REVIEW: Cloudspotting Festival 2017

Saturday night headliners Baloji at Cloudspotting Festival 2017. PHOTO MATT COLLINGE
Saturday night headliners Baloji at Cloudspotting Festival 2017. PHOTO MATT COLLINGE

“What’s the weather going to do?”

An essential question as our beloved July and August “summer holidays” become a confounded mix of blazing sunshine, battering rain storms, high winds, fork lightning, and grey, overcast days that smell of wet dog.

The annual parade at Cloudspotting. PHOTO MATT COLLINGE.

The annual parade at Cloudspotting. PHOTO MATT COLLINGE.

And then back to blazing sunshine again.

All this during Britain’s Festival Season, which has exploded over recent years into a colourful, vibrant, sometimes hardcore, often life affirming, celebration of music, food, drink, art, craft, dance, hope, expression...and camping.

They’ve sprung up in every corner of the country, in forests and fields, valleys and towns, by rivers and on plateaus overlooking the sea.

Legitimising the rave, stimulating the senses, taking a big...deep...breath...out.

Family fun at Cloudspotting

Family fun at Cloudspotting

Cloudspotting Festival in Gisburn Forest, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, had a spring in its step this year.

As one might expect, spending 72 hours mostly outside in a forest in a valley in Lancashire requires precautionary measures.

Last year, it was sunshine all the way. This year it was wellies, waterproof coats and trousers, ponchos, boots, sandles, sunglasses, jumpers, brollies and suncream.

Not necessarily in that order, and sometimes all at once.

The stage at The Enchanted Forest

The stage at The Enchanted Forest

However, sod the weather, as they say, and by Friday late morning we were off into the wilderness, parked up, camped up, connected with friends and family and ready to start the party.

Just a few hundred people attend Cloudspotting, and that’s one of the things we love about it.

The site is perfect for children to free range, never too far away to find, bounded by trees and fences and plenty of friendly stewards.

The two main stages alternate music, coordinated to ensure you’ve got time to move leisurely from one field to the next, grab a beer from the Q-Ale bar, or some food from one of the stalls, and take it easy...

If you want to stretch your legs, the new for this year Enchanted Forest stage is a five minute walk away.

Here there’s an outdoor covered stage, a storytelling and theatre yurt for the kids, and a big fire pit for late night poems, performances and collaborations.

During the day you can wander the soft, pine needle cushioned lanes of the tall pine trees, discover beautiful green clearings, hop over brooks, and find little pockets of peace.

If you want to stretch them further, Stocks Reservoir is not much further away, and there are copious amounts of trails and paths through the forests.

Many bring their bikes to the festival to enjoy the cycling trails too.

The music is unique at Cloudspotting.

Curated by organisers Matt Evans and Helen Ficorilli, there’s a mix of styles exploring folk, jazz, shoegaze, rock, blues, soul, indie and, later, in the Cabin in the Woods, electronic beats and dance music.

There were three very different headline acts on the main stage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the form of space monkeys and cosmic dross pioneers Henge, Belgian/Congolese funk, soul and blues outfit Baloji, and melodic, dreamy, rare and remarkable folk blues band This Is The Kit.

All excellent in their own way.

Baloji in particular blew away the cobwebs with a highly energetic, fun, and inclusive set that had everybody grooving, including the kids down the front.

Lead singer and MC Baloji certainly turned heads as a performer too, and this was a music festival highlight for me - unique, political, soulful and playful. Really good stuff.

Rossendale based troubadour Blanty too was impressive in the Enchanted Forest, a singular, funny, flexible and accomplished songwriter and guitarist that was just the ticket on Saturday afternoon.

Other highlights for me were Brighton’s Moulettes, who couldn’t make their listed slot on Friday so played Saturday afternoon instead.

Changing pace, tempo, style and genre at a moment’s notice to keep the audience on its toes.

Some really impressive songwriting here, and a very attractive electric cello to boot.

The gracious scratch master DJ Woody also got the blood flowing with his main stage set on Friday night, and he then played a History of Hip-Hop set later in the secret late night venue Cabin in the Woods.

Clitheroe’s Drop The Floor, who started out jamming in the town’s New Inn pub many moons ago, flowed through the senses with their Irish folk and blues style, creating happy vibes on the second stage on Sunday afternoon.

I caught shades of many of the other bands too, between trips to the woods, park and workshops with the kids, banter and a great selection of local beers in the bar, bacon butties in the cafe, or taking a breather back at camp.

Sleeping also featured a bit too.

The people of Cloudspotting are an amiable and friendly bunch. Jovial, considerate and fun loving, creating a great vibe that permeated the whole site, even when the heavens opened.

As we left the site late on Sunday night, we were all in high spirits.

This Is The Kit’s magnificent Magic Spell has been playing through my brain for two days solid.

Cloudspotting is a lovely little festival in a magical and unspoilt part of the British Isles.

With plans for a “fallow year” in 2018, I feel lucky to have made this one, and really hope it comes back with a bang in 2019.