Review and Photography by John Bentley

The Travelling Band
The Travelling Band

There are people saying that there are too many music festivals these days. However, why should there only be a few major regional events, with the accompanying big crowds, travel chaos and heavy commercialisation? Why not have smaller events that we can all easily get to, which are more comfortable all round, can give more exposure to local bands and which still attract big names? The Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival seems to fulfil this role admirably.

Campers arriving at the Festival
Campers arriving at the Festival

Now in its fifth year, Cloudspotting had a modest start in a Lancashire pub in 2011. It’s now grown to a three day weekend festival in the middle of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, using Forestry Commission buildings and facilities, which means it’s got decent loos for a start! The festival offers not only ongoing live music on two stages from lunchtime until late, but also activities, such as yoga, films, arts and music workshops and plenty of kids entertainment, as well as walking and biking trails for those feeling more energetic. Oh, and there’s also a good selection of ales in the Beer Tent and a variety of good food available. Camping takes place conveniently near to the main music stage too, so you can even listen from your tent. Overall the Festival weekend runs pretty smoothly and is a credit to the organisers.

Wheelbarrow transport to the camp site
Wheelbarrow transport to the camp site

The emphasis is on established and emerging alternative music and the menu is pretty diverse, from indie rock, to folk, country, electronica and even some jazz. What initially attracted my attention to the festival was the quality of the main acts on offer this year. At first I couldn’t believe that a small festival could offer us the likes of Ezra Furman, Dutch Uncles, The Earlies, The Wave Pictures, Jane Weaver and The Lovely Eggs. But it did. In addition you get to see a lot of interesting up-and-coming bands. Another bonus is that the music is synchronised on two stages so you never have to choose between watching different acts.

The Main Stage Field
The Main Stage Field

So where to start with this review? Let’s begin with the quirky ambiance. The Festival is accessed down minor roads into the forest. At least one headline act was late, because they claimed it was hard to find. Then there’s the process of campers getting from the car park to the site: for this purpose green wheelbarrows are for hire and there are some strange sights of overloaded barrows and mattresses being carried on heads. The British weather does its usual tricks. Friday and Saturday offer some nice Summer sunshine and warmth – but unfortunately insects too. Quite a few people seem to have remembered to bring insect repellent, but unfortunately no one seems to have told the midges that they are supposed to be repelled. Then rain sets-in on Sunday, but fortunately it’s not the heaviest variety. But the real upside is that those pesky insects don’t like the rain and give us all a break.

Holly and David of The Lovely Eggs receive advice on insect repellent
Holly and David of The Lovely Eggs receive advice on insect repellent

Day 1 kicks off in a folky manner, with accomplished Zydeco / Cajun music from Hull-based outfit The Hut People, featuring accordion, washboard – and also a bit of tap dancing. Two local Lancashire rock bands demonstrate contrasting styles. Ragamuffins play up-beat songs and feature a tasty bit of trumpet playing. Also well-received are Clitheroe quintet Good Foxy, who play compelling bluesy rock, demonstrating indie influences like The Stone Roses. This young band, who have their debut album launch in September, demonstrate terrific musical skill and energy and really gel together as a unit.

Ragamuffins
Ragamuffins

A real treat is provided by all-female trio Haiku Salut who play electronic-based instrumentals, also featuring guitar, trumpet, accordion and percussion. They sound as if they may have listened to Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ at some stage, but their sound is fresh and original, so much so that I head off to buy their latest album after the set.

Good Foxy
Good Foxy

With lead-man Dave Tattersall having played solo earlier, The Wave Pictures perform an early evening set. It gets off to an awkward start as one of those wretched insects gets into Dave’s shirt mid-guitar solo, but he carries on in a thoroughly professional manner. Tattersall is a great guitar player, with various apparent influences, including African styles. The set includes the single ‘Pea Green Coat’, with its memorable lyric, ‘Everybody in the station wore black, and then there’s you in your pea green coat’, which Dave claims got to No99 in the charts.

