A festival’s second year is much like a band’s tricky second album – will it be more of the same, completely different or will it all fall apart due to musical differences?
Thankfully TTP2 managed to combine the first two and sidestep the third. Not only had they booked pop legend Brian Wilson on his golden anniversary tour (of one the greatest albums ever recorded) to headline Saturday, they’d also got re-energised indie darlings Suede to close proceedings on Sunday. With many local performers, Brighton-based traders and partners making an appearance over the weekend this year’s festival definitely had the community feel it was created for.
The first thing we notice on entering the site is how compact it is: main stage opposite the entrance, the Concorde2 stage to the left and BIMM’s tent next to that, which is where Seats (pictured above) were playing an early bird set of swirly math rock.
Next door, another fine young local band, Post Heather, turn out a PJ Harvey-esque sound using a simple two-piece guitar and drums set-up. It’s engaging and effective, and we reckon they’re an act worth keeping an eye on.
Main stage opener Natty went down well with his roots and dub reggae sound warming up the dancers but rainclouds were already looming.
Clad in black, Gaz Coombes followed with a load of local reminisces and a gorgeous version of ‘Moving’ – a song born in Brighton – wafted across the park. His self-described “Billy Bragg style” set included rhythm ‘n’ bluesy rockers from latest album ‘Matador’ and ended big with ‘Caught By The Fuzz’.
Over in the Concorde2 tent, American troubadour Matthew Vasquez, of Delta Spirit fame, displayed shades of Rodriguez, from his Stetson and harmonica brace and vocal tone to the socio-political lyrical content of his songs. A Kenny Rogers’ style ‘Personal’ was a nice ending to the only Americana show of the day.
The Soapbox teepee was the focal point for local issues with Know My Neighbour highlighting the dangers and health issues surrounding loneliness – a major problem in Brighton and a presentation from Gig Buddies, an organisation that pairs up music lovers that have learning difficulties with people who attend events with them.
A Channel 4 crew were present to film local star of The Undateables, Daniel Wakeford as he romped through an exuberant set of catchy self-penned songs to massive cheers from the now-packed tent. A great performance.
By now the rain had come, but despite a late start Nathaniel Rateliff’s Stax-styled Southern soul pulled a hardy crowd.
Spoken word giants Sage Francis and B. Dolan were squeezed into the teepee, a far too small venue, for a dynamic set of tag team rhymes covering topics as diverse as Trump, Brexit, graffiti removal and lawn care.
Thankfully the rain ceased as Brian Wilson, seated at a baby grand, sailed through Beach Boys classics with faithful cohort (and birthday boy) Al Jardine by his side and Al’s son Matt supplying angelic high register vocals. Wilson apologised for stopping the rock’n’roll to play “this arty album Pet Sounds” but there was a universal “aah” as ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ began.
With Carl Wilson gone, it might have been wise to have Matt take lead vocal on ‘God Only Knows’ but the frailty of Brian’s voice added extra poignancy to the masterpiece. The album remains a unique testament to Wilson’s creativity and was performed with panache by the whole band. The night was rounded off with even more hits, expertly programmed to end with everyone singing and dancing to ‘Surfin USA’ and ‘Fun Fun Fun’.
The rain held off on Sunday which meant there were quite a few more people out and about in the afternoon. Though it was far from sunny, we were soon smiling after being greeted near the gates by a skull-faced marching band blaring their way through a mash-up of ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘The Final Countdown’.
We caught our first full band of the day at the BIMM stage where local boys Beachtape were channelling the sounds of Dinosaur Jr. and Pixies into a fine stew of noisy slacker rock. The rolling guitars and pounding drums carried the set, but the lack of audience interaction suggests that maybe BIMM don’t do a module on stage banter. In any case, a dose of melodic angst was a decent way to start proceedings.
After her electric set on the Concorde2 stage we have to admit we’re just a little bit in love with AJ Haynes of Seratones. She took the stage, dancing, smiling and laughing at jokes that seemed to be playing in her head whilst all the while driving her tight slick band into an Alabama Shakes-like ascent. Their sound is that soulful rockin’ electric blues that seems to be done well by Americans who give the impression of having seen the inside of a church as frequently as the inside of a whiskey bottle. It was pretty energising and left us wanting more.
Over on the main stage, Songhoy Blues began their set by echoing the festival’s name in an on-stage call for togetherness. “People can’t do nothing on their own,” explained frontman Aliou Touré. “Like music and dancing, we need each other.” If the sentiment rings true in Brexit Britain, it must mean a lot to a band born out of the civil war of their native Mali. Over the next 45 minutes they put the theory into practise with a bouncy, uplifting take on the staples of desert blues: offbeat vocal cries, one-chord afrobeat jams and plenty of tasty electric blues licks.
Next up, Peter Hook bounds onto stage, bass strung low, and plants his feet as far apart as they’ll go. If it wasn’t for the warm reception of the crowd, the icy repetitious riffs of Joy Division tracks like ‘Digital’ and ‘Isolation’ would have seemed a strange contrast to what had just gone before. However, a strong backing band and a great stage sound make it an impressive entrance. Hook has a sidekick on bass, playing the same lines, which means his own is used more as doubling overdub for the instrumental sections. The set changes tone as the band more or less stands down for a run of preprogrammed New Order hits, but this is the moment the field of forty-something fans really start going for it. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is an inevitable and brilliant closer.
The Horrors came to the stage whilst it was still light which felt odd for a band whose sound seemed to absorb darkness and emanate a gothic sense of detachment and bewilderment. They seemed to split the audience, some loving them and others walking away. We thought it might be a good time for a beer.
We then settle down in the Soapbox tepee with Brighton’s best protest singer Chris TT, who struggles – and mostly succeeds – to overcome the sound bleed coming from the main stage. Our brave troubadour treats the tent to an unlikely mix of AA Milne poems, ballads about dying dolphins and a jaunty comedic put-down of Liberals.
The political theme continues through the Poets Vs MCs spoken word show. Recasting the teams along party lines, this was a showdown of ideology and spin as well as lyrical wordplay. Michael James Parker makes a convincing Conservative, all suited and smug, while Robin Lawley affects a tortuous but hilarious Russian accent as the leader of the lefties. Despite most of the best pieces coming from the right (including RapTory the rhyming dinosaur puppet), the Tories were never going to win over an audience of Brighton spoken word fans in a festival wigwam.
After that we’re back at the main stage for the atmospheric opening of the festival’s final act, Suede. Having cemented their 2013 comeback with the release of a grand and brooding album earlier this year, we were expecting to see a band eager to prove their relevance with new material. Instead they kick off with two b-sides from the 90s, followed by a slew of hits from their excellent early albums.
Brett Anderson swaggers around the stage, crouching and leaping, like he’s barely aged a day since they were proclaimed the best new band in Britain. “Singing is just shouting with confidence,” he tells us, and it’s obvious it’s not something he’s ever lacked.
The band are top form too, though they are little more than silhouettes against the high, blue-lit drapes. They leave the stage for a couple of dramatic set-piece songs – which prove Anderson’s voice is still up to those gloriously over-the-top falsetto parts – and come back on to strike up yet another stomping, ass-slapping hit. Anderson is clearly loving it, and so is the crowd. We’d forgotten how good they are and we’d wager most of Preston Park was thinking the same thing, even before the encore ending of ‘New Generation’.
A great weekend, despite the rain. Though it was pretty pricey and possibly too varied for its own good, the festival offers a pedigree of performers that you simply don’t expect to find playing in your local park. Let’s hope the weather doesn’t dent the chances of it coming back next year.
Together The People, Preston Park, 3rd & 4th September 2016