Splendour Festival: Wollaston Park, Nottingham 23/7/16
The dictionary definition of the word Splendour, tells us it means the state or quality of being splendid. That the splendour of something is its beautiful and impressive appearance. In Portuguese and Spanish; esplendor, in French; splendeur, Italian; splendore, in German it is Pracht and the Chinese write it as 壮美的外观.
Up to 23,000 people will tell you that Nottingham’s annual one day Splendour Festival was truly splendid this year. Impressive; yes indeed. Banging…. An eclectic mix of veteran acts to appeal to the more mature. Some up and coming hotly tipped artists, lots of local bands and solo artists given a chance to shine and one of the hottest artists of the current scene as headliner. No less than 14 bands and artists on the two main stages in just the one day. Plus an acoustic stage, comedy stage and fringe stage.
The biggest festival of the event’s nine year history, with 21,000 tickets sold and a couple of thousand kids, with the under ten’s getting in free. The fastest sell out too. The sunshine was booked well in advance, arrived on time and stayed all day. The heat and humidity was more akin to an overseas coastal climate than a swathe of parkland just outside of Nottingham city centre. But it must have helped sell an estimated 40,000 pints of beer in the one day. Low key security. A chilled friendly vibe. Lots of kids and teenagers enjoying the fairground and children’s area, and no sign of trouble or crowd issues at all in the 12 hours I was on site. Plenty of loos, and kept clean all day from what I experienced. Three large bars operating a token system where you buy drinks tokens at £4 each in advance - so pretty much pub prices - for beer, cider and wine, so there was never any horrendous queues and long waits for drinks.
The site is fairly compact but the stages are spread out enough with plenty of room to get away from the music if you chose to, and wander round the many stalls and food outlets. The most bizarre stall I spotted was one selling replica vintage buses… I resisted the urge to purchase a reminder of my childhood!
The two gates to the site opened at 11.30am with the first act on the main stage at 12.30pm. Nice sight to greet you when you do get in; a big sign that says "Welcome To Splendour" with lots of flowers around it. The nice thing about Splendour is it doesn’t feel “corporate” and all about taking your cash. None of the food outlets or stalls were charging silly prices.
The winners of a fiercely fought contest for local bands to get the chance to open the main stage, energetic youngsters Super Furniture made the most of the opportunity. On the Confetti stage, mock rockers The Darkness headlined, preceded by The Fratellis, The Rifles, Belfast punk legends Stiff Little Fingers, Louis Berry was ill and replaced by local female band Babe Punch. Before them, an outfit I predict will go far….. These Your Children are usually a duo of Joe Baxter on electric/acoustic guitar and vocals Baxter and Rebeka Prance on vocals, who formed four years ago. But they had a superb band with them for Splendour. On electric guitar Matt Burrows, drummer Morgan Simpson is a 17-year-old Brits school student, his sister Lauren Simpson on bass. The duo released EP “Fires,” in November 2015. Joe tells me they have a new as yet untitled EP ready to go.
They opened their fabulous set at Splendour with “Stronger,” a stand out cut from their current EP. The anthemic “Set A Fire,” is a hit just waiting to happen, with a mega infectious hook. Rebeka told the large Splendour crowd they pulled, that she had just moved to London and it was “rubbish” compared to Nottingham, “but don’t tell anyone I said that.” I promise I won’t! Crafted song writing, rootsy and uber-soulful material, beautiful harmonies, commercial but credible. A mix of R&B, soul, alt folk and powerful pop. My tip for big things.
Nottingham trio Eyre Llew opened the Confetti stage with an “interesting” set full of controlled feedback and ambient sounds. Spoken word artist Raphael Blake smashed the Acoustic Rooms stage in the beautiful and atmospheric Wollaton Hall courtyard. Featuring a very good 18-year-old Nottingham female singer (whose name I did not catch) who I am told entered The Voice this year. Singer song writer Josh Wheatley followed Raphael. He has a gorgeous calming vocal and some strong material. James Taylor meets Ed Sheeran. One to watch. Rapper and grime artist Bru-C pulled a good crowd. The acoustic stage was headlined by Brad Dear. Other performers were Will Varley, Tom McCartney, Ellie Keegan, Lowrie and Jonny Olley.
