Jazz FM's Love Supreme Festival has a special place in my heart.
One, it is a credible, classy and expansive festival that leaves me buoyant for weeks after.
Two, after writing a review of the 2013 festival I was asked by Jazz FM to submit content for their website. Since then, I have been lucky enough to review some amazing gigs that have broadened my curious musical mind. What a hook up it has turned out to be.
So arriving back at the beautiful grounds of Glynde Place in Sussex was like being reunited with an old mate; a great big, crushing bear hug in festival form.
Much fun was ahead.
I love the first night of a festival and the sense of anticipation wafting in the air. There is possible danger of peaking too early. The weekend screams 'YOU'RE HERE! RELAX, HAVE A BEER! THERE IS NOTHING TO DO FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS BUT DANCE, DRINK, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT. WHEY'! and I take its hand and get properly stuck in.
A quick peek around the site revealed that this year was noticeably bigger, with more food options and some of the old favourites were back - like the Grand Marnier Hidden Charm Space - as well as some welcome new additions like the cool Matua Sessions Stage. After the requisite Pieminister pie we were drawn into the bright lights of The Arena for Jazz FM's Funky Sensation - serving up old school jazz funk and vintage grooves with a slice of modern soul.
John Osborne got the party started, followed by the legendary Chris Philips who never fails to disappoint with his encyclopaedic knowledge of music and London verve, entertaining the multi-age crowd. Amongst a number of delicious tunes, Chris dropped Leviticus - The Burial (complete with Jill Francis sample) which took me happily back to my jungle days, and as we all danced like mad and relived our, ahem, youth, I noticed outside the Arena a mild drizzle had begun to fall. Everyone was having such a good time though and the people so friendly that I knew a spot of precipitation wouldn't rain on our parade. My husband and I headed home at a very sensible 1am, leaving behind a crowd of revellers who danced and sung heartily as the Arena lights illuminated the violet night.
A ROLLER SKATING JAM NAMED SATURDAYS
My favourite day of the week and time for a session, in both musical and beverage sense. We started our degustation of Love Supreme's signature dishes with Nikki Yanofsky in Ronnie Scott's Big Top. She performed an emotive set including an exquisite cover of I'd Rather Go Blind during which you could almost hear a pin drop. A quick dash across to the Main Stage rewarded us with Grammy Award Winners Snarky Puppy who created a fantastic energy and were absorbing.
I went for a quick wander around the site and popped to the (spotless) toilets, telling my husband I would be back soon. Soon-ish. Er, OK admittedly it was one hour later, but this was a hugely productive loo detour; I met up with a good friend, bumped into Femi Temowo, renowned jazz-guitarist, producer and broadcaster, who was taking a breather from performing to hang out and purchased some beautiful vintage clothes from Kate and Aud, an independent boutique offering vintage and re-made clothing. BOOM! After placating the hubby with chilled Stowford Press cider, we settled back into a good spot by the Main Stage.
Then the rain came. Boo.
Then Incognito came. Yay! A highlight of the weekend, the group were seasoned pros as usual as they prepared to celebrate their 35th Anniversary and Bluey, inherently cool, told the crowd that Incognito were 'here for the same reason; to celebrate life and because we love music'. Amen. With Vanessa Haynes and Katie Leone powerfully steering the vocals, they proved themselves to be as gifted and consistently influential as always; Still a Friend of Mine still sounds unbeatable live.
Over at The CocoFace Bandstand, Normanton Street, a soul/hip hop group based in Brighton were holding their own in front of a chilled crowd eager to savour fresh new acts. Fronted by Ned, Nicholson and Phoebe their sound is lyrically focused with distinctive vocals, jazz influenced guitars, warm bass grooves, tight rhythmic drums and saxophone melodies. Their cover of the Notorious BIG's Juicy was accomplished.
Next adventure was to Ronnie Scott's Big Top to see classically trained singer and musical heavyweight Lalah Hathaway. Her voice is so perfectly effortless she barely needs to open her mouth - she even has the talent to split and harmonise her own voice; it is truly astonishing to hear.
Inspired by the afternoon's disco dance, catching Earth, Wind & Fire Experience featuring Al McKay was a must. They dazzled in fabulous shirts, impeccable synchronised dancing and with a succession of classic disco hits. 'How's everyone feeling?!' the legendary Al bellowed to a cheery response from the crowd. 'Slightly plastered' I thought, feeling the effects of the cider-Grand Marnier-combo as I spotted my husband out of the corner of my eye desperately searching his pockets, rucksack and the floor for his sunglasses that were safely ON HIS FACE.
Definitely time to lay off the sauce of for a bit, we headed to the shelter of The Arena for the always impressive and impossibly smooth voice of the soulful Omar to treat our ears. You could literally get lost in his back catalogue of music, drifting contentedly in rare groove and soul which pleased the veteran fans as well as the curious new ones. His set included 'Be Thankful', his collaboration with soul heavyweights Angie Stone and Erykah Badu and a song that was twenty-three years old (which he quipped he wrote when he was four). Yes, the gorgeous and instantly recognisable There's Nothing Like This got the crowd hyped up and this is a record that has not corroded with age.
Over on the Main Stage Jamie Cullum was kicking up an atmospheric storm, bouncing off the piano and conducting his faithful crowd to chant along to his set that included personal favourites of mine - covers of Pharrell Williams' Frontin and Rihanna's Don't Stop the Music. He thanked Jazz FM for making jazz singers feel like rock stars and held his own in front of an eager crowd.
