After a summer of uncertainty and a national divide following Brexit, it was perhaps fitting that Rochdale’s Feel Good festival should be accompanied by a near constant downpour.
But in true British fashion this didn’t stop thousands from flocking to the town centre for the free celebration of all things good – from food and booze to music and summer sunshine. Three out of four ‘aint bad.
The festival is now fully established and heading towards its 10th year with the pulling power to attract some top bracket names, from celebrity chefs Andrew Nutter and Aazam Ahmad to a music stage packed with established and up-and-coming talent.
I was greeted on arrival by the guardians of Rochdale’s spectacularly gothic town hall, Gary and Big Dunc (the Max and Paddy of Rochdale) who opined on all things Northern Soul before being informed that I was actually writing for an online magazine rather than on behalf of the entire music genre.
All thoughts musical were rapidly driven from my mind however, as my nose radar sent me arrowing straight to the Food Stage to catch local lad and celebrity chef, Andrew Nutter, cooking up a (rather apt) storm.
Ably aided by the Mayoress of Rochdale, flying by the seat of her pants wielding a terrifying looking chopping knife, it occurred to me that a live show is by far the best medium for the celebrity chef. Indeed, witnessing Mr Nutter sporting a Madonna-style head mic and with the crowd in the palm of his hand was akin to the most aromatic of pantomimes.
Such musings were then validated as the Ready Steady Cook chef decided to out-do the mayoress’s attempts at flambéing a duck sauce by producing a jet stream of fire from his frying pan which threatened to bring the tent down…literally.
Concerned that things were getting a little too rock and roll for my liking, I left Mr Nutter to finish his duck (and apologise to the legion of admiring fans for the expletive which accompanied his towering inferno) and headed across to Stage Two to catch the end of ComedyClub4Kids.
With a handy bar for parents, this secondary stage was a perfect nursery, being overseen by Comedysportz, a 21st century Rod, Jane and Freddy on permanent fast forward. After a couple of pints and with the rain clouds parting to provide temporary respite from the downpour, I ventured closer to the stage, only to find one of the comedy troupe heckling me to shout a colour. After roaring “red!” at the top of my lungs, I realised she was actually pointing at the little girl in front of me who meekly responded with “green” and then turned to give me a frightened glance.
At this point I decided to strike out towards the main stage.
After spending some time in the brilliant Flying Horse pub with a covers band slinging out a range of rock classics, I felt buzzed enough to brave the rain and catch the excellent Twisted Dolls, a Mancunian garage rock band whose star is most definitely on the rise. Considering this was their biggest gig to date, they displayed a swagger which belied any nerves, striding through a set of powerful riffs with enough hooks to make the throng completely forget about the rain which was, by this stage, reaching biblical proportions. Definitely one to watch.
Another act destined for big things is Alex Cornish, a Scottish singer songwriter who is catching the eye of the national music press. While he has the chops to pull off this sort of thing in his sleep, I’m afraid this type of music has a similarly soporific effect on my slightly fuzzy brain so I retreat to the Flying Horse to await meatier music. Comparisons to Radiohead seem very far wide of the mark, but Cornish certainly provides a relaxing accompaniment to my steak sandwich.
And what better way to work off food and booze than bouncing along to the chilled dub reggae stylings of Resonators. Paradoxically combining an extremely tight sound with a woozy reggae feel, the Brighton/London nine-piece really bring the power of lead vocalists Faye Houston and Kassia Zermon to the fore. Umbrellas are held aloft as the multitudes show their appreciation, Town Hall Square now packed with just the right ratio of people to allow for a bit of boogieing. The Resonators seem to be having as good a time as the crowd and there’s a mutual appreciation when they finally retreat to make way for the headline act.
It’s something of a coup for Rochdale to pull in The Fratellis for a free festival. And this evening they prove an inspired choice, Jon Fratelli marching onto the stage in a natty straw hat, immediately whipping the soggy Rochdale crowd into a fervour as bouncing becomes jumping and brollies are tossed aside with the familiar opening chords of Henrietta. The Fratellis have never really matched the success of their first album, but the sensibilities of the band’s rock and roll template are perfect for a festival atmosphere and the crowd’s huge reaction to every song, new or old, is testament to the continued pulling power of this excellent live three piece.
By the time they sign off, everybody in the crowd has a smile on their face and, given the inclement conditions, that is the ultimate testament to a festival dedicated to feeling good.