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Review: Splendour Festival 2022

27 July 22 words: Michael O'Donohoe
photos: Laura Patterson and Vawn Humphrey-Wilson

With everyone from Craig David to Supergrass taking to the stage, Splendour Festival returned with a bang - bringing two days of proper top tunes to Wollaton Park. Here's what we thought... 

I don’t do New Year's resolutions, but if I had one (or perhaps a post-lockdown resolution) it is to live more in the moment. And to that end, when the opportunity to cover Splendour for LeftLion came up on several days notice, I naturally agreed to cover it - despite it falling the weekend before payday.  

And I am glad I did, because, apart from spontaneity, something that I missed over lockdown was a sense of togetherness. It wasn’t just that we had to physically distance ourselves from one another in order to combat the virus – it’s that we seem to have become more emotionally far apart too. The generation gap between Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z-ers seems to have yawned particularly wide over the last few years. 

And so what was great about Splendour, which bills itself as Nottingham’s family-friendly festival, was not only that it allowed the people of Nottingham to throng together to enjoy music after two dark, lonely years, but that it brought young and old together to do so.  

Of course, each generation has its favourites, and your correspondent was hard-pressed to visit them all. A wry remark by Philip Oakey, the lead singer of the Human League, that “we’re a synth band from the eighties who have refused to die,” raised a laugh from many of the parents in attendance, while Becky Hill and headliner Anne-Marie attracted a mostly young crowd. Not only was there something for everyone, though - I was struck by how much crossover between generations and genres there was.  

Speaking of generations, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the next generation of talent who were on display. A great many exciting young Notts-based artists played, and it is a shame that in many cases they were on so early, before the crowds had had a chance to build up.  

Newbies who stood out were, on day one, Tori Sheard, Jerub and the Cucamaras (named after the nightclub, perhaps?), and on day two, Deco and BEKA.  

I was impressed by how open to music from past eras the young crowd were. Young people who were not yet born when Seven Days was in the charts went ballistic for it

Armed only with a guitar, and backed by a single drummer/keyboardist (who he joked was so talented it was as if he played with four arms), Nigerian-born and Notts-raised Jerub was deceptively soft-spoken on stage. I say “deceptive” because, while he radiated a quiet confidence when he spoke to the crowd, it did nothing to prepare me for his extraordinarily powerful and soulful voice. Listening to him put me in mind of what it must have been like to have listened to Marvin Gaye before he got big. Seriously, he’s that good. Don’t believe me? Stop reading this and go and listen to him. I’ll put a cup of tea on. 

And speaking of cups of tea, that was precisely what Beka clutched as she sang her set on day two. Like Jerub, she is local to Notts and described herself as excited to be playing a festival that she once tried to sneak into when she was younger. She mixed gospel and new wave sounds with a witty, self-deprecating stage presence and a sense that she was genuinely excited to be there. She was, in short, a lot of fun, and her songs tackled themes as wide as finding love, looking after one’s mental health and grappling with poor self-esteem. The last point is something we all struggle with, but her wonderful song Your Skin deals with it head-on, with a particular focus on problems that black teenagers may struggle with in today's world.  

Becky Hill took to the main stage early evening on day one. Flanked backed by a full band and flanked by a squadron of dancers (each of whom she took the time to hype individually), she was an energetic presence that got the crowd jumping. 

Next up was Craig David. This is the second time this summer I have seen David perform, and that’s two times more than nine-year-old Michael ever thought he would. A particular lyric of his (rapped over epic backing track from What Girls Like) jumped out at me: “Got kids sayin’ that new boy’s so cold, even man that didn’t like me now be getting involved.” I was impressed by how open to music from past eras the young crowd were. Young people who were not yet born when Seven Days was in the charts went ballistic for it.  

As Anne-Marie belted out the song Beautiful, the once unruly crowd threw their arms around each other and the heavens opened. It was the perfect way to end a fun weekend

Another throwback, this time to my university days, was Example. I think he was probably my favourite performance of the whole weekend. He walked on stage with a cheeky London grin and was a master at keeping the crowd hyped. By “hyped” I mean “I jumped up and down so much that I was winded afterwards”.   

As the weekend drew to a close, a crowd began to gather in front of the main stage waiting for Anne-Marie. A minor conflict broke out when a group of lads in their thirties tried to clear a path to the front for a woman and her two younger daughters, apparently only to be repelled by some eighteen-year-olds who would not give up their place. Attempts were made to keep an inflatable football in the air. The crowd yelled “ANNE-MA-RIE! ANNE-MA-RIE!”  

It took the crowd a bit of a while to settle even after she came on stage, and at one point early in her set a group of nearby teenagers formed a mosh pit, to everyone else’s general annoyance. “Mosh pit at an Anne-Marie gig” is an odd sentence, but here we are. Quite aside from her unique voice and catchy hooks, there is something wonderfully unpretentious and likeable about Anne-Marie. At one point, after the crowd had sung a verse for her, she mock-scolded us for being “a bit too good.” She put on a fun, crowd-pleasing set, her vocals being accompanied by visuals that played off nineties nostalgia. As she belted out the song Beautiful, the once unruly crowd threw their arms around each other and the heavens opened. It was the perfect way to end a fun weekend.  

One sad note which should be marked is that on Friday 15 July, Happy Mondays bassist Paul Ryder, brother of lead singer Shaun, was found dead in a hotel room. I didn’t get to see the Happy Mondays’ set, but it is truly impressive that they were able and willing to play on, and bring joy to those who came out to see them.

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