An Interview with Emma Holling (Underneath the Stars)

Hello, Emma, so first thing’s first, where are you from & where do you live today?
I live in the village of Cawthorne, a beautiful, rural corner of South Yorkshire. I’ve lived in South Yorkshire all my life, have travelled widely and love this place all the more because of that!

You are the Managing Director at Pure Records, how did you get the job?
Pure Records is an independent record label and we look after the musical interests of Kate Rusby. I’ve worked for the business for 24 years. Don’t tell anyone but I’m actually Kate’s sister 🙂

Where, when & why did the idea for Underneath the Stars take place?
Through 2007 to 2011 we ran a series of successful fundraising concerts in Cawthorne. The idea for the festival sprung from there. Our brother, Joe Rusby, floated the concept and it was developed alongside our technical director, Pete Sharman, who runs Isophase Audio.

The Mumble was there last year, & it’s got such a ‘big family’ vibe, where does that come from?
We operate as one big family; organising the event is a family affair, both for the Rusby family and then our extended village community. Our volunteers are amazing, we couldn’t do it without them. They bring the third family dimension. Music and family – they go hand in hand for us and I think it must radiate from there.

When do you start booking the bands, & how easy is it all?
We are super lucky in that we work with Eddie Barcan from Splendid Events. He used to run Cambridge Folk Festival and also books a stage at Glastonbury, so has great connections. He’s also in close contact with Joe, who helped found the festival and also has a great ear for good music. He starts in the Autumn usually and fortunately there are always a number of artists who wish to appear, due to our great reputation. However, we are still only quite small festival in size, so the biggest challenge is finding artists who meet our very high standards across a whole range of musical styles, to fit in with our modest balance. It would be easy just fill the stage, but the skill is in finding the right mix, a good gender balance a few big names people know, but quality throughout.

What kind of a relationship do you have with your local council?
We have a really good relationship with the team at the Local Council (Barnsley) – we are well supported by them. Prior to the festival I had very little experience of dealing with the council but the team genuinely want to help us jump through all the hoops and contribute to making the event a success.

What kind of line-up have you got for us this year?
As ever, Stars is more than just a folk festival. Friday night has the hit pop act Scouting for Girls, currently touring with Olly Murs and we are very excited to have Lottery Winners, who at the time of writing are #1 in the Album Charts – that kind of booking foresight is what we like! We also have The Longest Johns, the sea-shanty band who went viral with “Wellerman”. Saturday has the amazing double bill of The Shires and Newton Faulkner, as well as world dance act Molotov Jukebox and Skerryvore – they are currently #1 in the Scottish music charts!. Sunday is our very own Kate Rusby, The Magic Numbers, plus Beth Nielsen Chapman and the wonderful Elephant Sessions to close. However, there is so much more depth than the more well known names. I am really looking forward to Angeline Morrisson – her album telling the story of the much unreported Black experience in British Folk was one of the most moving of last year. We’ve also got an amazing French-Latin band called Super Panela kicking off the main stage, who are going to be wonderful. In addition we have jazz, Moroccan trance, blues, and a full choir!

The Lottery Winners will be at this year’s UTS

Every festival is a step in the great learning curve of life, what improvements have you made on last year’s festival?
Crikey – so yes, running a festival is a steep learning curve. Some years are steeper than others! We are nearly 10 years in with Underneath the Stars and just about getting into our groove. We are improving infrastructure all the time; so not often all that visible to the audience. We are always tweaking the site plan!
Ooh but this year our new creative group, ’The Space Crafters’, have been busy making all sorts of loveliness for the site. I can’t wait to see it all ✨

To somebody who has never been to Underneath the Stars before, what are they to expect?
An eclectic mix of music presented to a really high standard within covered big top venues 🎪. We endeavour to bring something truly special to our corner of Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Building a festival means bringing people together to build a small community for a few special days in the summer. Quality underlines everything we do. We hope you join us to party in the sun and the rain, discover your inner self, energise your mind and body, try new things, meet new people, make new friends, and most of all HAVE FUN.

Cawthorne, Barnsley

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