Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Strawberry Fields Festival - 10th,11th,12th August 2012

Labrinth Smashes It At Strawberry Fields
Labrinth Smashes It At Strawberry Fields Strawberry Fields Festival pic Dance Fan at The Boat That Rocks Red Bull LIve DJ Sets Mikill Pane On The Main Stage Strawberry Fields Festival pic The Dash With An Unusual Venue For A Rehearsal At Strawberry Fields Festival! The Boat That Rocks Red Bull Studio Live DJ Set Mele Red Bull DJ Set MC Slick Don Mele MC Slick Don DJ Zinc MC Dynamite Amazing graffiti mural painted live on the festival site The Specials Sax Player With The Paradimes On The Strawberry Jam Stage The Specials Sax Player With The Paradimes On The Strawberry Jam Stage Mikill Pane On The Main Stage Danny Byrd Red Bull Studio Live DJ Set Danny Byrd Exclusive Pic Mikill Pane & DJ Bill Posters In The Dressing Room - Exclusive Pic Mikill Pane Backstage - Exclusive Pic Mikill Pane Backstage - Exclusive Pic The Cuban Brothers Incredible Acrobatics The Cuban Brothers Incredible Acrobatics The Cuban Brothers Incredible Acrobatics The Musically Brilliant But Bonkers Cuban Brothers The Musically Brilliant But Bonkers Cuban Brothers The Musically Brilliant But Bonkers Cuban Brothers Incredible Mural Completed During The Festival The Fabulous Red N Pink On The Strawberry Jam Stage The Fabulous Red N Pink On The Strawberry Jam Stage The Fabulous Red N Pink On The Strawberry Jam Stage Labrinth Fans Jaguar Skills Smashes It At Strawberry Fields Jaguar Skills On The Main Stage The Mighty Labrinth Kicks Off His Storming Set We Are Lovin' Labrinth Labrinth Very Late Saturday Night But This Trio Are Far From Finished Having Fun ToddlaT SFF Tee Shirt Logo Famous Faces To Be Spotted In The SFF Crowd!!! SFF Crowd Up For It + VIP!! Singer With Mr Disfit

The biggest star of the small but perfectly formed Strawberry Fields Festival was……………The Sunshine. That’s not some trendy new band. I’m talking about the real thing. That rare, big, hot, orange, glowing thing in the sky that used to be a staple feature of a British summer.

The tonnes of straw and rubble delivered to the 300 acre site amid UK wide torrential rain and flooding in recent weeks was nowhere to be seen. The wellies and water proofs were left in the tents and cars, in favour of bared feet and shorts. Glorious weather for the whole three day event, in its third year and sold out, attracting 5,000 very happy music fans each day.

An ultra-chilled, smiley, happy, good natured and very well run festival with no less than eight performance areas, and an eclectic array of artists and talent on offer. The mighty Labrinth headlining on the Saturday, and really smashing it despite fighting the flu and cancelling a gig on his home turf of Hackney the night before. But there was no sign of anything less than 100% effort on that main stage.

We got “Express Yourself” second track in - with the apt lyric "Whatever you do, do it good,"which this guy surely does - and then his rock-edged superb new single. Ironically called “Treatment,” from the man dosed up on Lemsip and with “a wod of Vicks vapour rub on my nostrils”, he told his Twitter followers, many of whom were at the festival to see him perform. His running commentary tweets in the few hours before his SFF spot warned: “Don’t get too close, I’m still sick. Nose still blocked gonna sound like Cher Bono on stage tonight.”

He strapped a guitar to his chest for the single, out on 9th September and taken from his debut album “Electronic Earth,” belting out some impressive playing. Four young ladies at the front of the barrier to the main stage, had a word each painted in bright yellow on their faces, which spelled out, “Let The Sun Shine,” his debut hit which made number three in the chart. It did. Not only in the daytime, but from the stage when Labrinth was up there, his star burning very brightly right now. He doesn’t forget his roots though, and name checked Tiny Tempah and their collaboration “Pass Out,” in 2010 that shot him to fame. There were rumours flying about that Lab had his old pal Tinie there as a surprise guest, but that was not to be. He’d be too busy rehearsing for his appearance at the Olympics closing ceremony with Jessie J and Tao Cruz, I guess. No matter; Labrinth needed absolutely no help to score big at Cattows Farm at the weekend.

