Ramsbottom Festival is one of the most eagerly awaited events of the summer. Set on the picturesque cricket ground in the centre of town, it brings together nationally acclaimed headline acts and mixes them with the best emerging talent in the North West as well and wraps it all up in a family-friendly package that also appeals to music lovers like us. Add to that great food, great beer and easy access and it's almost perfect. Part one of our Saturday review looks at some of the acts on early in the day - A Harp And A Monkey, Randolph Swain And The Red Lights, The Narrows, Science Of The Lamps and Darktown Jubilee.
Opening the main stage are Harp And A Monkey, a trio from around Manchester and their songs are based around the area telling tales from their two albums to date based around local folklore whether it be a molecatcher, a local dialect poem about Stalybridge or the forgotten men coming home from the end of the First World War. They mix this with banjo, mandolin, guitar and of course a harp (although sadly we didn't spot any monkey) to create a folk sound that goes down very well with the gathering crowd and were certainly worth arriving early for.
Next up on the Smaller Stages tent are Randolph Swain And The Red Lights promoting their second album Half Life that's coming out this week. It's a conceptual album that's based around "documenting their Journey to the Planet ERIS in wonderful music" and the space theme is evident in Randolph coming onto stage in a spacesuit complete with helmet. He takes that off obviously to sing and whilst the concept idea could be one that wears thin very quickly especially with Public Service Broadcasting style announcements between songs, it doesn't because the likes of New California and the brilliant but bonkers set closer Late Night Hot Tub Party are superb electro-heavy pop songs that it's impossible to not find yourself tapping your feet to. You have to be brave and good to pull off concept based sets and it's the strength of their songs that allow them to deliver without it ever feeling like one big gimmick.
We move back to the main stage for Manchester's The Narrows, a trio that have recently released a new EP Hibakuscha. Their use of synths and loops creates a dark ferocious and uncompromising sound that's possibly more suited to dark enclosed rooms than open festival fields, but no matter they impress us with the diversity and ambition of what they're creating. Front man Phil Drinkwater, resplendent in Smiths shirt and black hood, is an excitable jack in a box who you can't take your eyes off.
Zig-zagging back across the field the next band we catch in the Smaller Rooms Stage is Science Of The Lamps. Ordinarily an eight-piece they're playing today's show as a stripped-back five piece. Fronted by Norwegian Kaya but based in Liverpool, their fun take on vaudeville-inspired pop songs is perfect for a festival setting. Drenched in beautiful harmonies and backing vocals, their songs such as 27 Club Reject (about making your 28th birthday alive) and recent EP track Flames And Firefighters light up the tent as does Kaya's unflinching smile even when singing a song about a child custody battle. Throw in a fun cover of Britney Spears' Toxic and get some audience participation in singing along, and they won us all over.
We grab a quick pint and food from the wonderful Tibetan Kitchen and wander round some of the non-musical attractions before making our back to the Smaller Rooms for Darktown Jubilee, a big bold in your face four-piece. On the back of the recent release of their second album City Of Lights, they make no attempt whatsoever at hiding the fact they want to bowl you over with the sheer force of their huge anthems and they have plenty of them. Fortunately, there's more than enough diversity in the likes of Falling Down and the infectious energy and passion of front man David Boardman to keep it fresh and invigorating.
Part two to follow tomorrow featuring Tom Robinson, Dave Fidler, The Slow Readers Club, Jesca Hoop and John Bramwell.
Harp And A Monkey's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Randolph Swain And The Red Lights' official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Narrows' official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Science Of The Lamps' official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Darktown Jubilee's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
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