Headlander Festival is set in the grounds of Stockport Rugby Club. Billed as a family festival, the headline act on the Saturday night was 80s/90s favourite Roachford. But tucked away near the entrance was the Scruff Of The Neck stage, curated by the record label, where we found a mix of Even The Stars favourites as well as some acts we were catching for the first time.
Arriving on site, the weather's fairly miserable but in an act of foresight (and probably to help local residental noise concerns) all the four music stages are in tents and well spread out around the site, scattered between inflatable pubs, fairground rides, beer tents and the plethora of over-priced and not very interesting food stalls.
On wandering around, we stumbled on the last four songs of Sheffield's Isembard's Wheel on the main stage. A five-piece, featuring cello and violin, we're impressed by their quintessentially English take on folk music - story-telling as well as playing music. They play a few tracks from their debut EP Autumn In Eden and finish with the title track that we're particularly taken by. A most pleasant discovery to start off the day's listening.
Next up, we're in the Scruff Of The Neck tent for Dave Fidler. Once he overcomes the inevitable initial sound issues that happen at festivals he plays us a selection of tracks from his debut album I'm Not Here as well as a cover of Jackson Brown's These Days from his latest EP. The tent has filled up as he plays and he gets a great reception for the likes of Easy Gone Easy Come and Silver Spoon.
There's also appreciative nods for Tommy, his acoustic reinvention of Tommy Emanuel's Stevie's Blues, as well as his final song Taking Over and his mastery of the different styles of guitar playing from the dads who come in with their kids to shelter from the rain that comes back towards the end of his set. It's rare for a singer-songwriter to focus on both the detail of guitar work that's in Dave's song as well as poignant lyrics about birth and death rather than the mundanity of daily life that so many troubadours focus on.
After a brief wander round the site, resisting the urge to try the huge inflatable slide, bucking bronco or any of the fairground rides, we go back to the Scruff Of The Neck stage for The Hyena Kill, a two piece drum and guitar band from Manchester who describe their genre as "proud cows on acid". Whilst making a ferocious sound in parts, we're also impressed by the driving rhythm that emerges from that sonic assault, coming from drummer Lorna's ability to change direction of a song without pausing for breath. It's something they master repeatedly, without it ever sounding repetitive, across the likes of Filthy Nasty, Tongue Tied, Purge and Your Loss. And you do have to go to their site and watch the video for recent single Still Sick.
Instead of just running through the EP, the change in approach also brings older songs back into the set. Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind feels like it's about to rip your head off, Joel's vocals are so intense that you feel his vocal cords are about to tear if he extends them out any further. Likes Of You and Post Karma Blues have huge killer hooks that are so on the edge that they'll be too much for those with weaker constitutions. This variant of Ruby Tuesday take no prisoners as evidenced on final track and the only one they play from the EP - Let People Go - that is stripped right back to the bone and concludes in a jam that stretches the song out to six minutes building in intensity and volume.
INEGO are up next and just as the sun comes out, they bring a bunch of feel-good songs to the party to celebrate. They're not afraid to mix rock guitars with songs, and in particular vocals and backing vocals, that have pop sensibilities too - something that doesn't always work, but does here. Their set is made up mostly of the tracks from their recent What You Waiting For EP. Starting Fires and the EP's title track are the standouts, the former combining seductive vocal harmonies that wrap themselves around the guitars before the songs builds to an anthemic ending whilst the latter sees them at their most ambitious in the verses before hitting a perfect summer singalong chorus.
We then take a wander across the site and our ears prick up at the sound of a beautiful voice coming from the acoustic tent so we take a seat and watch a set from Leeds singer-songwriter Finola Daley-Dee. Her set of mostly original tracks are intelligent, thoughtfully crafted observations on life. She gets a great reception from the seated crowd for both those originals as well as her unique take on Rihanna's We Found Love which she strips back to the bare bones. Songs such as Keep A Vow and Day One already have us impressed but it's her final song, Revelations From The Dark, that hints at something more complex and marks her down as someone who's definitely worth keeping an eye on.
