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Cotton Clouds – an interview with festival organiser Rick Lees

Reporter : Amelia Shaw

From Whit Friday and Yanks Weekend to the Rushcart, Saddleworth is renowned for its community events and traditions, and we sure know how to celebrate.

Cotton Clouds Festival became part of the events after the success of its debut in August 2017 and being shortlisted for Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards. The count down for this year’s festival has now well and truly begun.

To find out more about the festival and what to expect from 2018 we interviewed Cotton Clouds director and organiser, Rick Lees:

Who can go to Cotton Clouds? How accessible is it?

Cotton Clouds really is open to everyone, last year we had over 400 kids in attendance (as well as 3100 adults!) and lots of activities for them as well as the live music aspect. The artists we book are always family friendly and really suit the Saddleworth demographic.

When will we see a line-up?

Our line-up will be revealed early March. We can’t wait to show you what we have in store but we can’t give any clues at the moment. We’re certain they’ll go down really well with our crowd though.

What was your highlight from last year?

I’d have to say either PINS or The Sugarhill Gang. PINS I’ve been a fan of for a few years, it went dark just before they took to the stage and the lighting really made the atmosphere. They’re fantastic musicians and songwriters too. The Sugarhill Gang basically delivered a “best of” hip hop set and we had no idea they were going to be joined by Melle Mel from The Furious Five! They played another festival near Southampton the same day so we had to rush them up on a flight to Manchester. They arrived on site at 9pm (much to our relief) and stepped on stage fifteen minutes later and blew everybody away.

What can we expect from this year? Anything particularly new or different?

We have some exciting plans for kid’s activities but again, I can’t say too much until our plans are finalised and we have the green light. Our idea this year is to make the event much more of a spectacle and add to the live music with other artistic elements.

What led to the sale of VIP tickets this year?

Lots of people were asking if there were going to be VIP tickets last year. We thought the demand would surely warrant adding the option. As it happens the VIP tickets are very nearly sold out so we were right to do it.

There were a few comments last year about the food stalls and bars being too busy – will that change for 2018?

Yes, we understand the frustration with this and as a result there’ll be a complete overhaul of each for 2018. The production team we have in place this year are much more accustomed to dealing with the size of audience we have and certain measures are in place to ensure that people don’t spend time queuing this time round.

What’s the future for Cotton Clouds? We have a lot of traditions and annual events in Saddleworth, do you think Cotton Clouds will be one of those?

I think people can see our passion and determination to provide a quality event with household names on the line-up. Normally you’d have to travel quite far to see the acts we’re booking so to have an event like this on the doorstep is fantastic. Last years sold out event was a testament to the desire for an event of this kind in Saddleworth and I’m pleased that we’re the ones delivering it.

We’re keen to put Saddleworth on the map and help build the local economy as well as rejuvenate the local music scene. It takes 9 months of hard work to put everything together and I think there’s enough interest to build on that and grow the festival each year.

How does Cotton clouds benefit the Saddleworth community?

Our festival provides inspiration to the younger generations by bringing some amazing music artists to the area. We’re committed to giving a number of slots to local artists to give them the opportunity to play alongside the bigger bands. We receive so many artist applications (into the hundreds!) and it’s very difficult to choose but we hope that young bands see the event as a springboard into the industry and it gives them a goal to aim for.

The event benefits the local economy too; pubs, taxis and hotels saw a huge surge in business over the course of the weekend and had to take on extra staff, that’s exactly what we wanted to happen, an event like Cotton Clouds should benefit local businesses.

How much organising does the festival take? How long had you planned Cotton Clouds for before it actually happened? Is it any easier this year, knowing the success of 2017?

It takes probably 9 months of planning for each event, there’s very little down-time. The first event we’d been dreaming up for probably 5 years before it actually happened.

The most exciting part is booking the lineup. Generally speaking, we know who we want by about November time but it can take lots of twists and turns before you get the finished article.

There’s a huge amount of work in logistics and planning, but it does seem less daunting this year compared to our first year. We’ll always be trying to evolve and push the boundaries with how high we can set the bar so I’d expect there’ll be more work involved each year as we progress!
It certainly sounds very exciting, and if last year’s event is anything to go by then 2018 promises a really superb event, suitable for everyone.


This year’s festival will take place on Saturday 18th August from 12 pm at Saddleworth Cricket Club. Some tickets still available and they can be bought online at:

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a sunny day and see you there!

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