It’s almost that time again – CerberFest time – which must mean it’s finally sodding summer.
I spoke to organiser Chris Cummings about this iconic annual festival…
Hi Chris. Talk about Cerberfest, its origins, how it got started and who was involved…
‘CerberFest (capital F) was supposed to be a one off all day gig to bring together some of the local bands that had supported us over the years. We decided as it was Cerberus’s 20th anniversary year that it would be a good time to do this. We’ve also always found it difficult to get on the bill of any other local events that are organised so thought we’d do our own, hence the name CerberFest.
We settled on the George II as the venue as this was the pub where Cerberus was born (1988) after I quit my previous band, After Dark, at the end of a recording session in the studio behind the Arndale (sorry can’t remember the name of the studio!). Paul Dockree (guitarist and my nephew) and Steve King (drums) also quit that day and we, along with Kev Palmer (guitar) were the founders of Cerberus. The remaining members of After Dark went on to play with Vagrant who also played locally in the early days.
The first CerberFest was held on Sat July 12th 2008 and had an 8 band line up, including 3 acts (Owen the Destroyer, The Adenoids and Arnika) who will be appearing at this years event. The pub had always been very supportive of us and we played there regularly so it seemed an obvious choice of venue. It went down a storm, the pub taking more money in 1 day than they usually did in a week! Consequently they have always been keen to have the event there each year and the fans expected us to repeat it the next year and then every year after.
That first CerberFest started at midday with Owen doing his acoustic set. This has now become obligatory as he’s opened the Sat at every CerberFest ever since. We played twice that day and our multiple appearances have become mandatory. As band members have changed over the years we have come to use the early Sat slot as an “old boys and girls” set, with past members coming together and playing some of the old songs. This seems to work despite not knowing who will actually be there and the lack of any rehearsal time!
Organising the events is largely down to me. For the first one we discussed who we wanted to play but since then the line-up has been down to me. Tbh I have requests from bands and solo artists wanting to play the next year before the current CerberFest has finished so I’ve never really struggled to fill the line-up. We’ve also been responsible for some bands reforming just for the event! That is why I decided to make it a 2 day event for the 2nd one and it has been held over 2 days ever since. I did miss 1 year due to extenuating circumstances and thought maybe it had run its course. The positive responses from everyone I spoke to convinced me to organise another one the following year.
Although all the arrangements and booking bands etc. is down to me I have to give special mention and huge thanks to our long standing sound engineer Matt Kelly. Once the stage has been set I hand over full control of the day to him and he has stage managed every CerberFest which have all started on time and finished on time. CerberFest wouldn’t be possible without him.
We’ve always tried to put on a show rather than just a gig. We use our own pa and have increased the lighting rig over the years to enhance the experience for both bands and audience. The principles of the event haven’t changed over the years. It’s a local music event, for local musicians to get together and have fun. We’ve increased the “local” area to include bands from elsewhere but they have all played a gig in Luton somewhere previous to CerberFest, many of them having played with us before. The only exception is my “wild card” which I try and have each year – a band I know little or nothing about but who someone has recommended (or they contact me direct!). If we’re all having fun it usually follows that the audience has fun too. All egos are left at the door!!
I have to thank ALL the bands who have played CerberFest over the years. It’s a free to enter festival which we’ve always thought to be important as it doesn’t exclude anyone who may be put off by having to pay entry. This only works because ALL the bands play for free which means a lot to me so thanks again.
This years CerberFest includes some big names including Satan’s Empire (NWOBHM) and Airforce (inc. Doug Samson ex Iron Maiden) playing along side some great unsigned local bands such as the Sun Dog Collective and the Von Trapps. And as always we’ll be sneaking in 3 sets, 1 Friday and 2 Saturday (inc. the “oldens” set).
Talk a little about Cerberus, how you all met and how Martins illness impacted the band.
Cerberus was born from the ashes of another band, After Dark. I had been playing guitar in bands for a few years but was never going to be the worlds greatest guitarist! I’d taught my nephew Paul Dockree the basics of guitar and he’d taken it further, fronting his own Welwyn Garden City based band After Dark. He called me up one day and asked if I knew any bass players as his had left to go to Uni. I said yes, me! I borrowed a bass and amp from my mate Dave Warminger and auditioned. That’s how I became a bass player! We played a few gigs before the singer and drummer left to form their own band. After several failed auditions we placed a card in the window of the old music shop in Bury Park. At this time Paul and I were sharing a house in Luton. We received a phone call from a guy who said he’d be interested in drumming. He came round and asked us which pub we’d like him to drive us to, so we said the Two Brewers in Hastings Street as that was our favourite hangout. When we got there he bought the first round and said he’d got his credit card and did we fancy a curry after? That’s how Steve King joined the band
After the fateful recording session with After Dark the three of us retired to the George II and decided to form another band. I was working at The Luton and Dunstable Hospital at that time and knew a guitarist who said he’d be interested in joining a new band. We auditioned Kevan Palmer and after going through many possible band names he came up with Cerberus after seeing our 3 dogs in the kitchen! Thus the beast was born. Our first vocalist was a young girl from St Albans, KT Peck. She had been around the music scene for a few years having many contacts including Lemmy from Motorhead (she’d appeared in a couple of Motorhead videos). We started gigging locally, even headlining a gig at the old Dunstable Queensway Hall. We recorded our first demo “Cerberus” with KT but soon after she decided she had to leave the band.
