Taking place in the stunning Ramsbottom cricket club in Lancashire, Ramsbottom Festival was a far cry from the mucky, messy festivals I’m used to in Ireland. The awfully posh plush cricket lawns, the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings, the family-friendliness, all made it feel much more of a picnic than Stradbally’s misleadingly named Electric Picnic back home. The scale of the venue was ideal; small enough to be impossible to get lost in, but big enough to comfortably accommodate picnic blankets, dancing, and cart-wheeling children. In spite of being in a relatively small area, good scheduling and planning meant that all gigs could be heard well and didn’t clash with each other. One thing that amazed me was the crowd’s prompt and obedient evacuation of the area after the last gig of the night ended. It took a fraction of the time it takes to get people out of a small bar in Dublin at the end of the night.
No time for a soundcheck; Julian had arrived at Ramsbottom a heroic 10 minutes before getting on stage after a disastrous, 7-hour journey. The set was tragically brief, but it completely rocked. Opening with “I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In”, which as he explained was about his arduous experience of writing a book. Julian charismatically got right into it. He played most songs on guitar, but I was very excited to spot his Mellotron though he only used it for two songs. He played “The Culture Bunker” from The Teardrop Explodes’ second album, but not before a hugely entertaining anecdote about his former bandmate contacting him about the possibility of a reunion. “You’re just too ugly” was his response. Julian was in grand and mischievous form. I was astounded by his ability to hold the audience’s gaze through his trademark sunglasses. I couldn’t contain myself for “The Greatness & Perfection of Love” as it raised me to a state of total elation, bouncing and bleating like a big black sheep.
Lynched played a fabulous set in the Smaller Rooms stage. They have a singular Irish folk sound, owing to their harmonies and Russian accordion. On top of this, a winning humour. The anecdotes and introductions to songs had the audience in stitches and in lively form. One achingly beautiful song was introduced irreverently as a song to get somebody into bed with. Their rendition of “Daffodil Mulligan”, a song about The Liberties in Dublin City was the definitely highlight of the set. (Ian and Darragh Lynch’s family hail from The Liberties on their mother’s side). The audience gleefully participated in the call and response (“Fresh Fish!”). The audience were enamoured by Lynched and their energy which was both authentic and fresh (fish). Lynched are the most exciting traditional Irish band playing at the moment. It was even better to see them play outside of their home town, bringing a slice of Dublin trad to Ramsbottom.
What first struck me about Loka were their post-punk sound, but they soon diverged from this and meandered through an array of different influences. Some of it was reminiscent of Trish Keenan’s Broadcast; having a psychedelic otherworldliness to it. What truly drew me in, however, was their vocalist Tom Sumnall. As I began to tune into his voice I found myself drawn in to the front of the stage as though by magnets. It put me in mind of hearing Brian Molko for the first time as a teenager; I had simply heard nothing like it before. It was haunting, emotionally charged and commanding. Unfortunately the main stage wasn’t too well attended at the time. For their last song they were joined by Pauline Black of The Selecter, which made for an interesting shift in tone.
Ist Ist at the By The River Stage slayed the audience with the full sonic assault of their contemporary take on goth rock. Most of the audience were sucked into their mayhem like moths to a flame. It was either shake or be shook. Their lyrics were haunting and gothic without being too burdened by theatrical romanticism. Their vocal style may draw predictable comparisons to Ian Curtis, but their music and playing style is much more interesting. It is raw, ripped up and noisey. It’s as though the stylized influences of goth-rock, industrial and noise have been shredded up and are then kicked around, stamped on. There is nothing nostalgic about their performance and they are not a pastiche. Instead, they push the style further towards its logical point of chaos.
The Selecter was the biggest crowd-pleaser of the festival. Their bounciness could be seen not just in the environs of the main stage but to the furthest reaches of the festival, and I heard glowing reviews from “Ramsbottomers” (as the legendary Pauline Black addressed us) for the rest of the weekend. I’m hardly an expert on ska, but it was infectious, immersive, and cathartic. Pauline and The Selecter gave a sustained, high-energy, killer performance. As we ska-danced to the On My Radio, I really felt that this was what festivals were really about; big masses of people dancing their butts off together. Not to mention phenomenal, high-energy performances from subculture heroes.
Public Service Broadcasting
“What are they called again? The BBC?” I heard a roadie say of Public Service Broadcasting (or PBS). Funny as it was, it seemed an appropriate error to make. Public Service Broadcasting’s music is laden with spoken-word samples from public information films and propaganda which gives the impression they have been allowed to run amuck in the Beeb’s archives. I only listened to their 2015 album “The Race for Space” after the festival but it was already apparent that the space race era had been a big influence on their cosmic sound. Chopped up with spacey bops and groovy jams, it really works. Ramsbottomers were brought along on an exciting journey through time and space in a very interesting performance from an audiovisual point of view; lights, lazers, take-off!
Gav Coombs’ set was a slow burner. The audience was quite still at first, while he played songs from his 2015 album “Matador”. This work was instantly recognisable as contemporary and sounded to me as though it would be very much at home in the charts today. As soon as Gaz played “Moving”, a Supergrass song, the crowd was instantly more engaged. After this the set developed from ballad to psych-rock via mellow, danceable sounds and the band began, slowly, to cash the cheques their rock’n’roll outfits had promised. At a point which he had made it seem unlikely, they played “Caught By The Fuzz” during the encore. You could plainly see the joy and buzz around this song, how many people had been hoping to hear it, how many people knew all the words. I couldn’t help but shake it; that song is a gem that many brats like myself can relate to. Eventually, Gaz rocked.
Thank you, Ramsbottom for introducing me to Horsebeach. I love their dreamy alt-pop sound, their lyrics. They made for lovely swoony dancing. The programme described them as “Influenced by alternative Japanese subcultures [and] the American indie scene”. It certainly sounded like American indie to me, but we must be thinking of different Japanese subcultures. At times they even reminded me of The Cure’s dream-pop moments, especially during “Broken Light”. They possessed a magical charm, a youthful aura. People emerging from that gig seemed years younger, smiley, refreshed.
The Bright Black
Damn! The Bright Black killed in at The Chameleon Stage. Whether it was their gorgeous, soulful lyrics, or their funky fast-paced jams, they had the crowd shaking their hips. The range of their vocalist was impressive; sexy, sweet, gentle to pure funk sass. There was a serious glamour to the performance but it was fun and playful and the audience lapped it up. In spite of their sound being grounded in funk and soul, they had a distinctly modern sound which made them appealing to all generations present in the audience.
Fun Lovin’ Criminals
Admittedly, I’m more of an ardent fan of Huey Morgan’s Dublin pizza joint than his music, but I was pretty excited about Fun Lovin’ Criminals. What’s not to like? They’re Fun Lovin’! Before the show I was speaking to a man who had the privilege being in attendance at Huey Morgan’s birthday party in rock bar Doran’s and claimed that Huey made a grand entrance by climbing in through the fire escape to evade ‘the paparazzi’, which were nowhere to be seen. Yes; I could definitely get into the spirit of this. Huey was funny, silly and smooth. They played “Scooby Snacks”, the one song that I knew, but “Barry White Saved My Life” was my favourite. The crowd was most responsive, the crowd chanted along and got into a nice groove. I was surprised to hear some complaints about the the show on the way out, as the crowd seemed to be in the spirit in the moment. Maybe Fun Lovin’ Criminals are like DiFontaine’s pizza; good taste, not quite satisfying.