Haiku Salut
Haiku Salut

And then we come to one of my favourite bands of the present, Lancaster’s The Lovely Eggs. I’ve been knocked out by them since I did an on-line trawl through their crazy, but down-to-earth videos and saw their gig at Preston a few months ago (reviewed for Gig Junkies). The Eggs are Holly Ross and David Blackwell, who are a sort of gender-reversed guitar and drums White Stripes They kick off with ‘Ordinary People Unite’ (an ode to being ordinary) from their latest album ‘This is Our Nowhere’. It’s typical of their self-penned songs –buzz guitar, short and gritty, with simple, but great witty lyrics. They whip through a 40 minute set of 12 of their best-known songs, including ‘Fuck It!’ (children cover your ears, please!). They end with fan favourite ‘Don’t Look at Me’, the video for which featured comedian John Shuttleworth. They leave the stage and, in awe, I purchase a coloured vinyl copy of the new album from David, with Holly giving me the change from her handbag!

The Wave Pictures
The Wave Pictures

Also very impressive are the late-night headliners for Day 1, Dutch Uncles. Singer and keyboard player Duncan Wallis explains to us that their big influences are the 1980s and prog-rock. A strange combination, but you can see it in their set. Their songs are very danceable and Wallis sounds like he would have been quite at home in an 80s pop band. There’s a very funky baseline and a real vibe to the music. The set includes many of their singles and draws heavily on the last couple of albums. They end with a notable cover of Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’. A big-hitting band.

The Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs

Folkestra launch the music for Day 2. The Lancashire 6-piece band play stomping folk-punk in the vein of The Levellers and The Pogues. They enjoy a good bit of banter with the audience, at one stage getting amusingly confused as to whether they are offering the audience badges or badgers. They decide badgers would be more interesting. Clearly someone needs speech therapy. The band really seem to be enjoying themselves, particularly the banjo player, who is in a world of his own and, hands-down, would win any competition for the best moustache at the festival.

Dutch Uncles
Dutch Uncles

Dutch Uncles, lead singer Duncan Wallis
Dutch Uncles, lead singer Duncan Wallis

Canadian Zachery Lucky performs a hypnotic set of country material. Rozi Plain also has a rather nice voice, whispering vocals over sparse backing, with a groove that seems to build as the songs progress. She is on a national tour and refers to the festival as in Yorkshire. She’s slightly embarrassed and apologetic as it’s pointed out that it’s Lancashire. However, she is not entirely wrong, as this part of The Forest of Bowland was actually part of The West Riding of Yorkshire until boundary changes in 1974 put it into Lancashire (as Michael Caine might say, not a lot of people know that). Not that anyone cares about such a minor gaffe and her set is well received. However, if she’d been at a gig in Yorkshire and had claimed it was Lancashire that might have been a different matter.

Saturday morning percussion workshop
Saturday morning percussion workshop

Harp and a Monkey are an interesting little ensemble. They do have a harp, but no monkey. The first part of their set is made up of thoughtful songs about The First World War, while they finish with material based on their native Lancashire, including a song about a lecherous mole-catcher. The band is normally a three piece, but today is augmented by two of their (very) young offspring, who have been given a toy guitar and xylophone to play along.

Folkestra
Folkestra

Saturday’s late-night headliners are the reformed The Earlies, however, several of their members make appearances solo or in other bands over the festival weekend. First solo member of the Earlies on stage is singer-songwriter-pianist Sara Lowes, performing songs from her new album. There’s some nice retro-organ playing and at times the set gets quite heavy, almost in the vein of Van Der Graaf Generator. Meanwhile two small children, who have clearly been watching too much ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, waltz together in front of the stage to Sara’s amusement. Round the corner on the other stage, Colorama’s frontman, Carwyn Ellis performs a solo set on guitar.

