Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ramsbottom Festival - 19th September 2015 - Part Two : Tom Robinson / Dave Fidler / The Slow Readers Club / Jesca Hoop / John Bramwell




On Saturday Even The Stars made a welcome return to Ramsbottom Festival, possibly the best small festival in the country. Thoughtfully curated line-ups, easy access to and around the site, great food and drink stalls and something on the bill for everyone makes it a stand-out in the festival calendar. The second of our reviews of the day features Tom Robinson, Dave Fidler, The Slow Readers Club, Jesca Hoop and John Bramwell.


Tom Robinson's set is a mix of the songs that have made him his name over the past four decades as well as three new songs from his forthcoming album Only The Now. All the suspects you'd expect are in the set - Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay, Martin, 2-4-6-8 Motorway and War Baby - and get a rapturous response from the crowd both those old enough to remember him at the time as well as the young who are seduced by the timeless quality of those songs. Sing If... is stopped half way through to encourage more people to sing along and Tom tells us it's also got a more generic message that it's OK to be who you are whatever you are and then regales us at the end of it with a story about an Irish show in less tolerant times where the barman was caught singing it at the end.

For one of the most tireless champions of new music, it'd be remiss not to talk about his new material here. He almost apologetically introduces the first one by telling us a story about a Guardian review where Shakin Stevens announcing new songs at Glastonbury was greeted with groans. But Tom should have no such fears. The three that he plays show that he's still got an active political and social conscience and a fine ear for a tune to go with it. The first one, Merciful God, is based on a CNN interview with a bomber pilot who claimed killing innocent people was God's calling and the other two focus on social injustice closer to home, the damning criticism of the banking system of Risky Business and the legal system in The Mighty Sword Of Justice. He's still a man with something to say.


Next up is our only visit of the day to the new Chameleon Stage to watch Dave Fidler.  Tonight he's accompanied by a lap steel player as well as two backing vocalists, another chance to hear how his songs can fit so many different arrangements. The tent has filled up considerably and people are stood outside as they take to the stage. His set is mostly focused around his debut album I'm Not Here although he does add a couple of new songs to the set - the beautiful aching Love Listens a tempting luscious pointer to what his next record could bring and a second one The Message Is Love which we unfortunately miss as we leave just before the end to get across to the Smaller Stages tent for The Slow Readers Club.

His set is warmly received by the crowd, which is no surprise to us as his songs are direct, genuine and honest both in their structure but also in the subject matters he touches upon like love and family that are close to us all. It's impossible not to warm to him as a result, particularly when he starts to explain the stories. The addition of the backing vocalists gives a different dimension and complexion to the songs - the beautiful longing ache of the solo versions given a soulful uplifting twist that casts them in a different light.


Next up are The Slow Readers Club and the tent is full as word is getting out that they're a band to be reckoned with and they leave having won over a whole new army of admirers. It's not difficult to tell why either - their set is crammed packed with anthems that you can't help but fall for and the audience do as they deliver one after the other. In fact they've got so many the likes of One More Minute and Fool For Your Philosophy don't even make the cut, such is the strength of this year's Cavalcade album.

The increasing confidence in their performance based on playing together regularly now as well as the excited reaction on social media from people who are discovering them from the first time means the buzz is continuing to build about them and the response is astonishing for a band that few in the tent would have seen before. But it's totally deserved, they're tight, fluid and they're armed with a set of songs that's it's impossible not to fall for.



The likes of Forever In Your Debt, Start Again, Don't Mind and Plant The Seed are great singles, but live they're taken them and the rest of the set up another notch and all around the tent people who started the set studiously listening are dancing by the end. The applause as they finish tells it own story - another audience won over.


It seems an interminable wait since Jesca Hoop's last album, 2012's The House That Jack Built, but tonight's solo slot in the cricket pavilion on T'Other Stage hints that a new one might not be too far away. As well as some of her more familiar songs, such as Hunting My Dress's beautiful lament to her mother Whispering Light or Murder Of Birds from her debut Kismet, there's a lot of new material in her set, all of which contain her unique oblique California mixed with Manchester observation on the world which also comes across in her between song talk to the audience as well. One of them in particular, which might be called Get Up, grabs us. There's a particular fragile and delicate quality to the songs and to her voice tonight as if stripping back the additional instruments and vocals is unpeeling layers of her.

The only criticism we'd have of the festival is putting an acoustic act on in the pavilion where there's people who think six feet away from the stage is an appropriate place to have an inane conversation when there's a whole cricket field outside, but Jesca handles the situation with good grace and she has the majority of us transfixed. She jokes near the end that she's going to play her hits now (although turns down our request for her favourite song Hospital, because "I don't sing about self-harm any more.") and stops one song to tell us she often sings cornflakes instead of conflict before complimenting Ramsbottom on having the funniest town name in existence. We leave utterly charmed.


John Bramwell is a veteran of Ramsbottom Festival having headlined the main stage twice with his band I Am Kloot, but for tonight's set he plays part solo, in others accompanied by two other musicians - Alan on piano and accordion and Harriet on cello for only the second time in the series of solo gigs he started back in 2014. The cello in particular adds drama and beauty to the songs - particularly Northern Skies and To The Brink which also have the audience joining in to add vocal harmonies. The spontaneity of the moment is beautiful, it's unprompted but so utterly natural. The haunting The Same Deep Water As Me is similarly transformed by the depth the piano and the strings add to the unsettling haunting impact of the song.

John's a bit less tolerant of the chatterers than Jesca was telling them the beer tent is outside, but that it's their round and he'll be there in half an hour. It's typical of the stories he tells like the time he was camping at another festival, managed to find his tent drunk and then fell asleep next to it. It's these tales of drinking and disaster, told off-the-cuff rather than rehearsed so much so that he even amuses himself at times, that make him a man of the people, the lovable rogue.



The set covers a wide range of I Am Kloot's catalogue from opener Mouth On Me off their last album Let It All In back to early favourites Storm Warning and 86 TVs. When he finishes on Proof, the whole tent is joined as one happy choir in singing along and it's no surprise that an encore is demanded and he delights us with a cover of The Jam's To Be Someone. The tent erupts in appreciation of one of the country's finest songwriters and great raconteurs. He's got a huge UK tour forthcoming and on this form he's unmissable in such intimate surroundings.

That's it for us as we need to refuel, we want to see Elbow's Mark Potter's new band The Plumedores but the pavilion where they're playing is rammed and there's no chance of getting in so we call it an early night. No disrespect to the headliners but the with the quality of line-up that the organisers of the festival have put together (and we missed the brilliant Space Monkeys and Heavy On The Magic due to clashes) we've had a whole day of great music in a fantastic setting.

It seems the festival is equally thrilled at how this year has gone. Festival Director David Agnew told us "I'm really proud of an amazing weekend that welcomed over eleven thousand people to Ramsbottom Festival over three days. The atmosphere was incredible and we look forward to recreating it next year at Ramsbottom Festival 2016." We can't wait.

Tom Robinson's official website can be found here. He is 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 Slow Readers Club can be found at their website.  They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Jesca Hoop's official website can be found here.  She is also on Facebook  and Twitter.

John Bramwell's website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook. Unofficial updates are also available at @iamklootclub on Twitter.
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