After the first Love Supreme Festival in 2013, the organisers very nearly decided to throw in the towel. They lost a tonne of money. But disco legends Chic, in a roundabout way, saved the day. Not only had the festival sold a fair few tickets on the back of their appearance, but they also delivered a nigh-on perfect set of sunshine hits that had the crowd in raptures. It proved to be a lucky booking for, only a week before, Chic had stolen the show at Glastonbury, and re-established their credentials as true icons and purveyors of ridiculously infectious and classy hits galore. This fact reverberated to Glynde, in Sussex, telling the organisers that there was potentially a market for this kind of event, an outdoor festival that catered for a well-heeled, mature crowd, that would literally get down to the right kind of music.
And so they battled on, continuing to lose money, but limiting their losses year-on-year until they hit the jackpot for this, their fifth edition. A sold out affair, and once again bathed in very decent weather, Love Supreme now seems set to stay. Thanks to an excellent programming policy that mixes up the legends (The Jacksons, George Benson, Herbie Hancock) with fresh and often adventurous music (BadBadNotGood, Robert Glasper), and legends in the making (Gregory Porter) Love Supreme is very much an all-ages event, with young kids, teenagers, young and older adults rubbing shoulders over the three days, and set in the idyllic, and very child-friendly grounds of Glynde House.
Jazz only in name, the festival also features hip-hop, electronica, soul, funk, pop and disco, the overriding feature being the quality of the music on offer. And if the sun is shining (which is almost always does) you can hardly fail to be swept up in this little bubble just ten miles outside Brighton.
Friday is really just the precursor to the packed action over the following two days but, once you’ve settled in there are things to do. These include a programme of events in the Arena, where India’s The Ska Vengers were performing as part of Island Records Presents: Vintage Remix four hour late night slot, programmed by Brighton’s Nick Hollywood, of the White Mink club nights and the Freshly Squeezed label. Heavily politicised in their own country, they’ve been touring UK festivals of late, with their mix of ska, dub, punk and jazz. Then over at the Blue and Green Bar in the wooded part of the site for some late night DJ action courtesy of Jazz FM’s Funky Sensation, with the DJ rather incongruously doing that toasting thing that DJ’s used to once do, whilst spinning plenty of memorable hits from yesteryear. Friday night generally plays to an older, camping crowd, who have no thoughts about getting home.
Saturday though is where it really starts to happen, with the gates open to the thousands who have bought day tickets only. By mid-afternoon the site is pretty full up, but before that there’s the delightful LaSharVu, fronted by three experienced vocalists who’ve worked with many big names in the world of rock’n’roll including Basement Jaxx, Sam Smith and Mark Ronson, but who have come together to do their own thing. Adorning mustard colours, and revelling in the early afternoon sunshine and a very up-for-it crowd, these girls alternate lead vocals, showing their class in every way, mixing up old school soul with Prince-style funk, before finishing off with ‘Escape’, one of several originals you’ll be hearing very soon on their first album.
Shabaka Hutchings was a busy boy on the Saturday, playing in no less than three bands, firstly with his own ensemble, followed by Sons of Kemet and then The Comet is Coming (more of them later). Whilst alternative space jazz is very loosely what he does as a sax player, they are three very divergent outfits, with perhaps the lesser know Shabaka and the Ancestors band being the pick of the bunch. Their debut album, Wisdom of Elders, was inspired by and recorded in South Africa, and this largely informs a mesmerising afro-tinged jazz set that morphed effortlessly through spacious pieces; from ambient passages to full-on sonic assaults. Underpinned by the brilliant dual percussive team, Hutchings and his saxophonist partner Mthunzi Mvubu traded places and work in unison, while singer Siyabonga Mthembu provided occasional vocals, from scat to afro-chants, the music often taking on a trance-like feel. No wonder Love Supreme’s alt-hipsters and hippies were out in force for them, soaking up the never boring, nor bombastic sounds of this remarkable, and spiritually-infused band.
Love Supreme is in the habit of showcasing old school funk and soul, and the mild Saturday afternoon air was filled with the sounds of veteran American singer Lee Fields & The Expressions, who delivered a rousing, tight, brass-infused, vintage R‘n’B and soul set, aided by the wearing of matching and immaculate silver suits. Similarly, D’Influence provided a reminder of why they were feted as one of the leaders of the 90s acid-jazz-funk brigade that included the likes of Galliano and Young Disciples. Their bass-heavy grooves haven’t been heard in a field for nearly two decades, but led by the engaging Sarah Anne Webb they provided a reminder of how good they still are, particularly on one of their finest moments the ‘Good Lover’. There was indeed a lot of love for this lot, and they were absolutely delighted to be here this weekend, as patently were so many other acts, surprised at the large numbers grooving incessantly to the quality music on offer all day.
