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Head For The Hills 2018

This festival has seen many changes over the years – some good, some bad – but has always aspired to be innovative in its booking policy. Previous years have seen many new bands being given a stage and support, as The Slow Readers Club will testify. They were on one of the smaller stages a couple of years ago and this year headlined the main stage.

Having covered this festival for a few years and watched it develop, last year I focused on the volunteers, who continue to make the whole thing tick. That year, I was also struck by the diverse female-fronted acts that consistently challenged and rewarded audiences with creative and spellbinding performances, and they were similarly prevalent this year.

First up on the main stage were LIINES, for what was a cracking start. Great guitars and sounding fearlessly like early Cure with Patti Smith on vocals. They have a distinctive voice and stick beautifully to it. Friday night is always a great night at this festival and the fun continued with Emily Capell, who owns the stage and spins colourful tales akin to Joe Strummer’s lyric book. With a dynamite band, the show was a real crowd pleaser.

Still reeling and it’s time for The Lovely Eggs, who are currently hipper than a five-gear Raleigh Chopper bike and ready to roll. They come on with the buzz of Black Sabbath and the Fall. It’s relentless and exhilarating and, like The Ramones, by the time you’ve recovered your senses, they’ve left the stage. Later, baby.

Saturday had to keep the vibe going and, blessed with good weather, it became a more laidback day sprinkled with the occasional diamond. Step up Jess Kemp with a confident and strong voice, who halfway through her set managed to cover Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Be With You Everywhere’ and morph it into ‘Pysco Killer’. Qu’est-ce que c’est? No, I don’t know how she did it either, but it worked.

Stealing Sheep skipped onto the main stage and set a sweet tone for the afternoon as the kids romped in the sunshine. Their arch techno pop with boundless ebullience and infectious harmonies and character swooped over the festival and kids old and young loved it. The refrain of “You got to be joking me,” from the song of the same name, stuck with everyone and was heard in the bars late on into the night.

The highlight of Sunday’s fare was Lizzie Nunnery, a singer-songwriter and playwright who delivered assured and heartfelt Scouse folk tales through the ages. With everything else bustling all around, Lizzie held her audience and deservedly won some new friends.

Talking to these artists, it became quickly apparent that this festival was notable for being enlightened when it came to booking acts based on gender balance. As Layla from LIINES said, they avoid the “dark arts of festival booking policy”. Another common thread was that there should be more women in the music industry and not just as ‘token’ gestures. It’s something this festival acknowledges and supports.

And is there a reason why female music was so diverse and less formulaic than their male counterparts? For Stealing Sheep’s part, they cite influences not only musical, like Bjork or Kate Bush, but also political, like their work on the suffragettes and Lizzie Nunnery’s depiction on the hard reality of hard northern working life.

When you get close to a festival like this, it’s impossible not to hear gossip, moans and gripes about change. But if the essence of the festival is intact and you don’t deviate from a booking policy that’s brought you this far, then let it roll. Funding is always an issue, but ethics are not, so stand firm and evolve and protect the reason why your festival is so revered.

Here’s to next year. Oh, another thing, I now know what Silent Disco is. That’s all you need to know.

Background photo of Stealing Sheep by Malc Burke Photography.

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