Chase Park Festival: An interview with organiser Alistair McDonald

Chase Park Festival is in its 8th year, priding its self on being one of the most inclusive festivals facilitating fans and musicians of all abilities, this could be the biggest year yet for this unique event.

Previously held in Chase Park Whickham, this year the festival will find it’s new home at Saltwell Park, Gateshead. With a stacked line up, improved facilities and lots going on throughout the day, organiser Alistair McDonald is hopeful 2017 will be Chase Park’s most successful to date.

We spoke to Alistair about how the festival got started, why Chase Park is so unique and which acts we should look out for this year.

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How did Chase Park Festival come about originally?

Well I’ve been involved since day one, I used to work for a care company and we used to provide rehabilitation to people who had debilitating brain and spinal Injuries. There was a lad called Paul Belk who was a drummer prior to his injury and he approached me with the idea about having an accessible festival because he really missed that.

The stage that he was at in his rehabilitation meant he couldn’t attend main stream events. So we just had a go the first year and did what we could to make it accessible, pulled favours in from mates in bands, so yeah that’s how it started. Then it’s kind of just grown in scope and scale each year.

Do you think this year’s event could be the biggest so far?

This is definitely our biggest one yet. Biggest in terms of the line-up, the fact we’ve moved from Chase Park into Saltwell park and we’ve got a second stage for disabled musicians to provide them a platform. We’re also going to be running a gig at The Cluny to provide an opportunity for disabled musicians if they aren’t quite ready for a festival.

We’ve made some improvements to the access as well, so we’ve got some of what we call ‘changing places standard loos’ that have hoists and loads of space for people to get changed. We’ve got people translating what’s going on onstage for deaf people and we’ve also got performance translators so they don’t just translate the lyrics they translate the motion of the song.

What makes Chase Park Festival so unique?

I think the thing that’s unique about Chase Park is the atmosphere. Because it’s so inclusive and because you’ve got people with very complex disabilities, you’ve got regular music fans, you’ve got families, everyone’s coming together and there’s no barriers.

I think one of the reasons that festivals are popular is that human beings just like coming together, they like congregating! Everyone wants to do that but you know for people with disabilities there are barriers sometimes at mainstream events. You won’t find those barriers at Chase Park Festival.

We try to do our best on the lineup, we try to make it good fun for people, but overall the spirit is what’s unique.

Who are you excited about on this year’s line up?

I’m thrilled that we’ve got The Coral, I’ve seen them live before and they’re just a fantastic live act. Little Comets, they’re a local band but they’ve made their mark. I’m really pleased to see Cattle & Cane and Boy Jumps Ship back, they both played for us in 2012 when they were first starting out and they’ve gone on to bigger and better things so it’s great to have them back.

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The Coral
Alex Francis was relatively new to me but he’s one to watch, really good singer. He played at the Isle of White Festival a couple of weeks ago.

James Leonard Hewitson who’s opening up is really quirky, really different so I think he’ll be good fun.

On the second stage I always really look forward to The Sound Bean Band and Paul Belk coming, the guy who had the idea for Chase Park. So that’s always a massive highlight for me. We’ve got a band called Aukestra, all musicians and singers have autism so for them to get up on stage and do what they do is a real highlight. So right the way across the bill from the big acts like The Coral down to the emerging artists and the second stage I think we’ve got something for everybody.

Finally, what’s your favourite part of putting on the event?

Seeing that spirit and atmosphere I was talking about before. There’s usually one or two moments during the day. Last year it was one of the guys from The Sound Bean Band hanging out backstage with the guy from Reverend and The Makers, things like that don’t happen at other events. It’s a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of graft but seeing things like that really crystallises why we do it.

Words by J.Ramsay

Chase Park Festival takes places on Saturday 26th of August at Saltwell Park, click here to find out more and buy your tickets!

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