Ramsbottom Cricket Club, Greater Manchester
18th – 20th September 2015
The Ramsbottom Festival usually allows festival goers one last fling at the end of the Summer season; with this year being he fifth annual event and once again celebrating with another wildly eclectic and diverse collection of music and performers all packed onto the expansive outfield of the local cricket club.
And first the important news – the weather was fine all weekend. Well, until a little light drizzle on the Sunday evening but not enough to warrant any major traumas or trouble to the well drained outfield, yet as we said in our festival preview (here), the fascination with Ramsbottom, if not the place, then the name, seems to be high on the agenda with many bands who visit.
As usual, there was the reliable and increasingly large and healthy turnout from the local population together with masses of youngsters who can lay claim to being on the festival circuit for the first time, and many of whom will now be festival veterans. Of the four stages where music is the main course, the Chameleon stage fulfilled the promise of being the one to watch with a fast turnaround of young, vibrant and more importantly, mainly local bands, keen to impress not only their mates but also the general Rammy Festival public. On more than one occasion the tell tale sign that something exciting was happening occurs when there’s a sudden influx of people pulling into the tent space as word spreads. Either that or it’s started raining, but for once it was the former at play.
Then there’s an impressive main stage which does sometimes catch people unawares as they maybe expect something a bit smaller scale in little Rammy, but The Hills, as it’s known, is up there with a set up and a lighting and sound rig which is as good as it gets at any festival.
The indoor stage located in the clubhouse appears to be the one which doesn’t quite seem to work and it’s a shame as it’s populated by some quality acts, but being placed indoors in what’s basically a social bar, there’s a constant battle/conflict/competition between the musicians and the drinkers and socialisers. For a band who can turn it up to eleven and blast away,or if you’re Mike Sweeney, that’s fine, yet for the more intimate acts and acoustic artists and fans who want to see (and hear) them play – Mat Skinner being a perfect example – there must be some frustration having to compete with an audience for whom the music is a secondary thought at best.
Outside though, magicians, performance artists, stone balancers and strange looking puppets all roamed the outfield interacting with the public between and during the main musical performances – it’s a very very full event and the range of attractions to cater for all comers is very impressive.
Friday night was a strong opening for local talent with Jela, Delamere and in particular The Jade Assembly making a stand for local bands with their high energy guitar based rock performances in the Chameleon tent with audiences wandering out with thumbs up and mental notes to go home and spread the word as well as find out a bit more about these bands. Energy was the buzz word in the Smaller Rooms second stage with Louis Barrabas performing a dazzling array of high kicking, pant splittingly gymnastic moves that must have brought tears to a few eyes and helped him hit a few high notes.
On the main stage thought it was The Magic Numbers and The Wonder Stuff providing the big name punch to the opening night – The Numbers in their classy musicianship and The Stuff with a more relaxed form, cut very much from the same cloth as last year’s Friday headliners and alt rock bedfellows, The Levellers.
There was a great encore moment in particular from The Magic Numbers in calling up another local, Ren Harvieu to join on a duet on Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ which was a nice touch from Romeo Stoddart although it found him having to almost turn his back on the crowd to access the mic stand which kind of lost the visual moment. And good to see The Wonder Stuff back doing what they do best – the middle age spread might be hitting Miles Hunt yet he still pulls the shapes with the oversized guitar topped with the Jimmy Page curtains of hair hanging down while violinist Erica Nockalls adds the stylish enigmatic look. Big tick too for the best intro music at the festival and maybe the best I’ve heard in a while by using Ron Goodwin’s instantly recognisable quivering Miss Marple film music.
Saturday dawned and evolved with another strong local element first off with Harp & A Monkey strolling down the road for their traditional Rammy appearance. Some might argue they are legends in their own lunchtime but gaining and enhancing a reputation for their intrepid and insightful storytelling.
Anyone who’d caught Bury heroes Elbow during their residency at Manchester Apollo back in February will have recognised Joseph Lofthouse and Black Rivers who played support slots at those shows. The first of two appearances for Joe, playing both solo and with his band including a drummer with a Jethro Tull tour shirt, can’t have failed to have been impressed by his delivery and playing on ‘Kerosene’ which showcases his technique – akin to the sort of thing you’d be impressed with if you saw Richard Thompson doing it – that good. Jez and Andy Willams’ Black Rivers, born out of The Doves, like Jimi Goodwin last year, keeps the legacy of that illustrious Northern band alive, while on in the Smaller Rooms tent there was The Slow Readers Club who seem to be set to take up the mantle of Manchester’s next big thing with their trademark ‘dark, broody, indie electro’ led by Aaron Starkie’s impassioned delivery. Their atmospheric set living up to the billing of being Louder Than War’s ones to watch.
The same stage was later packed solid for a solo slot (with cello and piano accompaniment) for I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell. A set which in all honesty deserved and needed to be on a larger stage but perhaps avoided to deliver a more intimate experience. Just a shame that more people couldn’t get to see what must have been one of the unanticipated highlights of the weekend.
