Si Ford predicts a ‘stonking’ year for Chagstock

Si Ford, founder of Chagstock Music Festival, at the festival site. This year's theme is Wild West.

Si Ford, founder of Chagstock Music Festival, at the festival site. This year's theme is Wild West. - Credit: Archant

From its small, homespun beginnings the Chagstock Music festival has grown and grown, without ever losing its homespun feel, thanks to founder Si Ford, as ALEXIS BOWATER discovers

The Chagstock crowd in full voice

The Chagstock crowd in full voice - Credit: STUART CLARKE

It was just a little note posted on a pub wall that started it: “Looking for a site” it read. But that scribbled plea found the field of dreams that became Chagstock Music Festival.

Billy Bragg on stage at Chagstock

Billy Bragg on stage at Chagstock - Credit: STUART CLARKE

There was nothing there but a few cows and a view: 360 degrees of panorama, stretching from Hay Tor to the Teign Valley and embracing the northern edge of Dartmoor.

But standing there was a man with a plan, and now he’d found his venue. “It was pure chance,” Si Ford tells me, “The first time I walked up there I thought ‘this will do’ - it felt like I was on top of the world.”

Eight years on and Chagstock is the country’s biggest small festival with a back catalogue that boasts headliners from the Saw Doctors, Squeeze, The Fun Lovin’ Criminals and The Boomtown Rats.

This year the 5,000 tickets will be sold out, again, and The Waterboys, The Lightning Seeds and Selector will be rocking the hedgerows near Whiddon Down this month.

I’ve seen it evolve from a one-acre to a 70-acre site, Devon’s own mini Glastonbury, with a fabulous family atmosphere in an astonishingly beautiful setting.

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It mixes local bands (including Si’s own) with international headliners with a seemingly easy charm and I’ve been enchanted by that and never quite understood how it was done.

But I see now. It’s Si Ford. He’s the key. This is where the laid back comes from. The dual characters of independent financial advisor and musician were grappling under the lapels of a smart suit for 25 years of office work – and in the end the music won.

“After the first public Chagstock I was working full-time and I thought that I would hang the suit up and put everything into the festival. I chucked everything in, which in hindsight was a pretty stupid thing to do,” he says.

Except that it wasn’t. Because that combination of business brain and musical passion held good. Despite the dark times. “There were times when I was struggling to pay off the bills for that year’s event,” he tells me over a coffee. “And I was pleading with the creditors to give me more time. They had belief and cut me slack in the bad times and I have stuck with them.”

And so have the volunteers, the people who took ownership of this festival in the hard days, took it to their hearts, helped out their mate with a big idea and a small bank balance - and who should take a great deal of credit for its existence, and atmosphere, now.

For there’s something very refreshing and grounding about being there, not only for the festivalgoers but for the performers too. I guess being backstage in a dusty, or muddy, field (depending on the weather) on top of Dartmoor would do that to you.

That, plus the lack of protocol and natural enthusiasm of the volunteers manning, or womanning, the Green Room. “Sir Bob Geldof, having spent two hours on stage, was jumped on by Jules and Mandy,” laughs Simon. “Touch wood we haven’t had any prima donnas yet. All of our headliners have been really nice guys. Ade Edmondson said that our green room was the best he had ever been in.”

“We make them relaxed, the demographic of the place is relaxed, the people are relaxed. You get looked after at Chagstock.”

Any backstage gossip? I ask. Well, he divulges, Hughie Moran from Fun Lovin’ Criminals has a reputation for being a really cool guy and is a really nice guy too. Sir Bob didn’t have a shirt and so popped into the charity shop in nearby Moretonhampstead to get one. And he was charming, enthusiastic and very complimentary: “He said: ‘I know that I put Live Aid together but I had loads of help – this must be a nightmare to put together,’” Simon laughs. And there we are, coming full circle, back to those frankly fabulous volunteers again without whom the festival couldn’t happen.

It’s going to be another stonking year for Chagstock. I tell him that I can barely contain my elation about The Waterboys headlining and we giggle and get a bit overexcited and silly about who could be next.

How about some more Devon musicians, I ask, like, well maybe the little-known Chris Martin? Or Muse, Joss Stone – could you squeeze them on stage for half an hour this year? What if they just ‘dropped in’?

“They would have to give me a call and talk terms,” he laughs “… no! … no, they would be very welcome.”

Chagstock will be held on 18 and 19 July this year at Whiddon Down. For more information or to book tickets visit chagstock.infoTen things you don’t know about Si

1) I love NCIS and don’t care who knows it.

2) I’m into horse riding, although I’ve not done much for a while.

3) I help run two other businesses – one called Pitched For You which hires out pre-pitched camping tents to people going to festivals and other events, and the other called Smiley Bars (SW) Ltd that does outdoor and event bars.

4) I am type 1 Diabetic and have been for about 35 years but have tried to never let it stop me having fun!

5) I have never been to Glastonbury

6) I hate couscous, rice pudding, semolina and porridge!

7) The first song I learned to play on the guitar was a John Denver song called This Old Guitar.

8) I was once much thinner!

9) I am not from Devon but have been around the area on and off since 1980.

10) I have two amazing children who both make me very proud.

Ten things Si likes about Devon

1) The people.

2) The Dartmoor Brewery beer.

3) The moor and its ruggedness.

4) The music and the huge range of talented musicians.

5) The wild weather (apart from in July!).

6) The wildlife.

7) The distance from London...

8) I like Exeter as a city that is not too large.

9) I love the Exeter Chiefs Rugby team.

10) The slower pace of life in general.