Marcus Mumford has spoken about Mumford & Sons’ upcoming Gentlemen Of The Road takeover of All Points East 2019, working on new material, and why he thinks Dizzee Rascal should have headlined Glastonbury.
“We’re always looking to try and do something a bit fresh and a bit new,” Mumford explained while working in the studio in New York. “Having done Hyde Park a few times now, All Points East felt exciting to us, especially given the fact we could curate the line-up ourselves.”
The group, who are in the middle of their ‘Delta’ world tour, have previously done similar takeovers at Latitude and Longitude festivals, as well as organising their own Gentlemen Of The Road stopovers. Much like the band’s own events, All Points East places focus on local community groups and businesses, which Mumford says was part of the appeal of working with the festival.
“[Promoter] Jim King is such a good bloke,” he explains. “I remember we had a few conversations after Grenfell happened and he was one of the first people to come forward and offer help and support to that community and was also really humble about it, like, ‘We’ll do whatever people want and we won’t do what no one wants’. So he had Hyde Park on hold to do a gig, cos it was just after One Love Manchester. We went to the community and, obviously, it wasn’t the right time and no one wanted it to happen so we didn’t do it.
“Jim just gets community and I think the spirit of All Points East and what they’re doing over there is exactly in line with the kind of things we want to do. The concept is basically just to try and leave places better than you found them, which is kind of basic but we used to hear stories, in the States especially, of bands going through towns and bringing an audience with them, doubling the population overnight and taking a cut from the petrol stations and the bars and it all felt a bit gross. Then they’d leave and the local community would feel a bit pillaged.”
Mumford notes that connecting with the local community isn’t just about business, either. “It’s about actually looking people in the eye and having conversations with people who are from the neighbourhood you’re playing in,” he says. “Gigs are social experiments so if you don’t engage with people you’re not getting the most out of them.”
How does working with an established festival change Gentlemen Of The Road? Does it make it easier to pull certain things off? Is it more enjoyable for you to have someone outside of the band to collaborate with?
Marcus Mumford: “We’ve just got really short attention spans so it’s just fun to do something different. Having done stopovers for a few years in a row, it’s nice to collaborate with someone else who already has an established festival. It’s a cool thing, especially cos they let us work a bit on the look of the site and the feel of it, and everything down to the line-up and looking at what food and drink’s on offer. We feel pretty lucky that we get to work with people who are fucking good at their jobs across the board, whether it’s our crew or recording engineers or promoters who put on festivals. In some senses, it’s easier because, at our own festivals, we’re the ones who have to worry about lines for the toilet and if there’s enough food on site. It’s like planning a wedding. In these situations, you’ve got pros who are already over it. So in some ways it’s easier but, of course, there’s a bit more compromise that has to happen because there’s an already existing site and you can’t just build it from scratch.”
In terms of the line-up, you’ve got Gentlemen Of The Road regular Leon Bridges joining you. Why do you keep inviting him back?
“We’re fans of his music and were from afar beforehand but then, when you see him live, there’s something so deeply soulful about his performance live. His band are amazing. It’s as good as it gets, in terms of live musicianship. He just raises the bar and it’s always exciting playing after someone who raises the bar cos it makes you try and push yourself as well. He really challenges us to try and do a better job ourselves. That’s an important part of putting a line-up together for us. Not all artists make you wanna challenge yourself. You might want to sit back and watch and enjoy it, but be a bit more passive, whereas watching Leon and the way he performs live makes me wanna go and smash it a bit more than I did before.”
Sam Fender is also playing, who is one of the most talked about new acts of the last year. He’s been praised a lot for writing songs about mental health and male suicide – how important is it to have artists like him tackling those subjects right now?
“Really important, man. Especially a bloke talking about that stuff and being quite explicit about it is really healthy. I haven’t seen him live yet but Ben [Lovett, Mumfords keyboardist] called me from Omeara the first time he saw him, which is very rare – we don’t really call each other when we’re not together. He called me up and was like, ‘Fuck man, you’ve gotta see this guy. He’s unbelievable.’ So I’m fucking excited about Sam, it’s gonna be wicked. And Dermot as well – same deal. Dermot Kennedy is someone everybody’s talking about at the moment and we feel pretty privileged to have those guys on board.”
Dizzee Rascal is the most different in terms of genre of the acts that have been announced so far. Why did you want to book him to play?
“Oh man, I think the influence he’s had on British music is absolutely enormous. I’m not sure if he’s recognised enough for it. He should have headlined Glastonbury by now, in my opinion. He’s a fucking icon of British music. If you were a teenager around the time those first records came out, they were unavoidable. He brought grime into the mainstream, along with some other guys – obviously, it wasn’t just exclusively him. But he’s such an important British artist that I think it doesn’t really make sense not to recognise that genre of music right now. In some ways, it would have been an oversight not to have him rather than a surprise to have him. I think it’s important to reflect our own musical tastes. When we put a line-up together, we mostly do it just from what we’re listening to and I’ve listened to Dizzee half my life. It’ll be wicked to play with him.”
Diversity and representation is a big issue in festival line-ups right now. How consciously do you consider that when you’re curating your own line-ups?
“We’re pretty conscious of it. Well, we’re aware of it. Our line-ups normally fall into place in the right way. We just happen to enjoy [laughs] from a pretty diverse group of people – in all sense of the word diverse – that I don’t think it’s a politically correct charge, for us. We wouldn’t wanna do it any other way, just in terms of reflecting our tastes. We’ve just come off tour with Maggie Rogers who is absolutely killing it and we’ve spent a lot of time on the road with bands like Haim. When people talk about male artists and female artists, sometimes we scratch our heads thinking, ‘There’s so many great female artists out there, how can you not just book them and how can you not take them on tour?’ It just doesn’t make sense to me not to. So, again, it’s not a deliberate drive, it’s more reflective of the reality, which I think is probably more progressive?”
You’re in the studio right now. Are you working on new material?
“We sort of always are, to be honest. But yeah, we’re trying a couple of things out. We’ve got two days off between Ottawa and Buffalo on the east coast so we wanna use one of them in the studio cos we’ve just got the itch at the moment, which is cool. So we’re working on some stuff and we don’t really know what’s going to happen to it, but it’s been fun. We’ve been inviting people down to the studio – we had Maggie down, we had Little Simz. Have you heard her record, ‘Grey Area’? It’s fucking amazing. She came down and hung out and put some stuff on a track. I don’t know if any of it will ever see the light of day. We just enjoy collaboration. We just enjoy the fact that we get to be around experts. It’s pretty fun. I love it.”
Is there any chance there might be something new to put into the set by All Points East?
“Maybe. It’d be nice to get something out for that. We’ll see. We’ve gotta finish it first!”