Cotton Clouds Festival: what we learned and the best bands from Saddleworth

The Sugarhill Gang (credit Carl Gibson)

The Sugarhill Gang (credit Carl Gibson)

Cotton Clouds produced a debut to remember, Getintothis’ Nathan Scally reports on the party on the Pennines.

Down on the Pennines there aren’t too many music venues knocking about, but with Manchester only a beers distance away the locals are more than covered for their gigging needs.

But Cotton Clouds, aptly named for the history of the wool trade in Saddleworth and the almost permanent clouds being a fixture in the sky was now here to bring big gigs to town.

Cotton Clouds is a brand new festival in the beautiful countryside, partnered with Jimmy’s, one of the most popular bars in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and Tim Peaks Diner, now a veteran of the festival season.

With a complete sell out of tickets and a strong line-up, hopes were high for this one-day festival.

Cotton Clouds crowd (Credit Cotton Clouds)

Cotton Clouds crowd (Credit Cotton Clouds)

So much can go wrong with festivals, as we’ve seen this year with the weather at Y Not and most recently whatever happened to Hope & Glory.

Y Not being the most confusing, having already been established and run so smoothly in previous years, there’s a lot to plan and its easy to drop something. But Rick and Max Lees and the rest of the CC team did a stellar job in organisation.

Upon arrival the huge open space would’ve whet the appetite for a full course of top bands had the heavens not opened to join in with the fun.

However, a wee bit of showers didn’t harm anyone, in fact it pushed the punters into the two tents early doors for some acts they might have passed on otherwise.

Local lads Proletariat, hailing from Mossley opened the Tim Peak’s Diner with a performance maturer than you’d expect for a band so young.

A couple technical hitches on the sound desk meant vocals went missing a couple of times to open but once corrected it was smooth sailing then on. Midway through the set it was clear that a few in attendance were to be new members in the fan club.

Glitter beards: this summers must have (Credit Carl Gibson)

Glitter beards: this summers must have (Credit Carl Gibson)

Stillia were next on the agenda. The four-piece brought the sun with them, instantly granting a place in the good books.

Their chirpy indie pop was perfectly timed to kick off the day, with happy heads bopping all over and the day was definitely off to a fantastic start. Lead man Jack Bennett’s frilly jacket was the sketchiest part of the set, but all round a dependable showing from the band.

The demographic onsite had a wider range than most festivals. It was very much a family affair open to everyone, with many electing to bring their children.

A fair few attendees brought camping chairs onsite with them which was quite inventive of them for getting off their feet. But the sheer amount of them created a tricky route to navigate as it got busier. Perhaps a couple too many had the bright idea.

As the festival got into the swing of it, this odd yellow ball thing appeared in the sky. Not as common as most would like in the area but the mythical being brightened faces as well as the heavens.

With more and more showing up, each tent was filled for the rest of the day. There is always the fear at a day like this that simply no one might bother seeing an act, with everyone’s heads truly in the clouds. Darling Club and Colour Me Wednesday both got experience a full tent early doors, winning over new fans in the process. The former in particular warmed the crowd with their odd musings about running for the bus being not to dissimilar to playing onstage.

With the layout being so open, with everything but the sound stage being positioned around the site’s walls, whoever was on the main stage had the chance to perform for anyone and everyone. Whether this was by design or a happy accident, it has to go on the list for things not to be changed for next year.

Gardenback were the first to take full advantage. The crowd grew considerably as bodies were persuaded to come and get a closer look.

Psych rockers Ethan & the Reformation brought their Queens of the Stone Age-esque charms to JImmy‘s tent next. Their tunes grooved their way the set, leaving everyone itching for more.

Clearly brimming with potential this is a band that could do the business in the future.

