East Yorkshire wants Leila for a moonbeam

Leila Cooper - Moonbeams Folk Festival Organiser

Leila Cooper - Moonbeams Folk Festival Organiser

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For those involved in the music industry, Leila Cooper needs no introduction. Over the course of the past six years, she has become a familiar face at festivals across the land, especially those in the Driffield area. As well as running her very own festival, the “Moonbeams Festival”, Leila continues to play a huge part in helping to make Beverley Folk Festival and Tribfest what they are.

Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, she excitedly shares her passion for live music in all its glory…

Hi Leila, how are things?

Hey Steve. Things are good. All is trotting along rather nicely here in the Cooper household. I’m so happy that the festival season is upon us, and I am loving the light nights… happy days!

You are the mastermind behind “Moonbeams”. For those who have never attended a “Moonbeams” evening, what’s the best way to sum one up?

Friendly, happy times, revolving around music! “Moonbeams” music nights, along with a Winter Folk Weekend, are held at The Bell Hotel in Driffield, our lovely venue where it all started. After two small festivals at our family farm, “Moonbeams” boasts a glorious summer festival which is held at Wold Top Brewery. The festival is now in its sixth year, and I could not be more proud of what it has become. “Moonbeams” has a great reputation of being a very friendly get-together with a special atmosphere. I have built up at great relationship with my audience, and when new people come along for the first time, they seem very comfortable and often come back. I have met so many of my close friends through “Moonbeams” - they are such a great bunch!

How did you feel about the local music-scene when you first had the idea of organising acoustic evenings in Driffield, and what made you choose The Bell Hotel as a “starter” venue?

I used to head over to York a lot. There’s a great music scene there. I totally loved Chris Helme’s “Num Num Club” and had some great times there. It’s where I first got to see Andy Stones, Ben Leftwich, David Ward Maclean, and so many of the crazily talented musicians from York who are still major “Moonbeams” favourites, and dear buddies of mine, too.

The Bell Hotel is a treasure… it is a beautiful, quirky building which has a great feel about it… so, of course, that was the venue for me. Since Day One, Amy and The Bell Hotel team have been great, so helpful and supportive, and I think I may even have turned George (the hotel owner) into a Folkie!

Logistically-speaking, how did you go about organising and promoting the first acoustic evening in The Maple Room with former Seahorses frontman Chris Helme, and were you pleased with the response?

I did not have a clue what I was doing when I first started, with a few posters plonked here and there, and very basic social media. Back in 2007, “Facebook” and “Twitter” hadn’t kicked off. So, I introduced myself to Martin Peirson and went on the beg for advice from him. Martin is a very respected promoter and music agent in this area; he was great with me and pointed me in the right direction, and helped me get started. He is still keeping me on the straight and narrow and throwing wise words my way... which are always gratefully received!

On that very first evening, we had a great response… lots of people came, and we had a fabulous night. Chris loved it, too! “Moonbeams” was born... so off to “Trishna” we went for a curry to celebrate!

In a very short space of time, you managed to attract the scandalously talented likes of Kris Drever, Martin Simpson and Lau to Driffield. Given their credentials, did you never find yourself surprised that such fantastic singers and musicians were so enthusiastic about performing in Driffield?

I was more excited and overjoyed than surprised. I was booking my favourite acts, those I wanted to see, and those I wanted my friends and audience to see and enjoy! Many of the older Folk artists had previously been to The Bell Hotel before, to the Folk Club that was once there called “Driffield Live”.

Inspired by the hugely supportive response from “Moonbeams”-goers, you upped the ante by deciding to stage an annual “Moonbeams” festival. Was the Wold Top Brewery an obvious place to stage the festival from the off, or did you consider alternative sites? Also, which acts are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival this year?

The “Moonbeams Gathering” began at home in Kelk, in our barn. But, after two years, I was invited to move the event up to the gorgeous Hunmanby Grange, the home of the Mellor family and Wold Top Brewery. There is no place like it... it is absolutely gorgeous up there, right on top of the Yorkshire Wolds, and the home of my favourite beer. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better venue.

The very first “Moonbeams Festival” was held in July 2009. A very small affair it was, but it managed to make it onto the “Look North” news as “Leila’s Folk Project”. I was in my element! So there it began, and over the years, my favourite bands have performed, including Show of Hands, Oysterband, Skerryvore, and Adrian Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds. Ade described it as ‘A little piece of heaven on the Wolds’, and I was happy with that! Each year, the festival has grown a little bit. Word has spread, and now we have audiences from all over the place… Scotland, Ireland, Wales - even France!

This year, we are jam-packed with quality acts. It’s too tricky to pick who I am most looking forward to, but I will have to go with the Peatbog Faeries. With Breabach on before them, it’s going to be one mighty fine night! I have three daughters… Lily, Mia, and Izzy… and they are really impressed with the line-up this year, with Nizlopi, Van Susans, and The Faeries ticking all their boxes. It really is a line-up to please all ages!

How does organising and promoting a festival compare to organising and promoting a stand-alone evening?

I love it! Both the festival and the evenings are so much fun to put on. It is such a great hobby, with the festival consuming most of my time, and the evening concerts fitting in around it. Thankfully, they promote each other, which is great.

Looking back at all the events you’ve organised, is there any one evening that stands out above the rest? If so, what was so special about it?

One highlight for me was last November, when Skerryvore - our 2013 festival headliner at the Wold Top - came down from Scotland to Driffield for our annual Birthday Bash. It was magic; the audience loved them, and they loved the audience… so much so that they are coming back this November and basing a small tour around it. Saying that, we have just had Steve Knightley at Kilham Village Hall. That was special… very special!

“Moonbeams” aside, you’re also heavily involved with Beverley Folk Festival. How did such involvement come about, and what do you enjoy most about being part of an internationally-renowned event on Beverley Folk Festival’s scale?

Martin Peirson put me forward to be involved back in 2008. I love Beverley Folk Festival and what I do there. In the “Moonbeams Sessions” on Saturday on Sunday, I have around eighteen acts taking to the stage… lots of different acts that I have seen perform over the years, or acts that have applied and I really like the look of. It’s a great platform to get onto the Main Festival Programme. But the highlight has to be the famous “Late Night Festival Club” that I host and programme. It’s one big party, with headliners dropping by, and everybody having a great time! Beverley Folk Festival has been on the go for thirty years. It just gets better and better, and I am proud to be part of it!

Finally, what does the local populace have to look forward to on the “Moonbeams” calendar over the next few months?

Next up for me is the “Moonbeams Festival”. Then I’ll be off here and there, MCing and Stage Managing at festivals, including Tribfest, which is held at Sledmere. I run the Main Stage, and this summer will be my third year with the festival. One year we had someone from “NME” on stage reviewing, and they were blown away as much as I was with the quality of the acts performing.

The “Moonbeams” concerts will be back at The Bell Hotel in September with Roddy Woomble, then Skerryvore in November. I am already on with programming for 2015...