Mica Paris is another leading light of the 90s British soul renaissance and, although she hasn’t disappeared to quite the extent D’Influence did, it was still a rare pleasure to witness one of the finest of her generation. A veritable goddess on the live stage, she took on the old school songs of Ella Fitzgerald with her small ‘big band’ in tow. Smooth and professional, but with just enough raggedness and spontaneous bonhomie to take this above and beyond a simple tribute act, Paris got the crowd engaged, particularly on the all-time jazz classic ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’. While Love Supreme is filled with the sounds of the here and now, its success is largely underpinned by many golden acts from back in the day, performing the classics to a hugely appreciative audience.
Relatively new kid on the block Corrine Bailey-Rae perhaps didn’t shine quite as much as she does on record, where the production and nuances of her new age acoustic-soul gently jump out of the grooves. Nevertheless, she too exuded a lot of heartfelt love from the stage, and finished in some style with her big springboard hit, ‘Put Your Records On’. Similarly, Canada’s very young BadBadNotGood didn’t always hit the sweet spots compared to their immaculate recordings, the nuances and dynamics lost a little in the big Arena marquee (a problem for other acts over the weekend), and lacking the guest vocalists that dot their recordings. Still, they looked very much at ease, having only performed on the esteemed West Holts stage at Glastonbury the week before and indulged in some expressive (if rather clumsy!) dancing during the course of the set. It’s a big reason for their popularity, particularly amongst the youth, the element of fun looming large within their progressive and serious musicality, that veers the ambient to combustible, and all points in-between, and all tremendously seamlessly.
One of the most eagerly awaited acts of the festival was Herbie Hancock, who ended up being in The Big Top. Despite its large size, it was bursting at the seams, with the audience wondering which direction he would go in today. Would he feature some of those crowd pleasing hits of yesteryear (‘Rockit’, ‘I Thought It Was You’) or might he go down forays into experimental jazz? Although he eschewed the obvious numbers, Hancock largely managed to compress his incredibly diverse musical vocabulary into a satisfying exploratory fusion, although the band did indulge all too heavily at one point in super-elongated solos on ‘Cantaloupe Island’, a trait that does jazz very few favours as a whole. Along with Vinnie Calaiuta on drums, James Genus on bass, Terrace Martin on sax, and African guitarist Lionel Loueke, Hancock used synthesised voices at times, whilst fluently grappling with the keys on a grand piano, in a set that included some new numbers amongst classics such as ‘Chameleon’ (where he adorned a keytar) and ‘Actual Proof’. Light and dark, menace and calm, it was mostly all here in this masterclass, some members of the audience going delirious with delight.
On to the main attraction for the day, The Jacksons. They too had just done Glastonbury, but could Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, four of the original members, pull it off? Yes and no. Yes, insofar as they were – sometimes forgotten – integral members of this most famous of families, who sang and played on all the hits of the 70s and very early 80s, from the opening number ‘Can You Feel It’, to the closing, epic and timeless groove of ‘Shake Your Body’. And for sure they could sing (albeit perhaps not so much the high notes), and do the obligatory choreographed moves. Of course these and other hits sounded great, and got the excited and transfixed audience behind them. But no, insofar as we had to endure a rather incongruous and schmaltzy mid-set documentary about the band, displayed on the giant stage screens (something new for the festival) that featured the badly missed Michael, a bona fide titan of music, and who elicited plenty of sad “aahh’s” throughout its showing. For sure, there were some who couldn’t quite get their heads around The Jacksons. Surely, they were basically just a tribute act cashing in (as if they need it) on their 40-year-old plus repertoire? But, unless you have a heart of stone, you just couldn’t deny their place in history, or the fact these were the ones (plus Michael) who set the world alight with their funk, soul and disco pop back in the 70s before Michael embarked on his profoundly game-changing solo career. Hats off to them, I say.
Contrast was provided by The Comet is Coming. I temporarily sneaked off from the disco heaven of The Jacksons, to witness this trio, who once upon a time were just a duo called Soccer 96, before that man Shabaka Hutchings came a-honking along. Unsurprisingly, given the clashing schedules, they were significantly relegated audience-wise, but those who stayed witnessed a raw, crunchy, and indeed cosmic outpouring of banging instrumental techno-jazz. With Hutchings on sax, honking and riffing his way throughout both Danalogue the Conquerer’s deep synth-bass pulses, chords and house-like effects and Betamax Killer’s drums rooting the sound, they took you on a journey to the outer reaches and back again.
