Our disco diva Gwen Angood enjoyed the sounds of classic house and soulful dance music at Southport Weekender's festival in London.
Date published: 19th Jun 2017
Image: John Morales at Southport Weekender (Credit)
The sun was out, as well as some of the most wonderful party people on the planet last week as thousands gathered on Finsbury Park for the much anticipated return of Southport Weekender.
After a short sabbatical, the SW team came back – better than ever- with a new concept of an outdoor summer festival. Highly regarded for their epic weekend-long parties, where some of the world’s most respected artists would come and play for an enthusiastic crowd, the weekenders were also famous for their legendary chalet parties, round the clock dancing and very little sleep.
Having left a huge void in the social calendar of many following their last event at Butlins, Minehead in 2015, there had been a significant buzz of rumours over the last couple of years with regard to a comeback. Now, 30 years in the making, they returned to the scene with a refreshing offering of fun outdoors. But would it live up to the reputation of it’s past?
As we waited to enter the festival site, we immediately enthused about the future as we socialised with some friendly, welcoming Southport regulars. Wondering around the beautiful festival site, it was a pleasure to witness the family-like feeling of this wonderful crowd as old friends re-united. However, the demographic was far from restricted to the older generation of clubbing veterans.
The younger contingent were there in force, from festival virgins to those who wanted to try out a ‘brand new’ offering this year. Having Kerri Chandler on the line up drew in hundreds of avid fans from across the globe, many still reminiscing about witnessing his sets at Circo Loco in Ibiza last season. Equally, the likes of Roger Sanchez, David Morales, and Derrick Carter were a lure for many.
Whatever their reason for attendance, every single reveller had a welcoming smile on their face. A community vibe soon evolved – which in the current climate of political debate and security concerns, was a credit to humanity, as thousands of strangers became friends on one of London’s most iconic green spaces.
Personally, we were there for the rare and underground – the spiritual and soulful aspects of this passionate scene, and we came across this in abundance. Entering the Liverpool Disco Festival arena early doors brought back flashbacks of their recent world-class event in May, with opening sets by Natasha ‘Kitty Katt’ Probert and Hustle's James Morgan. A glorious glitter ball suspended from the centre of the tent projected an array of colour across the cascading fabric ceiling, as we got stuck in to the fabulous tunes emanating from a perfectly balanced sound system that reached out to every aspect of the dancing space.
In a frenzy of trumpets, strings and cowbells, we enjoyed some disco delights from every possible sub-genre, from Italo to funk, soul and beyond. Natasha ‘Kitty Katt’ had us grooving right on down to the shimmy inducing ‘Got To Get Your Love’ by Clyde Alexander & Sanction. Later on, Morgan had everyone sizzling to the infectious percussion section of ‘Bra’ by Cymande, shortly before dipping us into the delights of ‘Happy Days (Tees Happy)’ by Northend with its heavenly vibraphone intro and George Benson-style guitar licks.
Tempting as it was to stay in this beautiful disco bubble for ever more, we knew we had to migrate to soak up the rest of the delights on offer. Whilst catching a glimpse of Hustle's Jimmy Allen in the Sounds of Detroit Arena, we enjoyed an energetic introduction to what would become a deep and enticing sounding space throughout the rest of the day. Impressing us with his cross-genre capabilities and seriously tight mixing, the Detroit style seemed to come naturally to Jimmy.
With the likes of Juan Atkins, Stacey Pullen and Delano Smith to follow, this was the place to be for the deepest, futurism-infused sounds normally associated with the Detroit scene. With a stunning live set from Amp Fiddler the highlight in this arena, we certainly enjoyed this aspect of the festival.
Following a stint on the fairground swings and with our feet back on the ground, we headed towards the Suncebeat Dome, where Sadar Bahar was playing one of his legendary 45rpm sets. Having been completely blown away by his roller disco style of play at Suncebeat 7 last year, it was a pleasure to see him again to witness the immensely delicate technical skill he possesses.