Zachary Lucky
Zachary Lucky

Two experimental electronic acts have afternoon slots, starting with Third Thumb, who use conventional guitars and drums, together with gadgets, to create soundscapes, which loop and are added to as individual tracks are built-up from scratch by the duo. I don’t pretend to understand how it’s done, but it’s clever stuff. Dirty Tactics play an interesting sort of folktronica – a duo collaboration of a folkie and a DJ. It’s a real mix-up of styles, original, although maybe at times a little like Portishead, particularly on the spooky track ‘Shouldn’t Have Bought This Gun’, with its eerie police siren.

Rozi Plain
Rozi Plain

A highlight of the day are the wonderfully wacky and colourful Flamingods. They are very much in the sphere of Sweden’s Goat, playing a sort of tribal-techno-psychedelic mix. The set is fast paced, with the exotically clad band members moving around between instruments and not keeping still for a minute. Frantic and enjoyable. Later it seems strange to see the band members casually walking around the festival site in ordinary clothes.

Harp and a Monkey
Harp and a Monkey

Jane Weaver’s ‘The Silver Globe’ album was one of my favourites of 2014. A weird mix of space-rock, folk and electronics it is full of great swirling tunes, with Jane’s crystal voice dominating the proceedings. Backed by some very solid musicians, Jane performs a set mostly drawn from the album and featuring key songs like ‘The Electric Mountain’, ‘Don’t Take My Soul’ and ‘Your Time in this Life is Just Temporary’. Her voice seems a little low in the mix tonight and I do feel that the dramatic material deserves more spectacle in its presentation. However, this is a festival situation and under her silver cape Jane is wearing wellies.

Sara Lowes
Sara Lowes

The Earlies haven’t performed together for eight years, but tonight they reunite on a crowded stage as an 11-piece band to play old and new material in style. It’s around midnight before start their set and there is a bit of hanging around to sort out technical problems. They have a new EP to promote, ‘Message From Home’, and Cloudspotting is set to be their only festival appearance this year, although they are playing four other dates in big cities around the UK. It looks like Cloudspotting is privileged because the British contingent of this Anglo-American band is based here in Lancashire. In their time The Earlies only recorded two albums, with the debut, 2005’s ‘These Were The Earlies’, receiving big-time critical approval. It is rather majestic cross-genre music – once described by The Guardian as “country-meets-prog-meets-electronica symphonies”. I have to confess that I’m not very familiar with their work and, with the late start, I have to leave before the end, but the set is very well received and sounds pretty hot.

Keeping warm with the help of silver foil, Saturday night
Keeping warm with the help of silver foil, Saturday night

Third Thumb
Third Thumb

Day 3, Sunday, arrives and with it the rain. Most people seem kitted-out for the worst weather and it doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm. In fact the rain has the effect of making people move close up to the main stage for shelter and this creates a more intimate atmosphere between performers and audience.

Dirty Tactics
Dirty Tactics

Three piece band Oishala play an eclectic mixture of songs, ranging from the Jungle Book’s ‘I Wanna be Like You’ to Buena Vista Social Club’s ‘Chan Chan’, with fine guitar-picking thrown in. More Earlies members appear in the novel soul-prog set by Tokolosh. Then we have some jazz from the Nicola Farnon Trio. She sings and plays double bass, backed by two classy musicians playing keyboards / sax and drums. The set consists of standards from ‘Fever’, to an interesting up-beat version of the traditional ‘Wayfaring Stranger’. The set finishes with another great cover, this time of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, probably best known in the version by Nina Simone (and used as the music for the BBC’s Film Night). Farnon has a very infectious and bubbly enthusiasm that gets people dancing in the rain.

Flamingods
Flamingods

Irish musician Seamus Fogarty has a strangely enigmatic quality. He talks about and performs songs about his life, such as working on a building site in Chicago and getting drunk and sleeping through two masses in Carlow Cathedral. He plays guitar and uses his laptop and gadgetry to create sound loops and effects. Interesting stuff from a guy who seems to have lived an eventful life. There’s more quirky stuff from Lancaster-based Stephen Hudson, performing songs from his forthcoming album, with his band, the unusually named The Fiat Pandas. Meanwhile duo Bird to Beast perform a mixed range of songs and produce some nice vocal harmonies.

