Caroline Waters – Manager – Oxjam Brighton Takeover

Oxjam began in 2006, with the aim of creating a network of music-loving people across the UK, all united by a shared goal – raising money for Oxfam to help fight poverty around the world. Ten years on and the festival is still going strong, with hundreds of incredible gigs taking place each October all over the country. It’s a national festival with a local focus and Brighton, being such a hub of musical creativity, has a bit of a duty to step-up and represent!

For several years Brighton has had a multi-venue festival, what they call a ‘Takeover’ event. Much like The Great Escape or Drill Festival there are shows organised in venues around the city which can all be accessed via a wrist band. We chat to Caroline Waters, who is our local Oxjam Takeover manager, to find out about her history with Oxjam, what’s going on in Brighton this year and how you can get involved.

How did you get into working with Oxjam?
I’m someone who, for my sins, loves organising festivals. I’ve organised a lot of dance festivals. My history is in dance improvisation, although I’ve also worked with music. I did a lot of touring and when I cam back to Britain I wanted to get involved in organising music festivals. So I volunteered at The Great Escape, Hop Farm, Playgroup, and I also volunteered at Oxjam, just to see how festivals are put on and what kind of possibility it would be to get involved. Plus the interesting thing with the Oxjam situation, it being an actual fund-raiser, so I liked working for something that raises money for charity.

Hop Farm in East Grinstead was interesting. I got involved in the last year, they had no corporate funding and tried to be an old fashioned sort of festival. So it wasn’t about the industry and everything. But the problem is they lost money and they went bust. I’m glad I got to be there the last year, but considering they had Bob Dylan as a headliner and they still lost money was a bit of a wake up call. A lot of the festivals I’ve organised have been in other countries because it’s a lot cheaper to put a festival on in somewhere like Russia or Germany, mind you the economic climate has changed drastically in the last year.

I was trying to get an idea of how to put a festival on in Britain and working on Oxjam, well, having had the experience at working at all these other sorts of festivals, I saw that, actually no-one gets paid and it’s a bit of a myth. You have to be quite high up towards the top of the tree to actually be paid for anything, including the musicians. So when I got involved in Oxjam I actually got quite inspired to be able to put on quite a big event that, if I had to have money behind it, I wouldn’t be able to make it actually happen. Because we are all donating time for free, all the spaces are donated free and we’re all volunteers working on it, we actually manage to get quite a good event happening that is also musically inspiring as well as supporting Oxfam’s causes.

Tell us a little about your own background, in music.
Although I have a background in theatre, I started off in music, I was in punk bands when I was 16 and I’ve done a lot of weird improvisational music, which is why I’m very keen to get Safe House and Spirit Of Gravity involved in Oxjam, because there’s a massive impro scene in Brighton! I’m also a member of the Carnival Collective, I play drums for them and do weird improvised singing. I teach a lot about how you can collaborate with music, theatre, art.

How long have you been involved in Oxjam now?
I’ve actually been involved for the last five years. I started off just as a basic volunteer, the next year I got involved as a production coordinator, and then for the last three years I’ve been an Oxjam Takeover manager.

What are the main fund-raising aims of Oxjam? Where does the money go?
The thing that’s interesting about Oxjam is that it goes to a general pool. Most organisations when you’re fund-raising for a particular thing, the money goes there. Oxjam’s money goes to what’s needed most, their main aims being to fight poverty and suffering around the world. Basically Oxfam’s main remit is about getting clean water and services to places that are in some kind of bad situation and particularly, in countries that don’t have governments to provide that for them. A lot of people don’t understand why Oxfam is not in the Calais refugee camp, but that’s because they’re in a European country where the government should be doing something about it, as opposed to somewhere like Syria, where Oxjam have been involved since the beginning. They’ve got clean water to the Syrian refugee camps, they’ve done a lot of work there in the last six years, so there’s a difference in where they put their time and attention.

How much did Oxjam raise in Brighton last year?
In Brighton last year we raised five and half thousand pounds.

That’s fantastic, and when does the festival take place?
This year it’s Saturday 15th October.

How much are the wristbands?
At the moment they are £9 Early Bird, they will go up to £15 a couple of weeks before and on the door. We will also have one-venue entry for a fiver, so if you don’t want to go to the whole festival you can go once to one venue.

