Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ramsbottom Festival 2011: The Recap

So I've just about recovered from the inaugural Ramsbottom Festival. Here's a little summary:

Rain factor:
You have an outdoor music festival in Ramsbottom. In September. Of course it's going to rain. The question is, how much and when. This rain wasn't too bad - it came and went, it was a bit of a drag, but you could mostly ignore it. There was always a place to get out of it if you wanted to.There was no wading through mud. We even had a few hours of sun on Sunday.

Best in show: The Waterboys. It was the very last band of the festival, it was dark, cold and wet, but they still made it very possibly the rockingest Sunday night Ramsbottom has ever seen. Those guys are professionals. The encore of Fisherman's Blues had the crowd twirling like idiots and sent us all home smiling (and shivering):

Runners up: Cherry Ghost, The Travelling Band and Young Knives all turned in solid performances on Saturday, Capercaillie rocked on Sunday. Can a traditional Celtic band rock? The answer is yes.

Miss (Non)Congeniality award: Badly Drawn Boy. I've always been kindly disposed to the beardy one's music, but after seeing this performance I'm less kindly disposed. He started things off by having a hissy fit about the sound and finished up by grousing that he should have been the headliner. In between: a whole bunch of meh. Stay in Chorlton next year and knit yourself some new hats, dude.

Personal disappointment: Missing Steve Cropper Friday evening. It was very wet, but still.

Taste sensation: Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter ice cream on a toasted brioche from the wonder that is Ginger's Comfort Emporium (long may they reign.) Really freaking good.

Best non-live-music-related activity: Silent Disco. Lots of fun.

Unexpected impressive thing: Whalley Range All Stars "PIG" performed inside a specially-built pig. The play was ten minutes long and only ten people could watch it at once. The audience had to don curly tails and stick their heads right into ten holes along the pig's belly, so they looked like a line of piglets.

Best thing for kids: The bouncy pirate ship, apparently. I spent about two hours standing next to this handing a very polite teenage girl money while my daughter bounced. And bounced. And bounced. Lots of kids about on Sunday, not so many on rainy Saturday. And don't ferris wheels look cool at night?

Comfort Factor: Weather aside, the festival was a pretty comfortable place to hang out. The drinks were excellent and keenly priced - Outstanding Beers' very pleasant festival real ale at £2.50 for a reasonably sized pint, fancy shmancy cider for £3.50. I think they had some weird mixed-drink-in-a-bottle stuff going on too, but I didn't get involved in that. In short, a far sight better than the shockingly bad beer selection (Bud and Coors?? In plastic bottles? Really?) at the Manchester International Festival pavillion this summer. You got served quickly at the bar. The food vendors were good and again, nobody was ripping you off (£5 for a massive plate of tasty Tibetan Kitchen.) There were enough toilets, so you didn't spend hours in the loo queue, and they stayed reasonably clean. Thumbs up.

Best flavor of Rekorderlig Cider: Strawberry Lime. I know, me either.

Unexpected funny thing:
The VIP area resembled a cattle market - a roped off, exposed-to-the elements plot with bare benches, about as far from the stage as it could be. I think I saw two people in there all weekend. That kind of sums up the festival's ethos nicely.

Hero of the day: Stripeyman. The tirelessly boogieing, permanently ecstatic painted fellow below will dance on in the memories of festivalgoers for many years to come. I'll have what he's having.

In summary: a very good time. Of course, I walked down the road to get there, was sensibly attired and got in for free, so admittedly it would have to be awful for me not to have enjoyed it. But it surpassed my expectations in pretty much every way (apart from the weather, sadly.) Hey, I'm looking forward to next year already.

All images Brian Connor (via Flickr.)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ramsbottom Festival Sept 16-18 2011

I don't want to be a smug, horrible person, but I've got to say it: Ramsbottom is pretty wonderful. I really do love living here. It's hard to keep this in mind at certain times (like when I ocasionally miss the last tram to Bury.) It's bloody miles away from the nearest (non-steam) train station. There's no decent bakery, no bookstore, and the town shuts down on Wednesday afternoons which is both quaint and annoying. And old-fashioned mill towns in the Pennines can be bleak places in the winter. But it's a beautiful place with an old-school community feeling, and I mostly love it.