The comedy stage was very popular for the four-and-half hours it was in action, with Patrick Monahan, Ivan Brackenbury, El Baldiniho, Tom Binns and Vince Atta delivering the laughs. There was also a small fringe stage on the site, offering karaoke, a magician and circus acts. My quirky sense of humour kicked in when I overheard a panicky conversation just after the gates opened at 11.30am, that there was no power for the silent disco run by the Gem radio DJs. I think they sorted it eventually.
Nottingham singer-songwriter Ady Suleiman wore Nottingham Forrest shorts, a bright Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap worn back to front for his sizzling set. Signed to Simon Cowell’s label Syco, this is an artist destined for big things; I am predicting number one singles and album in the near future. Very cool, on trend R&B with an uber-soulful voice. The first song he released “Lost” sounded great, a song he told us was about anxiety. Ady Suleiman comes from Long Bennington near Nottingham. The 24-year-old may have only had a short half hour spot on the main stage at second act slot, but he had a crack band with him of male backing vocalist, acoustic guitarist, drummer, bassist, keyboard player and trumpeter and was in fine voice, showcasing his versatility and ultra commercial material. Song five in the set, he killed a cover of Protoje's “Who Knows,” which Ady performed for a session on BBC Radio 1xtra recently. Complete with some slick reggae vibes to put us in the mood for UB40.
He recently appeared at Glastonbury and performed a live song from there for BBC TV. At Splendour, Ady gave a shout out to his “hometown massive” to loud cheers, telling us he had not been home for a long time and it was good to be back. A full and tight sound for his first appearance at Splendour. I’ll bet in a couple of years time, he will back as a headline act, with a slew of hits to sing along to. He reminded me of Finlay Quaye in his vocal timbre and phrasing at times. He’s had a couple of EPs out and drops his debut album later this year. The kid is gonna be a star, you see.
It was a sweltering 33 degrees at 2pm as Ady left the stage, and got hotter and more humid as the day went on. The free water points had big queues all day and were a very nice touch, as many festival sites have no water at all, unless you sell a kidney to buy bottled stuff. Maybe a few more would be a good idea for next year.
A man used to the heat of his own country, South African artist Jeremy Loops drew a big crowd for his lively half hour main stage set. Joined by a rapper pal and a band, JL played acoustic guitar and harmonica, using his famed loop pedals - taking to the top of a PA speaker at one point to the delight of the “up for it” crowd. Many of whom sang along to a few of his songs. Later the pony-tailed artist from Cape Town was chilling out backstage in the artist’s village, sat under a parasol drinking a cold glass of champagne, chatting to members of UB40 after their triumphant set. The band Turin Brakes had a fan in former England cricket star Graeme Swann, who was at Splendour for the day. Graeme played for Nottinghamshire from 2005 to 2013, and England from 2008 to 2013 when he retired from all cricket. He lives in the Nottingham area with his wife and children, and plays in a covers band. Among other VIPs in attendance was film director Shane Meadows, who was there last year too.
Jamie Lawson, signed to Ed Sheeran’s label, “Gingerbread Records,” was on the main stage just before UB40. He had a number one Gold-selling album, with his self-titled release in 2015, which actually kept his label boss off of top spot with his album “X”. It was Jamie’s fourth solo album. He also had a smash hit single, “Wasn’t Expecting That.” Offering a chilled, ballad heavy set, he told the crowd that his stuff is not your normal festival fare and most acts that day would be far more upbeat, but he held the attention of the big crowd he drew for the full 45 minutes of his set. Across a wide age group of young teenagers to the more mature. Backed by his full band, he faultlessly delivered songs from his smash hit self-titled album, including “Still Yours,” “Letter Never Sent,” and the hit single “Wasn't Expecting That.” Van the Man’s, “Brown Eyed Girl,” got an airing too; a verse and chorus for a sing-a–long-a-Jamie moment.
Birmingham reggae legends UB40 have sold circa 120 million records and still tour globally to huge crowds, 38 years since they formed. There were a good number of people who had bought tickets for Splendour this year just to see their fave band. Many who travelled a fair distance. There were banners, flags, tee shirts and Rasta wigs in honour of the Brummie stars. There was a palpable air of excitement before they came on stage, and they pulled in as many people as headliner Jess Glynne. Just a one hour set today, so the between song banter kept to a minimum to cram in the hits – giving us 13 songs in the hour.
