Bristol was treated to the first music event on Clifton Downs since 2011 this month; where, after 13 years, Massive Attack finally returned to their hometown for seemingly the wettest day the world has ever seen.
Brand new festival The Downs was born for 2016 after Massive Attack agreed to team up with local event organisers Team Love (Love Saves the Day, Arcadia Bristol) to put together a one-day event fusing main stage acts like Skepta, Primal Scream and Young Fathers, with local talent (Krust, Pinch, Stryda, et al.), as well as a politically-leaning Information Area with talks from the likes of Giles Duley and Vivienne Westwood (via video).
Our day probably started the same as most people who’d bought tickets for the once-in-a-decade event – looking longingly out of the window willing the rain to let up, before a begrudging acceptance of our shitty British weather.
Once we arrived at the event we headed straight to the bar for some drinks, which would later become a favourite point of contention for the inevitable Twitter moaners, who complained that drinks were overpriced at £4.30 a can and some RRP prices were visible. Come on guys, we all know how much a 4-pack costs down the shop. And in what realm would you expect to pay less then £4ish for a can at a festival?
We then headed over to the second ‘local music’ stage, courtesy of Lion Pulse Sound System, where it became apparent that those who arrived early were not going to let the rain dampen their spirits. We stuck around for Bristol Hi-fi and Smith & Mighty who warmed the crowd up nicely before Skepta took to the main stage.
The gods seemed to be on the side of the energetic grime artist as we were offered a rare respite from the rain throughout his set. The hoods were off and the crowd was grooving to Numbers and It Ain’t Safe, among others, from his new album Konnichiwa.
Now on to the Twitter moaners next favourite point of contention: the queues. Admittedly the queues were absolutely insane, but when 18,000 wet wipes don’t turn up until 6 o’clock because they’re too scared of a bit of rain, then of course there’s going to be a huge back log at the bars and food vendors. Ultimately, the organisers offered more than enough in way of food and drink outlets, but some factors are beyond their control…
‘All the bands took to the stage and really blew people away, culminating with Massive Attack perhaps putting in one of the performances of their lifetime – it really was special.’
– Tom Paine, Team Love
Team Love’s Tom Paine tells Pitch: ‘Myself, the team and the band are all really happy with how the first music concert event on The Downs in over 15 years went. Faced with some fairly tricky conditions and times what felt like a tempest of rain, all the bands took to the stage and really blew people away, culminating with Massive Attack perhaps putting in one of the performances of their lifetime – it really was special.’
Before that though, Primal Scream followed Skepta on the main stage to play notable classics Movin’ on up, Loaded and, of course, their final track Rocks. It was around this time that the sun went down and the entire crowd turned into one unidentifiable mass of hoods, and even going to the toilet was met with a whole new challenge of successfully finding your friends again before the headline act…
The first thing to say about Massive Attack’s set is that the sound was spot on. I’m not sure whether they just cranked it up for the headliners, but it seemed to be an improvement on the previous acts. The set started slow, opening with Hymn of the Big Wheel, featuring the amazing Horace Andy, who stuck about for a number of tunes throughout the set – most notably Girl I love you from Heligoland, which, for me, marked a point in the set where they started to step up the gear.
Young Fathers came on to accompany the Bristolians for a few before the long anticipated reunion with old friend Tricky who showed up for a token track Take it there. The end of the set was littered with classics like Inertia Creeps and Angel before Deborah Miller came on to see off the set with Safe from Harm and the encore, Unfinished Sympathy.
Despite the naysayers, the event was very well organised and had the weather been on form I can’t see there being much to complain about. In fact, I quite like the fact that it rained (even if my coat still smells dank) – it certainly made the whole day a lot more memorable on a now-rare opportunity to see one of the most successful bands to come out of Bristol / the UK.
There’s also some good news regarding the condition of The Downs and some exciting prospects for the future, as Tom Paine explains: ‘The site itself held up incredibly well – the grass is still green even after 30,000 people danced amongst torrents of water falling from the sky. We certainly hope this could be the start of an annual concert on The Downs each summer.’