had Tom Jones, Seal, Toots and the Maytals, Seasick Steve, The Darkness, all sorts of crazy bands playing there. Tunes on the Dunes was going quite well, then we set up a cocktail bar, a World War two-gun shelter which is called Alcatraz, which we turned into a cocktail bar and then created a restaurant called the Summer House, which is on top of the cliffs.
“I wasn’t really getting a buzz out of that, but I think, as a family business, things grew that way and my sister started coming into it, so she sort of ran that side of it and I stayed over in the Watering Hole. But I think by building that, I sort of had an appetite to do more.
So, with someone else looking after the hospitality side, did you look to expand further on the events?
“I was like, right, let’s do a festival somewhere else. I started looking on the maps, where can I find some sites? Most people were like, ‘no, we don’t want a festival here’. I found the first one at Blackpool Sands in Devon. We went down and Geoffrey, who owns the beach down there, is a brilliant, real character, Sir Geoffrey Neal, he was in the Navy for quite a while I think, he’s good friends with Ranulph Fiennes and people like that. And Jeffrey’s like, great.
“He was a bit cautious, and we went in the room, met the parish council, and they were like, ‘how many people is this going to be, two, 300?’ And we were like, oh, we’d like to think around 3000 in the first year. And you see people, hands on heads, oh my god, what is this? It was crazy scenes. I was sat there with my best mate Skuse, who does all the site stuff, he was trying not to laugh, and I was just like yeah, we’re going ahead. So then after the first year they loved it, and it went really well.
A successful expansion then?
“Yes, but that year we had the sort of stupid idea which [was] a bit overambitious, we tried to do two new festivals in the same year. So, that same year we did Tunes in the castle at Powderham and that just flopped, lost hundreds of thousands. Then we went into COVID. So, I was like, oh, we get we can’t even try and get ourselves out of this hole here.
You can’t trade your way out of the debt?
Yes, we were like, what can we do? Luckily, we sort of managed.
After learning a harsh lesson, how did you spend the down time during the enforced Covid break?
I think by having time out, because I was quite new to it, I managed to look at all the quotes we had from all the stage, sound lighting and stuff and noticed that a lot of people were just taking me for a ride. So, we managed to get all the cost of everything down, had time to look at all of that properly, readjust the whole system and the model we had. And then as Covid broke lots of festivals with those two years, for me, sitting at home and looking at everything, I was like, the castle was gone, As much as we loved it, that goes on hold and now we just concentrate on Tunes on the Dunes, Tunes on the Sands; let’s make Tunes on the Sands work, we sort of got that model right in lockdown. When we came out of it, we’d been going for seven years before, never made money, struggled all the way through, but I think by readjusting things it’s made a model that’s workable. So now we’re looking the model we’ve got, we’ve transferred it, used it at the Sands, which is starting to work now. And then we’ve gone up now we’ve set the new one up in Port Elliot, which is brilliant. They had the Elephant Fair up there in the seventies, they did have Port Elliot Festival there, which has stopped. So, we’ve brought back a festival there called Tunes in the Park which is getting lots of traction this year.
After an over-ambitious move to Powderham Castle, you’ve decided to expand again?
“We got the model in those two years; it worked so well. And to be fair, in the lockdown, I thought, right, what we will do is just get out of this and I’ll just call it a day. It’s always the stress when you’re in a hole and you’re trying to dig yourself out and you can’t. And I think if you manage to get that model right and probably a wiser head that learned a lot, was able to look at things and the year before last we just did Tunes on the Dunes, managed to sneak in at the end of the summer and then we thought, yeah, right, let’s go for it. I think it was just the thrill of it and it was such an amazing sight and I thought, I’ve learned a lot here, I’m not out of the fight yet. I’m going to keep going and I want to correct what went wrong.
“I think even at Powederham, I’m looking at that and they’re desperate for us to go back there and I’m looking at it thinking I want to go back, but it’s got to be done slowly. So now our main focus is on Port Elliot, to really lift that up to make it a great event.”
Dare I ask if there are ambitions to extend outside Devon and Cornwall?
“I was in Swansea yesterday, met with the council about doing something there, they’ve never done anything on the beach. I think our USP is doing beach festivals and they were really keen. I went into the room with the council leader and four others of the event people sat there in shorts and t shirt and they were like: ‘You’re from Cornwall then, aren’t you?’
