The Godfather Of Soul rounds off Brighton's hugely-successful two-day Essential Festival...
James Brown proved you’re never too old to get funky last night (July 17) when his marathon set concluded Brighton’s Essential Festival.
The Godfather Of Soul, actually went on more than an hour earlier than planned, meaning Angie Stone in fact was the last on the bill – but despite her brave efforts, the newcomer’s efforts were dwarfed by the legendary 70-year-old singer.
Playing a set bursting with classics and backed by the tightest backing band in showbiz, Brown proved to be a fitting full-stop to the weekend’s seaside festivities.
If Saturday’s dance spectacular played host to a swathe of beat-hungry youngsters, yesterday’s ‘Roots Day’ saw a more diverse and, well, older sell-out crowd – and the music was equally varied.
While James Brown thrilled thousands at the end of the night, elsewhere on site, you could have sampled the mighty Jah Shaka Sound System which kept bowels quaking in the Zulu Warrior Tent. A mammoth eleven hour session this, the guys had just the one deck – it’s just that it was laced up to a Starship Enterprise style heap of effects units that got idly tweaked every couple of minutes, as huge pictures of Bob Marley grinned down magnanimously.
It’s a reflection on what yesterday had to offer – an interesting mixture of music, part-history lesson, part showcase for the future.
The Eclectic Arena concerned itself with looking forward, and while speakers were rocked by the deck-slaying antics of Cut le Roc and Talvin Singh, there were some real juicy live acts that demanded your delectation. Chiefly, of course, were the Hull based chill-out legends Fila Brazilia, and those Mancunian maestro’s of soulful hip-hop, Rae & Christian. Yet while both pulled off finely polished and funky sets, a hazy, threatening sense of blanding-out sat far too heavily across their earnest faces. Although, to be fair, in the case of the Fila‘s it didn’t help that they were restricted to a mere twenty minutes, not giving their full-blooded and mature vintage enough time to breathe.
Getting back down with some more of that old skool vibe, occasional Massive Attack vocalist and all-round reggae hero Horace Andy really got the reefers a’rollin’. Through the increasingly dense smoke clouds, a plume of pure and delicious old skool reggae wafted from the stage, all topped with Andy‘s trademark helium-esque vocals. Sporting a truly splendid Pork Pie hat, this chap was the dictionary definition of what Roots is all about, as was dub-maniac Mad Professor, and his cohort for yesterday, the Scientist. Accompanied by a jovial but frankly unnecessary MC, the pair set about deconstructing synapse-snapping dub to speaker-popping effect. OK, it may not have been the most visual spectacle on offer, but when the MC asks us if we’re feeling ‘irie’, the answer can only be in the affirmative.
In an odd counterpoint to the jubilant sun-splash vibe outside, DJ Krush cooked up something rather more doom-laden altogether, creating a gentle rush of ambient, loose hip hop scattered with horror flick samples and Twilight Zone vibes. Then, just when it gets rather too womb-like, he hits you with a massive scratch explosion. It’s most invigorating!
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And of course, at the end of the day, we had James Brown. Angie Stone may have lost half her set, but when it meants there was no danger of getting only a half-finished Brown extravaganza, it’s was worth the sacrifice. The man clearly reached the state of self-parody and beyond a good twenty years ago, so what we had last night was pure Las Vegas cabaret, complete with costume changes. He danced and he yelped. His five-hundred piece backing band got downright funky. He sang ‘Sex Machine’ and ‘Living In America’. Songs seemed to go on for about an hour each, and it was, of course, unutterably fantastic.
So how to follow that? Well, Brighton is home to the wannabe DJ, so Kid Koala had a captive and rapturous audience thrilling to his every sharp cut and quick trick. It’s was all very smart, sure, and he must practice a lot, but it seems an acquired taste. It’s a bit like blokes knowing crappy bloke facts – all very impressive but ultimately pointless. Which is, happily, something that could never be said about the completely hatstand Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Someone’s got a lighter in the air and is looking tearful, as ‘Scratch’ slides around the stage brandishing a flag. Who can blame them, when the gloriously laid-back reggae with lashings of echo and twizzly keyboards makes for a toasty tent that skanks as one person? Bonkers but brilliant, he’s cut from the same cloth as James Brown. And there really is no higher recommendation than that. The perfect way to end