How it all began...
In the summer of 1998 I was at a meeting of a community-working group (these were set up by the council at the time as a community involvement box ticking exercise) and was bewailing the fact that local bands really had nowhere to play; the live music scene in the town was pretty dismal at that time and someone, I can’t remember who it was, asked me: If we gave you a venue, would you be able to organise a festival? Like a fool I said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A few of us who were at that meeting formed a sub group to organise the gig, we roped in friends & relatives, beg stole and borrowed equipment and managed to engage the support of some local businesses to help and six weeks later some thing rather special was born.
The first Richmond Live was held on the 26th September 1998, a day which was otherwise notable for only two things; it was my wife’s birthday and it was raining. It rained for pretty much most of the day but that didn’t really bother us, or the 300 people who turned up to see the show. We had a lot of great feed back from the people who attended, and we had such a great time doing it that we decided to do it again the following year.
In autumn of that year we formed an independent volunteer group to organise the next show. We had more time to get things together so it was decided to move the show to the first weekend in August to try and ensure better weather; this sort of worked, it was warmer, but it still rained as it did the year after that.
For the second show we added an acoustic stage, a bigger PA and some lights and about a thousand people turned up. Over the next few years we experimented with the layout and stage plan, added a third stage and an extra night and sought name acts as headliners.
Our first was Paul Carrack, former front man with Mike & The Mechanics and at the time embarking on his solo career.
The first Richmond Live to be held in its current format (big twin stage facing down the Batts and acoustic stage in the bar at the station bridge end) was in 2002. That year was memorable for two reasons, firstly the headliner that year was Marillion and secondly the rain. It rained for pretty much the entire week of the set up and we had to cancel the Friday night because the river was up on the Batts and lapping against the stage. We went ahead with the battle of the bands that night, hastily relocated to the market hall and by 7pm that night, the rain stopped, the river dropped and the next day the show went ahead without a hitch.
We have stuck with the same format since then, because, well, if it ain’t broke……
Some things have changed though, and a lot of the changes have been made have been because of outside factors and pressures. When we started the venue was open to the public and not fenced, after the 2006 show we realised that there were some serious concerns over public safety given the increase in numbers and the proximity to what is the fastest flowing river in England. In 2007 the event was fenced off to enable us to control capacity and crowds more effectively and to ensure public safety.
Up until 2007 people were able to bring their own food and drink (including alcohol) on to the site. Again it was concerns over public safety which meant we had to cease this practice.
It was always our intention to keep Richmond Live a free show, but, as the years went by this became increasingly difficult. The cost of putting on the show has increased dramatically since those early days not least because of the cost of compliance with current health and safety. In 2009 we began charging for entry to the event. This was well received by local people, many of whom thought we should always have been charging. We have, however, resisted charging what might be considered ‘the going rate’ and always striven to keep entry prices at a minimum. Richmond Live is a ‘not for profit’ organisation, and as such we aim, every year, only to cover our costs.