Shiny leotards at Cotton Clouds (Credit Carl Gibson)

Shiny leotards at Cotton Clouds (Credit Carl Gibson)

Supergroup Rogue Emperor are clearly veterans on the stage. Using their experience from Elbow and Doves to sail through their slot like a pedalo on your local river. No major bumps and a calm ride from start to finish. They’re trance sounds could sooth you into a semi-conscious daze. A band whether intended or not, perfect for a relaxer at the end of a stressful day.

The Wirral’s own The Sundowners were invited down to bring their mix of psych and folk to Tim Peak’s Diner filling it out more than the pick and mix bags at Woolworths. Clearly a highlight on the lineup and could’ve put on just as strong a showing had they been billed on the main stage, but that’ll have to wait till next time.

Parody artists The Everly Pregnant Brothers appeared on the stage just like you’d expect the pork pie and bitter enthusiasts from your local would, they are the same people after all. No messing about, on the stage, ukulele in hand and a smile on the face straight into song.

Their cover of Common People raised a few eyebrows, seemingly an odd choice to open with a cover. As soon as track number two Pork Pie their version of Parklife was blasting through the speakers faces were beaming having just realised what was going on.

The lineup booked was so commendable. Being a first time festival the budget can only go so far, the acts went above and beyond expected. If it can be anywhere near as well curated next year you can expect tickets to sell out way quicker than this time around, The Whip being evidence of this.

Most famous for their song Trash being the theme for TV’s Rude Tube they were a relative unknown in comparison to some of the others on the bill. The back catalogue proved why they had managed to still exist for so long. They have a huge sound perfect for these events. Hopefully they can keep the ball rolling and we’ll see them again soon.

The Blinders (Credit Carl Gibson)

The Blinders (Credit Carl Gibson)

One of the hottest anticipated acts of the day was The Blinders. The tent was full almost the second they stepped onstage. Their bassist basing his look so much upon Nick Cave leaves not much to the imagination regarding their influences.

Their no-nonsense approach to music has garnered a devout following more than happy to lose their shirts. The first form of a mosh pit- and perhaps the only one all day- took place halfway through the set. A couple of lads got a talking to from security, presumably for shoulder riding. A young band full of promise, soon to be topping a bill near you.

Formerly of Haircut 100, Nick Heyward had perhaps the most adoring reception of every act at Cotton Clouds. 

He was obviously a big selling point for a lot of those in the crowd. Beyond the years of many onsite, the melodies kept everyone entertained no matter how bewildered the more youthful side of the audience looked.

He needn’t have strained his voice too far, those around in the early 80’s could covered the vocals pretty well. His sound was definitely one of the cleanest on the bill and his appearance resembling more of a man who dropped his career in accountancy to pursue his dream than someone in the music industry all this time stands testament to his professionalism.

Local hero Clint Boon was left in charge of keeping the seat warm on the main stage, playing all the classics that made him such a cult hit on the late XFM. Hailing from Oldham, it must have took no time at all in selling the chance to play his two sets at the festival so close to home.

Confusingly The Coral were second from top on the bill, the lineup poster suggested otherwise but it didn’t damped the experience. Earlier in the day queues had been pretty extensive for the bars and food tents, in excess of 45 minutes wait in some cases.

Yet the Wirral rockers pulled off the impossible dragging people away from the notion of bevvies down front for some classic rock belters from their extensive back catalogue. Their set came with some added technical difficulties, most likely the reason for their late start.

The career-spanning set blended their Britpop infused early sound with the more kaleidoscopic sounds of late better than a pint and peanuts. The maturity and know-how shone through as a few tech hiccups threatened to derail a couple of tunes, but they prevailed unscathed. Of course the older tunes got more moving than the newer tunes at the start, but by the end hips were gyrating out of control, some dance moves resembling those blown up balloon men outside of car washes.

Manchester quartet PINS closed out the Jimmy’s tent with a thunderous set, they could justifiably be on a much bigger stage and still bring a crowd. Time will tell if they receive the success they deserve. The harmonies coupled with roaring guitar cast a spell over the audience, suddenly humans were replaced with bobble heads. Across the crowd were people trying to singalong, some choosing to just make up their own. A tribute to how good they are, if you can get someone to write a new song just to feel involved, you’re doing something right.

