Originally published in The Edge
Surveying the Common People site from atop a ferris wheel early on Sunday afternoon, a gentle reggae lilt emanating from David Rodigan and friends on the Uncontained Stage combined with a sky tinted the clearest of blues to paint a picture of sheer tranquility. Lazy days on the Common are tempting enough even without the allure of a fledgling festival. When you mix in a lunchtime workout on the main stage from Mr. Motivator, the presence of new wave royalty with rumours of elaborate pyrotechnics and confetti cannons, and all the cultural delight and gourmet eccentricity of a fancy fair situated within walking distance for most attendees, you’re left with an irresistible recipe for age-discarding delight.
As the sun began to set, this overwhelming pleasantness found itself on stage in human form. Jamie Lawson, the chart-topping debut signee of Ed Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man Records, introduced himself with the promise of an hour of gentle folk, and his partially acoustic set at only his second festival with a band behind him was ideal for those who had planted their picnic blankets early on. Speaking to us backstage before his set, we weren’t expecting to discover that he’d turned up five hours early to enjoy Mr. Motivator and endearingly leporine cockney duo Chas & Dave. Embracing and enhancing Common People’s inherent charms, you can read our interview with him here.
Competing against future house purveyors 99 Souls and a small but boisterous gathering at the Uncommon Stage for Brightonian stand-in headliners The Wytches, Duran Duran opted initially for ominous flamboyance, with stage-high displays and an upper tier of staging for drums and synths showing a visualisation of frantic woodland with scrappy Blair Witch Project-esque splatters of lyrics from new album Paper Gods’ 7-minute title track. Though delivered with the overwhelming metronomic coordination of a band in perfect sync, its wispy and almost angsty teenage tone almost had me running for the trees.
Fortunately, things picked up rapidly as they turned towards the funkier and more familiar aspects of their 14-strong album discography, jumping straight from ‘Paper Gods’ into an incredibly fiery ‘Wild Boys’, complete with a dismembered pale blue head that twitched sparsely with the disgruntled scowl of a vengeful Tobias Fünke. Asking if we’d had enough to eat, they launched into ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and the cameras began to show off their own impressive facial expressions, particularly from the pouting Nick Rhodes on keyboards. Their aesthetic tone nevertheless shifted appropriately with the mood of the performance, reaching sombre sincerity during the intricate ‘Ordinary World’ and tributes to Prince and David Bowie.
Coming into the show with only tangential familiarity with their obvious hits, my expectations for the set, particularly off the back of Paper Gods could certainly have been higher. That aforementioned promise of confetti cannons held me in early, and by the time these erupted around half way for the funky delight of new Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers-featuring single ‘Pressure Off’ to mask a clip of a bird Rodgers flying across the sky from the monochromatic music video, which is atypically moderate by the band’s illustrious standards, all were captivated. Others around me turned to more obviously contemporary comparisons to justify their fun, noting possible influences for the likes of Tame Impala and Beyoncé. Those who had been anticipating it, such as a fellow I met just beforehand at the VIP bar who spent ten minutes passionately crooning their greatest hits in my direction before swooping in for a peck on the cheek when I knew enough of ‘Girls On Film’ to join in, will have treasured the experience immensely.
Further tributes, though admittedly far less classy, were also paid to the Great Purple One earlier in the afternoon by madcap entertainment ensemble The Cuban Brothers. Featuring vibrant covers and mashups that were often conscious of the festival lineup, including Public Enemy’s ‘Bring The Noise’ with the iconic riffs of ‘Seven Nation Army’ as hordes of breakdancing children took to the stage, their set incorporated a progressively perplexing striptease from frontman Miguel Mantovani. By the time he was played out to the opening notes of Dimitri From Paris’ sublime ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ remix, he resembled an unmasked luchador, sporting merely underwear, an opulent belt, and a dodgy moustache.
As my first experience of a genuine music festival, Common People’s cordial atmosphere provided, as promised by Rob da Bank when we caught up with him last week, a gentle guide through the learning curve. Still, my weekend was not short of a few lessons being taught the hard way. Having reviewed her latest record Honey on these pages recently, I was quite eager to see how Katy B translated its highly dance-focused and wholly collaborative material into a festival set. I also quite liked the idea of a crab burger, and I carried a gleeful and ultimately foolish optimism that I would return in good time as I bounded across the festival site with 20 minutes to spare.
Instead, misbehaving gas canisters kept me waiting and staring as extra lights were erected for Katy’s performance. Strands of KDA collaboration ‘Turn The Music Louder (Rumble)’, featured in its disconcerting Tinie Tempah-less guise, pierced through between the cheers from the packed tent for Portsmouth’s Kassassin Street, however it wasn’t until the very end of her compact set that I managed to position myself correctly. Beginning with a slight (and unusually placed in the context of the festival) drum and bass interlude with the Wilkinson-produced ‘So Far Away’, she saved her big three records as a lead artist (‘Lights On,’ ‘Crying For No Reason,’ and ‘Katy On A Mission’) for the finale, leaving us on an entertaining pop note ahead of the uncontainable flamboyance that was to follow.