Bloodstock’s Vicky Hungerford: “It’s important not to view yourself as lesser than somebody else”
“As soon as we can all get back into a field, even the smell of Portaloos will feel good! You’ll welcome the fact that you’re walking past the warm smell of piss on a Saturday afternoon!” laughs Vicky Hungerford, discussing the potential return of festivals this summer in her customary forthright manner.
As the promoter and booker of Bloodstock, the biggest British independent metal festival, Vicky is feeling quietly confident about the event’s return after the fallow year imposed by COVID..
“We’re all guns blazing,” she smiles. “Ever since Boris announced the path out of lockdown, tickets have been flying. You don’t want to tempt fate, but things do feel good at the moment.”
“The fact that the government have said that by the end of July most of the country will have been offered the vaccine is a huge thing in itself,” continues Vicky. “Obviously we’ll work with the government to do whatever’s safe for everyone, because we do want the festival back.”
While the events of August are still some way away, Vicky is focused on other matters today. Never someone to shy away from an opinion, she’s here to discuss the subject of equality as part of Kerrang!’s International Women’s Day celebrations.
Drawing on 20 years of experience, she has a firm view of where the issues lie. Equally, she is able to offer advice and encouragement in equal measure, helping us launch We Run The Scene – our series of short films featuring five women who work in music and who inspire us, which you can watch on K!’s socials.
Alongside Vicky, the series will feature producer/mixer Catherine Marks (who has worked with PJ Harvey, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, St. Vincent, Frank Turner and The Amazons), Justine Jones (of Employed To Serve and co-founder of Church Road Records), Kristen Mulderig (President of the RSE Group and manager of Slayer, Ghost, Gojira, Mastodon and more), and Verity and Sharmaine Cox (the owners of Blondies, our favourite dive bar and home to The K! Pit).
Vicky’s episode of We Run The Scene is airing across our social media right now, but here she discusses her own journey, and how she sees the issues around women in the music industry with her usual candour…
When did you first get involved with Bloodstock and what was it like at that time?
“I got involved in festival in 2001. My father [Paul Gregory] had the very grand idea of putting on a heavy metal festival because at the time Monsters Of Rock had ceased, Download wasn’t here and he felt that there was nothing in the UK that represented heavy metal. He decided with a friend of his to put on an event at Derby Assembly Rooms – a small event, indoors.
“He’s an artist who has painted album covers for bands, so he called a friend of his – Biff from Saxon – and said, ‘Will you headline this festival?’ Biff said yes, and we had 700 people at the festival.
“At the time my job was, with my sister Rachel, T‑shirts. We were literally the glamorous birds behind the merch desk selling T‑shirts, and that’s as far as it went!”
You could say that was indicative of how the industry viewed women at the time. In that context, what prejudice have you encountered as a woman in the industry?
“It’s a hot potato question, the prejudice that I’ve come up against. This is probably not the answer you want, but I’ve never played the victim. That’s going to sound a really strong thing to say. Selling T‑shirts in the early days or dealing with bands a couple of years later, I’ve never looked at myself as prejudiced. If anyone ever had a problem with me – man or woman – I took it that it was mainly down to the way they are, not me. I was always quite strong-willed in the respect that I never let any of that affect me.
“I get asked this question a lot, which is why I get quite passionate about it, but I wonder now if we’re perpetuating the problem by talking about prejudice against women in the industry?
“Sexist comments? Things like that. Well, that’s water off a duck’s back. Unfortunately, that’s how people are, regardless if it’s men or women. I’ve seen women be as sexist as men. That’s probably not the answer you want.”
Everyone has different views and opinions, and it’s important to listen to those differences. But in terms of women in the industry, are there enough of them?
“I was thinking about his earlier on. Women in the industry – to me, I think there are masses of women in the industry. I kinda get frustrated when I see posts about, ‘We don’t get opportunities.’ I get a lot of people saying to me, ‘Do you have a prejudice about booking female artists?’ Well, I’ve had Nightwish, Within Temptation, Arch Enemy – a number of bands not just play the festival, but headline.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but obviously myself and my sister run the event with my brother – so that’s women. Most of our production team are women. Our PR team are women. Most of the bands I deal with have production or tour managers that are women, so I don’t see that there’s an issue, I don’t think there’s not enough women. I think women, in my opinion, are very well represented. I think that’s because the women I tend to know and deal with are incredibly good at their job. It’s not because they’re women, or men because they’re men, they’re incredibly good at what they do.
“In my experience, I don’t think there’s a lack of women in the industry. I do think there’s a lot of press about the lack of women in the industry, but that doesn’t mean that’s true. I do think, ‘Are we still having this conversation in 2021 where people are feeling like that?’ I don’t feel that’s the situation at all, but again that’s just my point.”
We are still having this conversation, because the issues of equality are still there. So what advice would you give to a young woman looking to embark on a career in the music industry – specifically as a booker or a promoter?
