The 6 Music Festival has taken place in some landmark locations for bands over the past 6 years. The electricity and buzz from having the fest land in our beloved Camden had the place bouncing all weekend. It was also a double celebration as we paid tribute to this musical wonderland whilst marking BBC 6 Music’s Birthday… ‘Sing Happy Birthday to us. Twice, as you’re washing your hands,’ quipped 6 Music boss Paul Rodgers before the show.
6 music prides itself on curating incredible line ups that are inclusive and diverse, and they nailed it this year. The crowd at the Roundhouse was visibly and audibly elated to be there for this sold-out opening night. The 6 music presenters were in attendance, proudly overseeing… Having presumably enjoyed the full extent of Camden’s rich musical history at her leisure, Dr. Who was seated behind me loving every second. All were basking in the warm glow of another stellar 6 music festival line up: Black Midi, Nadine Shah, and headliner Brittney Howard.
I was rocked to the core by Black Midi’s opening set. They sound like nothing and everything all at once. They sound like Talking Heads and the Butthole Surfers rehearsing together in a Heironymous Bosch painting. Steve Lamacq described them as ‘powerful, inquisitive and restless’ before they hit the stage.
So much has been written about Black Midi already: they have been compared to just about every band going. If pushed, I would say their sound sits somewhere between the Monk’s amazing 1966 garage rock blueprint album ‘Black Monk Time’ and the heavier side of Slint. But I think it’s better just to enjoy what these guys are evolving into through their intense sonic experimentation. They are the reason you should let your kids go to Art (Brit) School.
Drummer Morgan Simpson is incredible – somehow managing to harness prog and punk playing styles simultaneously. He really drove the performance and it was difficult to take your eyes from his whirling sticks and dreads.
The rest of the band dress like they took part in a supermarket-sweep style budget run of TK Max just before the show. Cameron Picton (vocals, bass, synth) stands motionless like a primary school pupil terrified by having to read a line out during sharing assembly. At complete odds to this, his playing is stratospheric and his launch into the screeching vocal section on ‘Near DT, MI’ was in equal parts shocking and thrilling.
The only thing lead vocalist Geordie Greep said to the crowd throughout was repeatedly, ‘TBE’. The acronym was also embroidered into his bright red baseball cap. What does this mean? The Best Ever? Why does he keep saying it? TBH, I like the mystery and this gives you a little insight into the joyfully confounding nature of this band.
Nadine Shah confidently stepped in to replace the poorly Michael Kiwanuka. She struts, she leers, she jokes in thick Tyneside husk. Shah is a Muslim woman with a guitar, speaking out about the issues that really matter. Shah is Shirley Bassey fronting a brooding post-punk band. Somebody give her the next Bond theme song, please!
‘I bet Michael Kiwanuka couldn’t dance like me. Actually, he probably could…’ She laughed after raucous sax-fuelled and as-yet-unreleased track ‘Trad.’ She sang about the disenfranchised, the downtrodden; about the refugee crisis, the gender gap; about recovering from abusive relationships. Stepping over the monitors and closer to the crowd, she urged us to ‘just be kind. Make everybody feel welcome.’ I can’t wait for her new album ‘Kitchen Sink’ to be released this June.
At the end of the night, the 6 Music festival audience was completely blown away by a vivacious ball-of-fire headline performance from Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. Her incredible band powered through tracks from ‘Jaime’ (my album of 2019) as well as delighting the crowd with a stunning homage to her hero, Prince, with ‘Breakdown.’ Brilliant shades of purple could be heard throughout her set.
Check out her majestic psych-soul tune ‘Stay High.’ It is impossible not to be enchanted by her performance style. All the emotion, the joy, the fun just transcends from every pore as she sings and wails on guitar. Howard is a storyteller, she has fun and she loves her audience. The roundhouse rabble loved her right back – grooving, grinding, grinning… Pockets of people broke into jubilant arm-in-arm swirling as she hit the high notes on her cover of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Your Love (Keeps Lifting Me Higher.) A real party atmosphere.
Happy Birthday 6 Music, and thank you for killing it in Camden.