Rotunda of Wonder, the ten-piece dedicated fashioners of sunshine funk, opened the day’s ceremonies on The Yardbird Stage answering their song-title question, ‘What is Hip? by being just that.
Main Stage: where The Coleman Brothers’ instrumental groovy double-bass and solo trumpet salsa/swing intro segued into Latino funk with trombone & flugelhorn élan. Subtle and nuanced; think 60s hip. Dig? After some deviously delicious sibling interplay they’re joined by sister Sarah on vocals for some lazy Saturday hipsway Cuban samba. It was a family affair. They reprised the set later on Sunday evening to further acclaim.
On the Yardbird Stage the Electric Swing Circus demonstrated that lunacy can be fun. Imagine being in that dodgy Star Wars Cantina scene – it may help. Being a Birmingham Balkan gypsy jazz/swing collective may explain why the top-hatted acoustic guitarist wore welding-goggles. The tutors from the Swing Meadow Stage dance classes provided some spontaneous outbursts of synchronised crowd choreography. Closing with ‘The Penniless Optimist’ a Flapper-fest of frivolity, one inevitably thought of ‘Fernando’s Hideaway’ scratch-mixed on amphetamines, sung in Sanskrit – as you do.
With cloudbursts surrendering to sunshine and ‘Jack The Knife’ refrains we go to the Swing Meadow Stage for the Lindy Hop Dance Class. Would have loved to have made a participatory rug cut but The Bongolian (clue’s in the name) invade the Main Stage with total saturation hybrid bossa-funk Latino boogie, and oh, what heaven! The keyboardist’s wearing a black beret, shades, polo-neck and beads. They surely must have consulted their parents’ Peddlers’ album collection. Some sleazy synth solos and bongo soul sacrifices ensue with the ‘sexy Wurlitzer Rhodes piano’ being at its most seductive.
Craig Charles declares, ‘Good afternoon, Berrrmingam, no sleep ’til bed-time!’ as the sun began to shine on the righteous.
Meanwhile, at Swing Meadow Stage again there was a scratch ensemble combo of legendary Brum musos featuring UB40 Brian Travers on sax, playing acoustic rocksteady ‘n’ ska; and double-bass duties were undertaken by Richard March (PWEI/Bentley Rhythm Ace). They called themselves The Perky Blinders, after the 19th century Brummie street-gang apparently. So that’s about right.
Main Stage: The zoot-suit horn-tootin’ Speedometer delivered their rhythm deep ‘powerhouse’ groove, wickedly laced with shafts-full of funk and devil may care horns aplenty. Sort of acid/jazz/samba for the reckless. Nice!
Hardly surprising that the Atlantic Players, slick purveyors of connoisseur-crafted classic soul, warmed the late afternoon on the Yardbird Stage. So laid-back and tight you couldn’t have squeezed a Barclays bond-trader’s conscience between the beat. Keith Owen’s alligator snappy guitar playing could almost have made you forgive the Daily Mail for wonton tree wastage (almost). And, guess who pops up for a guest slot? Mr Travers, if you please.
From the Main Stage wafts of Introducing Play Mr Scruff’s Frankenstein eclectic hip-hop/funk reached the Spring Meadow Stage as punters made derring-do attempts at learning the Charleston.
Yardbird way, Federation of Disco Pimp incite mass hysteria. Guitar & bass players sport natty waistcoats and Savile-Row cut cream shirts and shades. They blister their fingers chopping out all manner of mongrel gypsy jazz. Much more than your average white band; and those mischievous minx on vocals. There should be a law!
It’s a stagger down disco/funk amnesia lane when Odyssey hit the Main Stage to an ecstatic welcome. The latest incarnation featuring twin sisters Annis & Anne Peters flanking the manly chested Steven Colazzo. The girls are bedazzling in their black ‘n’ sequined, formidably frothy low-cut evening gowns. It’s seriously get-on-down and boogie time with the smash hits being the default setting. ‘Inside Out’, ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ and then some. And, if you’re wondering who Annis Peters was blow-waving kisses at it was ME! Yes, I carried her case backstage and we’re getting married in Vegas next week.