Going back to you, sitting there, getting into booking bands because it’s kind of easy to pick up the phone, get and offer from an agent and just say yes. But when you then realised you needed maybe a stage to put them on and PA. fencing, do you find that as easy? Are there suppliers, local to you?
We use Nub, they’re from Plymouth. We’ve bought our own stage, it’s a smaller stage but it does the smaller shows. Everyone we use is local, basically all from Cornwall or Devon. I was surprised, when you start talking to people, you realise there’s a lot of people out there who do that sort of stuff.
Being in Cornwall, do you feel like a music festival or another tourist attraction?
“[People will] book their holidays around the event a lot of them, but people will come in and speak to me and they’ve known me since I was a baby. There’s diehard fans [of the Watering Hole] who’ve been coming here for 30, 40 years with their families, and then there’s their kids who have now grown up and now are coming here with their families and there’s a crazy dynamic. I think, on the people who buy tickets, iover 75% of them are from outside of Cornwall and a lot of people from up North and the Midlands area come on holiday here. There’s a massive Haven campsite at the top of the hill and I think that holds around 8000 people, that’s a massive catchment for us. If you go on the socials, they’re diehards, they just love the Watering Hole. So, it made it easier for me than others I guess to start a festival up from this.
Are the dates designed to add an extra tourism advantage over and above the traditional holiday peaks?
“With the one [at Perranporth], we have to move it for the tides, so the date changes. It was in Glastonbury weekend last year, this year it’s mid-May. That’s beach festivals, there’s a reason why nobody does them on beaches but I’ve lived and breathed and grown up here on them.
“Last year I was stood there with the police and environmental health watching the sea on Sunday, it just was hitting the fence. There was about a five-foot swell [forecast], which would have been about 20 metres away from the fence; two days before it picked up to about 15 feet. So, everyone’s looking at me going, is this going to be alright then? But I’m not like Poseidon or anything, I’m just a guy, I watch the tides all the time, especially when the pub gets quite close to getting washed away. If you Google Watering Hole washed away, there’s loads of articles, it gets a lot of national press coverage as it comes close. I’m used to it, but it’s a pretty tricky thing to deal with especially when the wind comes off the sea as well.
“One year we just had to shut it down because it was too windy; it makes it interesting. And yes, we avoid peak season as well, so it’s bringing people into the economy at the quieter times. So this year, in mid-May, all the campsites will be full, the restaurants will be full, the shops will be buzzing.
“I think it’s great being from here as well. It’s so important to keep the community onside because if they go ‘No, this is actually a pain in the arse, we don’t want it’, then what’s the point in dong it? So, we’re very onside, we use the surf club and the rugby club and all the local communities, we use all their areas to bring them into it and make sure we can put funding their way as well. For the surf club it helps out with their new boats, the new uniforms and the rugby club, it helps out with their kit or sorting the pitch out and things which go amiss really. Two or three grand here and there for these people is huge. I know at the surf club now are trying to put on solar power on the roof because of their electricity bills and for us we think, can we help? So, we’ve got some events on in the watering hole that will try and raise money for that. Because I’m from here I’m quite passionate about it and know how important it is to keep that community involved because if they’re against you you’re done, the bar and the festival.
Of course, you’re not the only player in your region. Is festival tourism a saturated market down there?
“I’ve been watching the Devon market this year and it’s like every week there’s a new festival popping up and I think a lot of nightclubs are probably thinking, right, costs are too high, let’s just do pop up events. There’s a lot of people trying them. In Cornwall it’s almost every weekend, you have Boardmasters, Rock Oyster, The Great Estate, Cider Festival, Leopallooza, Tunes on the Dunes, Tunes in the Park, the Sands, Skybar events. For someone who’s down there, you’re like, oh, what should we do? Because there’s two or three festivals on all within a 15/20-minute radius, you’re sort of spoilt for choice. But for us this year tickets are looking really good and everyone else I am speaking to is looking pretty good. So, you might think the market might be saturated, but I think it’s almost helping the economy, bringing more people down.”
Obviously you have got a caravan or a camping site near you, the Haven Park but do you providing camping at any of your sites?
“Yeah, all three of them; we put it on for here because all the campsites were full. We spoke to the airfield up the road; well, first we did it in the butcher’s field up the road and now he’s actually turned it into a campsite, but you know, good on him, it seems like it’s always full, it’s working and, again, an extra place to bring people into the town. But there is an airfield across from that, so we do it there.”
