Day 3 and the final instalment of this year's Head For The Hills festival saw us strike lucky with the rain holding off for most of the day and the most diverse line up of the three days that allowed us to wander round the site and catch a little bit of almost everything during the course of the afternoon and the evening. We caught up with Berries, Ailbhe Reddy, Hawk, Tankus The Henge, Will Varley, Martin Harley and Stained Glass Ceiling.
Berries open up proceedings on the Smaller Rooms Stage and there's a crowd of 100 - 150 gathered to witness their eight-song set that gets everyone into them even though most of them probably came in curious, not knowing what to expect. It's not difficult to tell why they get such a response so early in the day though - their songs are powerful, direct and delivered with a real energy and fun that transmits itself from stage to the crowd. Whether it be Holly and Lauren's high-energy movement around the stage, Lucie's cool as drumming style or simply these fantastic angular rock songs they've created, the change in the crowd's response from polite applause at the end of the first song Those Funny Things to a roar by the end doesn't go unnoticed.
There's four new songs in the eight they play too which show that they're a band that's got a lot more to unleash upon the listening public in the next few months as they prepare to follow up recent single Wild Vow with a second EP. Discreetly (despite a broken kick drum), Stormy and Dangerous feel like songs you'll learn and love quickly without them sounding like anyone else around at the moment and the aforementioned Wild Vow is a really powerful way to finish. Berries won't be playing opening slots at festivals this time next year when the industry cottons on to the fact there's a band here that's made for big stages and offers something a little different to the norm.
Next up is Ailbhe Reddy on the main stage and immediately she wins us over with the sort of voice that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you listen. There's a harder edge to her songs than we'd expected from our YouTube research prior to the festival, but her voice is perfectly capable of handling both softer moments as well as fighting its way through guitars and drums and the wind that's starting to blow around the stage. The gathered crowd's response tells its own story, that people are equally transfixed by songs such as Distrust, Keepsake, Flesh And Blood and her forthcoming single The Tube. She also displays a real humility and a wicked sense of humour between songs as she interacts with the crowd and her band. But it's her voice that leaves us wanting to hear a lot more from her.
We head over to the By The River stage where there have been some issues with bleed from the main stage, but Hawk have no such problems as the Berlin-based international four piece are loud enough to overpower the soundchecks that drift over. Led by the passionate vocals and delivery of Julie that make you believe she's living out every word of each song as if it's some form of cathartic process, there's an intensity to their set that contrasts with the bright sunshine that's now shining over the stage as the rest of the band paint the canvas on which she can tell stories of isolation, loneliness and anger and express herself in a way that has us feeling every moment of it.
The main stage is then treated to a ten-minute "Manchester mash up" from the Bury Community Choir and Encore. There's about eighty of them that run through an impressive melody of The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony, The Courteeners' Not Nineteen Forever, The Roses' I Am The Resurrection, James' Sit Down, Heather Small's Proud, Oasis' Don't Look Back In Anger and Champagne Supernova and Elbow's One Day Like This. It's an impressive performance by both the kids and adults with clever arrangements of some of the songs that make them sound different to what you'd expect. Watch the video above to relive it.
The Smaller Rooms Stage is packed for the second half of Tankus The Hedge's set and we're impressed by the manic energy that they generate that sees steam rising from the crowd even in the late afternoon and the rather bizarre waving of a hollow mannequin leg with a lampshade on the end lit up by clever electronic wizardry. The livewire performance of frontman Jaz and the eclectic, varied and passionate sounds of the rest of his band transmit itself from stage to the rest of the tent, so the audience participation part has us all involved, waving arms and clapping along. By the end of their set, no one wants them to leave the stage and although this isn't really our thing, we couldn't help but be carried along on the wave of love that headed from the back of the tent right to the front.
We don't catch the whole of Will Varley's set either, but the last four songs are enough to demonstrate to us exactly why he went down such a storm with dates with Frank Turner and why there are people down the front singing along to every word of these angry yet targeted songs about the nature of political and economic slavery that still exists today (We Don't Believe You), the humorous analysis of childhood (King For A King) or the final communal coming together of I Got An Email that mocks his life without a job, the internet scam culture and finally Boris Johnson and Theresa May before asking us all to waltz out of the tent with the person stood next to us. His charming self-deprecating humour (calling himself "the Bob Marley of Tinder) endears him to a crowd that give him a huge response between songs and at the close of his set.
Our last musical act we see is a duo Stained Glass Ceiling on the Chameleon Stage, battling with the noise from the African style Talking Heads tribute band next door. Morgan and Amelia mix their own material with covers including the likes of Britney Spears, but put their own spin on the covers, whilst demonstrating a really clever approach to making the most of their two guitars, including for percussion at several points, and using either one or both of their vocals to give added impact to the songs. They've got a big crowd gathered to watch them, including kids inches from them at the front waving balloons in their faces, but they're not fazed at all and look like they're having a fun time as well as keeping the crowd's attention on their music, which was no mean feat given the distractions. They're one of those acts that Head For The Hills, for a festival of its size, is unique in giving an opportunity to, but which never fail to win over the crowds that gather to watch them.
Our weekend concludes with Tony "Longfella" Walsh delivering first his specially written poem for the festival and then the poem that he wrote after the Manchester bombing in May that captures perfectly the spirit of Manchester and the surrounding regions, which is delivered to the loudest applause we hear all weekend, such is the way the musical references tug the heartstrings of the music lovers that make the now annual pilgrimage to Ramsbottom. Once again, Head For The Hills is a success, a festival without all the horror stories that you hear from other places, fabulously organised, meticulously planned and running mostly like clockwork with all the facilities you'd expect, decent food and drink stalls that aren't extortionately priced and with a real spirit of togetherness and love between the attendees.
Berries are on Facebook and Twitter. They play London Black Heart on October 19 and Leeds Kazoopa Festival on November 25 and you can read our interview with us here.
Ailbhe Reddy's website can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.
Hawk are on Facebook and Twitter.
Tankus The Henge are on Facebook and Twitter.
Will Varley's website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.
Stained Glass Ceiling are on Facebook and Twitter.