Saturday 2 September 2023

Head For The Hills Festival (The Slow Readers Club / Cut Capers / Gentlemen Of Few / Katherine Priddy / Izzie Walsh) - Bury Burrs Park - 1st September 2023

Head For The Hills has been resurrected by its creators The Met in Bury at a new location since the pandemic. Moving away from its traditional home of Ramsbottom Cricket Club, the picturesque surroundings of Burrs Country Park are its new home, the two stages situated either side of the railway bridge on the East Lancashire Steam Railway. Impeccably organised as ever, the festival was a wonderful day out, with a diverse line-up across its two stages with lots of family activity for kids during the day and supporting local businesses with the food and drink offerings. Friday's main stage saw The Slow Readers Club headline with sets from Cut Capers, Gentlemen Of Few, Katherine Priddy and Izzie Walsh.

Izzie Walsh opened up the main stage with a set perfect for the afternoon sunshine and people sat around in chairs soaking in her eloquently crafted songs taken from her debut album that she tells us in the process of recording. Gone is the shy teenager who showed such promise when she first appeared on the scene, replaced by a young woman at home on this size of stage with songs to match.

Katherine Priddy is further down that journey. Her debut album, The Eternal Rocks Beneath, from which a large part of her set is taken from, was one of 2021’s most talked about folk albums and playing solo the songs are stripped down to just acoustic guitar and her rich vocals as she weaves tales taken from personal experience and Greek mythology. Her newer songs, Boat On The River and Father Of Two, focus more on the former, songs about family and the trials of lockdown. Engaging throughout with the crowd, regaling us with her experience of the Britannia Hotel in Manchester the previous night, she gets a deserved warm reception in the afternoon sun.

Gentlemen Of Few almost didn't make it to the festival after experiencing a traumatic drive up from Kent but they liven up proceedings with a set that mixes a couple of covers (ELO's Mr Blue Sky and Blur's Parklife) with their own compositions. Their own material is impressive, capturing the attention of an audience that likely knew little about them before they started to play. Mixing folk and rock, the Kent six-piece have a joy in performing that transmits itself from stage to audience by osmosis with irresistible hooks, short sharp blasts of brass and an energy that's infectious and endearing and an engagement with the audience that draws more people in. Songs like Olivia, What More Could I Want and 501s feel like old friends even though being heard for the first time.

Cut Capers appear to have had a similarly ardurous journey from Bristol. The nine-piece have four brass players, keys, guitars and drums and combine the whole into a huge musical wave that rolls to the back of the main stage area and back picking up everyone in its path. Like Gentlemen Of Few they have the ability to simply charm an audience by the love that they clearly have for what they're doing and the joy with which they deliver it. They mix songs from their forthcoming album Shred with older material, although most of it is new to the majority of people who they seduce up from their chairs to join in. Head For The Hills always had a knack with some of its less obvious festival programming of pulling rabbits out of the hat and 2023 was no exception.

There's a real sense of anticipation for last minute stand-in headliners The Slow Readers Club as darkness draws in and the familiar strains of I Feel Love blast out around the field. With a successful UK and European tour in support of their Knowledge Freedom Power album behind them earlier this year, they're on a roll artistically, more powerful and communal live than they've ever been. There's a wonderful vibe in the crowd and the band seem relaxed as they run through tracks taken from all the back to their 2011 self-titled debut to the aforementioned Knowledge Freedom Power.

What makes The Slow Readers Club so magical is the way they channel influences from their home city and further afield into something that's unmistakeably them. Big synth lines, dark groovy bass and bleak desolate lyrics being turned into a celebration abound whether it be the storming Feet On Fire, which for reasons unknown didn't break them back over a decade ago, and Block Out The Sun through the likes of Forever In Your Debt, You Opened Up My Heart, All I Hear and The Wait through the glorious Afterlife from their most recent album, and the best song, in our humble opinion that they've ever released.

They're incredibly tight, one false start at the beginning of Lay Your Troubles On Me aside that creates much laughter on and off stage, Aaron Starkie's vocals sounding stronger and more commanding than ever and he's visibly grown in the role of front man over the years. As the set draws to a close with the big anthems On The TV, which ends with the audience taking on the refrain and the band coming back in, I Saw A Ghost and an uplifting life-affirming Lunatic, there's smiles around everyone in the field and they bound along in their own way to an outsider band that speaks to people in the way music should. The pandemic might have derailed their momentum (a top ten album the week everything closed down that they couldn't capitalise on) and they might not be considered young, cool or diverse enough for daytime radio or festival slots, but they still have the knack of sending hundreds and thousands of people home with a smile on their face and joy in their hearts. And that what music does best.

The Slow Readers Club's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter. They support Shed Seven in October and finish the year at Manchester Yes Basement (November 24), Manchester Canvas (December 1) and Manchester New Century Hall (8).

Cut Capers website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Gentlemen Of Few's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Katherine Priddy is on Facebook and Twitter. Her website can be found here.

Izzie Walsh is on Facebook and Twitter.


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