Triumph in the Heart of Downland

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Let’s start off with the women. A healthy percentage of the acts over the Love Supreme weekend – including the excellent main stage headliners on the Saturday and Sunday nights – were, gasp, female. And even so, gasp again, the festival was a sell out. More high profile festivals please take note. Did someone mention Glastonbury?  

There’s something tinglingly visceral about watching hugely talented performers at the top of their game and Saturday headliner Little Simz was that and more. I’m not sure I’ve ever been moved to tears by Hip Hop before, but I had to wipe my eyes – in a manly way obviously – at one point as I was so overcome by her brilliance. Perhaps she needed to be shoehorned into the festival’s Jazz/Soul remit, but hey, she was an inspired booking.

On somewhat safer soul-ish ground, was the uber-theatrical and enduringly eccentric Grace Jones. Her music doesn’t pull the risqué punch it once did, but her presence remains utterly extraordinary. Her many spectacular costume changes helped, but mainly it was her super-scary and yet somehow super-vulnerable persona that was the lure. The sell out crowd drowned in her ocean of charisma. At 75 years old she remains a lithe and purringly sexy star. An inspiration.

I’ve been to Love Supreme a fair few times now and each year I am surprised to enjoy a Jazz – far from my favourite musical genre – festival so much. This year was the best so far, a triumph no less, not least because of the eclectic and more current feel of some of the acts – step up another favourite, Greentea Peng. As ever there were the nostalgia-performers appealing to the more vintage in the crowd, but the mix of acts, genders, ages and genres – including jazz, soul, Hip Hop, and world music luminaries – attracted a notably younger average age range than usual and gave proceedings a very welcome additional edge. 

As a mid – heading towards large – sized festival Love Supreme has that wander-around-aimlessly-and-come-across-something-amazing feel to it. There are at least five or six stages, three large, and two late night dance venues so there’s pretty much always something worth listening and moving to going on. I even found myself tapping a reluctant toe to one or two of the purer jazz acts, not least Courtney Pine. But however wonderful a musician Ethiopian legend Mulatu Astatke may be, a xylophone solo was a toe-tap too far for me.

For those who wanted to indulge in more soothing and physical activities (stop it!), there’s a tucked away healing area that appeared to be busy throughout the weekend. It was sited just opposite the busy children’s area, so hassled parents could drop off their youngsters and immediately collapse into a deep tissue massage, reiki treatment or whatever…or, possibly more commonly, head off for a few stiff recuperative drinks and music. 

All said and done Love Supreme is a relaxed and friendly festival, nothing too full on, a languid long weekend set in a beautiful Downland valley. Indeed, this year even the efficient security staff seemed particularly friendly. Maybe it was something in the water? Talking of water, the queues for the showers were far too long – one day I must look into the economics of shower hire as this is almost always a festival gripe. Are they super expensive? The queues for the mainly clean loos on the other hand were fine.

I’m not sure a gentleman should discuss food immediately after talking about loos but, keeping it brief, the food stalls were many, good and varied, and inevitably overpriced as they always are at festivals. The bars were also plentiful, well stocked and the prices not too horrendous. The bar staff were also notably friendly and up for a chat. What’s going on?! As ever the camping areas were good and attractive, albeit a little way away from the carparks, so hoicking tents and bedding etc. was the usual hassle, but this is normal of course.

I’ll be along to Love Supreme next year, inshallah, and I’m crossing fingers and toes that the bookings will be as inspired – if not more so – as they were this year.

By Neil del Strother


Published on 09 July 2023 by Neil del Strother

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