'Frogman' entertainer
‘Frogman’ entertainer

Jane Weaver
Jane Weaver

The Travelling Band provide a much-needed bit of adrenalin on the main stage, in the build-up to the Festival finale. They play some great country-tinged rock and guitar wig-outs to wake the audience up at the difficult teatime period (what has been dubbed ‘the Lionel Richie slot’ at the Glastonbury festival). Notably they do a solid workmanlike cover of Neil Young’s ‘Walk On’, having persuaded a few audience members to ‘kneel for Neil’ (as they apparently do when Young’s songs are played in his native Canada). In return those who comply are offered a copy of the band’s live album.

Nicola Farnon / Stephen Hudson
Nicola Farnon / Stephen Hudson

The Earlies, lead singer Brandon Carr
The Earlies, lead singer Brandon Carr

The Earlies
The Earlies

This Is The Kit is the band of Kate Stables. She has an appealing soft voice and sensitive songs. The highlight of the set is when Kate sings on her own, backed only by her guitar. The band are appearing at various festivals, but she seems particularly keen on the atmosphere at this one. Honeyfeet’s Facebook entry describes them as ‘folk-hop, ethio-trad, barrelhouse-pop’. I’m not sure what that is supposed to sound like, but they make a pretty amazing concoction of sound, mostly blues-jazz-soul orientated. Central to the band is singer and flautist Ríoghnach Connolly, who has an incredible voice somewhere in the region of Amy Winehouse meets Janis Joplin.

Seamus Fogarty / This Is The Kit
Seamus Fogarty / This Is The Kit

Bird to Beast
Bird to Beast

And so to the Festival finale and what turns out to be a real star act – Ezra Furman. This seems to be Ezra’s moment. He has just released his third solo album, ‘Perpetual Motion People’, which has received massive praise. His previous album ‘Day of the Dog’ (2013) also got fantastic acclaim. Furman has his own unique take on rock and roll and has been compared to Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman. He has attracted a lot of attention for outrageous cross-dressing on stage (though not tonight), but beneath the veneer he is a clever lyricist, dealing with serious subjects like personal demons.  He also dresses up his often serious material in crazy tunes, with spouting saxophone and doo-wop. Tonight Ezra and his band The Boyfriends play material mostly from these two albums and their associated singles. So we get some great songs like ‘Hark to the Music’, ‘Restless’, ‘Caroline Jones’, ‘Lousy Connection’, ‘My Zero’ and ‘ I Wanna Destroy Myself’.

Honeyfeet
Honeyfeet

On stage Furman seems to judder nervously, seemingly not knowing what he is going to do next and it’s as if everything seems to take him by surprise. He appears genuinely taken aback and overjoyed by the crowd reception he gets. Generally strict festival timings don’t allow for encores, but for Furman there is an exception. He comes back on and performs his version of the much-covered song made famous by Jackie Wilson, ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’. He leaves the stage with a wave as The Boyfriends play the song out. As the band start to walk off, he suddenly returns holding his hand up and shouting “No, wait”, before launching into another verse. The crowd go nuts, he is a star.

Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends

Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends

Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends

Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends
Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends

And so a great fifth Cloudspotting Festival ends, with a big bang and not a whimper.

Smokey bacon
Smokey bacon

2 Responses to “The Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival, Stephen Park, Gisburn Forest, Slaidburn, Lancashire, UK, 24th – 26th July 2015”

  1. Jonathan McGrath Says:

    Hello there, my name is Jonathan and I feature above as the ‘frogman’ I was wondering if I could get a copy of this image for the archive on my website? I will of course give full credit to the photographer.

    Kind regards

    Jonathan

  2. john bentley Says:

    Photo sorted, cheers Jonathan

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