Head For The Hills – Festival Review
Head For The Hills, Ramsbottom Cricket Club
15-17 September 2017
The festival previously known as the Ramsbottom Festival under its sexy new name. The proverbial same picture in a different frame. One that even evolved as a painting by Sunday’s resident artist perched by the edge of the fenced off hallowed batting square. Here’s H4TH 2017 in a handful of bullet points:
Despite the new branding and Tony Walsh’s inspirational poetry along similar lines complete with audience participation, bands simply can’t avoid or help saying “Hello Ramsbottom!” It flows off the tongue much more easily than “How are you doing Head For The Hills?” Some, like Richard Hawley a few years back, might have even relished it. If Iron Maiden were ever headlining here, Bruce Dickinson might feel a bit self conscious but he’d surely be encouraging the masses to “scream/make some noise for me Ramsbottom…” In fact, Tankus and The Henge actually did. Probably from atop an upright piano provided you could see through the thick smoke billowing from its innards.
One of the strong features of H4TH is its local community flavour. A time when families, even those with toddlers sporting their ear muffs, head out to fill the ground. A ground where the exceptional cricket drainage ensures that the result of any downpours (and we did have a couple) aren’t allowed to hang around for very long. Despite a few exceptionally wet days over the years, Rammy never reverts to a typical festival quagmire. Some may have never seen cricket there although there are still plenty of clues – scoreboard, the classic brick outside loos although you could do the festival tradition and join the occasionally long queues for the portaloos. It may be hard to imagine the sound of leather on willow and the day to day look of how the ground looks like without the colourful traders round the boundary.
The content – from punk to poetry, all are taken care of some bands playing twice across the weekend, some bands graduating up from previous years. Local bands are aplenty; the perennial first names on the teamsheet. Harp & A Monkey roll down the hill to play each year as do Uke Punk and the young guys of Kashmere and Ist Ist didn’t do themselves any harm in sowing the seeds as they travel their paths. The brief appearance of the Bury Community Choir provided a highlight in the sunlight of Sunday afternoon and plenty of young pretenders braved the dense atmosphere of the Smaller Rooms as well as the indoor set. There may be the occasional X Factor influence sneaking into the presentation amongst some of the younger bands in search of the elusive break but 2017 again gathered headliners and acts that appeal across a range. Singer songwriters such as Will Varley and Martin Harley went up with bands who had the wherewithal to stir the audience. Two appearances didn’t do the Baghdaddies any harm and whether on the main or smaller stages, Tarkus And The Henge, The Eskies and return visitor Neville Staples generated some heat and not many can lay waste to a festival like Skinny Lister. The bill curated by The Met and various partners including the whole arts and crafts attractions is hard to fault. Not to discriminate against any of the eighty or ninety performance over the three days, but there was real world class on show too with the Michael McGoldrick Trio (John McCusker and John Doyle) and the refined Tom Hickox and his band. Sunday headliners The Stranglers a typical Rammy choice that will pull in the locals and the not quite hoards, but healthy numbers of devoted fans.
The weather: A festival? In the North? In September? Anything could/has/did happen. Yes, the days may be unseasonably pleasant but when the sun goes down, as Richard Hawley (again) once said “it were f**kin’ freezin’”. Who could forget the sight of Beth Orton in her big coat or could understand the feeling of some punters that she didn’t really want to be doing this? Heaven help Kate Rusby, her local Manchester gig getting a plug on one of the banner, who notoriously feels the cold and has been known to don a cardie and carry a mug of )Yorkshire) tea on stage INDOORS! Should she ever get an invite to Rammy, budgeting for onstage heating is essential. But that’s another part and parcel of what happens in September when the sun has done its job of warming the crowds throughout the day – one that hit a very healthy 4000 on Sunday and into five figures across the weekend.
The stages. The main Hills stage as usual was a treat – big and roomy and seemingly well organised in changing over acts and keeping religiously to the timetable. Viewing is never anything less than perfect for a festival. The Smaller Rooms stage, basically the second stage, suffered from lighting and a smoky haze that the experience was more about atmosphere than clarity – even seeing Skinny Lister doused in a pink hue was an unusual experience. On the other hand, the By The Rivers stage proved the place to be during the weekend. This year upgraded to an open stage rather than tent and tucked discreetly away if you followed the dirt track round the back of the toilets, as you do. Hosting more of the acoustic and roots acts yet speckled with the occasional band or DJ set, maybe even the H4TH concession to Deeply Vale with the tarps, the low stage and the back to basics (with modern tech) nature of the set up.
Although there’s some talk, more rumours to be fair, that the festival may have a new home next year, Festival organisers have been quick off the mark to quash any rumours that they definitely aren’t moving and are happy to continue the arrangement with Ramsbottom Cricket Club. Head For the Hills is surely a case of if it ain’t broken why fix it? Same again next year?
The official website is here
All words and photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive. He can be found on Facebook and his website is www.michaelainscoephotography.co.uk