Together The People, set in Preston Park, Brighton, seems an apt name for a festival created by local people for local people. The organising commitee involves housing trusts, arts centres and creatives from around the region.
So how on earth does a festival like this end up with cast of rock music royality. A line up that features Brian Wilson, Nathaniel Rateliff and Suede seems somehow juxtaposed to the fete and fair style layout of the site.
Set apart from some others by the ecology and sustainability message, to enforce this organisers encourage walking and alternative transport to this non camping festival. Together The People is friendly and family oriented, marquees are set to the outer rim of the mural decorated perimeter fence and it is packed with things to do, with local charities and trusts operating interactive art areas and photography workshops.
The music is varied, interesting and sometimes challenging. There are three stages, one curated by Brighton venue Concorde 2, the massive main stage for the top-of-the-bill acts and the smaller tented BIMM area for up and coming bands who have come through the British & Irish Modern Music Institute
One of the bands who stood out is Fickle Friends. They had been playing Leeds & Reading the week before and were off to Festival Number 6 and getting ready t0 go on a new UK tour. Lead vocalist Natassja Shiner, wearing sporty attire looks like she is about to compete in the Olympics but in a hot, packed and humid tent with the rain pouring down outside, she definitely chose the right kit.
The main stage line-up includes Hiatus Kaiyote a musically adventrous Australian jazz psychedelic band lead by enigmatic singer and guitarist Nai Palm. It is always fun to see what outfit she will turn up in. Around the arena the crowd is starting to near the 5,000 capacity and the excitement is building for headline act.
There are plenty of sideshow attractions including wandering minstrels and a Voodoo band. If you decided to go for food you could do so relatively queue free and the choice was brilliant. If not then there was always the “bumper cars”
Up and coming stadium rockers in waiting, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats, bought their mix of Missouri and Colorado folk-blues and they also bought the rain. Luckily they know a few songs about the weather, so the crowd that braved the two hour long downpour were kept entertained by Rateliffe’s quips and his on stage antics. He seemed to loose his cool a few times as equipment failed and his favourite guitar was hurled toward the back of the stage. “The weather is broken, our equipment is broken, lets dance”.
Classy songsmiths Turin Brakes bought the supporting acts to a close, what a great sound they make and it is good to see them back together, with a new album Lost Property and tour. Their acoustic rock sound seems to fill in the gaps left by Elliot Smith, Simon & Garfunkel & Scritti Politti.
Time slips by very quickly and soon Brian Wilson is helped to the stage, he looks frail and unsteady but when he sits down to play the piano, and the super tight band with nine musicians singing harmonies join him in California Girls, the moment is frozen, electric and etched in the mind, he is a legend!
Another treat is to see Al Jardine in the band, an original founding member of The Beach Boys, and also singer and guitarist Blondie Chaplin who joined the group in 1970 and co-wrote and sang the rock classic Sail On Sailor.. as he does on the night.
The main reason for Brian Wilson to be there though is to perform the groundbreaking album Pet Sounds. Released 50 years ago to great acclaim it remains and inspirational piece of work for bringing together many different sounds and unusual instruments to the studio and for using multi track recording methods virtually unheard of in the 1960s.
Happy Birthday was sung to Al Jardine then with an introduction by Brian who supposes that the audience have not really heard or understood the Pet Sounds record “You have to understand that this is a heartfelt body of music, one to listen to and not to rock around to”. We smile and agree that we will enjoy the experience, as the opening track Wouldn’t It Be Nice rings out.
The spine tingling moment of the night, as a light drizzle falls, is the song God Only Knows. It is the kingpin of the album and the lyrics seems to sum up the helplessness in periods of Brian Wilson’s own life.
Toward the end of his set we get Beach Boys hit after hit with classics Good Vibrations, Surfin USA and Barbara Ann. The musical curfew falls and we miss out on the traditional tear jerker and closer Love & Mercy as the band run out of time.
Together The People is a great little festival and in this its second year it has pulled off some great coups with the headline acts. The demise of another festival nearby probably helped as some of the acts simply moved over but it is to the credit and determination of the organisers that they have involved people from the Brighton area and kept it as a festival aimed at residents of the town.
Words and Photography by Simon Jay Price Together The People Festival 3rd September 2016