Our roving reporter, Oliver Gray, gets back into the field as music opens up.
After a six-hour in-depth review of the M25, we arrived to the strains of Iraina Mancini, with a surprising and reassuringly old-fashioned and solid rock set. Challenged by many enforced line-up changes, the organisers incredibly put together an invigorating and almost entirely female opening night bill. There’s definitely a touch of Kacy and Clayton in the determinedly 70s music of Holly Macve and her band, as they set out to conjure up early Fairport and Jefferson Airplane. There’s a certain groove that is missing but it’s impressive nonetheless. If subtlety is what you want, Jade Bird is not for you. With her rasping tones and boundless, raucous enthusiasm, she brought to mind vintage Lulu. As such, she made the ideal Friday evening closer for a well-oiled and up-for-it audience.
Praise must go to Rupert Orton and gang for putting together such a strong bill, despite two previous cancelled events and a dearth of Americans able to travel. Even planned headliners Songhoy Blues from Mali had had to pull out. The music menu was still appetizing though, for example a raging Saturday wake-up from Future Shape Of Sound. The combination of the band’s seedy image and the cool soul of the vocalists made for great entertainment. Following on, the downbeat country tribute of the many-headed Heartworn Highways could hardly have been more different, but their Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt covers were precisely to the taste of the mellow afternoon audience.
Philadelphia’s Native Harrow (now resident in Brighton) have upgraded themselves to a trio and brought some sophisticated cool with offerings from their last two albums, plus a stunning new song called ‘Old Kind Of Magic’. Devin Tuel’s ethereal vocals were a lesson in understatement, something that the following Izo Fitzroy was less schooled in. A thrilling surprise came in the form of some heavy blues-rock guitar workouts from Ida Mae. With Ethan Johns on drums, they’re very much in the mould of Band Of Skulls. They created a fantastic sense of a band on the cusp of greatness, a true festival thrill for everyone present.
After that, the blur of instrument-swapping and stylistic confusion that characterises Kitty, Daisy and Lewis couldn’t help but feel a tad lightweight. The bona fide star of the Saturday night was Richard Hawley, and he didn’t disappoint. A screamingly funny lead-up entailed Hawley’s hapless technician repeatedly attempting to set up his “iPad on a stick” in such a way that the prompts would be legible to him. It worked, and not a word was forgotten, despite a mistaken and controversial claim that the festival was taking place in Sussex. It was a panoramic and impressive set of varying moods and a perfect Saturday climax. Hawley’s band presents his mellifluous melodies with smooth professionalism and some inspirational effects-laden electric guitar wig-outs.
We set up camp for the Sunday at the Little Red Rooster stage, which was the place to go for gems and oddities, such as a rare (and unannounced) performance by Tommy McLain & CC Adcock, a Hawaiian pedal steel master class from BJ Cole and some quirky songs by the magnificently eccentric Kimberley Rew (dueting with Lee Cave Berry). What a life the man has had, and what a unique band the Soft Boys were. Casually chucking your own ‘Walking On Sunshine’ and ‘Going Down To Liverpool‘ into your set is a pretty cool thing to be able to do.
Some hard rocking was now required and it came courtesy of the festival debut of James Walbourne’s His Lordship project. It’s all in place, the image, the gutsy rock trio concept (James front and centre) and catchy punk songs like the pandemic thrash ‘I’m So Bored Of Being Bored’. The tent nearly exploded. Every now and again, your ears really need a good old-fashioned bashing. Excitement was at fever pitch as they blasted through their new shout along punk anthem ‘Jackie Works For The NHS’. The venue went from empty to crammed as word spread about what was going on. As they blasted out ‘Wild One’, we could have been in the presence of The Stooges.
Pastiche band The Urban Voodoo Machine had a strong following among the Red Rooster regulars, who loved the contrived and pantomime-like presentation. They did have a good anti-Brexit song, called ‘Johnny Foreigner’. The Byrdsian harmonies and twinkling sounds of UK psych-groovers The Hanging Stars were a revelation, and it’s great to see that they’ve been signed to the respected Loose label. Their Syd Barrett echoes were suitably East Anglian.
The weekend drew to a close with contrasting moods on the two stages, as Ian Siegal’s blues extravaganza dominated the main arena, while over on the Little Red Rooster, Emily Barker and her delightful band were thoroughly charming the frozen masses with a set covering all stages of her long and varied career. She, like every performer on the bill, made a point of expressing the deep emotions felt by finally being able to communicate their art in person to a live audience. Red Rooster Festival had a huge amount to recommend it – dedicated and skilled organisers, a uniformly delightful, friendly, knowledgeable and laid-back crowd and an absolutely gorgeous setting. Against all the odds, they pulled off a triumph.