My Life: The music festival with local roots

SOUND IDEA: James Houston is founder and director of the Galtres Festival. PIC: Terry Carrott
SOUND IDEA: James Houston is founder and director of the Galtres Festival. PIC: Terry Carrott
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Catherine Scott talks to James Houston.

Eight years ago James Houston and a group of friends came up with the idea of holding a beer festival in the ground of the Durham Ox, in Crayke, near Easingwold in North Yorkshire.

They had 32 beers, a few bands and 500 visitors, and raised £3,000 for charity so thought they’d make it an annual event.

This weekend the Galtres Festival will attract 5,000 visitors, there will be 100 bands including Adam Ant and Ocean Colour Scene performing on five stages, 100 beers and ciders are on offer and there are 100 different children’s attractions.

What started as little more than a local beer festival now lives up to its name as the Glastonbury of the North.

“We never thought eight years ago that the festival would be anything like the size it is now,” says James Houston, founder and festival director.

“If anyone had said that I would spend most of my time organising the festival and booking such big name bands I wouldn’t have believed them.”

The festival takes its name from the forest which used to cover much of that area of North Yorkshire. And it prides itself on its green credentials.

“We do as much as possible to reduce our carbon footprint,” explains James.

“And we are also trying to restore some of the original Galtres Forest.”

Everyone who buys their tickets online is offered the opportunity to also make a donation of £5 which goes toward sourcing and planting a tree. Organisers have also teamed up with Treemendous York to fund their tree-planting initiatives – they want to plant 50,000 trees in and around the city of York. They are committed to recycling and composting.

James is also keen that the festival supports the local economy with all food providers being told they must source all their produce locally.

However the success of the festival has caused a bit of a headache for their carbon neutral principles

“It is difficult when we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and then we have people coming from Canada and other parts of the world.”

But they do offer reduced prices to locals who on the whole they get on well with.

“Last year was difficult as the conditions were so bad people’s cars did get stuck and it caused a problem with the traffic,” says James,

“But generally we have the support of the locals.”

James is proud that the Galtres festival is a real family affair.

Father to five-year-old Henry and a stepfather of three, he wants the festival to appeal to the whole family.

“We don’t just want the children to sit there and be entertained, we want them to really get involved,there will be lots of workshops and things for them to do.”

Each year the festival has a theme and this year it is Dragons and Knights which will include jousting displays by The Knights of the Damned, a medieval village, falconry, a Knight School, witches and wizardry, and culminating in a spectacular Dragon Ball on the Sunday Night which includes a Chinese Dragon Dance.

So while 5,000 festival goers enjoy the fun, spare a thought for James. He has already started planning Galtres Festival 2013.

And that’s when he’s not doing his day job. James runs an interactive media company which produces educational material for primary school children.

“But I do end up spending most of my time doing the thing I love,” he admits.