Writer Reece Greenfield / Photographer Maddie Cottam-Allan
Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival has once again proven itself as one of the highlights of the Brummie summer. The festival boasts ‘Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul with a hefty slab of reggae, ska, hip hop, disco and R&B…’ but that’s not quite as catchy a title.
I arrive at Moseley Park on Friday to the sun beaming through a clear sky, a palpable sense of anticipation floating up like the dust being stamped up by eager attendees.
After buying a programme and heading to the bar to endure a classic British queue in silent anguish, I go over to the mainstage to check out a carnival dance routine in flora themed costume presented by ACE Dance & Music and North Birmingham Alliance.
After wowing the crowd, the dancers leave the area and Children of Zeus a hip hop/soul duo from Manchester begin. The mix of soulful vocal melodies and a huge back beat is just what I need, I find myself unable to resist bopping along with the rest of the crowd.
I continue to explore the area, navigating the picnic blankets nimbly under the leery gaze of the Moseley-Moms guarding their territory. I find myself at the ‘Off Piste’ area where Nightmares on Wax’s ‘chill’ is emanating through the tent mirrored by clouds of smoke.
I think I’ll enjoy this queue for beer a little bit more.
Then I think that it’s about time I go to sample some of the food on offer at the festival. I settle on falafel only to then sport wild mushroom sandwiches. Too late, tomorrow’s scran is sorted though. I feel like the awkwardness with which one eats (or tries not to wear) a meal standing up in a crowded place is an emblematic festival moment.
The Specials are due to take the stage soon so it’s at this point I plan my route through the towels, blankets, and pushchairs. The band appear and take up their instruments with an air of cockiness and begin projecting their blend of punk, ska, and eeriness. It will never cease to amaze me how well they can capture the contradiction of sunny days and haunted houses simultaneously.
A few tunes in frontman Terry Hall, to rapturous applause, announces “Boris has gone!” and they dive into the moody vibes of ‘The Lunatics’.
A fight breaks out in the crowd (somehow) and momentarily stops the performance, it makes the lyrics in ‘Ghost-town’ particularly poignant.
Saturday afternoon starts much the same way (not with a fight) with a long queue for beer and a quick visit to Danceteria. The Atlantic Players are on, and their soulful concoction is happily drunk by the crowd of squinting faces. It’s at this moment I remember the sandwich, and after the performance I head over to the Peruvian street food stall. The burger bun is purple, which makes it by far the funkiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
Suddenly, I notice the beginnings of a religious congregation on the main stage and a long-winded gospelesque sermon with a thick Alabama accent.
Oh my God it’s The Church!
Empowered by the holy spirit/funky sandwich, I make my way down to the area in front of the stage to be baptised in the name of Sexy Jesus. The sequins, the humour, the sleazetastic groove provided by the backing band make The Missionary Positions simply outstanding. Where on earth is this going to go next? To a gay bar. Praise Sexy Jesus…
As the urge to speak funky tongues dissipates, we’re informed that Craig Charles is unable to attend due to Covid, but Bristol’s Boca45 is here to lay down an eclectic mix of 60s and 70s singles, hip hop mixing and scratching the 7” singles deftly.
No one is still.
As soon as Boca45 thanks us all for not forming an angry mob, The Fatback Band appear to celebrate their 50th anniversary, catalysing an explosion of boogying. Such favourites as ‘(Are you Ready) Do the Bus Stop’ and ‘Yum Yum (Gimme Some)’ ensure the enthrallment of the audience, and our stomping disco feet.
At this moment a loud distortion erupts from one of the speakers and the sound techs scramble about while the funk meets it head on. Unfortunately, this plagues two songs before the music finally prevails… not today Satan.
Sunday afternoon sees me practically running through the gates to get a good spot for The Wailers. Roots vibes move like a vibrant curtain across the now dusty park as everyone sings along to ‘Three Little Birds’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’. This is truly a magnificent spectacle, and my face still aches from grinning.
A quick trip to the bar and ‘Off Piste’ to vibe to Greg Wilson’s ‘Electro Funk’. I sit down enjoying the sunshine, experiencing a feeling of gratitude. Indeed, while relaxing I realise I’ve missed the start of the next act’s set.
I migrate across the arid terrain toward the mainstage, avoiding once again the Moseley-Moms’ fiercely guarded patches. Instantly, I’m met by De La Soul’s signature blend of hip hop and funk grooves as they reinvigorate a tired and sun-baked crowd.
The next act on the mainstage and the final act of the festival is the funk/disco legends Earth Wind and Fire. They descend upon Moseley as if from a heavenly staircase and proceed to play some of the tightest live music I’ve ever heard.
Everyone’s socks are blown off at high velocity by the falsetto vocals, the horns and the rock solid rhythm section. Favourite after favourite is thrown at us, ‘In The Stone’, ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, ‘Fantasy’, then finally ‘September’ and ‘Let’s Groove’ as an encore.
What a way to tie off a spectacular weekend.
For more from Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul festival visit www.mostlyjazz.co.uk