Great Brittany shines at 6 Music Festival
Singer is among headline acts – alongside the likes of Kate Tempest, Nadine Shah and Kojey Radical – as BBC event takes over four Camden venues for three-day celebration
12 March, 2020 — By Jennifer Crothers and Róisín Gadelrab
Brittany Howard was among the standout performers at the 6 Music Festival
A FESTIVAL in central London conjures up images of chaos – a tube ride full of day-drunk attendees, streets packed as main roads become unintentionally pedestrianised and a smattering of stressed-out security guards.
But, when it comes to the BBC 6 Music Festival, think again. This alternative showcase is anything but that – a surprisingly calm affair which seemed at times as though even Camden didn’t know it was happening. But that is to do with the well-organised make-up of the three-day celebration – a smoothly-run programme of day and night events across four venues, featuring panel discussions, pub quizzes and sets from the likes of Kate Tempest, Brittany Howard, Nadine Shah, Kojey Radical and many more.
Unfortunately, Michael Kiwanuka had to pull out of Friday’s Roundhouse show due to illness and, while disappointing, the evening’s line-up more than made up for his absence.
Very much keeping in character with BBC 6 Music radio, which endeavours to broadcast the least amount of repeated plays and the most unique plays of new tracks, while maintaining an eclectic playlist, the weekend’s line-up is varied.
Friday evening begins with perplexing experimental rock Londoners Black Midi. Not natural bedfellows with the more soulful melody-laden Nadine Shah or Brittany Howard who follow, the 2019 Mercury nominees blast across the Roundhouse main space with a swirling wall of noise and frantic beats – not an easy listen – but definitely one to wake up the neighbours.
Nadine Shah is next, all angles and sleekness, a depth of vocal to rival Anna Calvi and some haunting songs to match. Her mid-set chatter is cheeky and endearing, asking cameramen to raise their shots from “double-chin” angle, and later apologising for unwittingly dedicating Evil to her mum. Ending with the powerful Out The Way – which calls out anti-immigration feelings – hers was a set that rose and rose.
And then Brittany Howard stepped in. So casual, so calm, you wonder if the vocals will match the volume of the band. But there is nothing to worry about. Each time you think she has reached her max she takes it up another level, opens her lungs and it all pours out – soulful, with a little funk. Howard embodies every word and the songs are brought to life. Having seen her on TV previously, it is clear that her true force can only be fully appreciated live. Stunning and affecting.
Saturday’s main day event is in FEST. Each live Q&A/ podcast was hosted by one of 6 Music’s radio hosts – James Acaster, Lauren Laverne, Liz Kershaw and Gideon Coe. A charming live Q&A with Madness’s Suggs and Mike Barson was hosted by Coe. Hearing the pair laughing between themselves as they delighted in being allowed to swear at a BBC event was amusing in itself, and a totally fitting billing for this band who call Camden home.
A later Q&A which left you feeling like you’d been watching two old pals put the world to rights over a pint, was Kojey Radical and the wickedly sharp James Acaster, with Acaster’s self-deprecating sense of humour balanced out by Kojey’s sincerity and humility. At one point Murray Lachlan Young’s “punk poetry” performance took a surreal turn, as he sang Cannibal Spanish Sex Slugs with complete gusto before 6 Music’s Shaun Keaveny was dragged onstage to play some temple bells wearing what appeared to be a Sainsbury’s carrier bag on his head.
Over at the Roundhouse on Saturday evening, Mary Ann Hobbs introduced Kojey Radical to the stage: “’He has superstar written all over him”. His performance was not only high energy and explosive but earnest and emotional as he made a touching dedication to his late friend, Harry Uzoka, the young model who was stabbed to death in 2018. Kojey has the ability to turn spoken word into affecting hip-hop, to span the deep and introspective and to pull in the more crowd-friendly hook – expect to hear a lot more from him. By the end of the performance, the audience were truly warmed up for events ahead that night.
Hats off to the Beeb for throwing an epic three-day extravaganza. It was, overall, a well-balanced line-up that celebrated 6 Music’s skill in handpicking the “ones to watch” while also giving kudos to heritage, subculture and history.