The Red Rooster Crows Triumphant at Euston Hall, Suffolk, August 27-29
Like the majority of Festivals, Red Rooster has suffered during the pandemic, with repeated cancellations and postponements throughout 2020 and into 2021 so there was a sense of relief mixed with trepidation when it was announced that the festival would take place over the Friday to Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend. Relief that life for live music fans was returning to normal and trepidation that the effects of the global pandemic were still being felt and there is still a lot of uncertainty in the live entertainment world right now. Sure enough, the organisers faced numerous challenges before the festival even got going including Sunday headliners Songhoy Blues having to drop out due to ongoing travel restrictions and Elles Bailey having to cancel due to the dreaded “pingdemic” less than 48 hours before the start. However, these inconveniences were not going to stop the organisers putting on a fine festival, and so Friday 27th arrived, the site opened, and festivalgoers started arriving. In order to keep infections down, all roosters, crew and artists were required to provide a recent negative lateral flow test stick to gain access to the site. Once onsite, people were greeted by a smiling crew that did all they could to move people as quickly as possible to their pitches so tents could be set up, motorhomes hooked-up and folks could start to relax and get into the festival groove.
With all the logistics of getting people on site, Friday was a relatively easy day, with only the main stage seeing any action and even that starting in the early evening. Sister Cookie had the honour of being the festival opening act, and her jazz-tinged blues and soul set had the crowd calling for more. There were some gremlins in the sound system which also affected the following acts – Singer/Songwriter Iriana Mancini, and Irish country & western singer, Holly Macve. Thankfully the majority of the gremlins had been squashed by the time headliner Jade Bird came on. By this time the tent was full, the festival was in full swing, and Bird was the perfect act to close out the first day. Her raw and robust vocal and music that is best described as Indie-Americana had the crowd warming to her and her band very quickly. Far rockier live than on record, Bird, and touring guitarist Luke Prosser form an entertaining double act keeping the audience engaged, while the Rhythm section drive things along at a tidy lick, getting feet tapping, hips moving and hands clapping throughout the crowd.
Saturday dawned, and brought with it some light, unforecasted, rain (but what is a festival without rain?) and the anticipation of a head-to-head showdown between the two headliners, Richard Hawley, and Lady Blackbird. Hawley, once guitarist for Britpop bands Longpigs and Pulp, has built a twenty-year solo career and collaborated with a diverse range of stars, from Nancy Sinatra to All Saints. He and his band delivered a storming set on the main stage in front of a packed crowd, opening with the thundering “Off My Mind” before settling into a mellower vein for the rest of the set. Meanwhile, over on the Little Red Rooster Stage Lady Blackbird (Marley Munroe) was entertaining a similar sized crowd perched on Straw bales in front of the small shack-like stage. She faced a long delay while some persistent sound issues were dealt with but soon had the crowd in raptures. With her powerful, raw voice and style, it is inevitable that comparisons with Grace Jones, Amy Winehouse and Billy Holliday have been drawn. With both the Main Stage and the Little red Rooster stage in action, along with the DJ Tent – Howling Woods – running all day, there was a lot to take in.
Little Red Rooster stage is aimed at more rootsy, blues and folk acts and there were some real treats to be found there for those brave enough to ignore the intermittent showers. Standout acts were Danny R & Paul Gillings with their rootsy porch-blues, Paul-Ronney Angel, front man of the Urban Voodoo Machine with guests Luke Arnold on harmonica, and Slim, also of the UVM, on Accordion, playing recent classics such as “Oh Pandemic” and “2020 You’ve been a pain in the Ass”. South London Trio Jimmy Regal and the Royals were on later in the afternoon with some Mississippi/New Orleans style blues before the highlight of the early evening, The Coalminers, a swamp-soul/funk group fronted by possibly the tallest man in music, Tommy Hare. Calling on the spirit of Joe Cocker while trying to avoid banging his head on the stage roof, Tommy and the band delivered a rich soulful set that drew great appreciation from the crowd.