“I think if you’re a woman trying to get into the industry – and to me, again, that’s a question that resonates as man, woman or dog, in my opinion – there are certain things you’ve got to have. You’ve got to be thick-skinned; you’ve got to understand that in this industry you can’t let things affect you. In the past I’ve been guilty of letting things get to me. You can’t be like that. I go on about this on my social media all the time. You’ve got to have a moral code. You’ve got to be the person that, whatever you say, your word is your honour, if you like. I always say to people, raise the bar so, whatever you do, people can say, ‘She’s never let me down and, whatever’s happened, she’s never reneged on anything.’ You’ve got to have a level of trust so that people can trust in what you do.
“If women want to go into promotion and booking, keep knocking on doors because even when people are saying no to you, things will change. Years and years ago, I had a situation where agents didn’t deal with me straight away because they’d never heard of Bloodstock and they didn’t know who I was. They were used to dealing with Live Nation and very well known promoters.
“It wasn’t the fact that I was a woman, it was more of a case of, ‘Who is Vicky Hungerford? And what’s Bloodstock?’ So I kept knocking on doors. I told people we were a great event, we were this and we were that. So you have to keep persevering, and I know it’s a labour of love for a lot of people and it’s an easy thing for me to say, but I was where a lot of people are now, and nothing’s really changed. In fact, if anything, it’s a little easier now because you’ve got other channels and social media, so you have other ways of getting to people and other avenues through which you can speak to people. 20 years ago, those weren’t there.
“So I would say, you’ve got to be resilient. And always remember that it’s often not personal, it’s business. So even if I have friends that are agents, when I’m dealing with them on a business level, I separate the two.”
In the last 20 years Bloodstock has come into its own. It represents a community. It also has a number of unique elements, including the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Tell us about how that came about and what it represents?
“So, the Sophie Lancaster story – for anyone who doesn’t know – was incredibly sad. Sophie, a very young girl, and her boyfriend were walking through a park, they were alternative in the way they dressed and they were attacked for absolutely no other reason than the way they looked. Sophie was viciously attacked and ended up in hospital. Her boyfriend survived and she unfortunately passed away.
“The whole situation really resonated with Bloodstock because so many of our fans – and I can’t express this enough – it’s not just that they look different or are into different things, they come to the event on their own because they don’t have people around them who are like them or dress like them. It really struck a chord with the festival because it was the most horrific crime and a life was lost as a result. It seemed the right thing to do, to name the second stage at the festival in Sophie’s memory and not do it as a one year or two year thing. It is forever the Sophie Lancaster Stage.
“Her mother, Sylvia – who is an incredible woman who has championed a lot of changes in the law – and Sophie’s brother Adam attend Bloodstock every year. They have a stall raising awareness of the foundation which, if anyone’s not heard of it before, you need to check it out. I can’t express how much the support of Sophie’s mum means to the festival, especially after everything she’s had to go through.
“Unfortunately, it’s a crime that’s still happening now. People are still getting attacked and abused purely for the way they look and the laws still aren’t strong enough, in my opinion, to allow people to be prosecuted for that. That’s what Sylvia has been championing. And, as a festival, that’s important to us.”
It’s important work, for sure. On the subject of work and inspiration, what inspires you to continue doing what you do?
“What inspires me to continue for Bloodstock – and this is cheesy, and I’m not one for this – but I absolutely love what I do. There is not a feeling in the world – and everyone in my family and anybody working in the industry will say the same – that beats seeing something that you’ve put months into coming together. When you see 20,000 people having the time of their life, it’s incredible.
“I’ve grown up with music all my life because my father painted albums for heavy metal bands, so music has been in my blood since I was a baby. It’s my release when I’m happy or when I’m sad and miserable. It’s consistently there. The festival is part of me.
“I can’t remember before Bloodstock because I was only 21. I can’t tell you what was going on before I was 21. I used to have a life, apparently! But I absolutely adore it. It’s the blood that runs through my veins and if the day comes when I didn’t have that feeling, then I wouldn’t do it. And I hope that day never comes.”
Coming back to the subject of International Women’s Day, do you think there is anything that needs to change with regards to people’s view of women in the industry?
“Yes. In terms of things that need to change, I think we need to stop perpetuating the problem. I think – and this again is going to sound like an awful comment because I am sure there are women who have struggled in the industry – but I think a lot of people are playing the victim too much. ‘I’ve not done this, or I’m not getting anywhere because I am a woman.’ To me, it’s how you’re viewing yourself. If you’re a woman or a man and you’re good at what you do, that should resonate. I don’t think you should be having consistent media attention on women in the industry because as long as that goes on – and this is also why I did this interview, because my point may not be same as that of other women you’re talking to – but I actually think we’re making the problem worse. It’s not men and women; it’s people in this industry that are good at what they do. That needs to be the message that we push out.
“I can’t champion enough how important it is not to view yourself as lesser than somebody else. It doesn’t matter who I’m dealing with in the industry, they could be 40 years served and dealing with the biggest bands in the world, it still doesn’t make you a better person than me. We are equal and I will give you the same respect that I expect back. So to me, it’s about your self-worth and everybody should realise that you’re an incredibly important person as an individual and that’s what we should be shouting out, not whether you’re female or male.”
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