Almost 25 years ago, Sacha Lord put on his first club night at Manchester’s famous Hacienda nightclub – a decision that eventually lead him on to being the co-founder of one of Manchester’s most successful club nights, The Warehouse Project and then onto creating one of the biggest festivals in the north, Parklife.
How did it all start? Well, back in 2007 a group of students created a mini festival in a field, aptly named Mad Ferret Festival. Despite having a fairly low budget, they still managed to attract some great acts such as Finley Quaye and The Streets and it pulled in over 10,000 students.
However things seemed to escalate out of control for Mad Ferret and financially they just couldn’t keep up. The students urgently needed a large investment, for acts, security and everything in between, and eventually the founders had no choice but to walk away from it.
“Mad Ferret festival was an end of year party, run by students, for students,” Sacha and his business partner Sam tell us.
“It was held in Platt Fields Park over near Fallowfield. The concept was quite good but the infrastructure, unfortunately, wasn’t so great. They were definitely onto something, though. It was a fantastic idea.
“We didn’t have any involvement in Mad Ferret, but we did approach them afterwards and suggested that together we could build a proper infrastructure, book bigger acts and make a proper business from it.
“There were originally five people involved with Mad Ferret. Three walked away from it and two of them stayed and are still involved with Parklife today.”
When Mad Ferret finished, Parklife was born. Although Parklife is an evolution of Mad Ferret, Sacha insists “Parklife is completely different to how it was when the whole thing started.”
After the huge success of Warehouse Project, Sacha and Sam put their dedication into building Parklife into a hugely popular non-camping festival that would see people travel from all over the country to come and watch the fantastic acts.
Parklife started off in 2010 pulling in 20,000 people a day over at Platt Fields. In 2011 numbers increased to 25,000 a day. In 2012 numbers started to soar.
They were gathering north of 30,000 people each day and it became too much for Platt Fields to handle. And with that came the move.
“We couldn’t get anymore people in,” Sacha recalls. “Manchester City Council came to us and said, ‘Look, if you want to expand it why do you think about moving it to another park?’
“We originally wanted to move it to Wythenshawe Park. Only because Parklife originally started as an end of year student party and Wythenshawe Park could potentially hold 50,000 people and (at a push) is a walkable distance from Fallowfield where all the students are.”
There ended up being a problem with getting a licence for Wythenshawe, and that’s when the council suggested Heaton Park – a venue that had successfully hosted huge Oasis and Stone Roses gigs.
“We were hesitant at first,” says Sacha. “We didn’t think students would come that far, but it worked. By listening to the council the whole event turned into something bigger. It became more than just an event for students. It became a festival for everyone.
“We get 80,000 people a day now at Heaton Park. We are at our absolute maximum. I have walked all around Heaton Park, many times trying to find another patch of land and there’s just nowhere else we can go. Heaton Park is the biggest park in Manchester so we are as big as we can possibly get.”
Compared to the first Parklife in 2010, it’s clear to see that it’s not only the crowds that have expanded. The artist budget has grown massively too, with acts such as Snoop Dogg, Jessie Ware and Skepta being booked for the main stage.
This year the organisers of Parklife are putting on a single stage performance from Noel Gallagher on the Friday night (7th) before the festival starts on Saturday. And the following Saturday, (15th June), another single stage performance from the Courteeners is due to take place which sold an outstanding 50,000 tickets in just three hours.
“We are overwhelmed constantly about how well Parklife has been received. It’s getting better and better every year. Although we can’t get bigger we are trying to extend the event, hence adding a few extra gigs either side,” says Sacha.
Keeping tight-lipped about secrets and stories from backstage, Sacha tells us “I have had some incredible experiences at Parklife. There are too many to mention.”
But one of the weirdest experiences Sacha had, he admits, was with international supermodel, singer and James Bond baddie Grace Jones at Parklife in 2015.
“She flew in from Australia, and ended up getting the flu on the flight over. When she got to the hotel and saw a doctor, the doctor advised that she shouldn’t perform. But she was adamant she wanted to get on stage.
“She ended up pushing through her pain barrier, turned up on stage, half naked, in just a pair of knickers and hoola hooped for seven minutes whilst they played her tracks.
“For her rider she requested 18 organic wild oysters, an oyster knife and a specific brand of brandy.
“Because she is such a big icon I really wanted to meet her so I asked her tour manager if I could say hello and I ended up being invited into her dressing room.
“Now I have never had a drink at one of my events, but Grace insisted I sat and had a brandy with her. It was surreal. I was sat with this half naked icon, sipping brandy whilst she ate oysters. Definitely an experience I will never forget.”
Parklife isn’t just about all about the music, of course. It generates a lot of money for charities and communities across the city, too. The Parklife Foundation was set up and last year raised £100,000 to go towards different charities and put funds back into the community.
“We have a board of officials and we ask all local communities to put in an application for the money that has been raised. It’s amazing because we actually get to see where the money goes. This year we had a playground updated and some money went to a retirement homes.
“Back in 2013 residents were very anti-Parklife, they didn’t like the noise and the disruption it caused. But now a lot of the local residents support the event and can see that the organisers are actually putting back into the community.
“We have made a huge difference. The money that we pay the park to put on Parklife makes a significant difference to the upkeep of the park. So for those two days of disruption and noise we actually pay a very very high percentage towards the funds for that.”
This year’s festival has completely sold out. But, those lucky festival goers that have managed to get a ticket will be treated to performances from George Ezra, Cardi B, Khalid and Christine and the Queens, just to name a few.
And for all those party animals looking for an after party, Parklife’s official after parties, ‘Afterlife’ have now been revealed. You can grab yourself tickets at afterlifemcr.com.