Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival 2012

Day One – Friday June 29th

Given the frankly apocalyptic weather conditions (flash floods, lightning, hails stones the size of your head, plagues of locusts… that kind of thing) that struck the Midlands the day before this year’s MoJaFuSo it’s a miracle that the entire site wasn’t washed away into the oceans, only to reappear somewhere on a beach in Trinidad sometime in 2014.

Maylight

Happily the site survived and despite a little mud (hell it wouldn’t be a festival this year without mud) the place was pretty much intact as opening act, the Lizzy Parks fronted electro jazzers Maylight took to the stage on Friday afternoon. An unexpectedly groovy treat for the early arrivers (come on now… admit it… who threw a ‘sickie’ to be here?).

Free School

Rising local stars Free School capped a hugely impressive week (support slot for Editors’ triumphant homecoming gig and a play on prime time 6 Music) with another fine set of retro futurist house tunes before Gilles Peterson (wearing the kind of mac usually favoured by flashers… but he’s just cool… so he can get away with it… the mac wearing that is, not the flashing) pitched the mood just right in his DJ set, gently easing the crowd into Paper Tiger’s chilled out inner city jazz hop.

Gilles Peterson

Paper Tiger

A few years back Introducing hit upon the novel concept of recreating DJ Shadow’s sampledelic classic Endtroducing using a real live band. It’s proved popular. So popular in fact that Shadow’s agent has come down on ‘em like a crate full of 12inches and ordered them to cut it out. Consequently this was the LAST ever Introducing presents Endtroducing show, frankly a tragedy for all concerned. It’s a great concept and their live versions of The Numbers Song and Midnight In Perfect World are just too good to stay locked up in Shadow’s box. Sort it out dudes.

Introducing Play Entroducing

Bad Bad Not Good soundtracked several seasons as wind, rain then sun fell on the rapidly growing crowd, joyfully freed from their desk shackles and well and truly ready to party. Playing the sort of ultra cool sounds that Shadow would sample it was one of those sets that makes you that little bit cooler just by being in the vicinity.

Bad Bad Not Good

Next up Ghost Poet bringing a little Gil Scott Heron meets TV On The Radio vibe. Pick of the set, last year’s breakout single Survive It, could well be our new national anthem thanks to its careworn hope in the face of hopelessness chiming perfectly with a country (and world) rapidly sliding to its knees.

Ghostpoet

Festivals can make or break bands and Troumaca’s primetime slot (just before Roots Manuva) was perhaps a bold move given the fact that they’ve only been around for a year or so. The overwhelming consensus of opinion was that they nailed it though. In fact they nailed it, sanded it and varnished it.

Troumaca Troumaca

Carrying on Brum’s fine tradition for incendiary reggae (a fact acknowledged by the lead singer’s Steel Pulse t-shirt) they’ve added a little dubstep and tropicalia to the mix creating something that should chime perfectly with ‘dem yoot’. The rallying cry of Fire has rapidly become something of an anthem for them and so impressed Gilles Peterson that he offered to sign the band on the spot. Free School, PEACE, Troumaca… can it be that Birmingham’s much anticipated musical rebirth is finally happening?

Troumaca

Now nudging 40 the man born Rodney Hylton Smith, better known as Roots Manuva, has 5 solo albums under his belt and a handful of truly classic singles all of which got a spin tonight.

Roots Manuva

It’s the perfect mix of hip hop, dancehall and ragga together with that little added extra (bonkers retro arcade game sound effects for instance) and a fine way with words that mark Roots out as something special. Dressed in a Kanye West style white suit and shades and joined by another two MCs he led a juiced up crowd in a series of increasingly enthusiastic bouncealongs and arm wavings including a joyful Moseley-centric version of Dreamy Days. Perhaps predictably the biggest cheer of the night went to the party banger Witness (1 Hope) though, which saw the bouncing reach frankly earthquake inducing levels. Off the (Richter) scale.

Roots Manuva

Day Two – Saturday June 30th

Day two and thanks to the UK’s number one funk and soul DJ Mr Craig Charles (who curated this section of the festival), things were about to get F U N K Y.
Let’s face it… cover bands can suck. Big time. You’d be forgiven for approaching legendary US soul n’ funk band Tower Of Power fetishists Rotunda Of Wonder with caution then. Relax. Despite kicking off at dawn (oh alright then 11.30am…it felt like dawn) they managed to put on one of the shows of the festival. A blistering 10 piece band with a powerful lead vocalist (equally at home with the more bluesy soulful numbers) they blazed through an album’s worth of Tower Of Power’s greatest hits and misses funking up the small but rapidly hyped up crowd. Well worth getting up (and staying on the scene) for.

