“Hello you, you, and you too. It’s da Bank here for the next two hours, playing the best in left field, right field and any bloomin’ field we can lay our hands on.”
So starts a typical morning on Robert ‘Rob da Bank’ Gorham’s weekly BBC Radio One Leftfield Show, a colourful corner of the musical universe where you’re as likely to stumble into stripped down motorway techno as you are woozy weird folk or a booty electro cover of an obscure David Bowie tune. It’s the same blueprint that has made his annual Bestival festival jamboree the summer’s cool ruler since it began in 2004, and it’s not a million miles from the Sunday Best parties (entrance famously 99p, Harvey as a monthly resident) he ran upstairs at the Tea Rooms Des Artistes in Clapham back in his days as a roving Muzik magazine journalist in the mid ‘90s.
This insistence on the eclectic runs through everything, from his long-running Sunday Best Recordings label, his own Lazyboy music or the myriad compilations from the Fabric 24 peak time club mix to 2006’s Folk Off to the A-Z of Bestival releases, or his DJ sets and parties everywhere from Ibiza to NYC, right up to the pages of the technicolour coffee table book on the glorious world of festivals (Rob da Bank’s A-Z of Festivals for Pan Macmillan). When Rob da Bank describes his modus operandi as “a mad drive the wrong way round a one way system,” he’s not messing around. Well, he is messing around, because messing around is what he does best, but he means it. And it shows.
Rob da Bank grew up in Warsash, Hampshire, playing trombone in brass bands and absorbing the vibes as his GP dad listened to The Beatles. He started playing hip-hop and funk under the DJ name of Rob The Bank, moved to London in the early ‘90s to study French and History of Art at Goldsmiths, and met his future wife and co-pilot Josie in the student union. They formed a romantic and raving union, putting whirlwind energy into nights out at now-legendary clubs like Rage and eventually putting on their own parties. “Sunday Best and Bestival wouldn’t exist if Josie hadn’t done the creative. It’s a family thing. If you take me away you’ve got a really colourful party with no music, and if you took her away, you’d have a very plain event with music.”
Sunday Best presents Bestival is the polar opposite of plain. The four times winner of Best Festival began with the expansion of Sunday Best into a tent at Glastonbury and started at Robin Hill on the Isle of Wight with an audience of 7,000 people in 2004. In 2007 the early bird tickets sold out in eight minutes. Now, it treats 50,000 to the summer’s joyful final fling, packed with madcap features (ukulele players, physics demonstrations, laughter clubs) and a killer line-up which has included The Cure and this year a festival exclusive from Stevie Wonder. Not only do the festival team come up with crazy ideas, the fans do too. ‘Yasmin and her Hulerama gang’ organised a Swim To Bestival across the Solent. Ditto, the fancy dress, which now compels forum members to spend six months on their costumes, with monthly dinners and even costume AGMs. As a child, da Bank never attended fancy dress parties. “I’m an introvert!”
Despite this, he’s the recognisable face of his festival, one of the few curated and run by an artist. “I like being on the frontline. It’s important. You see Michael Eavis at Glastonbury, pounding round the site, checking everyone’s alright – that’s my responsibility.” He blames himself for some of the bad weather: “I shot myself in the foot because I’d come up with the 30,000 Freaks Under The Sea theme. I had umpteen people coming up to me all weekend going ‘You brought this on yourself!’ There were submarines, jellyfish, divers, which looked pretty magical to be honest.”
And then there’s the radio. He and Chris Coco hosted the cult Blue Room show between 2002 ‘til 2006 after being approached by the BBC who wanted a show to cater for the millennial chill-out boom. It broadcast between 5 and 7am on Saturday mornings, wowing milkmen and depleted ravers with its happily wonky playlists, sneaking ambient, spaced-out dub and electro into the airwaves. He’d been lined up as holiday cover for John Peel when the great man died, and he held the fort in the weeks between Peel’s death and the BBC’s decision on how to proceed, record shopping with the DJs two young producers and filling shows with music from the crates Peel had left behind. He then filled Peel’s Thursday night slot for 18 months.
These days, he presides over two hours of weekly radio, his Saturday morning show the first (Rob da Bank: Radio 1’s Leftfield Show) which is120 kaleidoscopic minutes featuring anything from brand new dubstep to folk to oddball electronica, the second (Rob da Bank & Friends) 120 featuring guest specials from Bobby Gillespie to Florence Welch via his A-Z shows. It frequently includes music no one else has heard: “If some kid in Scunthorpe sends me a cover of a sea shanty and it’s good, I’ll play it.” As a result of large Listen Again figures via BBC’s iPlayer / Listen Again feature, his audience is now truly worldwide. Likewise the ever-popular monthly Sunday Best podcasts. As a result, da Bank is considered one of the world’s most influential tastemakers.
As family da Bank started to grow (three boys now), so did the family of festivals. Sunday Best presents Camp Bestival launched in July 2008 with The Flaming Lips and 82-year-old Chuck Berry on stage and 12,000 kids and big kids running riot amongst a Mad Hatters Tea Party, an insect stage and interactive theatre in the woods.
Bestival finishes the festival season, Camp Bestival drops in the middle. To bring all of this together, Rob and his long-time manager ∫set up the Association of Independent Festivals – AIF. The non-profit brings together the UK’s most creative and innovative events, and collectively they work to operate better and to protect their space in a tough and competitive industry.
Everything from Bestival to his Sunday Best record label (it helped launched Groove Armada and Lemon Jelly back in the late ‘90s and propelled dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip and teenage rockabillies Kitty, Daisy and Lewis into the charts) share the sense that they’re a testing ground for future stars as well as celebrating off-trend old-school brilliance. “It’s not like ‘ooh, check me out’ but it’s nice that I’ve been one of the first to play Florence And The Machine, Black Keys, Ting Tings – we had them in session a year before they were in the charts. I like supporting music early.”
Oh, and if two radio shows, two festivals, club DJ, a record label, book and a music publishing company wasn’t enough, Team Da Bank entered a new era in 2011 with the signing of legendary film director David Lynch to the imprint. His acclaimed album is a Sunday Best best-seller, and in the same month, the label released The Cure Live at Bestival for an Isle of Wight based charity project. Both acts that Da Bank still can’t quite believe are signed to him… Typical of all things Rob da Bank.
For all things Rob da Bank, contact: Ben Turner (firstname.lastname@example.org)