On to the Sunday, after a bit of light rain during the night, another fine day was in store (Love Supreme has been very lucky with the weather over the years and I’m not totally convinced many here could cope with foul, inclement conditions!), beginning with a chance to check out the Hot 8 Brass Band on the Main Stage. From New Orleans, but signed to Brighton’s Tru Thoughts label, they were at the forefront of bringing raw brass-funk back to the party, thanks in a large part to their innovative rendition of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’. That could have ended up being a millstone around that band’s neck, but they’ve proved to be both durable and adept at choosing songs from the vast reservoirs of modern music; from ‘Play That Funky Music’ to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. There’s plenty of call and response stuff, and lots of love again for a semi-hungover audience basking in the sunshine, and gradually exercising those limbs to the brass-heavy, sousaphone bass, and percussive interplay that grooves long and hard. Lyrically, it’s all a bit basic and underwhelming, but there’s no doubting these guys are perfect for the festival at this time of day.
Mid-afternoon arrives, and so does St. Paul, to the sounds of choral music, and draped in some kind of Popeish finery, before he whips it off, and leads his Broken Bones Band for what was easily one of the highlights of the festival. Looking rather un-soul like in his florid jacket, and possessor of a bit of a belly and some 60s-style specs, Paul Janeway is soul. Giving a performance that mixed tenderness with out-and-out tonsil power, interspersed with some mad theatricality, and plenty of smiles (another who couldn’t quite believe how many turned out to see them), the eight-piece band simply blew the place apart with their mainly original soul-inspired songs. From the big and epic ‘Sanctify’ to a raucous cover of Idris Muhammad’s ‘Loran’s Dance’, it was like a sermon you wouldn’t miss for the world, such is the inspirational power of this band from the rich southern heritage of Birmingham, Alabama.
Later on in the afternoon, current jazz flavour Kamasi Washington is back for the second year running, albeit still taking heavily from his much feted The Epic album. Epic by name, and epic by nature, Kamasi looks like the veritable space-age jazzer, but with a sax in his hand, he’s also a formidable force of nature, aided by his large ensemble which once again includes his father, Ricky, as well as the incredible Cameron Graves on piano, Miles Mosely on double bass, and Tony Austin on drums. Heavy jazz, electronica, and dirty afro-funk all add up to a sonic maelstrom, with double drums only adding to the near-cacophony. There are sweeter moment too, such as when singer Patrice Quinn takes charge on the simply beautiful ‘The Rhythm Changes’. Nice also to see Washington wandering around the site later on, happily chatting to stunned punters. That’s the kind of festival this is.
Laura Mvula, carrying an enormous white keytar throughout, also showed plenty of love today, even going so far as to admit she personally could do with a little more herself, detailing her previous night’s Tinder experience! Songs such as ‘People’, ‘Flying Without You’, ‘Kiss My Feet’ and ‘Let Me Fall’ detail her continuing spiritual quest in all matters of love and freedom.
George Benson, at 74, is in amazingly good voice. Not expecting much beyond the uber-schamltz of his 70s heyday, Benson proceeded to literally tear the house down in the glorious evening sun, his feel-good and soothing music utterly winning over even those who knew very little about him. Mixing up his hits (‘Kisses in the Moonlight’, ‘Never Give Up On A Good Thing’, ‘Turn Your Love Around’ and, of course, ‘Give Me The Night’) with some of his more hard bop jazz output, Benson’s superlative guitar playing reached fever pitch when he scatted along, finishing off in style with ‘On Broadway’. Another masterclass from a living legend, and an unexpected highlight of the festival.
Over in the Arena, keyboardist Robert Glasper mainly referenced songs from his Black Radio album, and he steers away from the neo-soul conscious trappings of much of his previous repertoire. Here, the intensity is ratcheted up a couple of notches, the band grooving hard as they meld hip-hop, R’n’B, gospel and rock. Casey Benjamin takes lead vocal throughout, whilst the band (apart from a segment of the show when they played a number of shortened versions of tracks from Black Radio) jam and interact quite beautifully. Just a shame that a combination of George Benson and the beating sun denies him a bigger audience.
Finally, new star and still wearing that rather odd combination of balaclava and Baker Boys hat, feel-good gospel-tinged soul-jazzer Gregory Porter headlined the Main Stage for the Sunday, including performing a version of The Temptation’s ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, ’1960 What?’ and finishing with ‘Liquid Spirit’. “Clearly, this festival is all about love,” he says at the end, a latecomer to all this love in the air stuff emanating from almost all musicians over the weekend. There couldn’t be another festival named more appropriately.
Any complaints? Well, the food and drink prices do reflect the largely well-stocked-on-money clientele, whilst the Big Top could do with a better and more balanced PA. Maybe there could be some more smaller space live action throughout the day, beyond the tiny and locally-based Bandstand (which only operates in-between sets on the Main Stage). Although the addition of some late night jazz action in the Jazz In The Round Bar was a welcome addition this year. But, apart from that, Love Supreme is a winner. Musically, it could hardly be bettered. Roll on 2018!