Interview with Just Push Play Festival Organiser Lee Graham

Just Push Play Festival, held at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds, is an annual ‘Rock Festival’, usually featuring a host of great NWOBCR bands, bands that are really beginning to take off over the last few years and make waves within the British underground music scene. However, unlike other festivals, this one is held for a charity, St Nicholas Hospice Care. A cause near and dear to the founders heart, the festival has raised over £15,000 to date during its four year existence, a huge, amazing accomplishment. Last year’s lineup boasted some amazing bands and this coming years (postponed from 2020 for obvious reasons) proves to be no different, promising a huge, fun day for anyone into the heavier side of music!

Headlining the event are the ever awesome Welsh hard rock band Those Damn Crows. Formed back in 2014, the band have gone from strength to strength and really gained a great cult following in the UK, playing festivals all over the place in the last few years, be it big or small. The band released their second album, Point of No Return, at the beginning of the year to much acclaim, it even reaching as high as 14 in the UK album charts! Definitely not one to miss, these guys are on the cusp of breaking out even more in a HUGE way in the years to come.

Opening for them are Norfolk’s own Bad Touch. Formed back in 2009, these guys are four albums deep now and continue to evolve, grow and improve throughout each one. Their most recent album, this year’s Kiss the Sky, is their most ambitious and well received yet. This is a well travelled, very well polished band, both live and on track, and one that has really been at the forefront of the NWOBCR movement over the last five years or so.

Elswhere on the lineup are blues rock band Gorilla Riot, Briton’s own Rocket Dolls, Samarkind, Leicester based rock band The Nile Deltas, Jack J Hutchinson Band, At the Sun and The Hot One Two.

The 31st July 2021 is shaping up to be one hell of a good day for fans of the underground British rock scene, as well as it hopefully being a good day for St Nicholas Hospice Care, too!

INTERVIEW.

Q. For those out there that don’t know, how did Just Push Play Festival start?

Reply ‘So, Just Push Play Festival was started in 2015, I lost my Dad to Cancer in 2010 it was a short but intense battle with the illness that sadly effect so many lives (in fact it was merely 13 days from diagnosis to him passing away). At the beginning of 2015 with the 5th anniversary of my Dad passing away approaching I decided it was about time that I did some fundraising for St Nicholas Hospice Care, the hospice who cared for my Dad in his final days. (Lee’s dad Mick in the photo inset)

Friends and I were throwing ideas around in the pub one night and someone else taking the mick said ‘Lee you should organise Live aid’ and suddenly it clicked, though they were having a joke a gig made perfect sense. My Dad and I both were/am huge rock fans and music was a massive part of our relationship. Going to dozens of gigs together over the years. So a gig in his memory seemed to be the perfect tribute. The first one was held in a local social club, with friends bands playing. I thought we would get maybe 30 or 40 people down and raise a couple hundred quid for the hospice infact we had over 150 over the day turn up and raised over £1300 in our first year. This made me think that this one off might have some life and that maybe I should at least do one more…..’

Q. Did you ever imagine a festival geared towards a charity would take off the way it did? Booking huge underground bands like Those Damn Crows and Massive Wagons etc. 

Reply ‘To be honest with you I didn’t know what to expect when I organised the first one, let alone how thanks to everyone’s support how much it has grown these last few years. In 2018 I felt in my gut that I wanted to throw all I could at the event to make it grow and develop even more, the social club where it was initially held had been great. It was just time to see where I could really take it so I set up a crowdfunder to see if we could raise the deposit for The Apex (a fantastic professional 800 capacity venue in Bury St Edmunds), within two weeks of the campaign not only did we have the deposit, we had the cost covered completely and more to cover additional costs. To have the support I have had over the years is very humbling and I don’t take anything for granted. Without every single person out there who has ever bought a ticket, a t-shirt, handed out flyers, spread the word and supported the reason behind what I do with Just Push Play it simply wouldn’t happen and I cannot thank people enough for their support without them I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing simple as that.’

