The first Cotton Clouds Festival took place on Saturday in the picturesque setting of Saddleworth Cricket Club in Greenfield. A packed line-up of great bands across three stages, from national names to local up-and-coming bands and a raft of child-friendly activities meant that there was something for almost everyone.
A sell-out weeks in advance, the fantastically run event renewed our faith in those that put on festivals in the light of one bad penny leaving a trail of financial destruction and almost causing a disaster last week. From the informative app they launched ahead of the festival, to the warm smiling knowledgeable security and gate staff with radios to deal with any issues and the simple layout of the site, the clockwork like running of the stages and the unwillingness to compromise safety and comfort to cram in more paying customers, it was a success on every level except perhaps for the need for a few more beer and food stalls. But that’s a minor quibble for the first staging of a festival that will hopefully run and run.
Opening the Tim Peaks stage are Proletariat, a local band that are starting to make some serious ripples with a sold-out Soup Kitchen show next weekend and some dates with Cabbage to come. It’s not hard to see why they’re growing in popularity too. Front man James is a chameleon when his mates start playing, having dedicated a song to his mum, his demeanour changes as soon the music starts, strutting the stage with the rock and roll attitude he promised us at the start. New single Ignorance is going to win them a whole new set of fans, but today Standing In The Cold and Kiss Of Death steal the show and whilst they’ve got a dedicated bunch of fans already, in early to support them, they’re certain to have won a whole lot more.
The sun comes out and the rain stops as Stillia come on to open the main stage and it feels somehow appropriate. Their take on rock and roll comes from a brighter place, crashing harmonious melodies and huge hooks course through the veins of every song in their set. Their ceaseless gigging this year has turned them into a formidable live outfit, atuned to what they need to do on big stages like this without losing their St Helens charm. Their current single Let Me In is the highlight, perfect for summer fields and a cold beer, but Cold Coffee and the final track Sometimes run it close. It’s only 1.30 and it already feels like a real festival atmosphere.
Next up is Darling Club’s debut show, the new name for Jake Fletcher, formerly of Cupids, on Jimmy’s Stage and for this he’s roped in James, his old band mate on drums, and Josh on bass. They’ve had one rehearsal, but you suspect that Jake is so supremely talented he probably didn’t even need that as he reveals a set of previously unheard songs plus Cupids’ early single Daltry Street. The new material pulls no punches either – Young Gifted And Hopeless is a spitting vitriolic assault on the government’s education policy – “the country is so blue, the country has to suffer for so few” – whilst Cover In A Storm possesses a battered bruised romanticism that runs throughout the set.
We stay in Jimmy’s for Ethan And The Reformation’s expansive psych-tinged set, full of sweeping hooks and melodic twists and turns that nod to the past, but which very much live in the here and now. They’re a band that exude an intuitive musical relationship between the four of them, locked together in a groove that they all feel rather than just recite. They finish with the two-pronged glory of their Free From Everything single and its b-side (in name) Sunflower Children, but rather than be highlights, these are the cumulation of a set that builds to that moment.
We head back over to Tim Peaks stage for The Sundowners. No disrespect to any of the other bands on there, but they should really have been headlining it (although that saves us a clash with PINS so we’re not complaining). Now two albums in, they’ve got enough songs to disarm a festival crowd like this many times over as Fiona and Niamh’s vocals combine to make them the perfect summer day band. It’s all locked together by Alfie’s infectious hooks and melodies and a rhythm section that, despite a stand-in drummer, make it impossible for people to resist dancing to them. They mix songs from the two albums, interchanging them throughout the set without ever losing the hold they have on us. Songs like Hummingbird and Ritual are so gloriously and shamelessly joyous that the whole tent falls in love with them. Quite why they’re not pushing for top billing on festival stages is beyond us.
TEAR are next up on the same stage and whilst the crowd has thinned a bit, people are drawn in as it progresses from the sounds coming from it. A four-piece, championed by Tim Burgess, it’s not hard to see why. Their songs are pent with controlled aggression and anger from Camille, but delivered in a bitter sweet coating that leaves you smiling. It’s the first time we’ve seen them and we’re now desperate for them to come back to Manchester.
The Whip are slowly making their return after years away and the welcome they get on the main stage is testament to how much they’re loved. Their fusion of dance beats and furious guitars and drums create something that others have tried but often failed at. Their new material goes down a storm as well as they know what works and what makes them so loved both by their mates from the scene as well as the families here with kids. The fact they precede Nick Heyward and follow a band doing comedy covers tells you everything you need to know about the range of acts on offer.
We then have our one major clash of the day – The Blinders versus The G-O-D – so we break our own rules and do a bit of both. Jimmy’s is rammed for The Blinders, full of people who know the words to every single song as they lead the vanguard of bands angry with the system and determined to have their say. New single Brave New World, ICB Blues and Swine are songs incandescent with rage but delivered with precision and power against their targets as they strut around the stage challenging us to take up the baton with them. We catch three songs of The G-O-D mid-set and wish we could have avoided this clash as their heartfelt songs deserve much closer attention. They’ve drafted in two female singers recently and the interaction between theirs and Chris’s vocals works brilliantly on Impulsive.
We head back to the main stage for The Coral who are the perfect band for the main stage at this time of night with a slightly-oiled crowd looking for the sort of immediate anthems that you can (try to) dance to that they have aplenty. Simon Diamond, Jacqueline, Pass It On, In The Morning and Dreaming Of You have people out of their chairs, punching the air and almost drowning out the band in the singalong moments. That they’re enjoying a revival after so long away and getting a whole new generation of fans is testament to their enduring appeal and the quality of their songs.
Our final band is PINS and talk about saving the best till last. Jimmy’s is packed again and, backed with a stunning lighting and sounding set-up, they deliver the highlight of the day. Whether it be the new songs such as Serve The Rich or old favourites like LUVU4LYF and Waiting For The End, they seem to be getting ever better with time. Anna and Lois throw a million rock star poses and strut the stage with beaming smiles, Kyoto likewise behind her keys and Sophie’s demonic rhythmic drumming sets the pace and tone for most of what’s going on. And in Faith they now have a band leader who’s half movie star, half rock goddess, who simply owns the stage and the tent.
For Girls Like Us they ask the girls in the crowd to come down the front as they can’t get people on stage so we take a step back and let them through, but the whole tent erupts as Faith comes to the barrier and conducts the bouncing along. The fact that some testosterone-fuelled dick at one point decides he should have his moment on stage tells us why PINS’ message is so bloody important and needs to be shouted from the rooftops because others won’t do it. They finish appropriately with a mental cover of The Ramones Sheena Is A Punk Rocker. And then they’re gone, the best possible end to a wonderful day.
Huge credit has to go to the Cotton Clouds team for the wonderful experience that restored faith in going to festivals after last week. For a first attempt, it felt like they’d paid meticulous attention to detail to everything (except underestimating our capacity to drink) – it was clean, safe and staffed by friendly, knowledgeable staff who knew exactly what they were there to do. Hopefully they’ll get the go-ahead to do this all again in 2018.
PINS official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Coral's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
The G-O-D are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Blinders are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Whip are on Facebook and Twitter.
TEAR are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Sundowners' website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Ethan And The Reformation's official site can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Darling Club are on Facebook and Twitter.
Stillia are on Facebook and Twitter.
Proletariat are on Facebook and Twitter.