It had been a smashing day but my problem is that I never know when to stop. I dragged my husband back into the Grand Marnier tent, no longer such a Hidden Space as it seemed the whole festival was vying to get in to seek solace from the weather. With a palette of music that infused 90s hip hop and ska inspired riffs with 60s classics the DJ had us eating out of his hands. I couldn't contain my excitement (or my dignity) when he played Get it On Tonite by Montell Jordan, of which I know every single word, including the ooos and aaas and treated everyone to my rendition. Time to go, said Alex nervously as he gently lifted the Panama hat off my head and we ventured out in the rain to head home, still on a massive high after the potent injection of everything we had seen, heard and experienced.
Tragically, the last day was upon us but there was no time for sadness - the sun was shining and there was magic and hip hop in the air. We headed to the bar and were slightly embarrassed to be informed that it didn't open for another five minutes; but we had a hoot with the very friendly bar staff none the less. There was a reason for our expeditiousness - the formidable José James was kicking off events on the Main Stage and this was not to be missed.
With a band including Richard Spaven on drums from London and Solomon Darcy on vocals, José's sonorous voice was exquisite and the reverberating bass made my heart thump in my chest. He reminded us how spoiled we were by this weekend's line up and treated us to old greats - the seductive Trouble and the sensual Come to My Door - and some hot new tunes from While You Were Sleeping.
As I sipped my first cider of the day (legally, it was 1.00pm) and observed my surroundings framed by the beautiful South Downs, it struck me that Love Supreme is a festival of style, substance and civility but beneath the perceived bourgeois there is a very cool undertone. In the VIP area there may be newspaper reading on fold-up chairs accompanied by a crisp glass of rosé, but make no mistake, music heads flock here because they know their stuff and get to hang out and party with like-minded people. It's also a catwalk for fierce festival fashion - this year felt less bohemian, more edgy with 90s influences, leather toughening up vintage dresses and vintage loveliness.
There's also the unexpected bits that end up sticking in your mind, like the charming Neon Saints brass band who performed a lovely impromptu brass set with trumpets, drums, tambourines and harmonised vocals. A crowd formed, people clapped and children hula hooped while the carousel span around in the background and blended bright colours into the sky.
We listened to the super powerhouse vocals of Alice Russell on Main Stage with her catchy riffs, and then Kris Bowers, who I had the pleasure of meeting later while he was signing CDs, but found ourselves in an uncomfortable and all too familiar festival-clash situation - so hard to choose from all the sumptuous talent on show - and settled down to catch some of the veteran of UK Jazz, Mr Courtney Pine who served up cool jazz flavour with a side of steel drum that virtually screamed sunshine and Omar made a guest appearance.
A quick peek around the book tent and Rough Trade tent (um, OK, and maybe some clothes stalls; hello new purple sunglasses), and a visit to the vintage silver Airstream where Jazz FM were broadcasting live, filled the gap before Soul II Soul performed. Jazzie B called out to the crowd in that wicked London inflection 'the sun's out, you're out and we're out' and the instantly recognisable beats of Back to Life (However Do you Want Me) boomed out across the field with the superb Caron Wheeler, followed by Get a Life, and the sea of Grand Marnier hats bobbed up and down to a fantastic set.
The promise of Gregory Porter in Ronnie Scott's Big Top caused a big crowd to form and Chris Philips appeared on stage to introduce him, telling us to get nice and warm as the cool air wrapped around us. His set, impeccably delivered with his signature sound started with Musical Genocide off the Liquid Spirit album and included the beautiful Hey Laura, and Real Good Hands from the outstanding Be Good album. I have been lucky enough to see Gregory Porter three times now; twice at Love Supreme and once live in London and he never, ever fails to enchant me with glistening melodies, the vast depth of his voice and the unmistakable sound of jazz.
It was hard to accept, but the festival was coming to a close and the final headliners were waiting in the sidelines. Chris had the honour once again of introducing the act and reminding us this was a very big deal - after all De La Soul are the DNA of hip hop music, they hold the blue print. He also asked those still sitting comfortably in their chairs and refusing to budge to kindly move and let people get close up front to dance - as, after all, hip hop and chairs are not good bed fellows. Yes Chris!
I got hooked on De La Soul at school with the release of their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising which sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. It opened up my mind to rap music that could also be intertwined with funk, soul, jazz and reggae. They were the originators of innovative sampling, clever lyrics and infectious beats.
The atmosphere around the Main Stage was electric. With the ornamentation of a full band, Plug Three dazzled us with genius scratching and the bass went in through my ears, right down into my back and nearly lifted me out of my shoes. The sounds were insanely funky with classic beats and each tune still sounded so contemporary. The set included Oooh! featuring Redman and Me Myself and I, along with tracks from the Smell the D.A.I.S.Y. mix tape produced by the late J Dilla. Plug One and Plug Two hit us with sonic, poetic rapping and witty social commentary that magically flowed and interweaved and they teased the eager crowd with run ups to A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays and the encore track, Magic Number. It was emphatic.
As the crowd dissipated and the Grand Marnier hats fell to the floor for the last time, it was time to absorb what we had experienced - Love Supreme 2014 had been a classy, outstanding success. Some festivals are all (floral headbands, denim shorts and glitter) style and no substance; Love Supreme is smart enough to a beautiful amalgam of both.
With an amazing collective of musicians, this is about music that gets under your skin and invades your senses. That takes you everywhere and anywhere no matter where you're from. Admittedly, it may not yet have the same giddy capacity as Glastonbury or the huge commercial acts as V Festival (thank goodness) but is most definitely a force to be reckoned with in just its second year. It is energetic, friendly and musically diverse with a strength and depth of great artists, old and new, who look like they're over the moon to be there.
Watch out fellow festivals, there's a new sheriff in town.
“This festival is only two years old and already feels like it’s here to stay forever.” Jamie Cullum
“This is the best festival I’ve ever been to, straight up.” Laura Mvula