Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival 5th, 6th 7th July 2013

And the award for the most appropriate closing number of a festival goes to...drum roll please...Nile Rodgers and Chic for Good Times at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival 2013...cue loud applause. Yes, once again this small but perfectly formed musical gem in the festival calendar delivered more ‘good times’ than any sane person could rightfully expect. And here’s how it all went down.

Day One

Anyone sensible enough to book off / ring in sick on Friday were rewarded with a gloriously eclectic afternoon of music kicking off with local 8 piece Antelope’s soulful mash up and (going two better) 10 piece Alternative Dubstep Orchestra whose inspired scratchtastic fusion of dubby beats and rich brass transformed the classic Walk On Buy into a gloriously trancey trip.

Dressed in a voluminous pair of red trousers held up by what looked like a giant gold nappy pin and wearing a truly lobe stretching pair of triangular gold earrings Nai Palm, frontwomen with Aussie mindbending future soulsters Hiatus Koyote, won the best dressed prize for the weekend. 

Happily it wasn’t a case of style over substance though, Palm’s Badu-ish vocal delivery and the band’s fusion of jazz, funk and soul’s perhaps the best example of this festival’s name made flesh. Speaking of flesh Greg Bird and Enterprize (featuring the lovely Anna Palmer aka Little Palm aka Anushka) produce the kind of music that makes you want to hump the person next to you. I’ve been championing this dude for a while now and this afternoon’s set of ALL NEW material (yep, who else rocks up to a festival with a completely new set list eh?) was yet another triumph with the Arthur Russell echoing On and On and the Supremes Baby Love sampling But Then I Lost My Mind making strong bids for summer anthems of the year. 

Last year Giles Petersen famously signed Troumaca (more on them in a moment) after seeing them at Mostly Jazz, he wasn’t here this year but if he’s reading this here’s another tip...snap up Greg Bird right now.

On then to the aforementioned Troumaca and it’s been a great year for another of B-Town’s top bands with their debut album, Grace, in the can (or laptop...or whatever gizmo they use these days) and due for release in August and a healthy number of plays on the increasingly influential 6 Music. 

Describing their sound as “sun drenched tropical blissdom” sets the bar of expectation as high as a rasta in a joint smoking contest but, with the sun beating down on the crowd (proper sun too...none of that weak assed stuff we usually get, full fat, tar melting, skin blistering, phew what a scorcher sun) and new track The Sun (appropriate eh?) blasting out it’s a joyfully apt description.

Stubborn Heart brings a much needed chill to the air with Better Than This tapping into early 80s electro and post-dubstep, using this an empty unmade bed for the vocalist’s hauntingly mournful delivery. Think James Blake for grown-ups.

“Who gets the party started?” Hypnotic Brass Ensemble that’s who. Consisting of 8 brothers who grew up in Chicago starting each day at 6am with a practice session under their dad’s supervision (he’s Phil Cohran, Sun Ra Arkestra trumpeter by the way) they’re arguably one of the best thing to happen to brass since the invention of Brasso. You know that bit in Rocky when Sly runs up the stairs and it makes you feel like you can take on the whole freakin’ world? Well every single one of HBE’s tracks has the same effect. Jazz, hip hop, soul and funk all brassed up and played with the kind of ease that you just know takes a lifetime to achieve. Strong contenders for band of the festival.

It’s a pretty tough act to follow and, perhaps wisely, the days last two acts, Yes King and Bonobo both had more of a laid back groove, perfectly suiting the chilled out post-work Friday evening vibe. Yes King’s dubby reggae reefer of sound’s an intoxicating mix with Overproof getting the crowd la la la-ing along and pulling the kind of loping dance moves that only the truly stoned can get away with. I can’t help feeling that headliner Bonobo might’ve been better in an early evening slot. As a live act there’s not a great deal to see and chief Bonobo, Simon Green, spends much of the set at the back of the stage twiddling the knobs. That being said the music’s fine enough and the ubiquitous dubsteppy bits gets a decent chunk of the crowd going.
Day Two

As is rapidly becoming traditional Saturday’s curated by the endlessly enthusiastic champion of funk and soul Mr Craig Charles and, well, the dude knows his stuff. Local band Dubcherry kick things off, sharing a bit of a vibe with their near namesakes late 90s band Dubstar. The Bluebeat Arkestra keep the local flag flying with a bewitching mix of flavours. Set highlight Pirouette is the sound of a road trip through late night Baghdad on the way to an illegal ska and dub house party whilst Bass Consultant lives up to the band’s boast of being “a little bit dirty, a little bit dancey”...even if most of the gently sizzling crowd remained recumbent.

Leigh Coleman played some pleasant Omar-ish sounding numbers as Moseley Park began to fill up in readiness for the full on funkathon. 

Returning favourites The Haggis Horns well and truly blew the one tiny cloud that had the audacity to float across an otherwise clear blue sky with a set that conjured up everything from super cool blaxploitation soundtracks to the greatest moments of their spiritual granddads the Average White Band. Joined by Speedometer’s vocalist Ria Currie for new track Diggin’ In The Dirt added a more soulful angle to the Horns’ usual sound whilst Love the Life You Live and the disco clap along of Traveller PtII cemented their reputation as some of the UK’s funkiest muthas.

Somehow I reckon Jeremiah Ferrari enjoy a crafty spliff or two judging by their lyrics and song titles. House of Leafs ain’t about libraries and there’s plainly nothing ambiguous about Jazz Cigarette. The lead singer, a cross between The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob and Bob Marley (Sideshow Bob Marley?), is infectiously loveable though and his ragga rap delivery and lyrical sentiments behind set highlight Mindless Riot (a response to the, well, frankly mindless riots of August 2011) more than justified Craig Charles’ gushing intro.
Smoove and Turrell’s northern funk went down a storm the last time they played here and this afternoon was no different. John Turrell’s Geordie tinged vocals occasionally recall Eric Byrdon in his WAR era prime (and that’s some accolade) and there’s a delightful underplaying of the band’s collective talents that somehow makes the whole thing even more enjoyable. They were the only band this weekend to really make any kind of political reference, strange given the economic shitstorm that’s still ruining lives across the world, dedicating Broke to George Osborne the, to quote the normally affable Mr Turrell, C U Next Tuesday.  Crowd favourite Beggarman continues the theme, the kind of track Curtis Mayfield may have come up with if he’d been born in Newcastle, whilst new song Long Way To Fall is a disco blues funkster with echoes of that anthem to grabbing that little bit of happiness where you can, Staying Alive. Smoove and Turrell certainly have their fans but they deserve to be so, SO much bigger.

After some fine reggae and soul from The Soul Circle Gang John Turrell was back in action again as part of the Craig Charles assembled (he took votes from the listeners to his 6 Music show) Fantasy Funk Band. 

With a line up including the legendary Mick Talbot (Dexy’s, Style Council and pretty much every other band on planet earth), percussionist Snowboy, Speedometer’s Ria Currie and The Haggis Horns you can’t go wrong and their set of covers (some well known, others a little more obscure) was certainly designed to showcase their collective talents. Money (That’s What I Want), Express Yourself and a soul stirring blast through Move On Up kept a decent portion of the crowd up and dancing...no mean feat in temperatures nudging 30 degrees and after a pint or two of cider.

Having been lucky enough to see the band back in the early 90s with Ian Dury expectations for The Blockheads minus their late leader were modest. Could anyone stand a chance of filling his shoes? Would the songs still work? Would it all be a bit ‘tribute band’. In fact, and I almost hate to write this, if anything The Blockheads are better now than ever before. Vocalist Derek Hussey was great mates with Dury and whilst he might lack a little of Ian’s growl on some tracks he manages to inhabit the songs brilliantly. All the hits are played giving you the chance to enjoy those lyrics in all their glory (just cop a listen to Wake Up and Make Love to Me for instance). It’s the spindly bass genius Norman Watt-Roy that’s the star of the show though. Wearing a suit throughout the show by the end of the first number his shirt’s dripping wet, by the time the set was over wringing out the suit itself could hydrate a thirsty elephant, but the dude remains suited and booted throughout. 

Wide eyed and grinning like a man possessed he’s constantly on the move, hunched over his bass and plucking the funky basslines that give The Blockheads their distinctive sound. Over 35 years into their career it seems frankly unbelievable that they can still be this good but judging by the two young ladies wearing Blockette t-shirts and singing along to every song there’s still clearly plenty of life in the old Blocks yet.

To borrow his own words “OMG”.  

Is Craig Charles the best funk and soul DJ on planet earth? Yes. Yes he is. On top of spinning the songs with as much energy and enthusiasm as the people that originally recorded them, for a good hour or so he judged the mood perfectly playing one classic track after another before bringing things slap bang up to date with (I think) the Smoove remix of George Barnett’s ‘even better than the original’ cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. If that left you feeling like you’d died and gone to soul and funk heaven relax, waiting for you is Ms Candi Staton, beamed down to Moseley Park to cap off a truly memorable day. She’s as sweet as, well, candy itself and her obvious love for tonight’s crowd was summed up in “my song to you” Honest I Do. Awwww bless her. It’s the faster paced numbers that the crowd are really after though, with a funked up version of Suspicious Minds and a joyful run through Young Hearts both hitting the spot. Gospel’s never far from Ms Staton’s heart though and This Little Light of Mine manages to  blend the religious with the secular thanks to some gloriously dirty Chic bass breaks from Ernie McKone. 