And I believe it’s a bit of a special occasion this year?
Yes, it’s tenth year of Oxjam! Wheee! So for ten years they’ve actually been able to keep it going, because also it’s a fund-raising campaign for Oxfam, so they have to make sure it’s successful. Because, even though we are all volunteers and nobody gets paid, we do get under-pinning help from Oxfam. They do all the badges, the banners, the buckets and the wristbands. so you do have to spend money to raise money. They back us and we get a little bit of training. It’s exciting because it’s a national event, even though it’s a local event! There are about 50 cities involved this year and most of them will happen on 15th October.

What would make Oxjam extra-special for this ten year anniversary?
Extra-special? Well to make it extra-special what would be great would be if we got more people to come! That would be really brilliant, we’d like to see our festival have a capacity audience at each venue.

What are the highlights of the line-up that you’ve got booked so far for this year’s event?
Because Brighton has a very active live music scene I run Oxjam slightly differently from other places in the country. I get promoters involved and the promoters put on their own stages. So, at the moment, I haven’t been worrying so much about line-up, I’ve been focussing on who is going to be promoting and where we’ll be having things happening.

What promoters are we looking at then?
The Oxjam main-stage is going to be The Prince Albert this year, so that will be our main wrist band exchange and also our main venue. Brighton Noise came on board last year, and they’re going to be running their stage at The Joker. We usually have the jazz scene doing a stage at The Verdict. We have upstairs at Marwood’s, local singer-songwriter Nick William’s going to be helping us put a stage together there. We’ve got Under The Bridge, Jackie who runs the rehearsal rooms there usually puts on a mini-festival within the festival. She gets the biggest bands to play in the smallest spaces and she also is incredible in the fact that she always raises the most money on her stage. Luckily we have a big community element this year in the fact that we have people from four years old to seventy performing. We also have the under 18s Battle Of The Bands supported by New Rock Generation, Access To Music and Synergy. Beatabet Collective have just taken over The Rosehill Tavern, so we’re going to have them in relationship with Safe House and Spirit Of Gravity putting on a stage there. Also it looks like BIMM music students are going to take over the Green Door Store this year, which means they’ll have the biggest venue in the whole festival. With Green Door Store, Prince Albert and Under The Bridge there will be a whole strip of Oxjam activities happening along there, which will be great.

So bands should be contacting promoters instead of yourselves if they want to get involved?
Yes – if bands want to get involved they should be contacting promoters. Also Give It Back magazine are going to do a stage, I’m not sure where they’re going to have their venue yet. The thing about our Oxjam stage is we don’t really have a lot of room, there are about ten or eleven stages going on but realistically, we ourselves only have one venue. I can understand some bands may get a little frustrated because they don’t know how to get on the bill, but it’s difficult as we’re all working for free and we’re trying to figure out the best way to make things happen. It might not look from the outside like a very egalitarian way to put an event on.

Presumably if you’re in a band and you’re super keen you could try to put a stage together yourself?
Totally. That’s absolutely fine!

What can people do to get involved at this stage?
We’ve got a Facebook page which is the easiest way to get in touch with us if you want to help out with volunteering. We’re still building our web page at the moment so that will be live soon. The Facebook page “BrightonOxjamTakeover” is where you can find out up-to-date information.

Are you still looking for volunteers?
Yes, anyone who likes to write about music, does marketing or event organising, or just anyone who wants to help out at the event. We’re always looking for volunteers! We’re having a few crazy little fund-raisers because we need to raise some money to put the actual even on. Normally this just underpins advertising and stuff life that. Hopefully we’re going to have an Oxjam pub quiz, and there’s the ‘Big Night In’ philosophy that comes from MacMillan Cancer, so instead of going out you stay in and put your money into a pot and have a party with your friends. We’re going to have an Oxjam Barbecue, so people can come and donate their money and have a bit of a party as a way of raising some money. We’re going to have a bring your own vinyl night at the Heart In Hand, which is the only pub left with a vinyl jukebox. We’re just trying to think of fun ways to involve people and raise a bit of awareness of the actual events.

We welcome all ideas to support and promote the event, and thanks to you [Brightonsfinest] for always supporting us.

Early Bird Oxjam Wristbands are currently £9.90 (incl. booking free) from WeGotTickets.