Promoter John Empson talks Peaky Blinders Festival and MAMA exit

Promoter John Empson talks Peaky Blinders Festival and MAMA exit

The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival director John Empson has opened up about the new event and his decision to leave MAMA in an interview with Music Week

The new concept, which will debut in the TV series' home city of Birmingham in Digbeth from September 14-15, brings together immersive theatre, live music and fashion inspired by the show, along with a cinema screening, a museum, poetry and appearances from cast members.

With a line-up includes Primal Scream, Anna Calvi (who has written the score for the forthcoming series), Slaves and Nadine Shah, the 20,000-capacity event will also include live recreations of Peaky Blinders scenes involving 200 actors.

"I'm a huge fan of the show and, because music's so prominent in it, I had this idea to do an immersive festival featuring everything that happens in Peaky Blinders, and take it back to its heart, which is in Digbeth in Birmingham," said Empson.

We're taking elements of Secret Cinema, Boomtown and All Points East and putting them all together to make something incredibly progressive

John Empson

The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival

The world of Peaky Blinders will be brought to life by Martin Coat, the creative mind behind Boomtown, and immersive theatre specialists Dank Parish. Empson said the project came together after meeting with Peaky Blinders writer and creator Steve Knight.

"We just shook hands there and then," said Empson. "It's the greatest new festival idea around – taking elements of Secret Cinema, Boomtown and All Points East and putting them all together to make something incredibly progressive, exciting and forward-looking."

He added: "The audience requires new experiences. We've lost a few festivals recently – Secret Garden Party, Bestival and many others – and others are struggling, and I think the market needs a bit of a refresh. Music will always be a huge part of it, but if you can add in other elements it makes it much more exciting."

Empson began his 30-year music industry career at Stiff Records, prior to a 13-year stint with Beggar's Group. He worked as a plugger, a PR and in international, before switching to A&R and heading up his own label Mantra.

In 2001, he set up the Eden Sessions at Cornwall's Eden Project and three years later launched Somersault Festival in North Devon in partnership with the MAMA Group. The MAMA partnership also led him to program both Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire and Citadel Festival in London’s Victoria Park.

Cutting his ties with MAMA, Empson has teamed with multiple partners on the festival including Knight, AEG Presents, Caryn Mandabach Productions and Endemol Shine Group.

"I've done five years at MAMA and I'm always looking for a new challenge," he said. "I've loved working there, but I've always looked at doing new formats.

"I felt with this one, being tied to a major broadcast partner is a huge advantage because by the end of the summer Peaky Blinders Series 5 will be on BBC One. It used to be on BBC Two, so that's a huge uplift. It will really be in the public domain and this event will be in the slipstream of that show.

"This is a massive challenge but I haven't been as excited by something in the festival market for a very long time."

Empson added that he is already looking at expanding the festival in future years. 

"We have long term plans," he said. "Next year we're looking to do Birmingham, London and possibly Boston. There's two more series of Peaky Blinders to come and then there will probably be offshoots beyond that, so bigger things are to come."

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