What a difference the sun makes! Although the downpours of last year’s inaugural Downs Festival failed to dampen the enthusiasm of a crowd determined to enjoy a culminating set from Massive Attack, this year’s vibe felt almost beach-like – with warm rays beaming down on a happy 27,000 sell-out crowd.
Team Love and Crosstown Concerts can pat themselves on the back. With this second successful mix of talent, they have established The Downs Festival as another Bristol classic. It will be anticipated, from now on, every bit as much as the Festival of the Sea, the Balloon Festival and UpFest. That it also ran exactly to the timetable was impressive.
Leading the festival spirit was classic Brit soul band, Grammy-award winning Soul II Soul. Celebrating being together for 30 years, this 11-piece bundle of fun ripped up the stage with some unstoppable dance anthems including their number one single Back to Life.
They were followed by the wonderful Ibibio Sound machine. Fronted by the fabulously dressed London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams – Ibibio mashed up a delicious mix of Western African funk with a dash of disco and funk and electronica. As if that wasn’t enough to get you flicking your flipflops off, then came hip-hop supremos De La Soul.
Meanwhile over on the second stage there were great sounds coming from the decks of Mike Skinner and David Rodigan and a DJ set from Groove Armada. This stage would close sensationally with a live performance from Roni Size, ending with a passionate call out: “Bristol – the City, the town I love.”
Last year Kate Tempest had impressed on the Information Stage. This year it was film director Ken Loach who got top billing. Before him there had been a series of talks and discussions with an emphasis on political engagement with young people. Yasmin El-Tourgman, CO of My Life My Say, described the huge gap that existed between young people and the decision-making process at Westminster. She told her audience that the average age for a first-time house buyer in London is now 39, and that the average age of local councilors in London is 66. Something to ponder. Rap artist Akala had previously impressed with his stories about the homeless in LA.
A misty moon hovered overhead as Sea Sick Steve stomped his way through a blistering set on the main stage that featured all of his eccentric instruments, including his ‘hub cap’ guitars and the famous Trance Wonder’, his three-string Gibson. Joined by drummer, Dan Magnusson, Steve has the confidence these days to play a one-note solo and still milk the audience for applause!
Finally then, it was the turn of Elbow, now at the very height of their creative powers, to close out the night. Relatively new dad Guy Garvey was keen to include the very young in his asides to the audience. One 9-year old and a 12-year old had their day made when he said a special hello to them from the stage. Briefly interrupted by a male streaker, Guy and the band held their composure to captivate a huge crowd. With Guy’s soaring notes filling the Bristol sky, this felt like a summer moment to savour. ★★★★★ Simon Bishop 3rd September 2017