1st September | Clifton Downs
Photos: Paul Lippiatt
Perspective is everything. You could see The Downs Festival as an end-of-summer last hurrah – a tiny teardrop that accompanies the first falling of leaves, with more than a drop of cider to soften the blow of the impending wintry void.
Or you could take the view of Rakel Mjöll of opening act, Dream Wife, and just declare it the first festival of the autumn. Partying through the darker months sounds wisely Scandinavian. Kicking off the Main Stage of a family-friendly festival with Dream Wife seemed as suitable as inviting the PM to dance in Lederhosen at an EU summit. That was, of course, what made their set all the more appealing. In reality you could see some parents trying to work out whether they could get away with distracting their mesmerised, exhilarated teens, whilst other parents nodded and grinned, realising that this was exactly what their 21st Century progeny needed to hear.
Anyone hoping for light relief thereafter (a secret set from McBusted or some such atrocity) were in for a further ideological thump from Nadine Shah. She introduced ‘2016’ by declaring “It’s strange doing a gig in Bristol and Big Jeff isn’t in the audience. This is for Jeff,” before showing us, Mrs May and all, a demo of some damn fine moves.
By the time Khruangbin hit the stage, the arena was full, as was a surprisingly large proportion of bladders, it would seem. If 2016 was all about queuing for beer and 2017 was the year of queuing for food, 2018’s mass-participation event took the form of lining up for the bogs (that and bin-dodging, as the carpet of crushed, crunching cans underfoot regularly confirmed). Their largely-instrumental, soul-rich psych-rock helped to quell the frenzy that previous acts had generated and would have helped those busting for the lavatory to remain relatively calm.
Elsewhere, on the Avon Stage, Goldie’s drummer made a compelling case to rival James Brown as the hardest-working man in showbusiness. Basement Jaxx ensured festival-goers got plenty of Bingo Bango for their buck with a distinctly summery DJ set, before Orbital headlined. The Hartnoll brothers, two weeks prior to the release of their new album, Monsters Exist, treated us to an audio-visual collision with provocative images and restlessly irresistible sounds. We saw Grenfell, we saw rough sleepers, we saw ‘PHUK’ writ large. Just when we assumed they were pseudo-swearing, up popped “Please Help UK.”
The Information Stage, once the programme of speakers had concluded, gave local acts the chance to be heard and for new music to shine. Swimming Girls delighted a small but appreciative audience with ‘Tastes Like Money’. The delicate sounds of Harvey Causon competed with Paul Weller’s set on the Main Stage, but more than held their own and Sœur had enough heft and muscle (maybe without the overt threat) to rival Dream Wife’s earlier set.
Concluding the Main Stage with Paul Weller and then Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds was never going to be a high-risk strategy. Weller, when singing ‘The Changing Man’ exemplified how much stylistic variation his career has had, mixing Jam hits (‘Start’) with The Style Council (‘Shout To The Top’) and solo favourites, including recent strengths such as ‘Woo Se Mama’. Noel Gallagher brought his Mercury-nominated crew with him, scissor lady and all. “I can see by the baldness that there are some Oasis fans out there,” he rightly observed, before pointing at his own immaculately hirsute cranium and adding, “This is the only thing that survived the 90s for me.”
Just to prove that what the audience was really waiting for was Noel Gallagher’s Low-Hanging Fruit, the reception for ‘The One I Love’ may have been fairly enthusiastic, but ‘Whatever’, ‘Half The World Away’, ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ were obviously manna to the pissed and/or reminiscent. Just for good measure, and further fervent frisson, Noel called The Modfather back out to duet for the last two tracks – ‘Town Called Malice’ and ‘All You Need Is Love’. We cheered. They bowed. Noel approached the microphone. What message did he have for the faithful?
“Geroff Moy Laaaaaaand. Geroff Moy Fuckin’ Laaaaaaaand.”
You can take the boy out of Burnage…