Rotunda Of Wonder

The Coleman Brothers (playing the first of two sets this weekend) provided a chance to chill out for a moment with some fine horny Latin jazz and, joined by sister Sara, a neat cover of The Doors Light My Fire before the Electric Swing Circus fused the 1920s and 2020s in an energetic set that saw some furious swing dancing taking place in the drizzle. Anyone for bongos? You’re in luck. The Bongolians make you feel like you’re in a particularly cool episode of Starsky & Hutch and, incredibly, they’re every bit as great as their seminal ancestors The Incredible Bongo Band. Yes. I know. Incredible.

Colman Brothers

Electric Swing Circus

The Bongolian The Bongolian

Rather brilliantly the next band on the schedule Lack Of Afro… failed to turn up. Genius. That left the way clear for Speedometer to demonstrate just why they’re rated as one of the best, most authentic funk bands around right now. Like the funk greats there’s a real sharpness and kick to the horns that makes all the difference. It was a mind blowing flute solo mid set (which broke into Mission Impossible) that stole the show though. The dude that played that must have asbestos lips. Damn that’s some funky shit.

Speedometer Speedometer

Rising from the flames of their DJ Shadow embargo Introducing turned their attention to recreating Mr Scruff’s back catalogue with the same sense of devotion, neatly lining up the crowd on a platter for Glasgow’s finest The Federation Of Disco Pimp to deliver yet another devastating funkathon. Another Average White Band…in the very best possible way.

Speedometer

Despite not having any original members (one of the band’s original lead singer’s son’s in the line up… so that’s something at least) Odyssey were a disco treat from start to finish. Kicking off with Native New Yorker they worked their way through the hits, Use It Up, Wear It Out, Inside Out and, thanks to a little technical cock up, a beautiful stripped back version of If You’re Looking For A Way Out.

Odyssey

Odyssey Odyssey

Follow that? Anyone who was at 2011’s Mostly Jazz will remember Craig Charles’ set as one of the highlights of the weekend and this year was no different. Wisely scattering his set with some well known classics as well as the more obscure stuff for the crate diggers out there he got the crowd dancing like no one else and a sing along version of Marley’s Is This Love? (which Craig charmingly acted out) was oddly moving. The set ended with daughter Nellie up on the decks and a good natured stage invasion to Alice Russell’s (I think it was her) funked up version of the White Stripe’s 7 Nation Army. Now that’s how to whip up an audience.

Craig Charles

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 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.

The Family Stone

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.

The Family Stone

What a line up and what a funking great day. Mr Charles we salute you. Will there be a stronger funk bill in the UK this year? Answers please on a Mosquito’s Tweeter…

The Family Stone The Family Stone

Day Three – Sunday July 1st

Andy Hamilton's Bluenotes

Following the recent death of their leader, legendary jazz saxophonist Andy Hamilton, The Bluenotes could’ve been forgiven for pulling out of the festival altogether. Instead they chose to play on in tribute to him and what a tribute it turned out to be. The performance of one of Andy’s favourites songs, Blue Skies, by his vocalist and friend Vic Evans (voice as rich as 20 year old Jamaican rum) was incredibly moving. It’s an old cliché but they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Steve Ajao Miles Levin plays with Steve Ajao

Fresh from doing a fine job standing in for Andy in the Bluenotes Moseley’s very own Steve Ajao played his own set including a lively snatch of Coltrane’s Impressions.

Zoe Rahmen Quartet

Day Three was all about showing the diversity of jazz something that Zoe Rahman’s Irish/Bengali fusion and Husk’s experimental 30 minute death jazz opus well and truly demonstrated. Rahman’s a beautiful (in all senses of the word) pianist with a playing style that makes it look all too easy and in her hands the mix of cultures complimented rather than clashed.

Husk

Husk on the other hand were probably going for the clash in a set that began with the vaguest wisps of trumpet and ended up in full on grrrrrr ROCK territory. For those who like their jazz shaken, stirred and then taken roughly from behind. This is a good thing by the way…without young blood doing something fresh jazz… as with any other genre of music… has no future.

