Love Supreme - South Downs’ Cliff chalks up sheer joy

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Neil del Strother

It’s rare a performance leaves me with a sense of sheer joy, but the great Jimmy Cliff (mystifyingly not a headliner at this year’s Love Supreme) left me reeling with delight and feeling as if all was fine and dandy with our troubled world. His wildly un-jazz high-octane afternoon reggae set was for me the faraway stand out highlight of the weekend. It was I think his pure exuberance; he simply shone with the happiness of a life well lived, blessing us with a voice still rich and strong and so very alive, a laughing Rasta Buddha dressed in a Pharaoh’s golden headdress and what looked like a gold patterned full-length nightshirt (at his age I guess this meant he could go straight for a nap after his set).  

Super fuelled by the great Jimmy I shimmied hot-and-oh-so-light-of-foot through the balmy afternoon air to the Band and Voices tent (again my favourite venue of this festival) to see the powerful Linton Kwesi Johnson in action. I was hoping for a rousing rendition of ‘The SPG them are murderers’, one of the great protest songs of the 80s, but instead it was a reading of a handful of his excellent but not uplifting poems and a retelling of the fallout from the cataclysmically tragic New Cross massacre. Now this is hugely important stuff, but shamefacedly I have to report I found it a massive downer after the ecstatic legal high of the mighty Cliff and I wished I’d not plumped myself down quite so enthusiastically at the front of the tent from where I couldn’t respectfully escape. Don’t get me wrong, LKJ was brilliant, but joyous he was not. As the great man told us himself: “Poetry is like medicine, it should only be taken in small doses.”

My bubble burst I traipsed dejectedly off across the crowded festival site – I’m pretty sure this was Love Supreme’s busiest year to date – in search of the nearest bar. Unfortunately the selection of drinks on offer was somewhat limited and, considering the proximity of the legendary Harveys brewery, strangely lacking in quality options. Notably there was not much of a beer choice for the gluton free punter, aka none. The IPA was quite acceptable though and I drank a cool restorative pint on the grass in the afternoon sunshine while lusty jazz scatted and meandered its way out of the nearby big top into my eardrums.

Talking of jazz, this year Love Supreme, a jazz festival after all, hosted more high quality jazz performances than any other year I can remember. And I remember quite a few. I’d list some of these performances for you here but hush, keep it quiet, I’m not much of a jazzologist – it’s just that I overheard enthusiastic cheering again and again (and again) for the many jazz sets over the weekend. And the festival itself was full of jazz cats of all ages and ethnicities – you could tell them by the way they dressed: sharp and extravagant suits, colourful shirts and sandals with socks, mercifully not generally in combo. Having said that one deluded hippy festivalgoer wore a completely-out-of-place but achingly chic poncho. Well the evenings were a bit chilly and I’d forgotten my jumper.

Let’s head swiftly back to my area of relative expertise, i.e. music other than jazz. And there was plenty of this to be had. Indeed Love Supreme rather excels at delivering a fine balance between jazz and something that can’t really be called jazz at all. Most notable non-jazz performers of this weekend, other than Jimmy Cliff of course, were the two main stage headliners: Gloria Gaynor, who was way too schmaltzy for my tastes but truly remarkable for her venerable age, and the stomping no nonsense Lauryn Hill, who dramatically miseducated the huge and enthusiastic crowd on the Sunday night. I must also mention the quite marvellous, often titillating and ‘oh my’ hilarious LGBTQ cabaret in the Bands and Voices tent. It was so good I was almost transported back to Jimmy Cliff joyland…almost.

Once again the weather was kind to Love Supreme (if you’re wondering what day to get married then you’d do well to check the dates), albeit this year there was a little overnight rain. On Saturday hot sunshine veiled the gorgeous surrounding South Downs in a soft summer shimmer all day long, and while Sunday was cloudy to begin with it improved throughout the day. The food on offer at the festival was also largely good, although gluton free options were perhaps not as plentiful as they might have been, and the shops sold the usual selection of jewellery, dodgy hats, diaphanous clothes, and other must-have-until-you-get-home-and-wonder-why-on-earth-you-bought-it festival knickknacks. Oh yes, there was also a decent if not exceptional kids area and a rather lacklustre looking healing corner.

All in all there’s very little to fault at Love Supreme. The choice of music is broad and impressive, the site is spacious and set within a verdant cleft in the Downs, the camping is fine, the loos and showers are also fine, the site is disabled friendly, and the atmosphere is laid back and living-is-easy. Even better for me would be just a little bit more edge; the musical choices – and I can’t speak for the jazz as mentioned – tend to be a just little bit safe and old school, and the site itself, while lovely, lacks those weird and wonderful turn-a-corner magical installation surprises you find at some festivals. But hey, let’s not be pernickety; this is an excellent and increasingly popular mid-sized good-spirited festival suitable for jazz aficionados and non-jazzologists alike. I enjoy it every year.

Published on 12 July 2019 by Neil del Strother

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