Red Rooster Festival

Two days of roots goodness in the Suffolk countryside.

Daddy Long Legs on stage, singing.

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What a difference a day, the sun and around 14 degrees in temperature make. Set in the gorgeous environs of Suffolk’s Euston Hall – the family pile of the Duke of Grafton – the joyous celebration of blues, roots and Americana that is the third annual Red Rooster festival initially feels as if the calendar has been moved back by around five months. With fat, ominous clouds hanging overhead and with the thermometer dropping into single figures, the multiple layers of clothing that people are hurriedly bundling up in belie the time of the season.

But no matter, for this is a good-natured crowd of around 3,000 hardy souls for whom music, drink, food and the pursuit of a good time is what’s of greatest concern. Amid the laughter, cheers and hollers are conversations concerning where the blues end and jazz begins and mild incredulity at the preponderance of dungarees at the event. Adding to the atmosphere is the main stage which is located in a big top set in a woodland clearing, and the overall effect sits somewhere between a revivalist meeting and a medicine show in the deep south.

Music, drink, food and the pursuit of a good time is what’s of greatest concern.

Despite the challenging weather conditions, the festival omens are good thanks to the soaring three-part female harmonies of The Blinding Larks, whose take on Americana is brought convincingly to life. Similarly, The Rails – featuring the formidable musical chops of Richard and Linda Thompson’s daughter, Kami, and her husband James Walbourne – do much to distract from the plummeting temperatures with a sturdy set.

But with the evening fast approaching, it’s down to three acts to truly define the opening day. Tav Falco And The Panther Burns certainly get into the swing of things with an endearingly erratic set. Now 71, Falco cuts a compulsive figure, frequently throwing shapes and busting dance moves. His voice is fine throughout and the current incarnation of the band makes much hay with the southern soul of Breakaway and the appropriate Master Of Chaos. Elsewhere, The Handsome Family’s spectral music enthralls and beguiles in equal measure with Far From Any Road causing ripples of delight throughout the crowd.

Sister Cookie: sweet soul music.

Sister Cookie: sweet soul music.

The energetic performance from The James Hunter Six is such a tonic that it would be impossible to guess that they’re struggling with jet lag. It’s to damn them with faint praise to describe them as dependably brilliant but that’s exactly what they are. Hunter’s honeyed yet worn voice, coupled with the sharp playing of his cohorts, elevates the party, with (Baby) Hold On and Chicken Switch urging the movement of tired feet.

Come Saturday morning and with nary a cloud in the sky, the temperature has risen to where it should be and the mood of the festival has shifted palpably. This lifting of spirits serves both Big Joe Louis and Sister Cookie particularly well. Of the two, Sister Cookie takes the early part of the afternoon thanks to a performance of full-throated R&B that marks her as a special talent to keep an eye on. For a band of guitar, bass, drums and brass, this is a huge sound matched by a powerful voice that’s in full evidence during the soulful Take Me Home.

The Urban Voodoo Machine’s tasty gumbo of blues, zydeco and Cajun flavours offers a glimpse of their new album, Hellbound Hymns, with the likes of the cautionary While We Were All Asleep and the lurching Bucket Of Blood proving to be memorable highlights. Next up and James Leg is a mass of swinging hair and blurring fingers that lay waste to his keyboards with a voice like an ashtray of Capstan butts being ground into gravel. The filthy grind of Dirty South exemplifies all that’s good about Leg and he’s later joined by former Jim Jones Revue guitarist Rupert Orton for an explosive reading of Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Though running late, the bonkers rock’n’soul of King Khan And The Shrines overcomes the initial sound problems that blight the start of their set. There’s an irreverence that beats at their heart but there’s no mistaking the quality of showmanship and musical chops that drives this party on. Fine closers to the day that they are, there’s no denying that the day is seized by the scruff of the neck by a truly explosive performance by demented Brooklyn trio Daddy Long Legs earlier in the afternoon. Frontman Brian Hurd blows a mean, distorted harp while guitarist Murat Akturk is no slouch on slide. The lack of cymbals on Josh Styles’ kit create a greater rhythmic urgency and the joint is cookin’ during the frenzied Evil Eye On You. By the time the roaring Motorcycle Madness brings things to a close, the audience is left gasping and spent.

And so it ends. With a focus on the sharper end of the roots spectrum and offering remarkable value for money, you’d be well advised to heed this rooster’s call next summer.

Julian Marszalek

Julian Marszalek is the former Reviews Editor of The Blues Magazine. He has written about music for Music365, Yahoo! Music, The Quietus, The Guardian, NME and Shindig! among many others. As the Deputy Online News Editor at Xfm he revealed exclusively that Nick Cave’s second novel was on the way. During his two-decade career, he’s interviewed the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne, and has been ranted at by John Lydon. He’s also in the select group of music journalists to have actually got on with Lou Reed. Marszalek taught music journalism at Middlesex University and co-ran the genre-fluid Stow Festival in Walthamstow for six years.