And not only did the event, held at Hardwick Hall Hotel, near Sedgefield in County Durham, stick to a tried and tested formula this summer but it also played it safer still by going with a tried and tested bill-topper, Manchester alternative rock veterans James, its 2015 headliner.
Now expanded to a two-day event, it paired them with Welsh trio Manic Street Preachers for a double bill to remember and arguably the strongest line-up it’s fielded in its six-year history.
Both acts are old hands that can be relied on to put on a show, James having been formed in Manchester in 1982 and been together from then until 2001 and since 2007 and the Manics having got together in 1986 in Blackwood in Caerphilly.
Both, crucially, are also very much still at the top of their game rather than being reliant on nostalgia, the former having racked up their ninth top 10 album last year, Living in Extraordinary Times peaking at No 6, and the latter their 12th, Resistance is Futile, a No 2 hit.
That’s not to say there weren’t golden oldies aplenty on offer, though, the Manics having bookended their 18-song Saturday night set with the cast-iron classics Motorcycle Emptiness and A Design for Life and James having started and ended their 17-song set last night, August 18, with fan favourites Johnny Yen and Come Home.
The Welsh band, making their debut at Hardwick, stuck to pretty much the same set they’ve been playing all summer since supporting US rock veterans Bon Jovi at three stadium shows in June, but it’s a belter so there’s no harm in that, mixing up classics of their own such If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next and Your Love Alone is Not Enough with newer tunes such as International Blue and two covers, Suicide is Painless by the Mash and Sweet Child o’ Mine by Guns n’ Roses.
James, clearly relieved to have their appearance graced by summery weather rather than the thunderstorm that battered them last time round, put more of a focus on recent material, playing five songs from their 13th and latest full-length album, most of them being greeted as much like old favourites as songs written almost four decades previously.
They didn’t shy away from trotting out their greatest hits, however, reviving their most successful single, Sit Down, a No 2 in 1991 and No 7 after being remixed in 1998, in electric form rather than the acoustic version they’ve been playing in recent years and also playing Laid, Tomorrow, Say Something, She’s a Star and Getting Away With It (All Mixed Up).
Also on the bill this year were 1980s pop singer Lisa Stansfield, reunited Merseyside indie pop act the Zutons, Essex singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Northern Irish punk survivors Stiff Little Fingers and disco veterans Sister Sledge, as well as the likes of Ziggy Marley, Tim Burgess, James Walsh, Cattle and Cane, the Sherlocks, Catherine McGrath and the Joy Formidable.
Away from its three music stages and dance venues, the 10,000-capacity festival had plenty more to offer both young and old, including a full fairground, fine views of the hall’s estate and countryside beyond and more bars and food stalls than many bigger events can muster.
Hall owner John Adamson said: “Months of hard work and effort go into organising the event each year, which makes it even more rewarding when we see everyone having such a fantastic time.
“We are delighted to have welcomed a brilliant line-up across five stages over the weekend, with plenty of music, comedy and children’s entertainment for our festival-goers to enjoy.”