Q. Who is the most exciting booking you have made for the festival since it began?

Reply ‘Every band who has ever played at the Just Push Play Festival holds a very special place in my heart, they are all very important part of the history of the event. From the very first one in that social club all the way to the line up we have next year and beyond. I cannot choose one in particular as like the people who support the show and come out and enjoy themselves every band plays with their heart and soul. And with the show being in tribute to my Dad that means the absolute world to me. As the years go by I am more and more astounded by the bands who want to play the event and how it’s reputation as an independent grassroots festival is growing, it really is an honour.’

Q. Being a couple of years deep into the event now, and seeing the amount of grassroots rock festivals now popping up across the UK, what advice would you give for anyone following in your footsteps?

Reply ‘There are several fantastic grassroots festivals across the country and I know a lot of people involved very well thanks to Just Push Play, including Stonedead Festival where I am very proud to be a part of the team behind that fantastic event. There is a real support network throughout these grassroot events and if you are in it for the right reasons, have the passion and determination to do this then there’s no reason why you can’t. It’s a lot of hard work and sometimes a lot of late nights but every challenge and obstacle you have to overcome is worth it when you see a crowd enjoying a show that you put on!’

Q. What is your favourite part about organising it all? Or does all of it make you want to tear your hair out?

Reply ‘ Ha ha like I said it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of hours put in, I’m lucky that I have a small but very important team behind me and a very understanding wife, who is part of that team. So their assistance in various areas which aren’t always the most glamorous side of things certainly stops even more of my hair falling out !

There are a few stages where I get incredibly excited one is as the bands start to confirm and I see the line up start to take shape, at the end of the day I’m just a rock fan so to see bands that I love coming together in a gig that is in tribute to my hero is a real honour. With the gig being as personal as it is to me, picking the line up is very important but there is only one credential and that’s I have to love your music. This event literally has my heart, soul and family in it and the bands are as big a part of the passion as anything else. I’ve got to say I’ve been very fortunate with all the bands who have played over the years.

Another part I love and it doesn’t happen for very long as on the day itself I am running around making sure everything is running smooth and also that both bands and crowd are having a great time! But when I do get a moment it’s always great to stand side of stage for a minute see the band delivering a fantastic set and the crowd absolutely buzzing I always think here you go Dad this is for you mate !

And of course the final part is the whole reason behind me doing it and that’s when I get to hand over the funds we have raised each year to St Nicholas Hospice Care because this gig is my thank you to them for my Dad and for all the fantastic work that they continue to do!

Q. If you could book two bands, one from the current crop and one from any period of time, to play at the festival, who would it be and why?

Reply ‘Well one band that immediately springs to mind if I could get anyone given the name of the show is Aerosmith, they were the first band Dad took me to see when I was 11 years and we saw them every time they came to the UK after that up until he passed away, eventually my sister Kirsty started coming along to which was great and so yeah they are very poignant to the relationship Dad and I had, but I’m not sure if that’s realistic but hey it’s important to have a dream right ?

Other bands that I would love to have headline one day would be Wayward Sons, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, Inglorious, Rival Sons, or even The Wildhearts to put it simply some of the best shows I’ve ever been to were these guys and I think they’d be a great fit !’

Q. What are your plans for the upcoming few years? Any hints you can give for future bands or events? Or is it a little too soon given this year’s chaos?

Reply ‘Obviously with this year having been the way it’s been I had to move 2020 line up to 2021 and I am so thankful that all the bands were able to move with us because this lineup is phenomenal and we have recently announced the additions of Florence Black and The Hot One Two. There are bands that I would love to have for future shows, some of which I have already been speaking to but now where the fun would be in spoiling it for everyone. In terms of the future for Just Push Play in general I just want to keep raising money for the hospice, putting on a great show that the crowd enjoys and make my Dad proud!’

End.

The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths

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