Red Rooster 2024 - The Review

The Weather comes home to Roost

By David Vass | Published: Wed 5th Jun 2024

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Thursday 30th May to Saturday 1st June 2024
Euston Hall, Thetford, Suffolk, IP24 2QP, England MAP
currently from £109.50 + fees for adults inc camping, £55 + fees for teens, under 12s free
Daily capacity: 10,000
Last updated: Thu 8th Feb 2024

Ever had your words come back to haunt you? It's obviously something that didn't occur to me when, last year, I rhetorically I asked why "the organisers of this wonderful festival insist on hiding their main stage in a cavernous tent?  It didn’t rain, it hardly ever does, and the festival is all the poorer for a stage that offers watching in the dark, standing up, when all you want to do is lie back and soak in the sun." Thankfully, no one paid me any heed and therefore the tent was back for Red Rooster, offering some protection from the biblical downpour on the opening Thursday evening.

Dirty Strangers did their very best to get the party started with an atypically (for Rooster) punkish set that hovered somewhere between Nick Lowe and Eddie and The Hot Rods. The tent would have probably been packed anyway, as Thursday has continued to grow from a couple of bands keeping the campers happy, to something approaching a third day. It was certainly full to bursting for ascendant Brown Horse, Norwich's take on country music. Next up was Kitty Liv, best known as part of the trio Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, who certainly held her own, on her own, albeit accompanied by her own band. An intriguing fusion of funk and blues, she offered up the first properly transcendent moment when she took to the harmonica to close her set.

Brown horse

Headliner for the night was Robert Finley, perhaps best known for his recent appearance on Americas got Talent, and therefore sometimes impishly accused of peddling Cajun Karaoke. In fact, the man has been performing for decades and demonstrated as much, with a mix of his own compositions and classic covers, bringing a welcome dose of raw authenticity to the evening. As his set continued, the heavens finally clearing, groups of revellers started to fill out around the tent huddled around log fires, and much beer was supped. All the jigsaw pieces of a night out in the grounds of Euston Hall started to come together in spite of the rain. Could a fine old time be had after all?  After all, to quote septuagenarian Finlay - it ain't over til it's over.

Unfortunately, the rain returned with a vengeance overnight and into Friday, hammering down in a way new to the festival, at least on the occasions I've attended, only adding to the sogginess of what is normally a picture-perfect place to spend a weekend. With the banks of the Black Bourne River straining, the whole festival had been forced to shuffle up, taking away the pleasure of the expanse in which it usually resides. The sweeping vista up to the hall might not seem a great loss, but it was a loss nonetheless, depriving the event of its unique USP. Folk became purposeful rather than peripatetic, as wellies turned Lord Grafton's lawn to mud. Idly chatter with strangers was replaced by stentorian marches. Tiny dogs were carried. Coats were fastened tightly. Rain hats replaced Stetsons. Ponchos replaced checked shirts. As an admirer of everything that makes Rooster both different and fun, it was just a little bit heart breaking.

UFO Rodeo

None the less, the show must go on, and so it did, starting a bang, as the joyous cacophony of UFO Rodeo - think the Smiths playing Heavy rock - shook some life into a beleaguered audience. The McCurdy Brothers, if anything, trumped them - think ZZ Top without a bass player - as they pounded out a glorious racket. Incongruously, given their obvious influences, the duo harken from Cromer, one of many East Anglian acts playing over the weekend. Over on the Little Red Rooster stage was another, the inestimable Norwich based 4D Jones. Making a welcome return from last year, and shuffled a little way up the running order, they are nothing short of a Norwich institution for those of us of a certain age. Notable for their reimaging of songs from artists as diverse as Blind Willie Johnson and Steve Wynn, they demonstrated their knack for curating a set that built to a heady climax, notwithstanding the woefully short amount of time they were given to do so. Rosco Shakes played their part in keeping the energy levels high, with a set that vacillated between proper blues and proper blues, mastering both with nothing in between, while Dylan Walshe's melancholy music - "I promise there not all about death"  - was a welcome sorbet after all that excitement.

Nick Etwell's Nola 5 rang the changes again with the brass sound of New Orleans, but with the North Mississippi All Stars flexing their considerable musical prowess on the main stage, it was always going to be an evening of hard choices. I confess to being surprised at the return of Take Me To The River, not because of the fine show - and it was a show more than a gig - but because we'd seen them do much the same last year. Fine though it was, regular punters I talked to seemed perplexed at their reappearance,

Nick Etwell

Not nearly as perplexed, however, as the crowd were at the choice of headliner. Voting with their feet I can't recall less people watching a closing act. Perhaps the rain and the cold and the mud had simply got to everyone, or the Little Rooster Stage had an unmissable treat in store, but the crowd for Galen and Paul was embarrassingly tiny, and I'm still puzzling why. They got off to an admittedly shaky start, but soon hit their stride. Galen Ayers reminded me of Marianne Faithful, breathless in her delivery as she shimmied around Paul Simonon like a honey-drunk bee at the height of summer, while the bass player from the Clash strummed his instrument with insouciant ease, backed by a solid band. We even got the Guns of Brixton in deference to the patient Clash fans in the audience. What's not to like?