At The Yardbird, Craig Charles, in leather hat circa Jim Morrison’s Miami todger outburst, opened his DJ set with a Stevie Wonderful mix. His young daughter later stealing the show when she stands proud as Judy on the decks. A good-natured stage invasion became inevitable. But, then it was time for some serious F.U.N. (K)!
Headliners, The Family Stone, comprising ‘some’ of the original line-up, with the ageless trumpeteer, Cynthia, eliciting all manner of salutations, delivered the expected goods. Their definitive late 60s/ early 70s funk anthems bringing joy to a considerable number in the audience too young to have been about when they were at their dazzling best. Boo and hiss to the wretched rain falling soon into the set. Time to patch-in Darren Billings to share his thoughts!
‘That only left room for one more band, The Family Stone. Sadly Sly’s decline and fall has been well documented and it’s hard to put the dude’s albeit self inflicted suffering out of your head (check out You Tube for a truly tragic video of him seemingly living in a car last year). Happily the current line up features three original members (including a still sassy looking Cynthia Robinson) from The Family Stone and, of course, they still have the tunes, Everyday People, Stand, Family Affair, Dance To The Music. Each and every one a (Family) stone cold classic. Sly’s stand in did a fine job, the younger female vocalist raised the blood pressure of every single-male in the audience and this line up certainly did the material justice. In fact, when they were playing they blew the place apart but the lengthy band intros undoubtedly slackened the pace a little. When all you wanna do is dance to the music talk is cheap.” (Thank you Darren, your Czech is in the post, be nice to her!)
SUNDAY presents a distinctly eclectic Jazzier programme for the final day’s divertissement. Which both explains the humongous grand piano on stage and why the latter appears to have slid a meter closer to the lake. At the Jazzlines Stage the youthful and criminally talented Jazzlines Ensemble charmingly doowop and scat awake the somewhat dreary Sunday midday hungover mood. Meanwhile the weather continued to sulk.
A poignant set from The Blue Notes was introduced with a touching eulogy from compere Tony Dudley-Evans in memory of the recently deceased Jazz maestro and utterly nice man, Andy Hamilton. Following several instrumental numbers with Steve Ajao guesting on sax, vocalist and long time band buddy, Vic Evans, gave his own moving dedication to a much admired musician and lost friend. ‘Blue Sky’ shared, at least, some of his thoughts.
‘Without a song the days would never end/Without a song the road would never bend/When things go wrong/A man ain’t got a friend without a song.’*
The slow spiritual Blues cover of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and Gershwin’s ‘But Not For Me’ closed a subdued but moving set. Immediately after, on the Jazzlines Stage, the still immaculately suited Steve Ajao and band grooved through a tasty short set featuring ‘A Night In Tunisia’ and a scorching coda closer take on John Coltrane’s ‘Impressions.’
On the Main Stage The Zoe Rahman Quartet had very contrasting hi-octane grand piano designs. She drew on her Bengali/Irish heritage with brother Idris (Welsh name – confused already?) on clarinet, to explore Indo/Celtic fusion ragga with a frisson of extemporised psychedelia. Any suggestion that the rhythm section, being of Italian heritage, were playing in double-quick time to get home early for the World-Cup final was true ’cause Zoe grassed them up. Shouldn’t have bothered lads! A Byzantinely complex shifting time-signature cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Contusion’ drew the set to a close. And, yes, we wisely declined the invitation to sing along.
Jazzlines Stage next with Husk indulging in a dabble of ‘In A Silent Way’ for their intro. Experi-mental, hyper-tactile and aggressively organic. Or, as one pithy sage remarked, ‘I’ll be picking some of their notes out of my underpants for weeks.’ List under ‘Free Jazz Heavy Metal’ and be very afraid.
