Highlights from the jazz, funk and soul festival's 10th anniversary bash
This year was the tenth anniversary of festival Love Supreme, and in that decade the event in Glynde, East Sussex has undergone a drastic transformation. Now inviting 25,000 revellers to bask in free flowing jazz, funk and soul, its line-up now incorporates music spanning hip-hop, gospel and electronica. Any artist included on the festival’s roster now embodies the bold, boundary-pushing ideals of the man whose song gave the festival it’s name: John Coltrane. That was none more obvious than in its two headliners, the ingenious Little Simz and the inimitable Grace Jones.
Jazz in particular – once painfully uncool and a bit unfairly consigned to be doldrums – has been revitalised since Love Supreme first took place in 2013, largely in part to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 opus To Pimp A Butterfly, which offered the genre a refreshed credibility, most especially amongst hip-hop heads.
The country’s burgeoning jazz scene utilised that resurgence, proliferating in an explosion of innovation across a range of other genres. The festival also works directly with organisations like New Generation Jazz, Tru-Thoughts, Patterns, and The Verdict, all of which are local to Brighton and East Sussex to help nurture talent in the area and provide them with a platform to perform amongst the gorgeous greenery of the South Downs. But it wasn’t just British sounds on offer this weekend – Love Supreme is also famed for embracing a global make-up of music.
One element which was typically British on the festival’s first day however, was the weather. The Friday night, which was only open for weekend ticket holders and campers at the time, was in danger of being a complete wash-out.
Not that soulful upstart Pip Millett minded, who drawn in a sizable audience for her set in the South Stage tent ahead of the buzzy soul band of the moment, Gabriels. A joyous, meaningful performance from the trio, fronted by Jacob Lusk (who was clearly still on cloud nine after joining Elton John at Glastonbury the week prior), staked its claim as a weekend highlight. Firstly they paid tribute to the late Tina Turner with a raunchy and un-church-like rendition of her 1984 single ‘Private Dancer’, and secondly dropped Soul II Soul’s ‘Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)’ which went some way to warming up the audience’s soggy hips.
Thankfully, it was all sunshine on the Saturday, and the rays were warmly received by the crowds swarming around the North Stage, which would host the festival’s headliners. Veteran acid jazz band Incognito brought an international sprinkle, performing crowd-pleasers from their own extensive back catalogue, as well as a handful of Stevie Wonder covers which proved very welcome given the mass sing-a-longs that ensued.
Greentea Peng followed, and did her utmost to take the tempo down a notch or two in the searing Saturday heat. Her woozy and empowering brand of neo-soul is frequently likened to Erykah Badu (incidentally a former Love Supreme headliner), though the Bermondsey-born artist ventures far deeper into psychedelic, hazy dub territory – notably with the likes of wavy numbers ‘Your Mind’ and ‘Stuck In The Middle’. Looking effortlessly laidback as she sauntered from one side of the stage to the other, Peng (real name Aria Wells) encouraged her crowd to delve deep into the skank. After recently entering motherhood and having not performed live yet in 2023, this was a sun-kissed set to savour.
Contender for most welcome surprise of the weekend has to go to French Kiwi Juice – oft referred to as FKJ – gently warming up Love Supreme for its Saturday night headliner with a gorgeously chill set. The French multi-instrumentalist flitted between bouncy beat-making and glassy saxophone parts, flaunting his lauded improvisational skills as dusk setlled in.
Throughout its decade-long history, Love Supreme has vouched for incendiary, trail-blazing black female artists by securing them as headliners – the likes of Ms. Lauryn Hill, Chaka Khan, and the aforementioned Erykah Badu have all set foot in the resplendent grounds of Glynde Place. In 2023, that mantle was handed to similar talent in Little Simz and Grace Jones. Simz was up first and offered a headline set which was a militantly defiant middle-finger to any naysayers suggesting that her inclusion was taking the festival too hip-hop.
After the daze of Little Simz’ triumphant Saturday night headline performance, Sunday started off all about feel-good fare. Soul legend Candi Staton was a beloved presence on the main stage, though her vocals were sometimes lost in the prevailing winds flowing over the South Downs.
Yussef Dayes provided smooth shelter in the South Stage tent, the virtuous jazz drummer dishing out plentiful percussion as his drum-kit snapped, cracked, and popped. Dayes definitely feels like an anomaly; a drummer as a bandleader. But his exceptional talent – which was recognised by Miles Davis’ former stickman Billy Cobbins – is what frequently elevates any project he’s a part of, finally releasing his own debut solo album Black Classical Music later this year. ‘Tidal Wave’, from his 2020 collaboration with Tom Misch, went down like a crispy cold cider on Sunday afternoon, though it meant Obongjayar’s intensity didn’t quite translate with some of the blissed-out crowd that caught him after Yussef.
There was more virtuosity on display from Thundercat, whose noodling jazz odyssey dazed the crowd before entrancing them with his monster bass and marigold yellow dreads. Happily bigging up his own nerdery, the Los Angeles bassist extraordinaire frequently dedicated his tracks “to my anime fans”, though it wasn’t clear there were actually any inside the South Stage tent… When the shuffling drum intro to ‘Them Changes’ kicked in however, there was uproar as expected, just in time for Grace Jones to close out the weekend.
“I still got my body on” the imperious model, actress, and musician Jones proclaimed during her headline set. Not one of the 25,000 festival-goers in the arena could’ve disagreed. She made use of her eternally taut figure by having more costume changes than she did songs, in an awe-inspiring exhibition of showmanship. There were her typically bold cover versions in Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’, The Police’s ‘Demolition Man’, and Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’ as she bounded about the stage – enviable energy levels being witnessed by the Sunday crowd from the ageless 75-year old. ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ and ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ expectedly roused the most feverish responses from the multi-generational Love Supreme crowd, hopefully proving that with the festival helping to introduce, influence, and nurture the next generation of jazz artists, we’ll likely to be slaves to the rhythm for some time yet.
Tickets for Love Supreme 2024 will be on sale soon.
Photo credits: Harry Herd / Getty