What does it take to run your own festival? 

By Alex Jones

20 May 2024

Pencoose festival campsite

Meet the group of mates behind Pencoose Festival, the Cornish music festival run as a hobby.

Matti’s house, Truro, Cornwall. A 21 year old Morgan Stephens and his old schoolmates assemble around the kitchen table. Pencoose 2024 is eight months away, there are bands to be booked, stage equipment to be hired and the small matter of obtaining a temporary events notice from Truro council. Three years of successful Pencoose festivals behind them, the boys begin discussion on how to make 2024 the best yet.   

The idea that a group of schoolboys could just band together and run an event of that scale, using their own initiative, is contrary to pretty much every single stereotype of teenage boys that exists. Morgan’s flippant retelling of the birth of Pencoose was more in keeping with the stereotypes: “So pretty much, I always refer to it as a joke that’s got slightly out of hand.

“It started off at my 16th birthday and my brother’s 18th birthday, so that would have been 2019. We got a band to play that, everyone turned up and completely loved it.

“It kind of snowballed from that initial party, we all sat around and thought, we’ve done it once, why can’t we do it again?” 

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Matti had a similar attitude: “You know when you go out for a few pints and you have a chat with your mates. You start spitballing and coming up with weird and wonderful ideas. It was kind of like that. We woke up the next day and still thought it was a good idea basically.” 

Despite their nonchalant recollections of the original murmurings of a festival, for Morgan, Matti and the rest of the team, it didn’t just happen overnight. Covid-19 stood in the boys’ way as the country shut down for two years. 

A barrier to proceedings or an opportunity to thoroughly plan a well thought out festival?

Samuel, the man in charge of booking bands, remembers the leap from glorified house-party to music festival: “There was a lot of hype and build up around the 2021 one because we’d been talking about it for two years at that point. Everyday at school, a lot of us are lifeguards on the beach as well, so we’d just be talking about it on the beach as well.”

The festival is completely self-funded, the lads scraping together part-time earnings, birthday and Christmas money to put on the original show. Oh yeah, luckily, Matti’s parents own the land at Pencoose farm, a collection of fields just off the main farm complete with their own ‘festival centrepiece’ that could rival the tower at Glastonbury Tor in the form of a large mining chimney. So that came free of charge, “as long as we sort out them and their mates with tickets.” Morgan explained. 

It can’t be easy controlling the finance of an event funded by the pocket money of Cornish teens. Sure enough, it isn’t. Morgan revealed 2023’s festival was “really good because it was the first time in 3 years we’ve been completely debt free.”  The festival seems to have come on leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings.  

“In 2021 we didn’t charge people for entry. It was our first year properly going for it so we didn’t know that we could do it. We didn’t want to charge people money and let everyone down. 

“We lost quite a bit, the only income we had was from the bar.” 

2021’s teething problems were to be expected. Matti recalls: “When we started off, none of us had any experience of any of the aspects of organising a festival, the roles just kind of naturally formed.”

But some of the issues seemed more obvious than others. Samuel remembers the band booking taking its place on the backburner that year: “A few years ago we would leave the bands very very last minute… it would be a couple of weeks before and we wouldn’t have any artists! Everyone would be panicking.

“Did Morgan tell you about the toilets?” 

Where on Earth is this going, Samuel?

“Before it was ticketed we wanted to hire portaloos but by the time we got around to it they’d all been hired by Boardmasters and all the bigger festivals.”

The great Cornish portaloo shortage just about sums up how difficult it is to think of absolutely everything when event planning. “We basically built our own compost toilets. We dug massive holes in the ground and used pallets of wood to create makeshift bogs. 

“It shocked some people when they first arrived.

“This was when we were much more amateur.” Samuel added sheepishly. 

2022 saw the addition of overnight camping as well as a £10 ticket charge: “The professionalisation in 2022 was a lot greater and of course you do incur a greater cost.” Morgan explained. 

Familiar faces Caravan Club returned to the iconic Pencoose Chimney for another DJ set and the lads set about marketing the event to the Truro locals, employing a familiar slogan ‘Probably the best party in the world’. 

Whilst levelling up as a festival year on year is a priority for the lads, Samuel spoke about the festival as a fond pastime. “We’ve got a really really good site and a team that are really keen to keep growing. I definitely think there’s potential for it to expand a decent amount significantly. 

“We want to make sure we are sticking to the core values, keeping the local charm and Cornish identity.” 

Sweet Juno performing at Pencoose 2023

The local community theme of Pencoose has been reflected in the Samuel’s lineup in every year of the festival: “We like to have Cornish artists or a connection to Cornwall. 

“We all live in Cornwall, go out, follow the Cornish music scene so we tend to have quite a few ideas going in. We sit down and have brainstorming sessions… look at up and coming small bands and big music scenes in Falmouth. We look on the lineups of bigger festivals like Boardmasters and see who’s playing on the local band stages. Normally we have an idea of who we know and go from there.”

Beneath the joyful tasks of picking the lineup and planning the site layout, which doubtless led the boys to fall in love with the Pencoose dream in the early days, lies the legal requirements – the tasks less likely to have set the lads’ imaginations alight back in 2019. 

Morgan stressed the importance of getting the right authorities onside once again with Pencoose becoming a larger recognised event in 2022: “The landowners are really good but obviously they don’t want a massive out of control party. We have to demonstrate that we are competent enough to run a successful event on their property without any damage.” 

Matti definitely drew the short straw job-wise. Admin, admin and yet more admin. Matti has to be one of the only 20 year olds in the nation tasked with creating a ten page fire safety plan among other long and complicated risk assessments. He played it down as all part of the journey telling himself: “You have to do the boring stuff to do the fun stuff. 

“We run at a maximum capacity of 499, which is under the temporary events threshold. You need a temporary events notice which grants you permission to serve alcohol and have live music past eleven. 

“You apply on the council website and describe all the considerations you’ve made – how you’ll make the site safe and not annoy the neighbours.

“You need to ensure they don’t submit any objections to your notice. The big one is the police.

“Environmental agencies look a lot at how the noise might affect the surrounding area. I just write a plan of all the mitigations in place.”

Sounds like fun, Matti! 

Roughly 350 people descended on the Chimney in 2022, up 150 from 2021… a number that would rise again to 450 in 2023, when the Pencoose fairytale continued for its third year. 

Ize Neal, Cornish guitarist, headlined the event with his band, Cattalyst, in 2021 and returned to the Farm with Cattalyst’s drummer in 2023 as an opening act. Ize has conquered the county, playing many Cornish beer festivals and even securing an appearance at Boardmasters but doesn’t seem to have a bad word to say about Pencoose.  

“It was a really successful event… every year they get more and more tight on how they are arranging the festival.

“I want to see it be as enjoyable for them as it is for us.

“We had an original song come out, called new situations. When we played as a band in 2021, we had that moment of ‘oh my god people know this song and people are singing it’

“I stopped singing for two seconds and then people were singing it back at me. I was going ‘Oh shit this is actually really cool.’”

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