It’s always a good sign when you walk into a festival and the queuing system works perfectly. It’s an even better sign when it’s buzzing inside and it’s barely even 3pm. Clearly many of the Southport ravers were eager to get started, which probably explains the partially empty bottle of vodka we found in a nearby pub over lunch. Skiddle of course left it for the owners to find, not wanting to steal, or peak too early…
Since 2017 the Southport Weekender crew throw a London one-dayer in Finsbury Park, but the event has been going over 30 years, starting off playing mainly 70s and 80s soul and jazz, as was the passion of Southport founder Alex Lowes. They started in Berwick-upon-Tweed back in 1987, but as the 90s rolled on the event opened up to house music, hip-hop, drum n bass and more, as it found its regular home at Butlins in Southport.
This wider perspective on soulful music really was on show with everything from vintage disco (via Sister Sledge featuring Kathy Sledge – whom now performs separately to her sisters), to boogie godfather Leroy Burgess playing with his killer band (more on them later) and 90s Def Mix house music heroes like David Morales and Hector Romero. But there were also artists like Henrik Schwarz playing live, plus London artists gone worldwide Henry Wu and Alexander Nut to add a more contemporary feel to proceedings.
As we entered the park some of our party were concerned about noise bleed upon seeing how close the various tents were to each other, but we rapidly found that as soon as you got inside them you’d be fine. We found Karizma absolutely firing it up to a packed crowd of 400 or so at the semi open Suncebeat Dome. All doubts disappeared as he bumped out ‘What You Do’ by Mo Brown in his typically upbeat manner, all to a crowd much more mixed in terms or race (and indeed age) than you’d typically find at most London house music events.
This set the tone for the day, which was only marred logistically by the fact that from 6pm onwards there were so many good acts on at the same time that it was impossible to see everyone. Also in the week before the event, certain industry types highlighted the obvious lack of female talent on the line-up and Skiddle couldn’t help but agree – both beforehand and now in retrospect.
The Liverpool Disco Festival Arena was great all day, especially when we walked in on Bronx disco legend John Morales showing his decades of experience (he was one of the first remixers in the 70s when extending a record meant you’d actually have to slice and paste the tape and his M&M Productions with Sergio Munzibai are still the stuff of legend) by going effortlessly from ‘Street Player’ by Chicago to Idris Muhammad’s ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’. This classic vibe continued even when Kathy Sledge and her group were late getting on stage, when a re-edit of Luther Vandross’ ‘Never Too Much’ kept the dancefloor pressure going perfectly.
By the time Kathy Sledge was on we were firmly in the post 6pm clash zone, so we skipped out on her covering Stevie Wonder’s ‘Another Star’, having already enjoyed Sister Sledge’s own ‘All American Girls’, to catch 80s boogie maestro Leroy Burgess at the Beat Bar Live Lounge for what turned out to be the performance of the day.
Dressed so sharply he could have headlined the Copa in a red suit and black open-necked shirt, his young band were tight as a drum (as is usually the case with vintage soul acts) and the man himself was on fine form. He was actually letting his band take the weight on the number we walked in on, but then he rallied to perform ‘Heartbreaker’ from his Logg album. He told the audience that he was 65 but no one doubted this particular pensioner when he said that he still feels the same as he did when he was in Black Ivory, his first group in the 70s.
One of Skiddle’s few Southport regrets is not going to check this out earlier. A master at work – hearing ‘Mainline’ by Black Ivory live was something special. Now we headed over to Henrik Schwarz, another of the day’s most enthusiastic performers. He was indeed jacking so hard as he played live that a lesser man’s back would have gone, but hearing him turn out the Suncebeat Dome with his remix of Sudanese-Canadian artist Emmanuel Jal’s ‘Kauer’ was pretty ace.
Our timing served us well next, as we happened upon David Morales and Hector Romero’s Def Mix showcase just as Robert Ownes was singing ‘Tears’ and then segued into ‘I’ll Be Your Friend’, which is about as HOUSE as it gets. Morales then dropped Ce Ce Peniston’s ‘Finally’ as the crowd joined in eagerly with what is clearly a big Southport fave.
Time was getting on by now but we still got a chance to catch some of Jazzy Jeff’s quick-mixing set – the Fresh Prince’s best friend went from French Montana’s ‘Freaks’ to a snatch of Jay-Z, then the Jackson’s ‘ABC’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ma Cherie Amor’ and then Al Green’s ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ and then as we left it was LL Cool J’s ‘I’m Gonna Knock You Out’.
But having had enough of that we headed back to the live stage to catch Alexander Nut, who was also on a hip-hop vibe. He bought things to fever pitch with Mobb Deep’s ‘Give Us The Goods’, ‘Oh My God’ by Tribe Called Quest and Nore’s ‘Banned From TV’ and finally the JB’s ‘La Di Da La Di Day’. A perfectly funky end to a great day. Hopefully Southport will take a more modern approach to their bookings next year, so everyone can enjoy it properly.