He asked his Twitter followers if they were “ready to party” at SFF, and got a loud response. In fact, for such an intimate crowd of 5,000 people, the applause, screams, shouts, cheers and noise coming from the front of that stage was deafening and could put a Saturday afternoon football crowd on the terraces to shame. If there was ever an award for being “up for it” no matter what; the fans at Strawberry Fields festival 2012 would win it hands down.

Yeah, Lab’s crowd were bang up for it and many knew every lyric to almost every song. We got all the hits, “Earthquake,” “Pass Out,” “Last Time,” and we got sheer class from Mr Timothy McKenzie . The voice was in fine form, his guitar playing blistering and the band were very able colleagues. Very funky bass player. Mr Labrinth is probably the only credible thing Simon Cowell has done in his music career to date, signing this blindingly talented geezer - a recent Blues & Soul cover star - to his Syco label.

A perfect end to a perfect day, well, for those who didn’t flock to the fairground or the dance village’s heaving dance marquees, when Lab finished his one hour set after a 25 minute later than scheduled appearance. I doubt many of the tents, camper vans or caravans were occupied until well into the wee small hours. Far too much fun still to be had…..

Yeah, a very impressive festival. In fact; Austin Powers had his Mini Me. Leicestershire’s Strawberry Fields has its own mini V. I will be at The V Festival next weekend, and that is a giant (95.000 people a day,) more corporate/branded version of SFF in my view. But both have an impressive and eclectic booking policy, and offer something for all tastes.

With a deliberate policy of no rip off food and drink prices, it was nice to see the attention to detail to ensure everyone at SFF had all they needed and were comfortable. Free fresh drinking water on the site included, instead of cashing in on flogging over-priced bottled stuff to a captive audience of campers and hot punters. If the main stage live acts were not your cup of herbal tea, there was a mouth watering line up of red hot DJs booked. The Boat That Rocks stage was actually a small boat, aptly named Good Friday but should have been named Great Weekend perhaps? It was taken over by the famed Red Bull Studios Live DJs, their identities kept secret until a few days before the festival. ToddlerT headlined, with Zinc, Danny Byrd, Mele and Andy H doing an hour each. MCs Dynamite and Slick Don helping to keep things bouncing in the Saturday afternoon sunshine.

Danny Byrd drove straight from Bristol airport for the gig, having flown in from Poland where he did a set on Friday night, and Estonia the night before that; dreaming of downing a juicy bowl of strawberries and cream at the UK festival! Mele helped out Toddler T when his headphones broke, and loaned him his. Andy H from The Tuesday Club kicked things off, all the DJs appropriately on the deck at the decks! Dynamite MC decided to set sail for his trip on top of the boat’s cabin, while Slick Don opted for the pit in front of the giant flashing screen around the hull of the boat in front of the growing crowd. Both did an admiral-able job (see what I did there?) The outdoor sound system pumped out a mash-up of reggae beats, ghetto funk, dirty soul and party jams in the beach themed area. It was a bit of a culture shock to see so many partying on the dry grass in the sunny daylight hours, as though it was 4am on the beach in Malia. None of the DJs had trouble getting that party started at all.

I mentioned “good natured” earlier in this piece, about the general vibe on the site and from the people – ticket holders and staff – and I want to emphasise that. I saw no aggression, trouble, aggro, out of order behaviour from anyone at all while I was there. Police report just five arrests during the three days, all on the Saturday and for minor drugs offences. Four were released with no further action, and one person received a police caution. That says a lot about how friendly this festival was.

The volunteers, stewards and hired-in security team were all very low key in approach and did not seem to be having any major issues to deal with. The worst thing that happened to me while on site was someone must have got a little too close to my waterproof jacket on Saturday night in the dark, with a cigarette. Big hole burned into the back of it and a wonder it did not burn my shirt and me! No rain, but got chilly and damp air as Labrinth hit the stage at 10.25pm, so I stuck it on to keep warm. Big mistake. Now in the bin………………

One mystery I do have that is bugging me though…………how did a Tesco carrier bag containing an unopened packet of Toffee Dodger biscuits and two melted Yorkie bars get into my camera bag and end up with me at home? Is there a generous sweet toothed Ninja creeping round that festival, dishing out sweeties to those who look like they need a sugar rush?

