Cheltenham is proud to be known as The Festival Town

An insightful Interview with Hugh Phillimore founder of Sound Advice, Director of the Stroud Sub Rooms and Creator of Cornbury Festival

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Cheltenham is proud to be known as The Festival Town

An insightful Interview with Hugh Phillimore founder of Sound Advice, Director of the Stroud Sub Rooms and Creator of Cornbury Festival

Cheltenham will shortly be hosting its series of festivals, most notably starting with the Race festival followed by Jazz, Science, Music and wrapping up in October with the Literature festival. It is little wonder Cheltenham is proud to be known as The Festival Town.

There are indeed other festivals held throughout the Cotswolds, in places like Daylesford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Westonbirt to name but a few and in this blog we ask Hugh Phillimore, Founder of Sound Advice, Cornbury Festival and Director of the Stroud Sub Rooms about his career as a music promoter and involvement in the festival scene.

By way of a bit more background to Hugh, he has been in the music and events management business since the early eighties and certainly has a flair to conjure extraordinary events for the most discerning clients and guests. He has unparalleled connections in the music sector, as well as media, advertising and publishing and he was a member at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival Advisory Group for 15 years.


I started by asking Hugh ‘where did it all start from?’

Hugh: ‘I was led astray by my older sisters. I had been a very average musician in the school band and I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life being a drummer in a rock band. Unfortunately, after a little bit of post-school travel, working in New York and travelling South America, I went for some auditions in London, and on the second audition I fell off the drum stool, and as my head hit the studio floor the lead singer said ‘next!’ I realised that life as a musician was probably not for me.

I had worked for Virgin Records export in my school holidays until the age of 17, but my other sister got me a job introduction to a publishing company and I started as a talent scout in 1979 when I was 19. My job was to see 40 bands a month around the country. My expense account was £10 a month and I had a very, very small motorcycle, which was meant to take me all the way to Scotland. It was great though; I saw lots of bands and I was never bored. I was basically the office boy, the promotion manager, the talent scout and lots of things in between. What was amazing is that my bosses were Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, who came to fame writing a song called Congratulations for Cliff Richard. They also published and managed Van Morrison, Billy Connolly and a band called Sky. So, I had a very good grounding in music, publishing and talent scouting. This was so far removed from my friends who had gone to Cambridge or Oxford with a view to getting proper jobs’.


I asked: ‘How did your parents feel about you going into the music business and not becoming a lawyer or an accountant or some other professional?’

Hugh: ‘They were pretty depressed about it for a long time. My father, who was an old school Victorian banker and a much older man, there was a 20-year age gap between my parents, sent me cuttings for jobs until I was about 40. My parents were rather sweet snobs but when I started doing parties for the Royal Family they suddenly approved of what I was doing.’


I asked: ‘When did you form Sound Advice and how did it come about?

Hugh: ‘It started when my friends who went to Oxford and Cambridge would ring me up and say, ‘we’re trying to book a certain artist and we’ve been told the agent is John Smith and they cost £5,000.’ Of course, the agent’s name wasn’t John Smith and they cost £2,000. So, I ended up as a middleman helping to book artists for parties and events. I then realised that you couldn’t just book the artist and if your name was on the contract you would have to make sure that the stage, the sound, the lights, the catering and the crew and everything else worked well. Over a number of years we built up a reputation for being able to deliver any artist.’


I asked: ‘What made you decide to organise Cornbury Festival for the last 20 years?’

Hugh: ‘I think I probably just wanted more things on my plate! I had a very bossy girlfriend who insisted that we had a weekend cottage in the country and I discovered whilst driving around with a friend, Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire. He said ‘this would be a great place to have a rock festival’. We started Cornbury Festival in 2004, it was a fairly small affair and we joke that I knew pretty much everyone who attended by their first name. There were so few people there, but we slowly built it up over the years. The organisational part is really just putting a fantastic team together and I’m very proud that after 20 years we had about 90% of our original team still with us.’


I asked: ‘Tell us a little bit about the Sub Rooms at Stroud.’

Hugh: ‘I became a trustee of the Sub Rooms five years ago. The District Council had run it very badly, it was making huge losses and it really was a sort of stinky old place run by people who didn’t care. So, the council tried to sell it, but the people of Stroud rebelled and formed a human chain around the Sub Rooms which was a marvellous PR coup. The district council had to sell it to the town for a pound. A charitable trust was set up and I was the one of the original trustees. We messed about for a year or so, trying to get it right with the same team in place and then I stupidly got a bit frustrated, put my hand up and said that I would run it as a volunteer. I had moved my office from London, so it was a good place to put my office and oversee the running of the building. Since then, we’ve raised about £600,000. We’ve refurbished most of the building and I’ve changed the staff quite a lot. We now have a fantastic team of people who are dedicated to running it well and I’ve used my old contact book to basically get as many big bands in as possible. We’re only a 500-capacity standing, 400-seated building but we’ve had Squeeze, The Waterboys, Mavis Staples and Macy Gray appear as well as other shows and we’re beginning to sell out on quite a regular basis. We have a nice little cachet as the Beatles played the Sub Rooms twice in 1962. So last September we booked the Bootleg Beatles on the 60th anniversary, sold every ticket, and it was a rather emotional night attended by some people who had been there 60 years earlier. So, yes, I’m kind of in love with the place and I’m desperate to make it work.’


I asked: ‘What does the Jazz festival mean to Cheltenham?’

Hugh: ‘I think it’s hugely important. I joined the Jazz Festival Advisory Group about 15 years ago and originally all of the shows were within buildings in Cheltenham from the centre to the Town Hall. We were able to move the shows out of those buildings, although some still take place in the Town Hall, into marquees to give it a more festival feel, but also to let the festival organiser control their catering and their alcohol sales and all of that which is essential to the success of the festival. I think it’s really important that there’s a varied bill. When I was first involved, we did two nights with the great Eartha Kitt, who was one of my mother’s favourite artists, but we now have artists from different genres, who aren’t necessarily straight jazz acts.’


I asked: ‘How can people find the Sub Rooms and make contact with you and Sound Advice?’

Hugh: ‘Both have websites; and


We would like to thank Hugh for his insight into the world of festivals and musical entertainment.

Louise Oliver

Louise Oliver

Founding Partner
Piercefield Oliver