It seemed fitting that this band were performing in daylight, as their infectious, feel good music and the sunshine go together perfectly. It really was an amazing sight and sound to hear the best part of 23,000 people singing to many of their songs, word for word. Robin Campbell told me backstage afterwards that he was surprised and delighted that so many people, young and not so young, knew all the words to most of their set.
There was a couple in my hotel who had come from Essex just to see UB40 and have already booked tickets to see them on their November tour. Jess Glynne had a hard act to follow after the UB’s left the audience screaming for more. But of course, she is hot property with five smash hit singles and a double selling platinum debut album to her name. The voice of Clean Bandit’s mega hit, “Rather Be,” too, which won her and the band a Grammy. So I doubt she was worried! Jess sang with Clean Bandit on this same site two years ago at the No Tomorrow Festival.
Fronted by lead singer Duncan Campbell, UB40 kicked off with “Present Arms,” followed by “Maybe Tomorrow” before the sing-along in the sunshine started on “Cherry Oh Baby.” The sizzling horn section of Brian Travers, Martin Meredith and Laurence Parry were all over the stage for the entire set. Laurence at one point filming the band and the crowd from a riser at the back of the stage, interviewing Brian on his iPhone mid-song. Brian throwing out bottles of water to the crowd, a few with the top off and cameramen covering their expensive lenses to avoid a soaking. They delivered “Sing Our Own Song,” the catchy “Homely Girl,” the track they did with the late and great Robert Palmer, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” a big pal of the band. Bassist Earl Falconer sang lead on “Oh America,” preceding the moment Norman Hassan comes down from his percussion kit and shows off some nifty footwork and sings lead on “Boom Shacka Lacka.” One of the best tracks of the set, “Food For Thought,” prompted loud vocal support from 20,000+ happy fans.
The drums of James “Jimmy” Brown and the bass of Earl Falconer never sounded mightier. They really are the backbone of this band; and without them would be like Mike Tyson fighting one handed or Messi kicking a ball with one leg in plaster. The nine-piece zap out “Here I Am,” before the song that topped the charts here and in the USA, from the classic1983 album, “Labour Of Love," and the track guaranteed to get ‘em singing: “Red Red Wine,” written by Neil Diamond.
Off stage to thunderous applause and screams for more, the beaming band came back on to offer up “Kingston Town,” Brian Travers telling the crowd it was originally written about Nottingham, but the Jamaicans changed it! “But we know, don’t we Splendour?” Time for the guys to cool down after a steamy 60 minute mighty set, but not before they provided the track many had waited for, and were ready to belt out as part of a 20,000+ choir; “Can’t help Falling In Love.” Made famous by Elvis in 1961 and then a hit for crooner Andy Williams. It was UB40’s biggest hit, number one in USA for seven weeks. They were asked to record it for a film soundtrack but it didn’t make it, but was later used for the Sharon Stone movie “Sliver.”
Tony Mullings on keyboards, not the only one absolutely soaked through to the skin from the heat on that stage; the band giving it their all for what was a sensational set and probably one of the highlights of the festivals nine year history. Jimmy Brown coming out from behind his drum kit at the end of the set to throw his black towel into the audience. They just get better and better - retro but relevant - and no amount of hassle and aggravation from ex-members can erase almost four decades of evergreen music and Premier Division musicianship. Theirs is a brotherhood. All humble, nice down to earth guys too. New album coming soon…..
80s electro pioneers The Human League were sandwiched between UB40 and Jess Glynne, and they owned that stage for their hour long set. A white stage set, Phil Oakey and his ladies Susan Sully and Joanne Catherall sounded as good today as they did when Phil sported that dodgy fringe, some three-plus decades ago. Today he’s got a shiny pate. Sheffield’s finest opened with 1982’s “Mirror Man,” then “Love Action (I Believe In Love “, from the # 1 1981 album, “Dare.” They faultlessly delivered all their hits including “Electric Dreams,” which seamlessly blends into the smash “Don’t You Want Me,” for the finale. The song they had one of their two number ones in the USA with, the other being “Human.” Susan and Joanne making three costume changes during the hour.
During a backstage chat with 60-year-old Phil Oakey after their set, he was a very nice bloke, no ego at all and very generous in the information he was telling me. They were set to fly off to LA just after Splendour, and they have a big UK tour at the end of this year. Go see ‘em.