Armed with his rare vinyl and a rotary Bozak mixer, Sadar put his heart and soul into this grooving 90 minute set. As the Chinese style lanterns swayed in the breeze, the crowd danced in response to some really funky tracks, including Jermaine Jackson’s 'Erucu'. With the hiss of stylus on vinyl sending shivers down your spine, we enjoyed a Soul In The Hole style atmosphere in this wonderful little corner of the park.
Heading over to the Deep Into Soul arena, excited to see Rhemi ft. Hanlei, we were not prepared for what hit us upon entry into this very special space. As Sandy Rivera’s Fall For You melted it’s way around us, the feeling of being back at Southport Weekender became very apparent. Almost akin to a De ja vu, it felt like actually being there – the crowd and the way they moved, the sound and the way it worked its way into your soul, everything about this moment was Southport Weekender.
Initially concerned that this new offering would not quite provide us with the intensity of such a feeling, this festival had now stepped up to the challenge, proving that all you need are the right sounds and the right people in one place to make this happen. Overwhelmed, we raised our hands in the air to Inner Life’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ as we sang in unity with hundreds of others. As Hanlei took to the stage with their rendition of ‘Diamond’, the whole place erupted. Southport was back.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the whole event for us was Osunlade. Struggling to find the right words to describe this set, one can only liken this experience to being immersed in a spitirual melting-pot. In a typical Yoruba Records style, Osunlade – sporting some amazing festival glitter, presented us with a world music approach, infusing essences of Afrobeat with some distinct tribal elements into a true deep house set.
The crowd huddled together, moving rhythmically, eyes closed and shaking tambourines. Others flapped their fans whilst enthusing to the jacking beats, responding to the waves of melody erupting through the sound system. ‘Faith’ by Borrowed Identity had us shaking like we’ve not moved in years, with time standing still as we lost ourselves in the depths of this vibrant, infectious set.
One other aspect that made our hearts sing was John Morales in the Liverpool Disco Festival tent. Unable to resist the temptation of Disco Central, it was a must to dive back in and see the remix pioneer take to the decks as we knew this would be special. Indeed it was, as the crowd got down to a bass-fuelled extended play of ‘Never Too Much’ Luther Vandross. John delivered tracks to the masses with gusto, forcing the powerful elements of the music out in a way that got you hooked.
It was an absolute spine tingling, hairs standing on end moment as the opening strings of Dimitri From Paris’ edit of ‘Saturday’ by Norma Jean Wright wrapped around us – when the beat and bass kicked in, the crowd was ecstatic. John’s interaction with the crowd made this a personal and passionate experience which will stay with us indefinitely.
Deetron’s set felt superbly dark, yet soulful. For the first part, the beats were chunky and engaging, throbbing away with a great deal of power, before evolving into a beautiful and uplifting affair. A great addition to the line-up, the Swiss sensation smothered us all in saxophone through the medium of ‘I Called U (The Conversation)' by Lil’ Louis & The World. His closing track really stays in the mind, as he teased with a loop of Bernard Edward’s famous bass rift – this actually causing a flow of people to rush into the tent, before allowing Chic’s 'I Want Your Love' to unfold in all it’s glory.
Tony Humphries was on form, with a heavenly feel to his set, yet full of the added ‘Humph’ we expect from this New York legend. Roger Sanchez and David Morales absolutely raised the roof off with their epic teamwork – the most awe-inspiring being Sanchez’ multi-deck capabilities, layering tracks like there were no limits to his blending skills. It was truly an honour to witness this first ever b2b set, typical of the special things that happen at Southport Weekender. As usual, Julie Mc Knight was a pleasure to see, uniting the crowd in an emotive sing-along, promoting hugs and everyone’s hands in the air.
That leads to the only critique of this event – it simply wasn’t long enough. To return on the Sunday for round two would have been a dream come true. For a first time outdoor festival event, getting things pretty much spot on is an immense achievement. No queues, an abundance of space to dance, and beautiful surroundings.
The atmosphere from the off was that of the world’s friendliest party. People travelled from all over to attend what was an inspiring event and a true reflection of how the original festival ethos promoted respect, love and unity. Without a doubt, this festival has to return, as it’s uplifting and soul-fixing influence has truly made our summer.