We had to start looking for a new vocalist and had an interesting encounter with a guy we shall call “Mad Jack”. After multiple phone calls from a call box (he had to keep running off for another coin!) we went to see him at his flat. After listening to his audition history, including “Opportunity Knocks” from the TV, he played us his record. This turned out to be a single by Jason Donovan which he’d written his name across in pen!! Luckily we got out alive and the next person we interviewed appeared much more normal so we hired her. How wrong we were! But that’s how Mandie Brookes joined Cerberus! We recorded a new demo, “Le Bête Noire” and started gigging regularly. During this time we wrote most of the songs which eventually went onto our first cd. However Mandie left before we could get it recorded.
We again held auditions and narrowed it down to two vocalists, one a straight female replacement and one male. We decided on the young man after he blasted out a rendition of Purple Haze which left us all smiling. And so Martin Halloren joined the band and has been our front man ever since. When Kev eventually decided to call it a day we added Jane Smith (keyboards) and Eddie Smith (guitar). We recorded the CD “Gates of Hell”, the title track being the only song not written in the Mandie era. “Gates” was actually only written because we had about four minutes of tape left at the end of our recording session so Paul came up with a quick riff, we added the rest and sent Martin away for five minutes to write some lyrics. After this we gigged around the country and started to play at Motorcycle rallies where we met many lifelong friends who still turn up to gigs today. We recorded our second CD “Scenes from the Dark Side” a couple of years later. Eventually Jane and Eddie both left leaving Cerberus as a four piece band. This line up gigged for many years and recorded 2 more CD’s, “Meltdown Rally Blues” (a free give away for a motorcycle rally) and “D”.
After many years playing together Paul and Steve decided to quit Cerberus. The live scene was turning more towards tribute and covers bands and gigs for bands performing their own material were becoming harder to get. Paul and Steve went on to form a covers band called Piston Groovy leaving Martin and myself to re build Cerberus as we wanted to carry on playing original material. After playing a few gigs with various local musicians we found Jon Allen who had played one gig with us in the past when Steve was unable to play. He persuaded his mate Phil Duke to audition and Jane came back to play keyboards. We played many gigs as a five piece but Jane had to eventually leave due to health reasons leaving the four piece band that is Cerberus today.
In 2016 Martin had a major medical emergency. Purely by luck (or fate) I had arranged a band meeting which meant I went to Martins flat to pick him up. As he got into my car it was obvious to me he was in severe pain and so I took him straight to A+E at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. He was rushed to theatre and underwent a ten hour operation which saved his life. This did however mean he was out of action so far as the band was concerned. We had gigs booked and never like to let people down if at all possible. We have to thank both Steve King and George Zafeirakis for stepping in at short notice and covering vocals for the period Martin was out of action. We also did one gig with Helen from Giant Haystacks fronting the band, back to our female vocalist roots!
During this time I organised a fund raising gig with the aim of getting about £200 to help Martin when he first came out of hospital. The success of “Martin Aid” blew us all away. Everybody chipped in either donating or helping out on the day. Pete “rat” Sherwood donating one of his paintings and our old friend Colin Lilley (the Pewter Scribe) making a special Cerberus belt buckle to be raffled along with other items and cakes which were all sold. We eventually made over £1100!
Martin eventually came back to front the band and we have been able to fit in gigs around his recovery. At the end of 2017 he had to have another operation as part of his ongoing treatment but was gigging again within a couple of months. It’s testament to the great work of the NHS staff and Martin’s determination and love of playing live music that we are still going strong today.
As a band we have always promoted the fun side of live music as the most important aspect. It’s incredibly difficult to “make it” as a band these days so if you’re not enjoying it whilst you’re on stage it seems pointless to do it. Have fun. Engage with your audience. Spread the love. It’s the Cerberus way!
What plans do you have for the future, both in terms of Cerberus and Cerberfest?
This is a simpler question to answer! Cerberus will always continue in the same way it always has. We believe in promoting live, original music wherever we can. We know there is a place for covers bands and even tributes. Indeed we cover certain songs in our sets but try and put our own twist on them. But we would like promoters and venues to support original music too. Without it the music business stagnates. We’ve been supporting live music in the Luton area for 30 years and have played a part in bringing many young bands their first live gig exposure. Some of these local musicians have gone on to great things. We will continue to support the local music scene in any way we can. So long as the promoters and venues will let us
As for CerberFest. It was only supposed to be a one off day of local music to thank the venue and bands that had supported us for the first 20 years. I’m now organising the 10th CerberFest and have already had enquiries regarding bands for next year! So as long as the local bands and fans come out to support it
CerberFest will continue, just as long as the fun continues…