It's back to the Scruff Of The Neck stage for Clockwork Radio. We met them randomly a few weeks ago and they gave us an album (No Man Is An Island) that we'd only had a cursory listen to due to a huge backlog of albums but on the basis of their set here, we'll be moving it up to the top of the pile. Like INEGO before them, their summery disposition shines through right from the start with their opening song Tacenda that loosens the shackles of the album version introducing itself with a beautiful funk-inspired rhythm. We hear bits of Dutch Uncles at times and they have the same fluidity. It's a way of approaching their live set that serves them well in the first half of the set and, of all the bands we see today, they're the ones having most fun. Whilst front man's Rich's endless enthusiasm and insistence on speaking French might cloy with some people, he gets away with it because it's genuine.
As the set progresses though, they show a different side to them. New song Skin hints at a darker side to their sound with an epic building first verse before it explodes into something more expansive, dramatic and ambitious than we've heard before and on the final track Sitting Bull they trade in more familiar rock territory with big riffs and driving drum patterns that demonstrate a compelling diversity in their sound and an unwillingness to restrict themselves to one particular style.
It's about time The Slow Readers Club headlined a festival stage. We're still bemused as to why they're not much bigger than they are and everyone we talk to has come to the same conclusion. Their headline set clocks in at thirty minutes but in that time they've won over any doubters or curious observers with an eight-song set that focuses primarily on Cavalcade, the album they released earlier this year, as well as two singles from their self-titled debut in Sirens and Feet On Fire. It's a hard choice whittling down a set that could stretch to ninety minutes without dipping in quality, but they get the mix just about right.
Their sound is perfect for festival fields, big uplifting anthems such as Forever In Your Debt and Plant The Seed, the big bold opening statement of Start Again, the epic menacing set closer Know The Day Will Come or the more reflective I Saw A Ghost and Don't Mind. Aaron isn't even put off by a comedian who attempts to squeeze his balls whilst he goes for the high notes of Know The Day Will Come - it's thrilling to witness how much more confident he is as a front man these days compared to when they were touring the first album and to watch brother Kurt by his side mouthing along to every word. People are dancing, singing along and the tent fills up rapidly as bystanders are drawn in by the potent anthemic mix they've brewed up.
Armed with a confidence and self-belief that having one of the albums of the year behind you as well as an increasingly powerful live set-up witnessed at their recent sell-out gig at Academy 3 plus starting to pick up significant support from the likes of XFM and the Isle Of Wight Festival, you feel maybe the tide is starting to turn for them and a wave will carry them to bigger things. Perhaps they're destined to be one of those bands that are loved by everyone who stumbles across them and will be recognised long after they've gone for their craft, but in reality it should be happening for them now. If it doesn't, it won't be them, it'll be you.
Our general impression of Headlander is that it's more a family day out than a music festival, but with Scruff Of The Neck being asked to curate a stage and a slow but steady stream of music fans going in and out of the tent all day, maybe that will change. Today's line-up is a taster of the talent that's on the fringes of the Manchester scene at the moment, the underground that doesn't get lauded by those that are fixated with the city's past rather than its present - and Scruff Of The Neck deserve a lot of credit for the mix they've chosen not just today, but for the Sunday line-up as well which we sadly couldn't attend. It'd be great to see them given the main stage for a day next year, get in an established headliner and then allow local talent a big stage to show themselves on.
Isembard's Wheel's official site can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Dave Fidler's website can be found here and the single and his album I'm Not Here can be purchased on CD and vinyl from there. He is also on Twitter and Facebook.
The Hyena Kill's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Ruby Tuesday's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter. The EP can be purchased from their Bandcamp site.
INEGO are on Facebook and Twitter.
Finola Daley-Dee is on Facebook and Twitter.
Clockwork Radio's official site can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Slow Readers Club can be found at their website. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
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