FEATIVALS / What's so great about the great outdoors?: Glastonbury, soul at Ally Pally, Jazz on a Summer's Day - last weekend, music took to the open air. Our reviewers breathed deeply
Glastonbury is a three-day camping holiday for 80,000. The city of tents stretched far up the hillsides, and the main thoroughfare heaved day and night with people browsing the hippy tat stores and food concessions, and raving at the individual sound systems. 'I thought this was an anthropological study,' chuckled the ex-Led Zep man Robert Plant during his amazingly soulful set on the Friday night. 'The remnants of Thatcher's Britain.' Certainly that fixture of British life, the Slum Family, were there - a group of swearing lads all- day drinking under a home-made awning, who had managed to incorporate a shopping trolley and an old settee into their camping furniture.
But if you want to be transported back to the glory days of festival rock when it was all happening for the first time, Lenny Kravitz is the quickest route. There is nothing contemporary about him. With his chunky dreads and beige clothes he looked like safari suit-era Bob Marley, and sounded his usual mixture of John Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Jimi Hendrix. His act might well be renamed the Lenny Kravitz Experience, not in Jimi's memory, but because, like some kind of rock theme park, everything is simulated.
The retro-rocker kicked off with 'Fields of Joy' and never once looked back. He flashed through 'Stop Draggin' Around', a lyrically slight number from the Mama Said CD but the perfect excuse to shake one's head about, warming up an audience which was well-disposed to enjoy itself but not quite Kravitz-chord perfect on air guitar. True, he only has two types of song: the 'I love you' and the 'peace and love'. But his appeal lies in the way he pushes all the right buttons, executing the reassuring cliches of rock stylishly and effortlessly. So he toes a pedal at his feet and unleashes the clucking wah wah, he selects a Flying V from his rack of axes, he even talks to the people. 'Glastonberry, we've been the way of war and destruction . . . but are you gonna go my way?' Cue the hit from his latest album, and judging by the euphoria in every part of the swelling crowd, the point of maximum recognition. He topped that with 'Let Love Rule', in which the vainest man in showbusiness humbly abandoned his body to the crowd and was passed around by outstretched arms.
By the time the Kinks had launched into their Sixties hits and some drab songs of internecine strife from Phobia, the crowd was leaving in droves for pastures new. The Kinks' new wine in old skins proved nowhere near as palatable as Kravitz's old-in-new. In 1993 this retro business is a subtle art. Joseph Gallivan
The Jazz on a Summer's Day festival at Alexandra Palace was Glastonbury for hipsters. But if types of music were classed, like schoolchildren, as good or bad at games, then jazz would be less the hearty outdoor type with ruddy knees than a delicate flower, always pleading sickness or forgetting to bring its kit. The concept of jazz in the open air offers something of a challenge to the dominant stereotype of a dark music played in even darker surroundings, especially in Britain, where there is little tradition of outdoor jazz other than trad-bands playing country-pub gardens. This show compounded the offence of letting in daylight by setting the music in a huge green-field site more suited to Monsters of Rock.
Still, the festival was a great success - at least in everything but the music. Ten thousand people attended while hundreds more listened for free on the slopes of Ally Pally; for many lying on the grass reading the Sunday papers, eating lunch from the Cajun Kitchen or drinking lager from the beer tent, it was easy to forget about the music altogether. Unless you were near the stage, the sounds from the PA were no more distracting then a picnicker's radio, and without binoculars it was difficult to focus attention on the stick-figure musicians in the distance.
Not that there was much to look at. True, David Sanborn occasionally moved his leg and the guitarist with the Brecker Brothers spanked his plank in authentic Heavy Metal fashion, but it was hardly theatre. At least Courtney Pine tried to put on a show, playing with the venue's echo by making the notes of his soprano sax bounce off Muswell Hill and back. Pine also played the most affecting tune of the day, a rich version of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song', which brought a brief sense of intimacy to the wide open spaces.
Top of the bill, Al Jarreau managed to combine both musical and visual dynamics into an act that could reach out over the acres of the site, but, for all his vocal tricks, he is really a smooth soul singer. The overall impression was of a brilliant summer's day but with the jazz mostly absent, probably hidlng out in a darkened room somewhere, waiting for the night. Phil Johnson
Alexander O'Neal in a field? On one of the longest days of the year? This is a man best known for suspect but excitingly sweaty sexual politics and nightclub sophistication, intrinsically opposed to anything as wholesome as fresh air and real live grass. O'Neal's current album features the brittle, deliberately studio-bound music that was never intended to go anywhere without artificial light. Also, it was going to be broad daylight for most of his set, so exactly how daft would his on-stage brass bed look as the sun glinted off its rumpled silk sheets?
Thankfully the freely-perspiring love hippo left his bed in the boudoir and Alex al fresco was an altogether enjoyable affair. But that it worked so well was more down to what was going on on the grass than anything happening on stage. This was a crowd determined to enjoy themselves in the way that only people who will pay pounds 22.50 ( pounds 25 on the gate) for a concert ticket know how to: to get comfortable and to drink, to dance and to do nothing in the sunshine.
There was shrewd understanding on the part of the promoters that nobody was about to rough it. After all, this was the In-Car Entertainment end of the festival spectrum; what Woodstock might have looked like if it had worn white socks. The bouncy castle had genuine children on it; having 'your own space' was a matter of spreading your travel rug to its limit; and 'release' was all about wheel clamps. There were even people going round with black plastic bags picking up litter throughout the afternoon. And fuelled by San Miguel (the bars were well stocked with all manner of bottled lager) and double quarter pounders with cheese, with a soundtrack of upmarket, largely uptempo soul music, the overall effect was of a 6,000-strong, five-years-later Club 18-30 reunion.
Indeed, much of the clothing on display looked like it had seen active service in the Mediterranean for anything up to a decade, and really shouldn't see the light of day anywhere else. With the exception of half a dozen poor unfortunates who only read 'Alexander O'Neal' and not 'Alexandra Park' on the tickets and turned up in tights, miniskirts and high heels, the crowd wore big, frighteningly unstructured shorts - O'Neal's core fans have just reached the point where even Lycra can no longer interfere with gravity - and roomy, faded tops. A Frankie Says T- shirt would not have been out of place.
O'Neal's songs are anthemic among recently-superannuated soul boys and girls - people displaced by newer dance music - and nobody seemed to think them unsuitable in this setting. Dina Carroll was a clever inclusion on the bill, even though her tendency towards big balladeering might not indicate so: with 600,000 albums sold and five hit singles in the UK this year, she was preaching to the converted, who - in between bopping along to the fast stuff - responded admirably by stretching out on the grass and singing along. The house / gospel group Nu Colours made a lot of friends too, by sheer force of personality - their joyous, five-part harmonies, honed and strengthened by regularly rocking London's Baptist churches, wouldn't let the party spirit lie.
Only Monie Love diasappointed and that was because her increasingly po-faced, earth mother stance - the Linda McCartney of rap? - was completely out of step with the occasion. The last thing this relaxed and refreshed Alexander O'Neal audience wanted was to be hectored. It was enough to make you wish for a big brass bed, if for no reason other than to hide under it. Lloyd Bradley
Glastonbury Fashion, page 25.
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