Though I left Cotton Clouds 2017 as a happy punter, I was very much of the opinion that there were several improvements to be made. The addition of a Friday night and a VIP area were not amongst those changes, so I was somewhat apprehensive about what to expect from the 2018 event, which had been extended to include a Friday night and a VIP event. This addition seemed like a bizarre, and somewhat ambitious expansion, for the second year of the Saddleworth based festival, which very much attracts a local crowd.

Image courtesy of Sonic PR

Upon a drizzly arrival at the festival site on Friday evening, we were greeted by the dulcet tones of local legend Badly Drawn Boy, whose set was coming to a close. Perhaps not the most rapturous start to the weekend, but pleasant to hear old favourites nonetheless.

As the rain continued to beat down we retreated to the bar, which I’m pleased to report seemed much better than in 2017 – where a confusing token system, which was eventually abandoned, lead to me spending much of the festival stood in Cotton Queues. Drinks were very reasonably priced, and the limited edition Cotton Clouds Ale on offer from local Donkeystone Brewery was a refreshing change from the often overpriced and underwhelming beer options usually found at festivals.
The bar was, mercifully, also one of the few areas undercover – only those with VIP tickets were allowed into the other two tents on site, which housed stages only to be used on the Saturday. These tents were mostly empty, and as umbrellas were removed from the hands of punters at the gates, the bars remained the main hub of activity through Chali 2na & Krafty Kuts’ set of ‘old skool’ hip-hip which set the crowd off boogying and was a refreshing step away from the very guitar-indie focus of the Friday line-up.

Next up were the Pigeon Detectives. As a child of mid-2000s indie I was ashamed to admit that whilst I couldn’t name a song of theirs, I was fairly certain I’d be able to sing along to a fair few. The last time I saw them was at Leeds Festival in 2008, at the peak of their popularity and whilst the audience they were playing to here was a little more… mature… they played a set of back-to-back indie bangers, including ‘I Found Out’, ‘Take Her Back’ and ‘This is an Emergency’ which had the crowd singing along.

The Pigeon Detectives were followed by another indie stalwart, though this time of the 1990’s, Lightning Seeds – who have, of course, enjoyed a recent revival following England’s World Cup fortunes. Again, their set was full of well-known hits such as ‘Lucky You’, ‘Sense’, and ‘Pure’. The crowd were crying out for ‘Three Lions’ though; but unfortunately the plug was pulled midway through the intro by those pesky licensing rules – that didn’t stop the crowd from giving it a good go on the walk back to the train station! I am reliably informed by my co-attendee, who saw the setlist, that it was free of any football anthems but good on the band for trying to give the crowd what they wanted.

Overall I was very impressed with the Friday night, any reservations I had that adding a second day would detract from the issues that needed solving were allayed, though the proof would be in the pudding on Saturday.

The next day saw clearer skies and much larger crowds. A lot more families were in attendance, and the children’s area, set amongst a tent at the back of the arena, was much largeer than in the previous year. I was also pleased to see that there were six or seven food trucks, compared to the two that had been present both the year and the night previously – one of which introduced me to the joys of vegan haggis. I won’t be looking back after that one!

Photo by Bethany Crow

The first act we saw were Stockport outfit Fuzzy Sun, in the Tim Peaks Diner, who are riding high off the back of a recent slot supporting Blossoms. It’s easy to see the link between the two acts in terms of sound, I enjoyed their synthpop take on modern indie immensely. We then caught a bit of The K’s – a band who played at Highest Point Festival in Lancaster early in the summer – in the Spinning Top, whose high energy set had the crowd bopping along.

We then moved out to the main stage to catch Toploader. Their big hit ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ had the crowds dancing in the the sunlight, and their rousing cover of ‘Rocket Man’ had everyone crooning along. They ended their set with a reminiscing note of how they had once been on tour with Starsailor, who were up next… and a band called “Coldplay, not sure if you’ve heard of them?”

In the gap between Toploader and Starsailor we caught a little bit of Hyde Park Brass – a big brand cover outfit who knew how to show everyone a good time. We returned to the main stage for Starsailor – who I was approaching with a similar mood the Pigeon Detectives, in that I would probably be able to sing along more than I thought. I was right, and we enjoyed a cover of ‘Waterfall’, as well as their own hits ‘Good Souls’ and ‘Silence is Easy’. Whilst their set was very good, I felt they would perhaps have been suited to the slot before Toploader, owing to their more mellow sound. Or maybe I was just feeling sleepy after a few too many festival ales – who knows?

We then went to listen to The Orielles and their funky, indie rock, which pumped us back up for headliners – Sister Sledge. Their set included a moving tribute to Aretha Franklin set among an array of hits. ‘Lost in Music’ was one of the stand out moments of the weekend – and their finish with ‘We Are Family’ had the crowd dancing their way off site.

Image courtesy of Sonic PR

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Cotton Clouds 2018. For a festival that’s on my doorstep I really can’t make any complaints. The vibe is friendly and local, the beers and food are reasonably priced and tasty (and you don’t have to queue for a ridiculous amount of time for them). The portaloos were spotlessly clean and well stocked with toilet roll. One of the standouts, too, is the organisation of set times, meaning that you could see every act over the weekend, if you so desired. Last year I left Cotton Clouds impressed, but calling for improvements. This time, I’m just impressed and even more excited for 2019. Just let us bring our brollies in next time please.