Sweet Chai O’ Mine: 10 years of tea and rock music with Motley Brew

Now enjoying their 10th year of trading, The Motley Brew bring a wide range of teas, coffee, other non-alcoholic drinks and freshly made cakes and pastries to rock and metal festivals across the country. Those who have banged their heads just that little bit too hard can also stop in for a massage. With established slots at Download, Amplified and Bloodstock Open Air Festival amongst others, this small family-owned and run business is thriving by providing metalheads and rockers a welcome haven from warm lager and grumpy bar staff.

We caught up with Brewer-in-Chief Phil Andres at indoor rock and metal festival Uprising III to learn a little more about the crew behind the ‘Brew.

How did The Motley Brew ever come into existence?  When you think of Rock and Metalheads tea-drinking is the last thing that springs to mind!

The Motley Brew was spawned from very humble beginnings in 2009 as the refreshments tent of the Healing Area at Download. A close friend of mine was an osteopath and was working as one of the therapists. That particular year, they were shorthanded for crew, so I agreed to help out and man the hot beverages. 

Most people attend festivals in pairs or groups, so the idea of having a cuppa whilst their mate or partner is having a massage makes perfect sense.  However, the gazebo that I had been provided with was a rather tatty, faded-pink thing with a dozen or so mismatched mugs laid out on a wallpaper pasting table.  I told my friend, I didn’t mind making the tea, but I was not going to be referred to as ‘The Big Pink Tea Tent’ at the UK’s largest rock festival.  As it happened, Mötley Crüe were playing that year; I was a big fan of their music, so in a moment of inspiration, I grabbed a spare piece of PVC tablecloth and a marker pen and scribbled out MOTLEY BREW with the prices to hang on the wall.  The rest is history!

in a moment of inspiration, I grabbed a spare piece of PVC tablecloth and a marker pen and scribbled out MOTLEY BREW (…) The rest is history

It almost seems like it was fated.  How did the punters take to the idea of your alcohol-free haven from the hustle and bustle of Download?

From the moment I wrote the name on the cloth, people started to take notice and – being at a rock festival – there was an immediate topic of conversation. All of a sudden, the person that was left outside while the other was having a massage had someone to talk to; random strangers suddenly had something else in common.  Often, I would start a conversation with one person, then introduce someone else into the mix, then leave them to carry on their discussion.  Normally the Healing Area is tucked out of the way to the more peaceful areas of the field, away from the mosh pits and PA Systems, so the Motley Brew was a great place to just chill out and be able to have a civilised conversation with the need to shout above the crowds.

Since then, we have made it one of our USPs to serve our teas in a proper mug and offer a good selection of beverages to cater for all tastes. Over the years, we have become a great meeting point for people. It’s sometimes like a creche facility for rockers and metalheads; one person will want to go and see a particular band that the other one isn’t interested in, so we look after them with a cuppa, chat and / or a massage while they wait for them to return.

Over the years, we have become a great meeting point for people. It’s sometimes like a creche facility for rockers and metalheads

We have annually attended Download since 2009 but we have also been seen at Sonisphere UK, High Voltage, Boomtown, Bloodstock Open Air and Uprising.  Last year we added two new festivals to our ‘tour’ – Amplified in Gloucestershire and Steelhouse Festival in Ebbw Vale, and this year we are pleased to announce we have also been accepted at another new event Stonedeaf at the end of August. So we have a very busy summer ahead!

I understand you have loyal patrons who even wear Motley Brew t-shirts to gigs and festivals in place of band merch. That must be an amazing feeling?

I feel truly humbled that we have such loyal and faithful customers – it’s more like inviting mates around your house for a cuppa and a chat. Each year, we pay our pitch fees to attend and hope that enough people will turn up, but we never take any of that for granted. We pride ourselves on our customer service and know many of them by name and how they like their drink; some people are very particular how they take their drink.

It really is an amazing feeling to watch a punter arrive in a field where there are so many cool bands playing, or when we attend a gig that we’re not even at and see people wearing our brand on their chest; they probably own a dozen Metallica, Iron Maiden, G’n’R, AC/DC, etc. t-shirts but they decided to wear the one from our little tea tent – that’s certainly an ego boost. And I love it when people tag the Motley Brew in pictures out and about at gigs, meeting famous people or just holiday pics in exotic places.