Perhaps it was that ole masked Jaguar Skills, who really got the crowd jumping with his banging set just ahead of Labrinth. That bloke must lose several pounds in weight every gig he does, with his face all swathed in back material, all you can see are his eyes. Leaping up and down for the majority of his hour long set. Before him, R&B trio Stooshe were a no show for some reason. No explanation given, but the replacement, The Twang told the crowd they only got the call about the gig on Thursday, so just two days notice. One of the two singers told us that they had a visitor knock on their dressing room door at Strawberry Fields, the singer with Altern8 from “back in the day,” who told them she gave birth to their hit song, “Either Way,” which they dedicated to her on stage. Birmingham’s The Twang made many new friends with their excellent set, as I am sure they will at V festival next weekend. Stooshe are also at V Fest, or I assume they still will be?

Pleasant surprise of the festival for me, and for the big daytime crowd he pulled to the main stage was London rapper Mikill Pane. You know when you see a band or singer up there on stage in the early days, and you just know in your heart and soul that they are gonna make it BIG? Well, that’s what I was thinking throughout Mikill’s cracking set, as I am sure were the punters. He had some loyal fans there who knew all his stuff and had bought tickets just to see him.

I had a dressing room chat with Mikill and his DJ Bill Posters (best name of the festival for me, celebrating his 24th birthday that day!) backstage, and was fascinated to hear all about his forthcoming debut album “Blame It On Miss Barclay,” due to drop around February next year, and his other plans. Mikill (28) has collaborated with Paloma Faith, Example, Yasmin,. Ed Sheeran, Yasmin and P Money. He has toured with Ed Sheeran, Rizzle Kicks (close friends who feature on a forthcoming Mikill track in October) and Mac Miller.
So how did he feel about Strawberry Fields? “I loved it, and really enjoyed it. I came from Newquay at the Boardmasters festival, hoping this would trump that and the crowd were amazing. Main stage is always quite risky, because I do not see myself as a main stage artist, yet. I do not have any really big numbers yet, but the people who do come to see me are very intrigued and you have got the hard core fans who follow me too.”

I mention the strong chemistry between DJ Bill Posters and Mikill, and he tells me his usual DJ is producer Will Power. “Bill and I are best friends, and feed off each other. We don’t treat it as a set. We treat it as you play some tunes, I’ll rap over the top and let’s have some fun man.”

He opened his set with a genius cover of Goyte’s number one hit, “Somebody I Used To Know,” confirming his status as one of the most creative and inventive rappers on the urban and hip hop scene today. That track has had almost 100,000 hits on You Tube so far. A future chart hit in my book, if it got released as a single. Then his track “Andy Warhol,” which he sang with Example on Mikill’s collaboration EP “You Guest It.” Mikill tells me the song is about being outspoken, when you get your 15 minutes of fame like Andy Warhol predicted; are you going to say what you mean to say or are you going to say what the powers that be want you to say? The pin sharp lyrics include: ““The rich have got the money, but the poor have got the power, what you gonna do with your quarter of an hour? I started with a track like a rapping Dwayne Chambers, they said that it was dope, and that’s how I became famous.”

The biggest cheer of the set, was for “Little Lady,” probably his biggest song to date, featured on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Collaboration EP’. To date it is the best-selling track from the EP, out-selling Ed’s other collaborations with artists such as Wiley, Devlin, and Wretch 32. A remix of “The A team,” Ed’s smash hit first single. Almost 200,000 views on You Tube for the video to his previous single “Sunshine In The City,” well known among his fans, and going down well at SFF. “A really cheeky look at how whenever you say summer in the UK, you have to put speechmark commas with your fingers round the word, because in England it is never really summer.” It was on Saturday.

“You Don’t Know Me,” had a real unexpected twist at the end. One might think he is being racist at first, but he is most definitely not. I won’t spoil it, if you have not heard that track yet, but check it out. Mikill told me after his set: “I always love playing that song. It’s cool. I like to see their faces thinking; that black guy has a real chip on his shoulder about white people in that song, and ‘Oh my God, what the hell’s going on?’ Then I drop the last line and they go, “ahh right, I get it now.” The local sheep and cows on the farm may well have been wide eyed when a few thousand usually well mannered young people were all shouting “Fuck You,” at Mikill’s command, before and as part of this tune. As the late Kenny Everett’s OTT character would say, “…but it was all done in the best possssibbble taste.” “Return Of The Pane,” is Mikill’s “anthem” and closed his 45 minute set in rousing style.