The Neil Cowley Trio were cryogenically cooler than a penguin’s pecker in Mr. Frostie’s freezer. Rex Horan, with octopus dreadlocks and professorial moustache & goatee beard, looked just how an alt-jazz dervish double-bassist ought to look. He’s complimented by Evan Jenkins’ drumming – it is so sublime how they play-off each other whilst sharing a conspiratorial cheeky grin. All instrumental numbers, Cowley introduces one about a mate who looks like a greyhound! Well, having played a Shostakovich concert at ten years old he’s allowed to make up for some lost anarchy (not the greyhound bloke, obviously!).
Pizzicato/staccato attacks, labyrinthine counter-time signatures and poly-rhythmic melodies exploded as he indulged in witty asides and a tendency to sniff the air for jazz-fags wafting his way. If you thought you didn’t like jazz , think again. This wasn’t any old jazz, it was decoy guerrilla, lateral rock & roll. ‘Skys Are Rare’ gave us chance to catch our breath with its lilting, balmy, summer romanticism. Last song ‘She Eats Flies’ threw the holy waters of musical convention in to Satan’s chip pan, igniting a crescendo of ecstatic physicality. Many might argue that their piano pyrotechnics, drum and double-bass carpet-bombing beats are the inevitable distillation of prog-rock DNA. Hmm, nice!
At The Yardbird, The Miles Levin Quintet brought a sort of reality-check with some incandescent drumming establishing yet again their default preference for ‘(the) hard bop direction’.
Main Stage and Soweto Kinch brought out the sun wearing a dapper black suit and corn-row braided hair. He honks his sax like he’s made a Faustian pact with jazz armageddon whilst playing off the minimalist double-bass and drums. He had the crowd enthralled by the rap/poem ‘I’m the face behind the face’, an articulate, coruscating spleen-rant against corporate greed and Establishment hypocrisy. And, perhaps Kinch is smiling inside as he imagines scraping Bob Diamond from the soul of his shoes. He creates an anagrammatic freestyle performance based on the words derived from ‘mostly’ (get it?) with jaw-dropping ingenuity and extemporary agility. He closes the main set with a crowd-chant invitation to ‘Stroke The Hippo.’
Interleaved left us engagingly phazed with their electro-jazz laptop found sounds and experimental horns and then it’s big band time on the Main Stage as Fred Wesley and the New JBs bring on their blue shaded funky grooves and crucible of soul-kitchen cooking funk virtuosity. The Herbie Hancock cover ‘Chameleon’ segues in to ‘Funk For Your Ass’ which seemed self-explanatory. He had us ‘Boppin’ To The Boogie’ and then it got a bit walrus luurve song smoochy. And then the horror, the horror! The drum solo! But, the boys are back and there’s mutual band wind-up theatrics and solos galore as we learn about the merits of ‘Baking Bread With Momma’.
Our close encounter with the incredulously attired Funkadelic Parliamentarians disgorged from George Clinton’s Mothership was one of utter disbelief in what our eyes beheld. The old walrus himself was dressed, by comparison, somewhat soberly. For the rest it was buy one/get one free at the local fancy-dress emporium for the sartorially insane. The ‘Nose’ in matching pimp-hat and feathery white pantaloons strutted about with a Pinocchio prosthetic and belt-buckle trash-Vegas glitter. Meanwhile, the guitarist sported the latest in roadkill headgear and a luminous hi-viz tabard. The pretty girl vocalist’s distracting hot-pants and corset elicited few complaints. That little girl never missed a beat. Oh, and a guy strolled about sporting a Native American Chief war-bonnet. All in all, a total trans-tribal fashion outrage. As for the set, it was glorious Psycho Alpha Disco carnage. Clinton engages the crowd with, ‘We got that dodo, we got that shit’, reaffirming that he’s both the Daddy and barking mad. ‘Last Night’ saw a riot going on and the hits just continued to tumble down. It was one mutha of a horn-honking funkin’ good time. An outstanding climax to three days of festival heaven.
Review: John Kennedy
Photographs: Ian Dunn - Principle Photography