Talking of t-shirts, you are becoming quite infamous for your pun-tastic merch. Who comes up with the ideas, and which is your all-time favourite? 

Yeah, we seem to have made quite a name for ourselves and they are always well received. Each year we bring out a limited edition mug with a new slogan on it, usually connected to the main headliners for Download as that is our first major event of the year. Initially I would come up with the slogan but then I started offering it out to our Facebook group to get involved – it usually generates quite a bit of social media traffic and interest.  

I have been frequently tweeted or tagged in messages from groups of people, usually late at night sat around at pub table, where it has become a topic of conversation and they start bouncing suggestions off at me – they are a constant source of amusement and some of them are quite brilliant!

My favourite though is still the one I use as my tagline, ‘Shout At The Kettle!’ It came from a chance meeting with two Irish guys that I met at Sonisphere in my first year of running the Motley Brew; that was the inspiration for all the ones that followed.

You’re celebrating 10 years of The Motley Brew this year. Could you have imagined that you’d still be going strong after a decade ?

I must admit 10 years does seem like quite a milestone, as the first years were very tough.  Like I said earlier, we were tucked away in the quiet under-loved and undiscovered parts of a field, so we did feel like a festivals best kept secret for a few years.  Over the years we have managed to retain those faithful followers and they have invited their friends (and friends’ friends) to pay us a visit and increase our footfall. 

It’s a much more personal experience than the usual anonymous thrusting a paper cup in someone’s face through a kiosk window. Some of our customers even have their own personal mug that I religiously take with me to all festivals on the off chance they turn up unexpectedly. It is this kind of personal service and respect for the customers that we take great pride in.

Some of our customers even have their own personal mug that I religiously take with me to all festivals on the off chance they turn up unexpectedly

Our branding and signage play a massive part in our popularity. It is a strong identity that I have worked on over the years, but it’s also quite playful so people seeing it for the first time are usually amused and intrigued. For those that are familiar with Motley Brew, it represents a beacon of normality in a desert of chaos and a brilliant place to hang out.  Each year, I make our branding and visibility that little bit bigger and better. We have grown and expanded from the hand-me-down 3x3m pink gazebo to a combination of sturdy fixed frame structures that I can configure to suit the space, size and event. We have added multiple large format printed exterior PVC banners, vertical feather banners and most recently high level illuminated fascia signage, but it has taken the full 10 years to develop and evolve. This was not an overnight success, but I am really proud of our organic growth.

And what’s been the highlight of the last 10 years of The ‘Brew?

For me it is always the people, not the event. The music events that we turn up at are incidental to the atmosphere we create within our canvas haven.  

The Motley Brew staff are all immediate family members (my wife and children, my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and on one occasion even my mum) or very close personal friends that are like extended family. So we are spending quality, fun-times together and that vibe is picked up by the customers; we are having a laugh and they are invited to join us. It’s the mother of all tea parties with an exceptional live and loud soundtrack. We have met and made some fantastic friends from all over the world over the years, that have been great brand ambassadors for us and we have taken great pleasure in bringing random like-minded people together that have since become great friends ours too.

It’s the mother of all tea parties with an exceptional live and loud soundtrack

What’s next for Motley Brew and where can we find you this year?

This year our Motley Brew ‘Use Your Infusion!’ tour started in Leicester at Uprising in May, then Download, Amplified, Steelhouse, Bloodstock and finally Stonedeaf in late August. But we often pop up at local shows to support live music and various charity gigs, so come and say hi if you see us!

After that?  Who knows? I would love to take the ‘Brew crew on the road to Europe – Hellfest, Graspop, etc. I get a lot of requests from punters on which festivals they would love to see us at. You’ve got to love a Brit abroad – we still love our cuppa!

Words by Mike Richardson

Join the tea party on Facebook or Twitter, or look out for Motley Brew at Steelhouse  on 27–18 July, Bloodstock on 9–12 August and Stonedeaf on 25 August.