Suffolk is such a green place when you live in treeless Yorkshire, every time I stray there I feel the inner workings of my soul refreshed. Normally I wander that way once a year for Maverick, but this year it’s two journeys in a month, for the three day Red Rooster Festival is on the cards. The first thing I notice is the amount of camper vans and caravans vs tents, a 50:50 split suggests this is an older, more affluent crowd.
The setting is delightful, cut through wildflower meadows, rolling parkland and wonderful woodland, you feel your worldly wearies seep away as you meander alongside the lake or stroll through pretty forest paths. The stately home back drop to a veritable pot pouri of dinning delights in the food village adds still further to its charm. Artisan eating is the order of the weekend, all very much in keeping with the down home, rockabilly, punk country, Americana music feel on offer. Other festivals take note.
It is sold out. Running Thursday to Saturday, and well into the night it allows Sunday for the trudge home and some rest before the grind continues. We kick off with a bri-nylon house coat and brown sports jacket, not what you need on the hottest day of the year, which can only be My Darling Clementine of course. with a super tight band they are an excellent opening act to digest the first of many burritos too. With quips about loving Richard Thompson and their wonderful stage chemistry, it’s a sassy, cheeky set that does set the tone of the weekend.
Also kicking off the weekend is the seminal Rockingbirds, I remember seeing them for the first time in London, many, many years ago, and thinking that I had never heard or seen a band like it, they sowed the seed of my love of this thing called Alt Country. Tonight, with a mix of old and as yet unrecorded songs they hold us all in a trance with their 2 part harmonies, male millinery and jangling guitars. The only downside is the terrible stage lighting, leaving them in the gloom and blinding the punters – but I guess lighting a big top in the middle of a wood can’t be easy.
Finally for the night we get cod philosophers CC Smugglers and probably the most self-centred and annoying self-publicising front man in music. Their raggle taggle, 6th form grammar school hipster nu-folk is very much put in its place by the two previous acts. It’s all Top Shop trilbys, jeans and braces, a sort of sanitised Pogues does Roachford. They’re conceited enough to ask for an encore before finishing their set and contrive to ‘meet the people’ and busk it off the PA in the crowd. It fails to impress, and seems more for their own glorification. Tomorrow can only be upwards.
Whybirds drummer Luke Tuchscherer, with a new album out on Clubhouse Records got the ball rolling, heavy on the Springsteen influence; it is a great way to start the day. With a ‘Corbyn’ t-shirt and a song about immigration he’s not sitting on the fence and the line about Farage draws a cheer. Two albums in and there is no dip in the quality and the song about a girl that became his wife, Amanda Jane, is a highlight of the weekend. New name next (and an awful one), Lil & Ollie, more hipster nu-folk, and Ollie looks like Sheeran. Good, and the more you get of Lil’ the better it gets.
With sets on two days I took an early gander at the ‘Bard of Bedford’, Danni Nicholls, I last saw her opening for Shakey and today in a wildflower meadow she’s not different, she rules it, a charming songbird with a pantheon of great songs. I am a Danni fan. I also picked up sets from The Jolenes, Jose McGill and the sensational Ags Connolly on what is the second stage at RR. The Jolenes are old time four way all girl harmony country, a bit of a pastiche but a modern twist on old school country that is most welcome. Jose McGill had a very fine set of desert songs, hardworking, blue collar rock n’ roll, slacker country. It’s an album want to hear very much. Finally outdoors I saw the UK’s finest country songwriter right now, Ags Connolly. Ags has the best album of the year so far and he played a selection of songs from it plus a Johnny Paycheck cover. As you’d expect, with the best album of the year, his set is nothing short of brilliant.
Slipping from wildflower glen through woodland paths to the circus big top in a forest glade allowed catching sets from the UK’s best live band – Case Hardin. Tough, rough and hard they came to kick us up the arse and that they did. Pete Gow’s men do a great country Stonesy boogie, and he can play a tambourine like he really hates it. Opening their set with the latest album’s opener, a kind of London My Hometown is proper rock n’ roll. The same big top also hosted slots from Texas honky tonker, Cale Tyson who has recently turned his head toward Muscle Shoals and he really brought some soul to the tent. His wider, cooler, broader approach to country music’s pallet means that his appeal in the UK will remain strong. Also under canvas was University of East Anglia Alumni, Nick Waterhouse, his jazzy, soul, blues sunshine music closed out the day. His telecaster soul was a inspired way to close the day, happy music for happy campers.
Friday was also the reason I went in the first place. For one artist. Nick Lowe. You can’t say he was a highlight, as anyone you spoke to was really only here to see him and to bask in his genius. A bucket list musician for many who were able to tick it off this weekend ticked off, he did not disappoint. Truly the King of Cool. Playing “jukebox style”, it was hit after hit after hit. He seemed genuinely flattered by the level of affection towards him. Shelley My Love was dedicated to someone who bumped into him earlier wandering the copses and he closed with Alison and I Knew the Bride. There was no encore, he could have played to sun up and still not played everyone’s favourite, beautifully judged, the man is class.
Local resident, and purveyor of hillybilly rock n’ roll, Big Steve, with pal Henry, played a mixed set of self-penned songs and covers (Polk Salad Annie) to start the finally day, and I loved the line; “Daddy’s too old to rock n’roll, but too stupid to stop”, there is a lot of that at RR. The pastoral folk of Jess Morgan is next, a tired, sun crinkled audience enjoy her tales of Norfolk. Sat in the sun listening to Jess sing Brooklyn is there anything finer? Later we sat together on a tree stump and watched Danni Nicholls, which is a good day. I think the next band might be a novelty act, difficult to tell, all yolked shirts and Stetsons, the Demi Johns could be a Rich Hall stunt and they sound like Ask Elvis? on Steve Wright. Merch seller of the day goes to John Rampton, gruff voiced, and with a resonator guitar he creates a hypnotic trance of blues leaving the crowd shouting for more before flocking to buy his wares after his gig.
Slipping along the forest rides again to the big top it’s time for some four part space cowboy pysch rock from Hanging Stars, I really dug their other world etherealness, the Amish hat and poncho is a great look, they sound like a baking hot drive up Big Sur, all West Coast Cali-Teenage Fanclub music with a touch of Dick Dale surf, Walthamstow style. With a slew of new songs and Lushy and the sax running rampant, Danny & The Champions of the World were very special. They appeared genuinely pleased to be there, and Lowe aside, were just the best thing there all weekend, just. Closing up was the high octane rock n’ soul, funk heavy Barrence Whitfield, powerful and just great fun he sent us back to our sleeping bags with some wise words; “Dig Yourself”.