Bristol Harbour Festival Review + Photoset

21st – 23rd July – Lloyds Amphitheatre, various venues

Photos: Paul Lippiat & Hannah Rooke

As dark clouds loomed over, hopes of a rain-free weekend had pretty much vanished. But armed with a pac-a-mac and a pint in hand, the weather forecast didn’t stop the thousands attending the 45th annual Bristol Harbour Festival.

Whilst the rain poured down, the festival kicked off in an explosive manner as Roots Manuva walked on stage to a huge applause. It wasn’t until Roots dropped ‘Let the Spirit’ from 2008 album Slime & Reason that the crowd really showed any true appreciation for his music, but when they did it was apparent they’d been saving it for that moment.

Roots Manuva ended his brilliant set with one of his best loved tunes, the unmistakable ‘Witness the Fitness’. It’s hard to believe that I was just 7 years old when this track was released back in 2001 but it’s a testimony to how much of an anthem it was and still is for the UK Hip Hop scene. I had no question in my mind the Outlook Orchestra would be equally as good, if not better but couldn’t help but think they had a tough act to follow.

I don’t even know where to begin with Outlook Orchestra, never in my life have I seen something as impressive. Led by conductor Tommy Evans, the creative mind behind Gentleman’s Dub Club and Submotion Orchestra, the 20 strong specially put together band kicked off their phenomenal hour and an half set with a homage to hip hop, joined live onstage by Pharaohe Monch. Other special guests included Loyle Carner, Congo Natty, Jehst, Foreign Beggars and Footsie. Jenna G performed a beautiful rendition of MJ Cole’s Sincere whilst Submotion’s Orchestra’s Ruby Wood sang “All Yours” which brought a moment of soulful tenderness.

In stark contrast a selection of some of dubstep’s most defining tracks followed including Skream’s iconic, ‘Midnight Request Line’ and Mala’s ‘Alicia’. The 140 showstopper was however Skeng by The Bug ft. Killa P and Flowdan which brought on a frenzy of gun fingers from the crowd; something never thought I’d witness at a gig with classical instruments.

The set came to an end far too soon but in doing so paid homage to the incredible talent coming from Bristol’s music scene with Dubkasm’s Victory and Roni Size’s Brown Paper Bag which had the entire crowd bouncing with the same sense of pride. To be part of something so unique was truly inspiring and ending the night by welcoming Jenna G back on stage to perform  Chase and Status’ euphoric ‘In Love’. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Bristol Harbour Fest got off to a very good start but Saturday and Sunday’s line up only promised more good music. The eclectic mix of artists meant there was something for everyone whether you wanted to chill out to heartfelt folk or enjoy some soul in the unexpected sunshine.

The Baghdaddies brought upbeat brassy Balkan to a supportive crowd, indulging in a bit of Saturday afternoon ska. The stage looked empty in comparison to the previous night but somehow the sound of the five piece carried across the Amphitheatre with the same ferocity. The Man and the Lake continued the Balkan theme over on the Grain Barge later in the afternoon whilst back at the Amphitheatre Bristol locals The Feelgood Experiment entertained an increasingly growing crowd with their groove inducing mash up of jazz, funk, afrobeat and anything funky in between.

Although late to start, it was worth the wait to listen to some truly authentic, feel African beats from Ed Bateman’s East Africa Love Affair. The energy from each performer was unparalleled but the lead drummer really did steal the show.

Next, I headed over to Thekla to watch the insanely talented duo Meadowlark for their debut festival headline slot – where folk music meets electronic with the sweet vocals of Kate McGill.

Thekla’s Saturday highlight was Bristol based psych rock band Sleeptalking who since releasing their debut EP Oh, Isn’t It Strange? have gone from strength to strength. ‘Professional Dreamer’ and ‘Glasshouse’ were particularly raucous and the energy from both the fans and band was enough to make Thekla shake.

The Sunday was a much more chilled affair, with events finishing at 6pm. I took the opportunity to sit back, relax and watch in amazement as daring circus performers dazzled at the rotating aerial hoop, flew through the air on a trapeze and got a giggle from the crowd with a humour filled acrobatic adventure.

I started the weekend on a “classical” affair, it only seemed right to end it on one so at 5 I made my way to Bristol’s beloved SS Great Britain to enjoy a 45 minute performance of Handel’s Water Music at the Floating Harbour, performed by Bristol Ensemble. The banks of the harbour were lined with those brave enough to withstand the weather and stay til the end to witness this historic event. As the piece reached it’s finale, flares were let off from Brunel’s SS Great Britain and the crowd erupted into a clapping frenzy.

Over 300 boats and 250,000 visitors turned out at this year’s event making it one of the busiest yet despite the typical summer weather, there were no frowns in sight as people started to make their way home.

Check out the Outlook Orchestra highlights below.