After last year’s deluge when the torrential rain mixed with Massive Attack’s stellar performance to produce true drama, this year’s second Downs Festival was a sunnier and more sedate affair.
Not sedate in a boring fashion, but there were less epic moments, more an overall sense of good things happening all at once without the fireworks.
The weather certainly helped and the layout of the site was better too with the two stages repositioned, one for the live bands and the second for the DJ sets, and an enlarged Information Stage providing a stream of interesting discussions on culture and politics throughout the day.
Indeed the Information Stage bagged the catch of the day with our most socially important film director Ken Loach heading the lineup, following on from rapper Akala.
And as Loach was informing us how important it is that the left take control of the Labour Party, De La Soul were ramping up the hip-hop beats on the main stage. “I should be dancing saying this,” Loach laughed.
While the New York rappers delivered a fine set with their trademark breezy uplifting rap, UK dance pioneers Soul II Soul preceded them with a set that swept along lazily in the late summer sun without reaching any great heights.
The most rousing was their club anthem Back To Life, while between songs mainman Jazzy B kept up a non-stop stream of banter.
Sandwiched in between Soul II Soul and De La Soul, UK-based African high life funksters Ibibio Sound Machine had sounded vaguely like the JB’s from afar but not so much close-up, even with great funky guitar chugs and strong vocals from the colourfully clad Eno Williams.
“Has anyone found a life?” Jazzy B asked the “older fellas” in the crowd, speaking of which grizzled bearded bluesman Seasick Steve certainly has.
This former real-life Californian hobo has seen his star soar since an appearance on Jools Holland’s show back in 2006, and the gutsy raunch of his guitar playing, just accompanied by drummer Dan Magnusson, was pure, basic, blissful, blues.
His “three-string trance wonder” was soon replaced by a one-string cigar box guitar and even a banjo, and brought the searing spirit of the blues to a darkening Downs.
Headliners Elbow by contrast were bright lights big city to emphasise and enhance their (admittedly appealing) miserablism and the haunting quality of their material.
Guy Garvey even waltzed with a naked stage-invading streaker two numbers in and the rendition of the title track from their new album Little Fictions was masterful.
As the strobes hit the skies for Elbow, Bristol’s very own drum’n’bass legend Roni Size manned the decks on the second stage for a 20th anniversary set of his groundbreaking album New Forms, his rhythms skittering through the night.
DJ sets from Groove Armada, Mike Skinner, David Rodigan, Mad Professor and the Bristol Hi-Fi collective had earlier graced the day there.
Fast forward to the Downs Festival number three next year as it becomes a mainstay of the summer. Let’s have sunshine combined with hot air balloons please at this most Bristol of events, streakers and all.
Main photo by Simon Chapman
Read more: Interview: Guy Garvey