A combination of much improved weather and a local fan base drew a big crowd for The Molee Shakes on the Little Rooster stage but despite a pleasingly laid back stage presence I was drawn to the idiosyncratic sounds produced by Joe Harvey-Whyte and Bobby Lee. I only caught the tail end of their set - something I greatly regret - but the music they produced seemed a fascinating blend of country and psych trance. Who knew that could even be a thing? In quick succession we then got J.S. and the Lockerbillies, Kaspar & the Swamp Dogs and Swamp Truck. Each were fine in their own right,  as rockabilly made way for blues, which made way for something that teetered close to pastiche. In the company of any one of them and a good time would be assured, but collectively I confess to growing weary of similar bands with a similar sound. Rooster is, and I presume will always be, a festival that celebrates Americana, so I can hardly complain if it does what it says on the tin, but the eccentricity of previous years seemed to be absent this time around. Where were this year’s answer to the Three Scarecrows AKA, Parisian chanteuse Sarah Olivier, the hurdy-gurdy of Muddy Gurdy, or the sheer bonkerness of Oh Gunquit? The same could be said of the Little Stage, which last year alone hosted the extraordinary diversity of the Filthy Six, The Men Who Fell to Earth, and Michael Messer’s Mitra. The acts seen this year were fine, but seemed more in keeping with the stage a few years ago. Perhaps finances got in the way, and providing a platform for up-and-coming acts, particularly those from the local area is laudable, but it did feel like a backward step. That said, I was mesmerised by the trippy sound of Black Magick Caravan, caught by chance at the Swamp Shack, the closest the festival comes to an open Mike. An off shoot of Norwich’s Floral Image, this was local talent that deserved to be heard. Meanwhile, Sister Suzie - the North East's answer to Betty Smith - drew the biggest crowd of the weekend (so far). 

Sister Suzie

On the main Stage, Veira and the Silvers were easily the most charismatic act of the weekend. With the riffs of the Damned, the vocals of Mark E Smith, the sax of Mott the Hoople, and a frontman that would pass for Noel Fielding, they delivered a set that was one of the best, and the most memorable of the whole weekend. Afterwards, The Hanging Stars strung together immaculate vocal and guitar harmonies, but to my mind were a little too immaculate after the punch in the gut from the previous scene stealers. There were, however, preferable to the headliners, the aptly named Asleep at the Wheel, who in my view the only real misfire of the festival. There were, no doubt, admirers aplenty for old school Country in the audience, so perhaps it's just down to subjective taste. The band formed over fifty years ago, have won nine Grammy Awards, released over twenty albums, while their singles have racked up a similar number of hits, so deference was due, but I found their lacklustre performance a tired, almost parodic, throwback to bygone musical times.

Thank the Lord, then, for the utter lunacy of Bob Logg III. Anonymous in his telephone adapted crash helmet and almost entirely obscured by billowing smoke, he entertained a huge crowd that had amassed round the Little Rooster Stage for the final act of the festival. Logg has a regular routine that involves inflatables, champagne, toast and a self-deprecating wit that belies his genuine talent for playing the guitar. He brought levity, wit and joyous insanity to a set that culminated in a storming assault on the senses, while audience members joined him on stage in varying degrees of undress for. Afterwards, I wandered past Hank JD Sleek DJing a country disco for stragglers under the canopy the main stage, and was tempted by Howling Wolf, no doubt full to bursting by now. But after three days in my wellies in was time to call it a night. 

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On Sunday morning we awoke to a cruelly beautiful blue sky, painfully aware that Rooster's unusual timetabling meant that what would have been a glorious final day was in fact an opportunity to disassemble camp in fine weather. I can only imagine how the organisers of the festival must have thought, having so nearly dodged a bullet that ultimately hit them where it hurts. The Little Rooster stage may have drawn in its horns, relying heavily on local talent, and the festival as a whole may have lacked the variety and ambition of recent years, and the headliners may have proved underwhelming. And all of which may have been more noticeable in the cold and the wet. But there is still so much about this festival to admire and cherish. There's a wonderfully pragmatic attitude to food and drink that must mean such a lot to families attending on a budget. A positive attitude to well behaved dogs only adds to the atmosphere. The fact that, despite grim ground conditions that made any move a challenge I saw only one instance of litter over the weekend - a solitary water bottle standing in the mud as an example of what not to do. The toilets remained immaculate throughout, the log fires kept on burning, and the security folk were more friendly and cheery than you could reasonably expect. That's down to the festival, but also the people who attend, determined to be jolly, look after each other, and enjoy the company of strangers. In these straightened times it's a small miracle that any festival keeps going when so many others have failed. One can only hope the challenges of this year don't dissuade the Rooster clan from returning to Euston Hall, and that they are blessed with better weather when they do.


review by: David Vass

photos by: Ian Bunker


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