British soul rappers Urban Species, and in particular their feel-good hit "Spiritual Love", caught the afternoon's mood. Even so, you got the same nagging feeling watching them that comes with watching Casualty after ER - everyone is fiddling with the right instruments but somehow you'd rather Dr Ross was on the end of them than Charlie. Try hard as they did, Urban Species looked like understudies to the sublimely loopy Pharcyde. Pratting about like Finsbury Park was their LA backyard, the only dangerous thing about this nutty rap trio was their drive-by wit: "Ya mama's so wack, she gotta afro witta chinstrap."
Not much tickled Lamb, on the other hand. Their breakbeats and indie- girl-in-a-strop formula nonplussed a party crowd, who also largely ignored the innovative spin given by Ragga & The Jack Magic Orchestra to the "enigmatic boffins + barmy diva" angle. If you had ever wondered what Billie Ray Martin doing Bjork on Stars in their Eyes might look like, Ragga gave us a tantalising insight.
Back on the main stage, Neneh Cherry was rapidly confirming her status as the Judi Dench of Britpop. Given that your average jazz-funker does nothing more violent to a guitar than indulge in a little slap-bass now and then, the laid-back festival crowd bore Dame Neneh's "rawk" tendencies with commendable dignity. Still, it was anthemic renditions of "Manchild" and "Seven Seconds" that won your heart even if her range (X-Ray Specs to Gershwin) appealed to the muso within.
If Neneh had nothing to prove, then nu-soul wonder Erykah Badu took to the stage like she owned Finsbury Park. Though the intimacy of her Billie Holiday-with-beats virtues may have been lost, the presence of the 25- year-old, in white robe and head-dress, and the steely expressiveness on songs such as "Rim Shot" mesmerised the audience.
With such formidable support, no wonder Jay Kay looked like someone had nicked his favourite Stevie Wonder record when he appeared on the 40ft screens. Jamiroquai's heritage funk was always going to get a rapturous reception, but you sensed that the band wanted you to take them, like, seriously, man. For every great tune ("Cosmic Girl", "Virtual Insanity", "Space Cowboy"), we had to endure extended instrumental workouts and not one but two didgeridoo solos. Jay Kay needn't take his carefully preserved retro-groove so seriously. As he said to a fan hanging perilously from a tree: "Watch yourself, mate! No one dies at a Jamiroquai gig!"
Mike HigginsReuse content