Jess Glynne’s set was hot stuff, to go with the blazing weather. Just before she took to the stage, large beach balls were lobbed into the crowd to make it a beach-tastic atmosphere. The star had a rather large minder at her side for her every move, even stood down in the pit with the photographers for the three songs we get to shoot, making sure we’d all gone at the start of song four. Jess, the band, backing singers and Mr Minder strolling across the artists’ village to the main stage just before her set. Lots of kiddies on parents’ shoulders to see their heroine Jess. Her hair in a high pony tail and braided at the sides, with her shades on she looked a bit like Anastasia.
Flame haired headliner Jess Glynne is red hot, after a sell out UK tour and smashing it across Europe and the USA. Following sensational features with Clean Bandit on the biggest selling single of that year (1994, “Rather Be,” (double platinum) and on Route 94’s “My Love,” (platinum), her debut single “Right Here,” made a big splash in her own right before the debut album release “I Cry When I Laugh.” That broke records. Number one, sales of twice platinum and five, yes five number one singles lifted from it. She now equals the record set by Cheryl Cole for consecutive number one hit singles. Big difference is; Jess can really sing and without autotune!
Jess, 26, was glittering in her baggy sparkling silver and gold shirt in a shiny metallic fabric, with matching trousers, huge black platform shoes and giant hoop earrings. A fantastic choice for a headliner and she gave an effortless and faultless performance for the full 75 minutes. Her very first headline booking for any festival.
She paid tribute to her parents, as a mature couple at the side of the stage took photos and video footage, grinning proudly at Jess. Parents? Grandparents? Her minder wasn’t telling when I asked him!
She opened with “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself,” and then “Rather Be,” “No Rights No Wrongs,” “Gave Me Something,” “Not Letting Go,” and “It Ain’t Right.” A lovely acoustic version of “My Love,” dedicated to her Dad who originally hails from Nottingham. The crowd created a sea of flickering lights with their mobile phones as far as the eye could see which added to the electric atmosphere. The hits kept coming such as; “Home,” and “Real Love,” and she showed her funky side with a cracking cover of Chaka Chan’s “I Feel For You,” where she was joined by her two superb female backing singers for more slick dance moves. In those shoes too? After shouts for more which could probably be heard in Mansfield, Jess and her crew came back for “Right Here,” and her fabulous # 1 hit, “Hold My Hand.”
She really earned her fee and proved me right before her debut album had been released, when I was sat on her tour bus and told her - and then wrote - that here was a future arena filler and festival headliner. Great to be there to witness the very first headliner set at a festival, and first of many I am sure. Not her first time at Wollaton Park, even though she had to cancel last year’s scheduled performance at Splendour for throat surgery. Two years ago she guested on “Rather Be,” with Clean Bandit at the No Tomorrow festival. But this time she was the star and with a killer band behind her, the girl did bloody good. She made sure she had a record of the history making appearance, with a band photo from stage front with 23,000 people and Wollaton Hall all lit up in the shot.
Splendour has a history of bringing international artists to Nottingham’s Wollaton Hall; past line ups featuring The Specials, James, Happy Mondays, Bananarama, Lawson, Jake Bugg, Madness, Pet Shop Boys, Calvin Harris, Dizzee Rascal, Paolo Nutini and many more, since it started in 2008. Last year, The Specials headlined, the line-up included Roots Manuva and Nottingham’s own Indiana.
The festival has a stunning setting; a spectacular Elizabethan mansion and deer park, standing on a natural hill three miles west of Nottingham City Centre. Wollaton Hall is set in five hundred acres of gardens and parkland. The hall was used as the setting for Wayne Manor in the 2012 Batman film, “Dark Knight Rises.”
Wollaton Hall was built between 1580 and 1588. Grade One listed, it houses the city's natural history collection. owned by Nottingham City Council, noted as one of the most haunted buildings in Nottinghamshire.
The festival is organised by Nottingham-based promoters and venue owners DHP Family. They also stage the annual Dot To Dot Festival in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, organise tours and manage artists. DHP Family are in partnership with Nottingham City Council for Splendour, which unlike many festivals, ran to time for most of the event. I have to praise the exemplary sound and lighting across the whole site too. DHP Family owner George Akins is already putting together the line up for next year’s 10th birthday celebrations. Tickets for 2017 already on sale for Saturday 22nd July 2017.
Last word to my cab driver on the way off the site, who got quite excited when I told him who had headlined the festival, until he realised it wasn’t the bloke from ELO!! Maybe next year, eh George?
ALL PHOTOS copyright: Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY