Blog: David Agnew

Artistic director at Head For The Hills festival says he manages the programme with a focus on audiences, diversity and opportunities for artists

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This weekend, the festival season’s final fling, Head for the Hills in Ramsbottom, returns on 14, 15 & 16 September, with a three-day celebration of music, arts and creativity for all the family. Surrounded by beautiful panoramic views of rolling Lancashire hills, this fun-filled festival, is now in its 8th year and is renowned for showcasing exciting new music, alongside world-class headliners, as well as its great taste in food and drink.

Head for the Hills Festival gives us the chance to programme brilliant artists and give audiences the opportunity to experience music and arts they wouldn’t necessarily seek out for a concert experience. With over 100 performances across the weekend including music and outdoor theatre we discovered some time ago the benefits and thrills that a diverse programme brings.

The end programme each year is inevitable and different to the plan we started out with – so it’s important that we have a strong idea of what we are trying to achieve with the festival and how we want our audiences to respond. As an organisation funded by Arts Council England we work within a national strategy which celebrates diversity and recognises its contribution to a better programme and improved impact with audiences.

An important part of this is to find the right partnerships – we’ll never reflect the fast changing and eclectic communities in Greater Manchester and Lancashire alone. Through the Northern Festival Network we have done much to widen access to the festival including co commissioning work from artist with disabilities in 2016.We want audiences to be inspired by artists they can relate to. In 2017 we worked with Manchester’s Brighter Sound on their three-year project to tackle gender inequality in the music industry – Both Sides Now.

Both Sides Now is a three-year programme to support, inspire and showcase women in music across the North of England. We’re thrilled this year to welcome one of Both Sides Now’s residencies with Stealing Sheep’s Suffragette Tribute showcasing female drummers and percussionists.

In 2018 we have joined PRS’ Keychange Pledge to achieve 50:50 gender balance in our line-up by 2022. Looking back across the programme since 2011 we have had some incredible female led artists but only a handful as headliners. The hope is that as more festivals present more female artists, those opportunities will raise artists’ profile and have impact throughout the industry.

We’ve seen the impact of a diverse programme on audiences – the pledge is an exciting one as it will continue to challenge and test our programme and ensure its relevant and exciting while seeing the festival play its part in contributing to a wider, fairer music industry.

Music highlights at this year’s Head for the Hills include The Boomtown Rats, The Lovely Eggs, The Slow Readers Club, The Bluetones, Stealing Sheep and Liines, while arts highlights consist of magical performances from Manchester creative arts company, Travelling Light Circus as they showcase installations including The Playground of Illusions. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit:

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