Neil Cowley Trio

In most bands there’s one musician who really stands out. The Stone Roses have John Squire, The Smiths have Johnny Marr, Jedward have Edward… you get the idea…it’s unusual to find a group with three truly exceptional artists though. The Neil Cowley trio is that rare beast. On paper they’re a jazz piano trio (cue visions of chilled out tinkling keyboards in chintzy cocktail bars) in reality they rock out with Cowley nudging close to Jerry Lee territory (playing with such fury that he almost shot off his piano stool), double bassist Rex channelling his inner Hendrix (who knew the double bass could rock so much?) and drummer Evan pounding away like Gene Krupa on speed. Cowley’s an engagingly funny guy too, tossing in the odd witty and self deprecating lines between tracks and reacting amusingly to the let’s just call it ‘exotic’ herbal fragrances floating through the air. A frankly ‘must see’ band on anyone’s list.

Soweto Kinch Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch might well be the coolest dude on the planet. He always looks immaculate seemingly without trying too hard, he plays the sax (the coolest instrument ever… fact) and he’s behind one of the hippest free festivals in the world, The Flyover Show. A fine jazz saxophonist his real USP though is his ability to conjure up rhymes out of thin air, getting the audience to shout out words then incorporating them smoothly into a rap. It’s a party trick he’s done plenty of times before but it never ceases to impress, not even the word serotonin could faze him today. Equally strong were tracks from the new album (The New Emancipation) with I’m The Face’s social commentary reaching the heights of Gil Scott Heron at his finest.

Fred Wesley And The New JB's

The festival ended with a double bill of true legends. Fred Wesley was an integral player in James Brown’s band throughout the golden years of the 60s and 70s and his trombone funked up the Godfather like a motherfucker. Kicking off with Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon Fred and the New JB’s delivered Funk For Your Ass before beginning to introduce A Blow For Me A Toot For You from one of his collaborations with George Clinton. As he was chatting away George crept onto the stage behind him, fingers raised to his lips to keep the audience quiet, then lovingly embraced him from behind.

George Clinton surprises old friend, Fred Wesley from The New JB's

The two grandfunkers hugged for a moment or two then Clinton retreated offstage remaining there for much of the rest of Fred’s set as much in awe of the man and his band as the rest of us. Pick of the show… darn that’s a tough one… but Breakin’ Bread (from 1974’s album of the same name) managed to be funny, funky and touching all at the same time. Anything that gets me to sing along has to be pretty awesome.

So, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic… not so much a band, more a small country populated by cast of crazy characters.

George Clinton And Parliament Funkadelic

Tonight we got the likes of foxy tail girl (in the tightest pair of gold hotpants ever seen on stage…be still my throbbing crotch), chicken head roadmender man and Pinocchio nosed superpimp. At least I think we did. It might have been the cider… nope… the photos prove it.

George Clinton And Parliament Funkadelic

From the opening bars of Flashlight right through the next two hours band and audience were united in da funk. Cut Clinton in half and he’d bleed pure funk. Analyse his DNA and you’d find THREE chromosomes, X, Y and F…all getting down and dirty together. If James Brown was the Godfather, George Clinton’s the FUNKFATHER. Yes, you get the picture he’s still a funky mother. It’s no surprise that samples from Clinton’s music has formed the bedrock for so many other tracks including one of tonight’s highlights (Not Just) Knee Deep which of course spawned De La Soul’s seminal Me, Myself and I for instance. The psychedelic rock trip of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (from 1971) was also clearly a huge influence on the whole 70’s rock scene and judging by the looks on everyone’s faces during tonight’s performance it remains just as mesmerising today as it was over 40 years ago. Funk Floyd anyone? How do you top that?

George Clinton And Parliament Funkadelic George Clinton And Parliament Funkadelic

Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow sent the crowd wild before One Nation Under a Groove summed up pretty much what the whole weekend had felt like. We Got The Funk was neatly rebooted thanks to rap section (surprisingly it worked), it wasn’t until the last line was delivered that we discovered that the rapper in question was actually George’s grandson! Encore, Atomic Dog, saw the traditional end of show mayhem as the band was joined by what looked like everyone from the surrounding 20 miles in one last mass funkathon, George at the heart of it all jumping up and down like man of 20 (incredibly he’s actually 70 now).

Strong contender for festival of the year? Hell, you show me another one with as many beaming faces and shaking asses…

Words by Daron Billings, email Daron.
Photos by Wayne Fox, email Wayne.

2 Responses to “Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival, Birmingham, UK – 29 June – 1 July 2012”

  1. Bianca Says:

    Super-fantastic-amazing. You guys have nailed it… Yet again! :) x

  2. Wayne Says:

    Thank you Bee and our “Likers” :o)

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