The headliners seemed an odd choice going into the day. With a very guitar-centric lineup in the build up a sudden dose of hip hop seemed like an odd choice. But the organisers deserve a solid gold hammer, because they nailed it.

The Sugarhill Gang emerged from backstage to teach Saddleworth a lesson in the history of hip hop. Hip Hop how it was meant to be. Surreal to see them in the countryside but nonetheless an unforgettable set. The first ever commercially successful hip hop outfit are still bursting through live sets with (almost) as much energy as back in the day. Father Time catches up with us all, but they’ve clearly been drinking from the fountain of youth. Blasting through their back catalogue as if they were 25 years younger is commendable.

With the help of Melle Mel and Scorpio -both former members of the legendary hip hop group Furious 5– taking over the stage for a stint to rifle through the history or hip hop, this was a show that might go over some heads about just how iconic they are.

The set was clearly well rehearsed, their showmanship so powerful it could be used to psyche up the office on a stormy Monday morning. Ending on the classics Apache and Rappers Delight this was a near perfect end to the festival. With the whole crowd simply blown away by this performance for the ages, it will last long in the memory.

This was a debut for a festival that points forward to bigger and better things in the years to come. With all the hussle and bussle behind the scenes there is definitely some things that didn’t go quite as planned. But for those on the other side the only note for improvement would be another bar or two, and some more food trucks, simply to cut the queue. You’ll do well to find a festival ran so smoothly. Here’s to many more Cotton Clouds in the sky.

Getintothis’ top five acts from Cotton Clouds 2017

Proletariat (Credit Cotton Clouds)

Proletariat (Credit Cotton Clouds)

Proletariat – Tim Peak’s Diner

The Mossley foursome opened the festival with a statement of intent.

Blistering guitars at a breakneck speed. Not the softest opening to the day ever, but why slowly build up when you can fly straight into the action. Having only been in existence a short time their timing and performance would fool you otherwise.

The rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang leading into debut single Mr Brown being the highlight.

Everly Pregnant Brothers (Credit Carl Gibson)

Everly Pregnant Brothers (Credit Carl Gibson)

The Everly Pregnant Brothers – Main Stage

The unapologetically northern group recruited some new members to their cult following early in the afternoon.

Being a parody band they had the crowd in the palm of their hand from the off, helping with everyone already familiar with the tunes and eager to learn the new (and arguably better in some circumstances) lyrics.

Bar the headliners this might’ve been the most participated set.

The Sundowners (Credit Cotton Clouds)

The Sundowners (Credit Cotton Clouds)

The Sundowners – Tim Peak’s Diner

Skeleton Key graduates The Sundowners filled out their tent almost instantly, with the 70’s rock influenced sound and look they were one of the most stylish acts all day.

With the momentum behind them, they’ll be a permanent fixture on the festival circuit across the country in no time.

The Blinders (Credit Carl Gibson)

The Blinders (Credit Carl Gibson)

The Blinders – Jimmy’s

Jimmy’s definitely became host to the rowdiest group of punters, the majority of those in there this was completely fine.

A couple of unsuspecting fans got a bit caught off guards, looking miffed at first they were soon joining in the festivities.

Sometimes that’s the price you pay going to see a band with so much energy. But it’s totally worth it.

The Surgarhill Gang (Credit Cotton Clouds)

The Surgarhill Gang (Credit Cotton Clouds)

The Sugarhill Gang

It might seem typical for the headliners to the best act at a festival.

But this performance was so out of this world. To still have the enthusiasm that they displayed after all these years is immense.

That alone is worth a mention. But the absolute adoration of everyone in the crowd is what puts them here. To have every single person moving no matter what is one of the best things about the show.