Danny’s set to raise the roof at Winter Gardens

Fylde DJ Danny Howard
Fylde DJ Danny Howard
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Those who’ve met or spoken to Radio One DJ Danny Howard don’t have a bad word to say about him.

He’s got a reputation as a genuinely nice guy.

Blackpool's own superstar DJ Danny Howard with promoter Alex Huckerby at Blackpool Rocks at Blackpool Tower last year

Blackpool's own superstar DJ Danny Howard with promoter Alex Huckerby at Blackpool Rocks at Blackpool Tower last year

Even when his PR people get involved in setting up an interview with The Gazette, he laughs in modesty at the situation.

“Not sure they can claim the credit for that one,” he says, in a slightly embarrassed fashion.

While fame and success have taken Danny away from the Fylde coast where he grew up, he’s rarely happier than in the run up to Blackpool Rocks - the festival he runs with friend and business partner Alex Huckerby and the Cuffe and Taylor team.

Now in its third year, the winter dance music celebration returns to the Winter Gardens on Saturday night, promising thousands of revellers one of the area’s best parties.

Blackpool Rocks at the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens in 2013

Blackpool Rocks at the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens in 2013

“It’s just the last minute push to sell out now, which is looking like we will do - three years in a row, which is incredible,” Danny said.

“It’s a relief to be back at the Winter Gardens as I love that venue and ballroom.

“And it’s excitement, anticipation and hope for a success when it all comes round so quickly.

“We plan it at the start of the year, in about February, with who we want on the line up, we’ll secure them in the summer and before you know it, we’re here in December.”

Annie Mac headlines Blackpool Rocks 2015

Annie Mac headlines Blackpool Rocks 2015

The former Lytham St Annes High School pupil has had a rapid rise to fame since winning Radio One’s Superstar Dj competition in 2011.

Now he’s one of the country’s go-to men in the dance industry, as the station’s primary dance music DJ, hosting the iconic Dance Anthems show, and he’s pulling in one of his colleagues as this year’s Blackpool Rocks headline star - in response to fans’ requests.

“For the last two years, people have asked for Annie Mac, and I had to pull a few strings, but she’s agreed to do it, so we are really excited to have her on board,” Danny said.

“Another really special guest, which is thanks to Alex [Huckerby], is Craig David. He was adament he wanted him.

“What we didn’t realise was that he is making a big come back for 2016.

“He’s been working with the likes of Sigala and Diplo and he’s already been announced on the big festivals for next year - but he’s playing here first.

“Who’d have thought Alex would be ahead of the game and more in the know than me,” Danny joked about his long-time collaborator and friend.

And in an added bonus none of the Blackpool Rocks team could have predicted – garage star Craig David made a surprise, last-minute guest appearance on The X Factor’s final on Saturday night, providing some welcome extra PR for the event - where he’ll showcase his new TS5 concept, of him DJing, while singing and rapping, and performing his hits.

Even X Factor host Olly Murs is in on the excitement, name-checking Blackpool Rocks during a recent Radio One appearance as he wanted to see David performing... Before anyone knew he’d be on his own TV show.

Danny added: “We’ve got an amazing house line up this year; Disciples, Claptone who have a new album out and were behind the Gregory Porter Liquid Spirit remix that was one of the biggest tracks of the summer.

“And as well as Craig David in the Urban Arena, there’s Lethal Bizzle, who is the ultimate party-starter and takes the roof off wherever he plays.

“When we announce the line up, everyone knows I’ll be there somewhere, but even three years in, I’m excited to play Blackpool in such a major event. It’s such a special thing and that feeling hasn’t gone, to be behind it and curating it.”

For Danny, Blackpool Rocks marks his homecoming for the festive period and he makes it his last gig before Christmas, giving him chance to get some time off at home with family and friends, although he’ll be in Manchester on Boxing Day at the Albert Hall, before heading to Belfast for a New Year’s Eve event.

Where last year’s event at Blackpool Tower received some criticism at overcrowding in the main ballroom arena, as thousands of fans all wanted to see the headliners, at the Winter Gardens,there’s the luxury of three large rooms, each with their own top notch acts - spreading the capacity through the complex.

Blackpool Rocks was established in 2013, with headliners playing across the Winter Gardens’ Olympia, Empress Ballroom and the Arena.

While there were alternative rooms at the Tower last year, the acts everyone wanted to see, including Hannah Wants and Martin Garrix, were all in the ballroom leading to lengthy queues and complaints of overcrowding.

