Event Review: We Out Here Festival (Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire; Thursday 15th to Sunday 18 August 2019)

WOH19 © Nick Clague Photography (242)

An inaugural festival is always going to be packed with risk and suspense, and after the downpour that Friday night experienced, a breath was held in anticipation of Saturday’s events. However, it is with sheer delight I report that the proceedings seemingly went ahead seamlessly.

Saturday

I have to jump right in here and skip half a day, as the performance I witnessed from South London nu-jazz collective Steam Down has left me simply bewildered and brimming with that new jazz energy and a craving to hear more.

Steam Down © Pretend Online

Peterson’s ideas for his festival stemmed from the collaboration of club music with this vibrant, alive jazz movement blasting from the horns of London’s working-class youths. Birthed from weekly jam sessions, the members of Steam Down introduced their set with a sort of futuristic spoken word that had my mind racing to try and de-code what higher message I was being given. I was immediately enthralled and fell for their flows. The rest of their show proceeded to blow my mind in every way, from the unique flow styles and delicately chosen dialect of the two endearing dudes singing and rapping, to the unimaginable freedom on the saxophone, to the extraordinary female vocals, reminiscent at a moment of the famous vocals on ‘Great Gig in the Sky’. A heartfelt ode to Grenfell was lyrically and cleverly woven into the fabrics of a song: “If the building ain’t safe, shit, escape it” – words that fell on sombre souls, heeding almost as a warning, however, one that I feel we all already knew too well. Lastly, a humorous command for us to shuffle the ‘grandpa dance’ amazingly had a thousands-strong crowd moving in a happily organised, easy fashion: a spectacle in itself! I felt as though I left my mouth open, gawping in awe and intense pleasure for their entire set, and truly haven’t been moved as they moved me in a while… not just in reference to the grandpa dance.

 

The day was just kicking off, only to be followed by what for me felt like the flag post concert of the festival: Kokoroko, whose album We Out Here surely inspired the name of the festival, as it is a token album in the age of innovation in NuJazz. For me, perhaps a tad overshadowed by the powerful Steam Down performance, the staple band still amazed, sending this wave of relaxed jazzy tones throughout the packed audience. I was sad not to hear the classic ****, as I really thought it might just be the anthem of the festival and what, in my limited knowledge, is perhaps the very song that introduced not just the NuJazz movement to a million-plus new audience, but also maybe brought the joy found in jazz to listeners, perhaps for the first time!

Rob © Nick Clague Photography

Saturday couldn’t go amiss without mentioning the Nigerian legend that is Rob with his recently reissued album Rob. His character and fans certainly made him a stand-out act. With his constant bombardment of “Are you going to lose yourself tonight?” and “Do you want some more?”, it seemed the more and more Rob asked, indeed the more we wanted, to the point that when his allocated slot had passed, he withheld physical removal from the stage and, against the system, played SOME MORE! A brilliant feat, in what would have otherwise been a chest too rock’n’roll.

WOH19 © Heather Shuker

Sunday

The festival weekend closed with a bang on Sunday. With acts like Sons of Kemet, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Dele Sosimi, Children of Zeus and Etuk Ubong performing, the muddy party-goers were treated to an eclectic line-up of acts. The biggest highlights of the day, however, were Gary Bartz and The Comet Is Coming, taking over the main stage.

The Comet Is Coming © Nick Clague Photography

Inviting American jazz master Gary Bartz with singer Dwight Trible and rapper Saul Williams to collaborate with younger British artists felt like a nod of appreciation to the jazz elders. They were joined by London singer Zara McFarlane and the players from the UK band Maisha. Shirley Tetteh opened the set with a beautiful stripped-back guitar solo in a modestly understated manner, as all the players on stage were visibly vibing. This energy was not lost on the audience, who kept growing in numbers and energy throughout the set. The appreciation from the ground sky-rocketed when Dwight Trible did an impressive vocal solo that somehow sounded like a whole orchestra playing at once.

The Comet is Coming then took everyone on a space rave to another dimension as the night turned to dusk. In epic style, with strobe lighting, explosive smoke and keyboardist Dan Leavers dressed as an astronaut, the final act took off. The field was bouncing throughout the set, and with no breaks between songs, it felt like a club night that could go on for hours. Shabaka Hutchings hooked in the revellers with his trademark rhythmic horn lines that looped addictively.

Sons of Kemet © Nick Clague Photography

This was a festival in its infancy, but creator Gilles Peterson is no virgin to curating a stellar line-up. Whilst there were teething problems with food, bar and camping areas, this was superseded by the quality of all the music. Seeing the players walking around the grounds to check out other performances really accelerated the feeling of excitement for upcoming sets and bolstered the feeling of community.

This was a high-speed entry onto the summer scene for a brand-new festival with memorable live performances, alongside buzzing night-time DJ sets. We can’t wait to see who will be joining the jazzy family for We Out Here 2020!

Gilles Peterson © Lisa Wormsley

 

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