Yard Life: The Festival That Bagged Pete Doherty For Free

Look, we know you're thinking 'not another bloody festival', but Yard Life is one with a twist - for a start its non-profit. I caught up with organiser Jen Lloyd to find out a bit more about what will happen in Hackney Downs Studios later this year...
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Look, we know you're thinking 'not another bloody festival', but Yard Life is one with a twist - for a start its non-profit. I caught up with organiser Jen Lloyd to find out a bit more about what will happen in Hackney Downs Studios later this year...


Music Festivals are ten to a penny these days and the much loved British tradition of camping out in a field getting muddy is starting to lose its sheen. There are estimated to be 500 of the field based events per year. Last year saw 30 of them cancelled and a number of others reported embarrassingly low attendances. So what did I think when I asked to take a look at yet another one popping out of the woodwork?

Well... I was pleasantly intrigued.

Yard Life is holding its first ever Festival in Hackney Downs Studios this year. It has a capacity of 3000 people and it's interesting for 3 reasons.

1) It's the most ambitious University Project I've ever heard about

2) It's not for profit

3) Tickets are invite only and free

This all sounded marvelous, but what would the line up look like for a project that effectively had to be blagged? Well, pretty impressive all things considered! Hatcham Social, Gaoler's Daughter... and the mighty Pete Doherty. All performing for free. I had to find out more so I caught up with Festival organiser in Chief, Jen Lloyd.

Hi Jen, so tell me in a couple of sentence what this festival is all about?

Yard Life is a music, arts and style festival and it is about raising money for MS Research and getting a load of fantastic bands and DJ's – a mix of unsigned, newly signed and then the odd more established name to play to a crowd of genuine music lovers,   It's not about standing around eyeing up who has the best Hunters on.

A free festival... what were you thinking?

I know, refreshing isn't it! It feels good to do something that isn't about money.

What makes you different to the 4 million other Festivals on the market?

Its's not about making money. Well, unless raising money for the charity counts? Apart from that it's just about giving bands and DJ's a platform to play to genuine music lovers. The hope is that people will go on to support them after the festival. Plus, I'm not trying to cater for everyone, we know what we like and what our demographic like and we're sticking with it, there won't be any Hip Hop or Dubstep I'm afraid!

So you're donating any profits to MS Research. Any particular reason for choosing them?

Yes, my father suffered with MS for many years, before he died at 46, so I wanted to do something to raise money to help them carry on trying to find a cure. My Dad was a huge music fan, I grew up listening to The Stones, David Bowie and T-Rex, clearly where I get my impeccable music taste from.

Describe the venue and the reasoning behind it?

Hackney Downs Studios is an old print factory that expands over two floors and several huge rooms it is a such a vast space, and its a blank canvas so that we can transform it into what we want. I know the weather is going to be marvelous but just in case it's all pretty much indoors. It's also the perfect location for the Yard Life demographic right between Hackney and Dalston. They have big plans for the venue but we're the first festival in there which is very exciting.

Where did the name 'Yard Life' come from?

It took a long time, I think it must be like naming a child. Lots of friends had input and originally the festival was going to be held in a huge 'yard' so it made sense, now it isn't though, hmm. There will be a little surprise at the festival though…

Surprise? What sort of a surprise?

You'll have to sign up, donate and come down to see. It'll be a visual feast... that's all I'm saying.

How did you choose the bands and DJ's and who are you most excited about from both categories?

I wanted to just book bands and DJ's that my friends and I love and really believe in, we had a wish list and amazingly, we actually landed a good few of them! I'm excited about all of them as I genuinely think they are all the nuts but in particular  Babeshadow – they literally blow me away, unreal! And Storm Cat, a definite one to watch they are gonna be HUGE! DJ's – Filthy Dukes, my friends and I have been raving about them for a long time as Tim, in particular is a marvel to watch, he was the DJ highlight of Glastonbury last year! Then the mighty Rory Phillips, he is insanely talented.

Who was the most high profile refusal?

Probably Mystery Jets, although they were very nice about it!

It took a little work to seal the deal, my friend went and met with Pete and his fixer at a pub in Islington

How hard was it to convince Pete Doherty to play for free?

It took a little work to seal the deal, my friend went and met with Pete and his fixer at a pub in Islington. He told us he likes doing charity work and he loved the idea behind the festival... in the end, he didn't take too much convincing. He and his manager have been fantastic, genuinely a couple of great guys... so wham!

He's a law unto himself, are you sure he's going to show up?

Haha, yes I'm hoping so! He seems to be a lot better at time keeping lately , plus I know where he lives!

Queen once requested a mud wrestling ring in their dressing room. What's the strangest dressing room request you've had so far?

They've been pretty tame so far, but I'm yet to receive Pete's! Lot's of alcohol, which wasn't so surprising, oh and sweets! Rock and roll lives on...

Which Festivals have you taken inspiration from?

Glastonbury is obviously the pinnacle of all the festivals and my personal favourite. I love discovering different things every time you go, the history behind it and it feels less commercial than most other festivals. I wanted Yard Life to have a heart and not just be some big corporate, commercial monster like many festivals are nowadays.

How big is your team and what is the salary budget?

My team is incredibly dedicated and hard working and we are all, including me, unpaid. It's basically a lot of my friends who all specialise in different fields from lawyers, accountants, illustrators and they all just love music and believe in Yard Life and everything is stands for.

You say the bands and DJ's are all working fee free... really? How did you wangle that?

Yes totally for free! Well they will get lots of free beer/cider and possibly some form of food but apart from that yes! They have all been fantastic and it's really very heart warming that they are all willing to play for free, they all believe in the cause and they've all tapped into the passion we have for putting on a great show.

What advice would you give to others thinking of starting a Festival?

It's very stressful, so be prepared for that! Make lots of lists, I LOVE lists, and be very nice to everyone, being super polite gets you places!

How is your University going to grade this Festival?

Yeah, I'm not totally sure, a couple of the lecturers are going to come to Yard Life, so I guess I'll ply them with free drinks?!

Is there a plan for another one?

I hope so, if all goes to plan and everyone enjoys it as much as  I think they will!

If so... will you keep it free?

I'm not sure of how it will work in 2013, we have so much to learn from this years one. All I know is that whatever we do as a festival moving forward, all profits will always go charity.

How do I get a ticket and what are the chances of getting one?

You just need to register on yardlifefestival.co.uk then make a donation to Multiple Sclerosis Research via the Just Giving page and then keep your fingers crossed that I send you an invite! Registrations are coming in thick and fast so don't leave it too late.

Will you be taking to the stage for a song?

Haha, unlikely no!

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