Meanwhile, over on the Main stage thinks were definitely hotting up. Offworld a collaboration between Richard Archer (Hard-fi) and Krysten Cummings, took the opening slot blasting the early risers with good time jazz, soul, and funk anthems. Surprise act of the day was The Future Shape of Sound. The London-based Gospel-blues octet, the brainchild of producer Alex MCGowan and fronted by Debbralee Wells delivered a short but oh-so-sweet set of gospel-tinged blues featuring the blistering vocals of Wells, the swamp-blues guitar of McGowan and embellished by the three-piece gospel section had the main stage full and jumping throughout their too-short set. Hindsight and popular opinion suggest they should have been far higher up the order. Later in the evening, local duo Ida Mae launched into their set and quickly demonstrated why they are causing hefty ripples in the UK and Nashville music scenes; a crowd-pleasing blend of americana and country blues that had people grooving to the rhythm. Kitty Daisy & Lewis, the multi-genre, multi-instrumentalist siblings from Camden kept the groove high with their infectious rock ‘n’ roll-based set, with their trademark switching of instruments throughout the set, before Richard Hawley closed out the day.
It was obvious on Sunday that people had indulged somewhat on Saturday, and the early roosters were few and far between. Another full day of music beckoned, and the focus was very much on the Main Stage. It seemed a shame to neglect the Little Red Rooster stage, but with so many great acts across both stages, tough decisions needed to be made. 4D Jones, appropriately attired for an early start at the Church of Rock n’ Roll in sharp suits set the bar high for the day with a blistering 30-minute set of take-no-prisoners rhythm & blues. Edinburgh-based 4-piece Black Cat Bone continued to drive the high-octane vibe with some magnificently dirty, sleazy grooves. Not the laid-back gentle start that many were hoping for, but boy, they certainly got the blood pumping. The Dirty Strangers then delivered their own brand of pub rock with Paul-Ronney Angel guesting on harmonica on their final number “Gold Cortina”. Things then calmed down a bit with a folk-rock set from Norfolk Roots-rockers Jose McGill and the Vagaband. Dublin songwriter CMAT (Ciara Mary Alice Thompson) was a late addition to the line-up and seemed better suited for the Little Red Rooster stage rather than the more frenetic, rockier, Main stage, and her audience reflected this.
Vying with Black Cat Bone for title of “Find of the Festival” His Lordship were an explosive rock n’ roll trio, somewhat reminiscent of The Jam in their early days, but much, much livelier. The Urban Voodoo Machine, those purveyors of “Bourbon-soaked Gypsy Blues, Bop and Stroll” pretty well stole the show on the Sunday. Fronted by Paul-Ronney Angel, the eight-piece, with Luke Arnold guesting later in the set, all dressed in their standard Black and Red, delivered a powerfully entertaining set in the way only they can and drove the crowd wild in the process. After 18 Months of being apart, it was clear tht the band were very excited to be playing again. The Honour of closing out the festival fell to Ian Siegal, and even with a scratch-band pulled together purely for the festival, delivered a full-on set featuring his trademark incendiary Slide Guitar to send the Roosters to their beds happy.
A lot of credit must go to Rupert Orton and the tireless crew and volunteers for their courage, vision, and determination in very uncertain times to make Red Rooster 2021 such a triumphant success.
Red Rooster was inaugurated in 2014 and is one of the newer, and smaller, festivals on the UK circuit. Even so, it has attracted a strong and loyal following with many Roosters, as the attendees are known, come year after year for their fix of Cajun, Soul, Rock n Roll, Blues, Roots and Country music, in the idyllic, Capability Brown-designed grounds of Euston Hall, in Suffolk. Known as a family-friendly and dog-friendly festival, there are plenty of activities to keep youngsters amused, from learning Stone Age survival tips to den-building and face-painting, and for the dogs there are agility courses, expert training, and pooch-pampering all on site.
Red Rooster 2022 will be held at Euston Hall on 3rd-5th June 2022 and tickets are on sale now