Sun, Love and Reggae at the Jubilation Festival, London, UK, 2nd June 2022

 

 

WORDS AND IMAGES BY MARVEY MILLS

 

On a warm and sunny day, the 2nd of June 2022, people hungry for a festival descended on beautiful Brockwell Park in Brixton, South London for Jubilation Festival at the start of the four-day celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. For many this would have been a normal working day were it not for the extra holiday granted as part of the festivities as the flag was lifted in honour of Her Majesty’s 75 years on the throne.

Hosted by the band Madness, the headliners, this was to be an all-day party celebrating the vibrant London music scene and epitomising the eclectic Brixton vibe. The population were out in force to chill out and absorb the experience. With the sun high in sky and the sounds of reggae, ska and grime from various stages intermingling with the sights, sounds and smells of endless street food stall and bars, the scene was set for a party of gigantic proportions. With a large main stage, an enormous Big Top, a bandstand for DJ sets and smaller stage aimed at the youngsters of the audience, families in their thousands gathered to relax and party, and take in the best that London has to offer.

 

 

 

Eva Lazarus the multi-genre international artist kicked off this reviewer’s day on the main stage with a beautiful reggae-based set supported by her two dancers and DJ/ The perfect start to the beautiful day, the music perfect for the sunny weather and warm breeze wafting across the growing crowd. Every act of the main stage was impressively supported by sign-language translators, gleefully signing every line of the lyrics for hearing-impaired visitors. This was an amazing touch and representative of the inclusion and attention to detail displayed by the organisers. From the main stage it was a short dash to the bandstand to catch Rhoda Dakar’s DJ set. Rhoda was one of the leading lights of late-70s Ska revival spearheaded by the Two Tone record label, as lead singer with The Bodysnatchers who achieved a #22 with their debut single  Do The Rocksteady in 1979. Rhoda now performs regularly with her band and is a central figure in the London ska scene. Following Rhoda’s set, that got everyone dancing to the rocksteady beat, drinks in hand and grins on faces, it was imperative that I visit the Big Top to see Brixton-born Tippa Irie. Tippa also hit #22 with his song ‘Hello Darling’ in 1986, an earworm from my youth. I was keen to see the man for the first time!

 

 

So far so good, three acts in and all gorgeous reggae and ska act befitting the glorious day. A short pit-stop was called for in the VIP area thoughtfully provided to All Music Magazine by the organisers. The area was an oasis of calm for those treating themselves to VIP tickets and included plentiful seating of deckchairs and soft lounge seats, immaculate toilet facilities, a couple of food outlets, a giant bar and a tented DJ area playing an eclectic mix of suitable sunny songs to keep people in the mood. It also house the fantastically-run media hut for photographers, reviewers and other media personnel. I would like to give my personal thanks to the organisers for this facility. Covering a festival can actually be hard work, and the media hut made life so much easier for this busy hack!

 

 

After some refreshments I headed out for a little main stage action in the form of The Mystery Jets who are a four-piece indie band originally hailing from Twickenham in London back in 2003. The ever-burgeoning crowd, flooding to the festival as the day wore on, gave their lighter-indie music a warm reception and the party was starting to heat up nicely. The Mystery Jets were followed on the main stage by the awesome London African Gospel Choir. It’s a good job it was a large stage, the choir had a great many members and include drums/percussion, guitars and a brass section and the music was astounding. With their colourful costumes, various members took it in turn to lead the choral vocals, supported throughout by the rest of choir. They all looked like they were having a wonderful time and their beautiful voices rang out over Brockwell Park. A quick sprint back to the bandstand allowed me to catch some of Dennis Bovell’s reggae DJ set. Dennis is a Barbados-born reggae guitarist and record producer. He was a member of the British reggae band Matumbi and remains a central figure in the UK reggae scene.

 

 

The Big Top provided the next set of bands. First up was Jordan Stephens (), who hit commercial success as one half of Rizzle Kicks and also as an actor, playing the part of a Rebel Alliance soldier in Star Wars spinoff Rogue One in 2016 and several others. Jordan played his set of UK hip-hop to a packed crowd who were dancing and singing along at the top of their voices. Jordan was followed by the Dub Pistols [link] with their energetic and infectious set of bouncy ska music. Formed by Barry Ashworth and Jason O’Bryan in 1996, the Dub Pistols have been successfully wowing audiences with their energy and passionate ska and big beat music ever since. Impossible to imagine, but the big top was even more packed for their set, and the excitement was palpable as Barry growled “Gather round everyone, we are about to begin…” before exploding onto the stage! Later in the day, Jordan and the Dub Pistols were followed in the Big Top by a DJ set from Mike Skinner of The Streets fame, who played a blistering set of UK Garage and hip hop/rap to an adoring crowd.

 

 

As afternoon became early evening spent most of my time at the main stage, detouring only once to catch the Mike Skinner set in the Big Top (see above).  Opening the final clutch of big names were Squeeze. Originating in Deptford, London, Squeeze have been UK rock royalty since they first burst onto the scene in the late 70s with hits such as ‘Up The Junction’ and ‘Cool For Cats’, they later went on to have many hits and have toured pretty much continuously except for a small hiatus in the early noughties. Trying to concentrate on taking photos in the pit was particularly difficult during the Squeeze set; I remember vividly their early hits, particularly ‘Up The Junction’ and having not ever seen them live before, it was all I could to stop myself putting down the camera and singing along at the top of my voice! They played all the hits and more besides and cemented their position as one of the best-loved UK “old-timers” acts. I, and the crowd, adored them.

Supergrass followed Squeeze on the main stage. Supergrass were stars of the Britpop scene from the mid-to-late 90s scoring seven top-10 hits and #1 album. The debut single ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ was lauded by John Peel and achieved the rare feat of being both NME and Melody Maker’s “Single Of The Week” status in the same week. I know of at least two people personally who only came to the festival with the specific intention of enjoy a little nostalgia trip with Supergrass!

 

 

Bringing the wonderful day at this superbly run festival to a close, were headliners and hosts Madness. Madness burst onto the UK music scene in the late 70s and were the most commercially successful band to ride the ska revival wave. From their early beginnings on the Two Tone record label, heavily influenced by Jamaican sound system reggae an ska beats they had hit after hit in the UK charts and worldwide. Beloved of virtually the entire population of the UK, the nutty boys from Camden Town bestrode the UK charts like rocksteady titans. They were on fine form for Thursday’s festival, belting out all their best-loved songs and the audience went wild. I estimate, from the t-shirts and traditional fez headgear, that at least half the audience were dyed in the wool Madness fans and they left the arena happy and grinning at the end of the night after a masterclass from the band.

 

 

 

 

 

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Passionate live music photographer operating under the name Marvellous Gig Photography. Available for gigs, festivals and other events plus promo shoots for socials, flyers and merch. Based in Southeast United Kingdom.

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