Sophie Cooper and Jake Blanchard received support from Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator scheme this year for their annual Tor Festival in Todmorden. Sound and Music’s Harry Cooper had a chat with Sophie to discuss how it went and asked what’s next for Tor?

What inspired you to start Torfest – and are you able to run us quickly through its history?

I’ve been organising music events getting on for 18 years now. As an active member and advocate for the DIY music community I’ve always felt a strong need to feed back into a network that has nurtured me all my adult life. After meeting Jake and us moving to Todmorden it just felt very natural to continue this habit. We met local venue owners who were more than happy to support us newcomers because they recognised the benefits of bringing new music to the community. We use the name ‘Tor’ because Jake had already been using this for various other projects for a while and it’s a nod to where he’s from in the Peak District. We organised a load of shows in a few different spots and after being inspired by other DIY fests (Colour out of Space, Chinchilla, Thread, Jogja Noise Bombing, Tusk, Kraak, Hunters Moon, Woolf Music etc) we just thought, why not start our own?

What were the highlights of Torfest 2019 – and how did the Composer-Curator scheme benefit you?

We applied to the Composer-Curator scheme because it seemed to fit with what we wanted to organise in our area. We’ve never applied for funding before but figured this scheme fitted in with what we wanted to achieve so had a go. Receiving funding took the stress out of booking people and we were able to guarantee decent fees without worrying as much. Having Sound and Music advertising our events did seem to help reach different audiences as well.

When you’re organising a gig you end up stuck on the door or doing the sound for most of the day so sadly I didn’t get to see too many bands! Gnod asked me to join them on stage which was absolutely amazing especially as I’d had a pretty stressful day so making heavy noise rock on the trombone was exactly what I needed. Space Afrika were absolutely brilliant at the afterparty, Josh (from Space Afrika) was such a nice guy too. I guess that’s the highlight, just meeting new people, artists and punters alike and having a good time. Simple needs. Willie from Woven Skull curated our Sunday event – Floor Tom Fest, one afternoon, one drum. I loved that because I could just chill out and take in the acts rather than running round sorting everything out.

A crowd cheering at Tor Festival
Photo Credit: Joby Catto

The phrase New Weird Britain abounds at the moment – and Tor Fest seems to engage with many of the artists associated with the term. What, if anything, does this mean to you?

Honestly, New Weird Britain doesn’t mean much to me beyond it being a journalist term to write about experimental music much in the same way New Weird America was used. Although I think New Weird Britain covers a lot more musical ground than New Weird America did and probably has different intentions as a term. Bottom line for me, it’s great that outsider musicians from the UK are in the spotlight at the moment. The documentary series on BBC Radio 4 was brilliant and it was fantastic to hear voices of friends on primetime radio.

Only thing is, with Brexit going on, is it a good time to start talking about British music as an individual entity? I don’t think so. I think we should be focusing on the underground music network for what it is, an international scene. For us at Tor Fest, we would not be who we are without our strong relationships with similar artists in Ireland, Belgium, America and New Zealand. We give each other so many opportunities, good experiences and importantly friendship so New Weird Britain as a concept doesn’t really reflect my experience of the scene. I would love to do an Indonesian edition of Tor Fest and our brothers and sisters over there are just as weird as us, trust me.

What’s next for Tor Fest and for yourself and Jake as composer-curators?

I’ve started working for Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) this year and I’ve already learnt so much. I had a brilliant chat with the founder of hcmf//, Richard Steinitz, the other day, who told me that to be a good curator is to make your artists feel like they have achieved something. I find this advice really inspiring and I’d like to organise a Tor Fest with an artist in residence. I’d work with Gig at the Golden Lion and our friends in Robinhood Mill who are opening a new gallery in Tod to create a residency space for artists who could then appear at the festival. Maybe. Every year I say I’m going to take a step back but something interesting and exciting always crops up and I can’t say no. I like to keep things different so that we are all constantly learning from new experiences. What’s the point otherwise?

Find out more about the Composer-Curator scheme which opens for applications in the new year. Read more about the programme here

“Tor” is an umbrella term used by illustrator Jake Blanchard and musician Sophie Cooper for a variety of projects including Tor Bookings, Tor Festival, Tor Press, Tor Beers and Tor FM. Based in Todmorden, Jake and Sophie have been programming events in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, since moving there in 2013.