Cloud9 Festival - Love Lane Farm, Cheshire

Cloud9 Festival opens it doors once more in the Cheshire countryside. Congleton, more specifically, say the organisers. Hmmph. Rode Heath, I say. Hey, it may well make sense to advertise the damn thing with reference to the nearest town, but Congleton’s miles away. Love Lane Farm is, just to be absolutely, painfully clear on this point, in Rode Heath, a village so close to the Staffordshire/Cheshire border, no-one really knows what county it’s actually in. Least of all the Stokies who shuffle seven or eight miles north in a bid to escape the Potteries murk and tell themselves they live in a house, a reasonably big (but largely 70’s built) house in the country. The questionable housing and uncertain identity (leafy Holmes Chapel is a ten minute drive away but then so, in the other direction, is Burslem) is assuaged somewhat by location (plonked partway between the M6 and the A50 and kind of in the middle of nowhere) and quality hostelries (The Royal Oak tops the table.) Cloud9 sets up camp in a location ripe for mocking. But hey, I used to live there and I’m from Stoke. So I can say what I like.

And I say this: festivals suck. Big time. One of these days, someone with too much time on his hands and an agenda too cynical for words (not me, then) will do some proper research into just how many festival goers frequent proper gigs. You know, the kind that take place in clubs, halls and theatres, free of rain and mud and populated by the kind of wild, gnarly creatures who’ve ripped themselves free of this watery notion that communal gatherings with a background of Coldplay and Elbow are really where it’s at. Hunter wellies (teamed with denim cut-offs, clearly the de rigueur fashion choice for your festival hipster) have yet to make their presence felt in the Academies and Apollos of the world but they dominate here. Because, of course, it’s not about the music anymore, it’s about the atmosphere. Oh, such sweet bollocks ! Atmosphere? Atmosphere, my arse.

And so to the music. A pat on the back for the Cloud9 organisers, savvy enough to install The Futureheads as worthy headliners of an event this size (5,000 capacity) and awake enough to get an ascendant Ed Sheeran on the bill just weeks before he cemented himself to the top 10 with ‘The A Team’. If elsewhere, the focus is clearly on quantity rather than quality, a £27.50 ticket price confirms the organisers have ambition but live in the real world. They come from all four corners of the field for Sheeran. He’s not without charm, of course, but his acoustic whimsy will need to prove itself beyond its hobo campfire chops if he’s to avoid being the next Nizlopi. Either way, he goes down a storm, playing the crowd well with just a scruffy acoustic and despite suffering at the hands of the PA. As the day progresses, one thing becomes painfully clear – it ain’t bleedin’ loud enough. (Stick that one on your punchlist for next year, Cloud9 bods.)

Four small tents offer different variations on a theme, three of them DJ-led and The c.a.l.m. Stage sporting bands and singers. The former are all full and bouncing even early on. The latter, sadly, throws up little distraction, The Glavins another guitar act whose influences rarely leave the house. My mate, spying questionable influences: “People still want to be Liam Gallagher? Really?”

A surprise on the main stage mid-afternoon comes in the shape of Rotating Leslie. They spin up a commendable brew of soul pop that gains gravitas via a singer whose delivery owes much to the mighty Kevin Rowland and whose presence is undeniable. Capable, jaunty backing seals the deal. Ditch the shit name, lads, and we might be talking. Talking of shit names, here’s The Sunshine Underground. They take to the stage as the night darkens and there are loud cheers. I have to say, they’ve completely passed me by so it’s a head scratcher when the crowd sings along to a couple of tracks. All industrious beats and fat choruses, buy for the man in your life who likes a bit of Doves but nothing too dancey, you know? Good on ‘em for grabbing hold of the event but they leave me cold. The bass player wearing a tight black vest is somewhat troubling in 2011 and my ever-cynical companion leans in and nails it: “What’s your favourite Cutting Crew song?”

And so to petits fours and coffee. The Futureheads, going about the business of being both cerebral and punk-rock with effortless ease, almost allow you to forget just how much you rely on them in an often tiresome scene. Until, that is, you realise you’ve bought all their records and seen them more times than you can recall. Their modesty frustrates but such is the price of charm and wit (acerbic but good-humoured, ineffably northerm. Proper, then.) They punch holes in the blackening skies with a set taut and classy. ‘Struck Dumb’, ‘Decent Days and Nights’, ‘Heartbeat Song’ – songs to learn and sing. Barry, the ever-able showman, directs attention away from the f***ing irritating boars who bellow the “Oh-oh-oh-oh”s from ‘Hounds of Love’ and you almost wish they don’t play it. But they do. As much as it would have been funny to disappoint the dickheads, The Futureheads, as always, confirm the art of stagecraft often goes hand in hand with respect for your audience. Even when some of them, on the can-throwing evidence of a drunken minority, don’t deserve it. Running order issues sees their set cut short to a mere 40 minutes which is unforgivable, frankly.

So, twelve hours in a rainy field for, ultimately, not much more than a drop of water on the tongue. Surely, it would be churlish to suggest that a brighter supporting bill would have made the wait for the headliners more bearable and congratulations to Cloud9 to booking them in the first place. But a few brighter distractions throughout the day might even have justified a few more quid on the ticket price. As festivals of this size proliferate, here’s a hesitant recommendation for this one; passionately curated, no doubt, but let’s hope the organisers take note of some its failings (including a lack of draught beer and charging £3.30 for a can) when they’re planning next year’s. I’m man enough to look in the mirror and know where most of the problem lies, of course: you can drone on in your Hunters about the atmosphere till the cows some home but my four walls and a roof are rock to your scissors every time.

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