Ramsbottom Festival, Lancs
September 13th 2013
For those of us living to the North of Manchester, Ramsbottom is better known for its terraced hillside Milltown ambience, steam engines and black pudding throwing contests. Yet, for the last three years it has also cunningly hosted one of the UK’s friendliest and sensibly proportioned boutique festivals.
I’ve been fortunate to attend the festival for at least one of its three days each year and for the Festival’s 3rd incarnation, the Friday night schedules appealed to the indie and rock portion of my musical palette. With the weather looking threatening, stout boots and a brolly are pretty essential equipment as the damp afternoon suggested that a soggy evening was ahead. But fortune smiles on this lively northern town, as the rain evaporated and temperatures remained pleasant. With all of the other key essential ingredients on tap (beer and music), this is as good a Friday night out as you’ll find on the region’s music calendar.
There are no muddy Glastonbury style risks either as the event is hosted on the well-kept grounds of Ramsbottom Cricket Club, where the manicured grass is as lush and firm as any living room carpet.
The festival utilises the cricket clubhouse and a small tent, alongside the rather impressive main stage and it’s good to report that the sound in each location was impeccable; you’re never too far away to lose sight or sound of any of the performances.
As the evening starts to shift up a gear, I catch The Cornelius Crane, a Mancunian collective who sing about Oklahoma and kick out some edgy hand tremolo guitar quivers and a crunching, stumbling fusion of Americana alongside some occasional doses of funk. Their four-blokes-with-flat-caps outlook, provides a maturity and it’s clear from their songs that they also derive some influence from the MOR greats of the ’70s. Their capable E.P. TOO is out now.
Unfortunately they are also still running when Twisted Wheel take to the stage. As The Futureheads mysteriously cancelled their headline slot just 48 hours ago, this makes the Wheel the effective band-to-see. Now playing as a quartet under the direction of a revitalised Jonny Brown, I don’t think I’ve seen them as explosive as this. The new band members provide a great backing line; the anchored bass and energetic guitars are also amply served by the amazing drum skills of one Blair Murray (think Moon meets Ringo).
There’s plenty of early material and wig outs, from She’s A Weapon, the anthemic We Are US and the superb Strife (with its deliberately shoplifted hooklines). The band also pull out Invention from their second album, which provides an excuse to embark on one of several entertaining instrumental excursions. Twisted Wheel’s particular brand of authentic rock and roll is a rare commodity; honest, true and inspiring. Somehow they’ve plugged in even more power into their hit machine and I really do believe that they can someday soon, claim to be Britain’s truly greatest rock n roll band.
Back in the clubhouse Emmott and The Folkestra are in full swing ; a blur of waistcoats and Mumford-isms and jolly folk / pop delivered with a swagger and the rhythmic roar of acoustic guitars and banjos. This outfit have been together for a few years, mixing covers and original material and it’s obvious their own songs are what we’re really after (and not an unplugged rendition of Down Under). The mass arrival of the stadium folk band may be fortunate / unfortunate for the Folkestra, yet they’re doing their best to provide an affable knees up with an acceptable tempo and sense of melody.
From all of my wanderings over the Manchester Music scene in the last decade (and more) , I found surprisingly few local heroes, but one I did spot is the increasingly incredible Danny Mahon. Songsmith, social raconteur and satirical wit, Mahon gives us regional tales of both woe, reflection, resignation and laughter, sometimes all at once. Crowded into the Ladybird tent, his loyal following provide the chorus line (and keep asking about a recent but mysterious incident in a bar in town). The tunes are mesmeric; one is even reprised.
The sing-a-long happy mob of believers consume the word of this social apostle and even when he admits to forgetting to bring along his capo, a young lady volunteer is happy to stand on stage to hold the line of frets, whilst Mahon deliverers the next eagerly awaited sermon. His appealing irreverence questions how the worldly wise have often only really been on a school trip to Wales and why he’s too fat to be a mod. As the broken guitar strings dangle under the stage lights and the final strum is drowned by the cheering crowd, it’s clear that none of us can get enough of his refreshing, energetic, inspired, sincere and acerbic love songs .
Public Service Broadcasting
Over on the main stage, Public Service Broadcasting have plugged in their laptops and booted up Windows 8 as their ambling sampled electronica points as much to the 1940’s as it does to the world of future space travel. J. Wildgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth are remarkable in the fact that their historic soundbites are intriguing without resorting to an accompanying four for the floor thud of the bass drum. It’s an interesting interlude and even if the real crescendos are missing from their songs, it’s all good enough to keep the party embers burning.
To spice things up, the Ladybird Tent host their final act, Molly Bloom , a local band with a fascinating line-up (flute, classical guitar, drums and bass). As Molly Bloom are especially unique it seems churlish to compare them to any other act, but there are hints of New Model Army and Jethro Tull poured into a bucket of prog and grunge with a gypsy folk and reggae seasoning. It’s exciting, powerful stuff, as the motoring mix of stalwart fans and animated newcomers lap up the dexterity of the guitarist and the snarling melodies of their singer.
I Am Kloot
Rescuing the headline slot are Manchester’s very own I Am Kloot. Veterans (if not co-inventors) of the city’s original nu-folk scene and now stadium capable, we’re treated to the trio’s expanded six person live line up. This makes their reflective melodic northern songs broader, deeper and with the bite and sonic muscle to match the carefully curated lyrics and catchy bass and guitar lines. It’s a sincere tumble of tunes, eked out as subtle formations of jazz and soul, or as broken distortions contained within a faint acoustic wrapper. There’s no doubt that their song book was the perfect emergency stand by for this rather wonderful event, as dusk is long gone and their last line of romantic poetry fades along with a final bright burst of the stage lights.
We live in the north of the city and we live with the rain more than most…why shouldn’t we have our own festival too? Thank you Ramsbottom.
You can find out more about the Ramsbottton Festival here and links to the bands and artists featured in this reviewed can be found below :
I Am Kloot : https://iamkloot.com
Public Service Braodcasting : https://publicservicebroadcasting.net
Twisted Wheel : https://www.thetwistedwheel.co.uk
Molly Bloom : https://www.mollybloom.co.uk
Danny Mahon : https://www.facebook.com/dannymahonmcr
Emmott & The Folkestra : https://www.facebook.com/EmmottAndTheFolkestra
The Cornelius Crane : https://thecorneliuscrane.wix.com/thecorneliuscrane
All photographs (c) by Andrew Allcock
All words by Jon Ashley. Read more from him on LTW here.