Good times indeed. Perhaps inevitably it was the tune that introduced Candi to a whole new generation, You Got The Love, that got the hinds up in the air. Funkier than the version most of us know and perhaps with more of that magical gospel edge to her vocal it was followed up by Hallelujah Anyway off her brand new album. With hints of Ce Ce Peniston’s club classic Finally it’s a fittingly joyous end to proceedings. Amen.

Day Three

And still the sun shines. Apparently the last time we had a protracted sunny spell was 2007 so that’s enough of a reason to make the final day of MoJaFuSo special but there’s the slight matter of tonight’s headliners too. Chic. Seriously. CHIC! Mother freaking Chic. The band that gave disco a good name. To be strictly accurate it’s not really Chic. Sadly one half of the driving force behind the band, Bernard Edwards passed away back in 1996, but this gives the remaining 50%, Nile Rodgers, a good excuse to crack open the archives to play some of the other stuff he’s been involved in over the years.

First up though some acts to fill in the pure jazz gap in the bill so far with Jazzlines Enemble, Mammal Hands and Stella Roberts band all nursing the early arrivers through the remains of their Saturday night hangovers. The Initiative ramp up the pace with some beatbox and rap fuelled excursions into the world of anti-jazz. At their peak they’re a kind of hip hop Steely Dan. Kudos to the dude playing the clarinet (Matt Robinson) on Give Me Your...like Woody Allen on speed. Who knew the clarinet could rock? If jazz is to have the future it deserves we need more of this stuff to carry on hooking in the younger fans and the magnificently named GOGO Penguin’s jazz hop breaks often aren’t a million miles from the stuff that rappers the world over sample. What’s better than a GOGO Penguin? How about a Snarky Puppy? 

All the way from North Texas this collective’s texturally rich post jazz with a side order of hip 70s funk has already seen them play with everyone from Justin Timberlake to Beyonce. Happily they left Mrs Carter at home leaving the rest of us to enjoy their set, the highlight of which, Quarter Master could well be the soundtrack to some cult 70s cop show. Ideas seem to fly off this band as thick and fast as the wispy cotton-ish seeds that drifted across the site all day long like a magical summer snow fall. It wasn’t surprising to hear that they’re recording no less than three albums this year and if the epic cowbell dusted space rock tinged Shofukan is anything to go by they’ll be essential purchases. A breed apart.

You think summer time soul and, if you’re a certain age at least, you think Soul II Soul. Inspired by the sound systems of the 50s Jazzie B added strings and some glossy production values to the mix to create some true ‘club classics’. 

Tonight was an all killer no filler selection with Keep On Movin, Get A Life, Joy and a sun drenched Back To Life sending all the 40 something’s spinning back to the Summer of 89, curiously enough probably the last time we had any decent run of freakin’ sunshine in this country, a fact not lost on the genial Jazzie B.

With the headline act just an hour away it might have been tempting to convene to the bar for a little light refreshment but that would have meant missing the...wait for it...Bengali / Afro / Cuban mash up of Lokkhi Terrra. Yes, Bengali / Afro  / Cuban. Admittedly it’s not a genre with many competitors but it’s hard to imagine anyone topping their truly memorable version re-imagining of Itchycoo Park.

If you were tasked with creating the perfect festival band you’d want a group that could unite all races, ages and musical tastes, someone with tunes that are practically part of the human DNA now, a band that causes several thousand people to whoop with joy after just a few notes. Happily that band already exists and for nearly two hours Moseley Park’s the scene of the biggest party on earth. 

Everybody Dance, Dance, Dance Dance, I’m Coming Out, Upside Down, He’s The Greatest Dancer...hit after hit after hit. By the time they get to We Are Family complete strangers are hugging each other, the world and its problems outside the gates just don’t seem to exist any more and pretty much the entire crowd’s a sweaty grinning mess. Most tunes are near perfect live recreations of their recorded versions but covers of Madonna’s Like  A Virgin, Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Duran Duran’s Notorious (all originally produced by Nile of course) breathed new life into old favourites adding a sizzling soulfulness, with Notorious in particular proving something of a revelation. Damn that’s some funky shit. Throughout it all Nile Rodgers smiled like a man who knows he’s enjoying possibly one of the most remarkable times in his career with the best selling song of the year (Get Lucky) under his belt, remission from the cancer that struck him down in 2011 and a scene stealing appearance at Glastonbury. As the first notes of Good Times blast out he’s joined by a sizeable number of the backstage crew and as many members of the audience as the stage can stand. 

It’s the perfect last number for a festival that was jam packed full of them. How the hell are they going to top that next year? Hmmm...anyone got Prince’s phone number...?

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