But lessons have been learned and this year Blackpool Rocks is back at the Church Street complex, with headline acts in the Empress Ballroom, Pavilion Theatre and Horseshoe, and the Arena hosting the main acts, plus the Live Room in the Theatre Bar featuring a rosta of local acoustic artists to warm up the night.

“There’s more space this year,” Danny pledged, for the 5,000 capacity event. “We had massive names last year but the only room to host them was the ballroom.

“At the Winter Gardens, every space is big, and it really makes for the indoor festival feel.”

Initially working on a three-year plan, the organisers are now confident enough in their brand to continue with its development - and there are exciting plans afoot.

“Three years was the minimum amount of time to establish Blackpool Rocks and for people to be interested in the brand - that they would be confident to buy tickets straight away, knowing what a great event it would be,” he said.

“Now we’re set to continue after year three.

“The last Saturday before Christmas works, and we plan to expand - nothing too fast though as I see festivals all the time going too far, but there is a market maybe for a summer event and to spread the Blackpool Rocks wings across the UK.”

Looking back on 2015, among Danny’s highlights - such as playing a central role in Radio One’s 20 years in Ibiza celebrations - was supporting Faithless during their Lytham Festival date, another Cuffe And Taylor venture.

“Lytham Green was the most unexpected place to have such major dance legends, it’s basically people’s front gardens,” he said. “And we looked at it and thought we could do it on a regular basis.

“Cuffe And Taylor do Lytham Festival, but we are now thinking about something on that scale, but for the younger generation.

“An outdoors event would be the dream, but with the weather, you just never know. As Elton John found out a few years ago on the Prom, it can be difficult.”

While Danny’s something of the public face of Blackpool Rocks, in his typically warm, humble and nice guy fashion, he’s ready with quick praise for the team of Alex Huckerby, Peter Taylor and Daniel Cuffe for their input.

“They have to get big ups,” he said. “We all work so hard for this and three years is such an achievement to keep it going and growing, it’s such a team effort.

“From me and Alex doing our events in the Residence in Poulton to this is crazy.

“And it’s why we wanted to work with Peter and Dan as they are so ambitious; from Lytham Proms being a local day out to a national festival event with the level of artist they attract is ballsy.

“It’s amazing to work with them. For success in this business you need ambition and bravery - and that’s what they have.

“And we work so well together because we have a passion to grow things locally.

“You get more of a sense of achievement delivering here, in Blackpool and Lytham, than going to a destination city where it would be easier to do.”

So besides growing the Blackpool Rocks brand in 2016, what else is Danny working on?

There are festivals already in the diary, as well as a series of dates in Ibiza and Mallorca, and more shows with his own Nothing Else Matters brand - both on the party isles and touring the UK once more.

Danny set up Nothing Else Matters last year, as a way of getting up-and-coming DJs into new and unusual venues, helping to develop their live experience.

And this year its expanded into a record label, with Sony and RCA.

“I have started a record label as Nothing Else Matters Records, and the first release 99 Souls’ The Girl Is Mine has been getting so much play, and they’ll be at Blackpool Rocks,” Danny added.

“It was an opportunity which just came about with my position, receiving so much music that I thought I wanted to do soemthing to help more UK-focused artists, and Sony were keen to get me on board.

“99 Souls has been a good start and there are a few tracks signed for the start of 2016 too.

“Music’s so accessible and fast moving now.

“For example The Girl Is Mine is flying up the charts and is set to become one of the biggest dance records of the year, yet last year they were unknown.

“Being involved with something like that is a great thing.”

The label, and Danny’s general attitude to supporting up-and-coming DJs and artists in the dance world is as refreshing as ever. His lucky break in the industry, which came as he was studying sports science at university, while gigging the DJ scene across the North West - including Blackpool’s legendary but now demolished Syndicate nightclub - means Danny appreciates only too well how tough it can be to make it.

“I get asked questions about how to make it by so many young DJs,” he said.

“A girl from Lytham, who’s living in London and had dropped out of university to try being a DJ, got in touch and I met her the other day.

“She asked ‘how do I become a DJ?’, and I said it’s more than working hard.

“But through Nothing Else Matters, the label and the events, I can use my position to help.”

Like many have said, he’s a nice guy.

n Visit www.blackpoolrocks.com for tickets. Doors open 8pm Saturday.