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Cotton Clouds Festival 2017: The view from Far Out

With brand new festivals popping up every summer at a rate almost too fast for even us here at Far Out to keep up with, it’s more important than ever for inaugural events to hit the ground running.

Recent horror stories from the likes of Hope & Glory in Liverpool, and even the well-established Y-Not will likely send shivers down the spines of those who dare to part with their hard-earned cash for a ticket to either (should they happen again) next year.

However, with a stunning location just a stone’s throw from Manchester and Oldham – and a vibrant three-stage bill with much to offer for a comparative bargain of 40 quid – Cotton Clouds always looked like a decent bet for success.

Very much a daytime affair, the festival takes over Saddlewoth Cricket Club, nestled within the sprawling Pennines. The event’s versatility proves to be one of its finest strengths – offering a relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere within ’boutique-style’ surroundings, married with a lineup that provides classics and fresh talent alike to keep more discerning music fans satisfied.

Another charming feature is the festival’s intent to give local talent their fair share of the spotlight – something we’re immediately struck by as we listen to Oldham trio Gardenback, who play up to their grand performance space on the Main Stage with a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’.

The other two stages are located on the left side of the site in far smaller tents – one of which is curated by recently established Manchester venue Jimmy’s. The day’s lineup over here spans a host of acts who stood out at the Newton Street bar since its inception a few months’ back. One such success have been 60s revivalists Ethan and the Reformation, who provide some blissful guitar-pop early on.

The evening’s Main Stage headliners The Coral have long been champions of the band who prove to be our highlight of the day over at the third stage, the Tim Peaks Diner. Jangling Marr-tinged guitars and some soaring harmonies make The Sundowners the perfect soundtrack to the mid-afternoon.

If there is one tweak needed to what is otherwise a flawless first event, it is perhaps that queues at the main bar on site (also expertly stocked by Jimmy’s) start to mount as the afternoon progresses, meaning this is our vantage point for a large portion of electro-rockers The Whip’s glorious homecoming show. The band have been extremely quiet for almost a decade, but re-announce themselves with commanding new material and old favourites that sound just as fresh as they did first time around.

Then as evening arrives it’s back over to a packed-out Jimmy’s tent for what has to be our set of the festival. With only a few single releases under their belts, it’s been a fucking great year for The Blinders with a summer of festivals that must have surely won them many a new fan – and Cotton Clouds seems to be no different an occasion in this respect, playing host to a visceral set from the grunge-infused Doncaster three-piece. Any nae-sayers who claim guitar music is dead must really think again.

After the wide-ranging nature of the acts on the bill is again demonstrated by a Main Stage show from Haircut 100’s Nick Heyward, it’s time for the real showstoppers. Flight schedules mean headliners The Coral take to the stage before hip-hop legends The Sugarhill Gang, but the switch actually turns out to be a master stroke, with the encapsulating psychedelia of the Wirral stalwarts complimenting the descending sun beautifully. At an hour’s length, we’re left gagging for more after the unmistakable groove of ‘Dreaming of You’ brings the set to an end. Tracks from last year’s Distance Inbetween stand up tall alongside classics from the band’s self-titled masterpiece.

As darkness arrives, many of the younger audience members are taken to the exits in their push chairs, which seems to make for something of a more high-octane atmosphere for the festival’s curtain-closer. The Sugarhill Gang bring all the hits and more, dipping into Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s arsenal for good measure.

Envisaging a mass-chant-along of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in the sleepy Saddleworth hills would have seemed like a fantasy as little as a year ago. However, the widespread popularity and seamless running of the first edition of Cotton Clouds means it will surely be back to greet us with another beaming smile this time next year. It’s been the best kind of summertime all-dayer.

Patrick Davies