So I realise I'm becoming almost insufferably happy to be living here now that the Ramsbottom Festival is about to kick off. It's a proper music festival, with camping and nice food and beer and DJing and kids' activities and multiple stages. And crucially, good music. I'd be excited about a festival like this starting anywere around Manchester. But to have it delivered virtually on my doorstep, a few days after my birthday, is like God's way of saying "sorry about that whole hurricane-and-vomit vacation, I've still got your back."

The festival takes place at the lovely Ramsbottom Cricket Club on 16-18 September. Bury Met, a real gem of a performing arts venue that we are extremely lucky to have right down the road, have programmed a weekend full of music with something for everyone. As with much of their programming the overall focus is on relaxed, sunshiney acoustic pop, folk, celtic and roots, with a welcome jolt of high-test indie and blues. The last supplied by Steve Cropper, Stax guitar legend. You know, Booker T and the MGs? Green Onions?

Indie fiends will be happy with The Young Knives, Cherry Ghost and Guillemots. Yup, it's pretty cool that a band as big as Guillemots is going to be playing at Ramsbottom Cricket Club.

Folkier folks should come on Sunday, when The Waterboys headline and the lineup includes Celtic band Capercaille, led by glorious singer Karen Matheson

...and ahab, amusingly identified as a "German funeral doom trio" in their Spotify bio:

There's a fair number of performers from Manchester, but thankfully there's an emphasis on quality local talent. And world class talent that just happens to live here, like Chorlton's own Badly Drawn Boy. The beardy one always puts on a good show, and he doesn't have far to come for this one. I'm hoping he'll play his near-as-dammit Smiths cover "I saw you walk away." Which I would find totally objectionable if it wasn't so good.

Other Mancunian standouts include raspy-voiced Kirsty Almeida and her charmingly ramshackle band...

...and 6music frequent fliers The Travelling Band:

It's also good that they're serious about making this a family event, with reduced prices for kids, a creche, rides and children's activities. If I were coming from Manchester, I'd take the East Lancs Railway from Bury and arrive in style by steam train (the ELR station is just outside the entrance and they're doing cheap tickets for the day with parking at the stations in Bury and Rawtie). Definitely don't drive - parking is a nightmare here at the best of times. A bus and tram daysaver is the way to go from anywhere else in Greater Manchester - you get the tram to Bury and pick up the Rammy circular which runs every 10 minutes. Booking info here. See you there!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

After the deluge

Bad things tend to happen when I'm on holiday. I'll spare you the details of nightmares past, but let's just say it's a trend I've been trying to ignore for a few years. I mean, who wants to head off for vacation harbouring dark imaginings about what will happen this time?

What happened this time was that Hurricane Irene jumped out of the 24-hour-news cycle and bit us in the ass. We were staying at my dad's place in Waterbury, Vermont - safe, one would think, from the kind of extreme summer weather southerners are more accustomed to. But Irene took a path right up the east coast, through New York and all the way up into Vermont, where the mountain ranges that usually protect us from such dramatic storms made little difference. The worst flooding to hit the state since 1927 ensued : roads washed out, homes and businesses destroyed, power cuts, everything under a layer of toxic mud.

We can be thankful our family wasn't evacuated to sleep on cots in a church, only to wake up and find our house and all its contents destroyed, like a few people I know in Waterbury. Everyone was safe and dry in our house. We lost power for 24 hours, and yes, it was unfortunate that the power cut coincided with my eldest experiencing a barfing bug, but, well... and if our flight cancellation meant we had an extra week in Vermont, well, great! Except for the fact that we couldn't leave the house (yup, still barfing.) And we know we were lucky to get flights back to Manchester even a week later than the original departure date, it coulda been so much worse. Yes, even if the flights involved a hellish three-leg journey over 20 hours that will take several months to recover from and included inept and borderline rude airline staff, demonically tired toddlers and bumpy, endless circles in the air above Heathrow. Maybe we will have recovered by next summer. Or not? I may not go on holiday again until my children are old enough to drive.

But seriously, tiny Vermont, the most beautiful state in New England, on the Canadian border - yes, the state that most British people and indeed many Americans have never heard of - this state is in a bad state. And it's my home. I know folks there are doing all they can to help each other get through this, but it's come at a difficult time for so many people. If you can spare a little cash, send some their way.

Photo: downtown Waterbury, courtesy USA Today