Do people just stay your site for the duration of the festival or do you sort of offer it for longer to extend their stay?
Just for the festival because it’s more like an overflow one for the town and it’s about a mile up the hill. So, we’ve got to put shuttle buses on for this one. And then tunes in the sands, that’s the Blackpool sands, the lovely spot down there. Yeah, we just do it for the festival and same at Port Elliott. But there’s definitely potential for those sites which they might in the long run to turn them into, you know, glamping sites or something like that.
“It’s definitely worth a shout because the one in Devon’s right next to Bentham, Dartmouth, Salcombe, which are all amazing places and Perranporth is next to Crantock, Holy Holywell, Newquay And then Port Elliot, you’re right in East Cornwall, so you’ve got like Fowey and Looe and loads of lush beaches up there. But each area offers something completely different like Perranporth is the rustic, you’re on the Atlantic, it’s a massive surfing place good for walking in the cliffs and stuff. And then Blackpool Sands on the south coast so it’s all you got your boaties and your stand-up paddle boarders and all of that sort of thing.”
Is it easy to get bands down there, it’s out on a limb but it’s a beautiful spot?
It’s getting there. I mean most of the time I when I started, they’d just be like, no, it’s too far. There’s not really anything in Devon, the nearest would be, say, Bristol or Cardiff. They’d be like it’s an extra two and a half, 3 hours. Or the price would be more, so I’d be paying more, but then there’s less people here, we’re not London Roundhouse or somewhere where you got millions to choose from. So, it was quite hard starting off. But now I think there are more venues and festivals and yeah, it’s made it slightly easier, this year everyone comes to us saying they want to do shows, which never happened. I’d usually have to pester them over and over again for months and months, and then they’d probably look at their calendar and be like, oh, last resort, we’ve got this bloke down in Cornwall.
We’ve had all sorts like last year we had Madness. Elbow, Paul Weller, The Kooks. We’ve had so many different genres, we’ve had probably every sort of different genre, we’ve had Fatboy Slim Down on the beach. That was a funny one, it was after COVID and we had Tom Walker, Craig David and Richard Ashcroft and Richard Ashcroft, who didn’t believe in Covid…caught Covid. This was two days before the event, and I was like who are we going to get? Someone suggested Fatboy Slim, I message Fatboy Slim, and he was like yeah, he’s available, and the next thing you know, we’ve got him. The festival had already started, we did it Thursday to Saturday, so I booked him on the Thursday, and we announced Fatboy Slim replacing Richard Ashcroft, and everyone thought it was a great upgrade.
You talk about specialising in beach-based events. What particular challenges does that bring?
Yeah, it’s one thing that we can do that other people can’t is beach festivals because we know it inside out. I know what sea conditions can be like, I know what tides can be like and they’re not easy. Working on sand or shingle, we’ve done both and it’s tricky.
The load in at Perranporth Beach, we have to load in about a mile away from the beach on a tractor and trailer and then bring it over. Luckily the team that have been with me have stuck through thick and thin, basically from the beginning to now. A lot of them actually worked with me in the bar here, the Watering Hole, from before it all started. Some situations we have, when the rain comes in and the winds and a normal crew who you’d hire in would probably go, no, we didn’t sign up for this, we’re out. But they’ll all be out there with coats and digging in sort of thing, through the early hours when the tents are trying to take off and you’re trying to load up tons of dumpy bags of sand to hold them down. And, you know, we’ve been through the mill, but to the team it’s more than a festival, we’ve got a friendship that sort of kept it all together.
Now we’re trying to work out how to make money from ones away from home with all the extra transport costs. And yeah, my best mate Skuse, who runs the sites, he was like have you made any money yet? After like year five, I was like, no, I’m still trying to work it out. But you know, it’s not about the money, it’s more the joy of getting there, enjoy it and put your heart into it. I think the rest will come with it and, you know, there’s no regrets.
You carved your niche?
Yeah, that’s it. When we went to Swansea yesterday and they were like, yeah, we’ve got this field up there, that’s where we do all the shows, it’d be good for one of these. And I was like, no, we do shows on the beach. They said, what about the tides? I was like, we’ve done it before, we’re experts in this, we’ve been doing it for ten years, we want to do a beach festival. They asked what we wanted from them, and I said, the beach, that’s it…