Up on the main stage, another band who hadn’t come far were the reformed Space Monkeys and in contrast to some of the intense musical experiences, the fun element they generated with their slightly ragged but good natured set – songs started and pulled then played again later, bananas and topless (male) dancers, they epitomised the Tony Wilson and Manchester spirit without arrogance or ignorance and possibly provided the surprise package of a Saturday in which many of the acts turned in possible festival highlight sets. One of which for many might have been Tom Robinson and band – not the Tom Robinson Band. They were from the late seventies when Tom first emerged, yet it was the classic songs from that era, you know them all, ‘2-4-6-8…’etc, which were welcomed like old friends as they tend to be at Ramsbottom; many punters will have been there the first time round. Sporting the famous bright yellow fist on black TRB logo on his shirt, the ability to write songs which are topical and incisive hasn’t been left behind – ‘Merciful God’ showing Tom (and band) to still have that edge.
With The Go! Team described in the festival programme as indie and garage rock with Bollywood soundtracks, double Dutch chants, hip hop and distorted guitars, it must have left many inquisitive ten or so minutes into their set, it must have been hard not to have been mesmerized by the sheer energy and diversity of what was happening on stage. Backed by psychedelic swirls of colour on a back projection screen, the whole gamut of styles was tapped alongside samples and interference, a banjo even appearing at one point on a country rock flavoured section. The huge kaleidoscope of light, sound and the energy coming from the carnival of players fronted by Ninja must have been hard to follow for main headliners Idlewild, who by comparison must have seemed quite ordinary and lacklustre despite their well earned reputation.
Some might have been more excited by taking in the more edgy duo Walk, their drums and guitar combo taking the lead from the Royal Blood formula for success and showing that contrary to their award winning peers, that a two piece can work in a melodic vein.
Any early-ish arrivals wandering around the outfield of a Sunday lunchtime might have thought they’d chanced upon an alternative surreal dream like element to the days proceedings. The sound of Besses Brass Band playing the Dambusters Theme while David Gibb did a light hearted turn involving funny songs amidst Ramsay-like shouts of “donkey!” followed by Benji Kirkpatrick playing Hendrix songs on a banjo under the pseudonym ‘Bendrix’ might have tested the mettle of some, but as Basil Fawlty once said, “No it’s not a dream – we’re stuck with it.”
In fact Benji (of Bellowhead fame if you didn’t know) provided an erudite lesson in Hendrix-ology, performing tracks form his new release and appearing a most knowledgeable student of the great man. All the while paying homage to the fact that the guy could write songs as well as do extraordinary things with the guitar.
Flight Brigade, as predicted, were one of, if not the highlight in the Smaller Rooms tent despite high profile Mark Radcliffe’s cod pirate band Galleon Blast doing a rollcoking set of sea faring songs. Minus one for the day, the slimmed down six piece flight Brigade lived up to their reputation of having songs which have the potential to easily transfer to big stages and with a visual presence and commitment to match. They’ve been bubbling under for a few years but with a new EP out in October, an accompanying tour and an album due early next year, maybe a bigger break is not far away.
The main stage had what was its most diverse line up of the three days, starting with immaculately white suited Simon Campbell and his bluesy guitar work outs, melancholy alt-folk from Rammy returnee Blue Rose Code, Scots folk with some dextrous jiggery folkery from Rura, soul and blues Hannah Williams and the Tastemakers and their impressive three piece brass section before Gainne Duffy delivered a set of blues rock numbers, adding her name to the likes of Joanne Shaw Taylor and Chantel McGregor as women who know how to play the electric guitar and do it with a vengeance. All before Marc O’Reilly set the scene for the festival closers, doing his low key best to keep a crowd, impatient for The Proclaimers, happy while a soft drizzle started to fall.
The Proclaimers themselves are one of those acts which are perfect for Ramsbottom – guaranteed to pull an audience who, as with Tom Robinson, are old enough to remember them the first time round and a band who have enough universally known songs – try counting them – to encourage a festival atmosphere when they pepper them around their set. Hardly a band with an engaging stage presence, they don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are: a couple of ordinary blokes who can knock out a decent tune or two. Perhaps they represent one end of the Rammy Festival spectrum, members of the safe festival friendly branch guaranteeing a healthy turnout, while the other end of the scale sees the chance to showcase both a variety of bands and also to to get a bit more down with the kids and with that’s happening in the area.
What is apparent though is that the Ramsbottom Festival is starting to easily rival the arguably more famous local attractions in the East Lancs Railway and black pudding tossing championships and only fitting that the final word should come from Festival Director and Artistic Director at Bury’s Met, David Agnew : “I’m really proud of an amazing weekend that welcomed over 11 thousand people to Ramsbottom Festival over three days. The atmosphere was incredible and we look forward to recreating it next year at Ramsbottom Festival 2016.”
Ramsbottom Festival official website: https://ramsbottomfestival.com/