The boy from Hackney – who loves shoes and riding his bike - done good and he will do even gooder in the next couple of years. Future household name and chart topper; trust me. * See much more from my interview with Mikill and more pix, in the next issue of Blues and Soul magazine.*

So, how do you follow that? The brilliantly funky but bloody bonkers, horn-soaked Cuban Brothers had just the answer. Think James Brown, Chic, Tower of Power and The Marx Brothers joining forces with Cirque Du Soleil. Man those crazy cats can dance. Or was it acrobatics? If I told you the three front men Kengo San, Miguel Mantovani and Archerio, end the set in their under pants, would you believe me? Great fun but as funky as hell. I want this band to play at my funeral. (But not yet!) Got to be the quote of the festival from Archerio, when he asked the SFF crowd, "Am I the only one with an erection?" Hell yeah mate.

The festival featured over 150 artists this year, with The Charlatans headlining the main stage on the final day. Example headlined in 2010, just as he was breaking. Rizzle Kicks appeared last year. In the last two years they also booked Kelis, and Beardyman, among many others. Plus some of the hottest club DJ's. New this year was The Dance Village. From House to Drum & Bass, Dubstep to Old Skool, the multiple structured Dance Village had a sizzling line up of top names. Dance Arena 1 hosed by Birmingham drum & bass brand Raveology bringing in a raft of big names including; Friction (Radio1), Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Magikstar and Grooverider, plus many more. On the second day, it was house and electro time with Danny Howard (Radio 1), Sonny Wharton, Dirty Secretz and Will Clarke among the main DJs. Dance Arena 2 was old skool style. Flashback hosting top old skool names including; Slipmatt, Shades Of Rhythm (live PA), and Nicky Blackmarket. Sunday was dub step day. Derby based Hype providing a line up of some of the hottest names on the scene, including; Funtcase, Eptic (exclusive UK appearance), Dream, Badklatt and Leicester DJ, Boy Kid Cloud.

The good news is; the organisers have funding already in place for the next four years. It is set to grow from the current 5,000 daily capacity to double that figure as from 2013. The organisers have revealed to Blues and Soul that they plan to expand and reach 50,000 capacity within five years.

300 acre Cattows Farm in Heather, North West Leicestershire, is just outside the small towns of Coalville and Ashby De La Zouch. It is “famous” for its pick your own strawberries (I didn’t see one single red berry though!) and asparagus. Owned by James Ludlam, Festival Director. Strawberry Fields Festival was founded by James, Ian Michie & Mike Beck. While other far more established festivals have bitten the dust this year, and more will follow next year after poor attendance in 2012, these ambitious and switched on guys are doing it right and offering a good mix of guaranteed crowd pullers, up and coming and brand new artists. Value for money and a big bang for your buck, building a concrete foundation for the future, with a long term view and not just a focus on the fast buck. Emphasis on putting the paying punters first. Way to go........

Honorary mentions to: Red N Pink, the London duo of Yoda and Emma, who describe themselves as, and I quote: “Two punk soul bitches with energy off the hook.” They stormed the Strawberry Jam stage with their band on Saturday night. A very unusual mix of electro hip hop and soul. A&R guys should be banging their door down to sign them. Will be checking them out again and soon……..

Also from London, Saturday daytime on the Vintage acoustic stage, were the superb gospel soul sounds of Mr Disfit. Two very talented young guys singing, backed by an acoustic guitarist and female backing singer. Their soulful version of the Eagles classic “Hotel California” just has to be heard! The Leicester ska band Paradimes featured a sax player from The Specials. The young bluesy Americana outfit CC Smugglers from Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire have just been played on Fern Cotton’s Radio One show, and they are definitely going places. Great front man who also plays harmonica.

Final word; a confession: I visited a brothel on Saturday……….the festival’s very own Poetry Brothel. Instead of a one-on-one lapdance or naughties, you get a guy playing cello while someone recites a poem just for you. Now that’s what I call chilled…………….Strawberry Fields for ever? We hope so.

Don't forget; There will be a major feature on the festival in the next issue of Blues and Soul magazine, due to hit the streets later this month (August). Order it now.........................

All photos: Simon Redley

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