WHERE Greater Manchester meets the hills of Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley sits the small town of Ramsbottom. Head For The Hills festival is by far the biggest event in the town – or any of those surrounding for that matter.
For this reason, the buzz among early arrives on Saturday morning is at least in part due to the novelty of having a festival coming to town; a novelty that, six years from the inaugural event, has not quite worn off.
However, to say that this is a local interest affair would be to do a great disservice to the tremendous work that has evidently gone into both the lineup and the wide variety of all-ages activities taking place. It is to the organisers’ credit that HFTH feels like a much bigger festival than it is, before the first of the day’s acts even take the stage.
In the Chameleon Stage’s colourful tent, spectators are invited to listen through headphones as acts play through what will later become a silent disco. It is here that we find one of the afternoon’s first performers, singer-songwriter Toria Wooff, whose storytelling shines through her brilliantly-crafted, unique brand of vintage folk ballads.
On the main stage, indie combo Dantevilles promise to a small crowd that they’re going to “start the party early”. They deliver, playing a set of funky throwback tunes with a decidedly 80s vibe. The band are clearly having fun; cracking open cans in between songs, throwing out a cover of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ (with a little Sugarhill Gang thrown in) before closing on the energetic ‘Daydreamer’.
Festival mainstay and cult singer-songwriter Beans On Toast hits the Smaller Rooms tent, to a packed crowd of fans. Warning parents that his set may not be suitable for young fans, Beans (aka Jay McAllister) plays a couple of family-friendly songs before diving headfirst into odes to sex, drugs and political protest.
One of the most surreal moments of the day comes when he invites his friends from a gymnastics school to perform during a song about talking nonsense while drunk – apparently inspired by his inebriated promise to “make gymnastics sexy again”. Lots of laughs and the first sing-alongs of the day abound.
Dutch Uncles keep the main stage crowd dancing as the night gets colder, frontman Duncan Wallis’s stage presence, staccato vocals and robotic dance moves weaving around the intricate synthpop instrumentation and angular beats. Their art rock-via-electronica sound is clear in its influences – at one point, Wallis remarks “Yes, we do like Devo” – but the rhythmic complexity is offset by smooth grooves that the audience can’t help but move to. The Stockport collective end the set with a burst of guitar-led energy, before finishing on a funked-up cover of Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’.
On ‘T’Other Stage’, situated in the cricket pavillion, the vibes are more like a pub gig than a festival; the clubhouse kitchen sells pie and chips and local bands play loud, fast and in quick succession, none more energetic than stage headliners Heavy On The Magic.
The Manchester five-piece inject a dose of punk into the otherwise indieriffic lineup, delivering keyboard-infused post-punk groovers as the frontman struts around in silver leggings and a Jeremy Corbyn t-shirt. Their supposed set-closer ‘Weed Smoking Hippies Gonna Rule The World’ is followed by an impromptu Devo cover, ending the most raucous set of the day.
By the time headliner Beth Orton takes the stage, the temperature has dropped to a distinctly low point and the ever-growing crowd is feeling it. So too are Beth and her band, who take to the stage in winter coats. The set suits the colder weather in a strange way; Orton’s folktronica style is split in two here, as she opens with a collection of synth-led tracks, before stopping to acknowledge the lack of the folk songs she’s known for – “Why’s she doing that shit,” she wonders on behalf of the audience, “Why doesn’t she do that nice thing she does?”, before explaining the need to experiment and “try stuff” musically. This, like all the crowd interaction during the set, is slightly shy but endearing enough not to be awkward.
After some slightly more danceable numbers, the acoustic guitar makes a brief appearance, which the crowd respond well to. Following a brief return to the synthesiser, during which ‘Galaxy of Loneliness’ shimmers with atmosphere, the set ends on the truly showstopping ‘Central Reservation’, before the shivering songwriter waves and bids the audience a shy “Bye, thank you!”, ending a set low on hits but heavy on atmosphere – but definitely one slightly hampered by the cold.
By Joseph Stevens