The Bradford Festival returned to Centenary Square and City Park for another three-day celebration of music, street theatre, activities and food for the people of Bradford. The city centre was packed out as Bradfordians gathered to take in the sights and sounds of a packed schedule of everything from stage acts to walk-around artists, performance theatre to crafting.
Though the weekend days of the event were mostly glorious, the Bradford Festival didn’t start off that way with the Friday night sadly a bit of a wash-out. Despite that, the on-stage acts were some of the strongest of the weekend and many people still gathered under the shelter of Al’s Pop-Up Pirate Bar and the City Hall steps to enjoy them. Families wanting to escape the rain could pop into the Impressions Gallery or library tent for a range of drier activities, but the DJ on the main stage did have a bit of fun when the weather turned, lining up songs with a rain theme by Travis and the Eurhythmics amongst others.
Vijay Venkat started off the event with his fusion of Bollywood songs and jazz, a calm and well-orchestrated gentle introduction into the festival. He was followed by the ‘one to watch’ Rupert Stroud, who having opened for acts such as James Blunt, Texas and the Feeling, delivered a succession of catchy, crisp-sounding hits that got the crowd singing along, even throwing in covers like ‘No Diggity’ and ‘Rapper’s Delight’ alongside original material like ‘Way Back Home’ and ‘Morning Light’.
The third act on were ‘Fie! Fie! Fie!’, a quirky local band whose upbeat, often politically charged numbers, were matched only by their fun chats between songs. Including a song dedicated to Jo Cox and a song criticising the cost of state funerals, it was an eccentric line-up but one that worked really well, and personal singable favourite ‘Mantra’ wrapped up their excellent set.
Other favourites from the local circuit, ‘Hoodoo Operators’, appeared next, bringing with them a short but no less fun set. “This is our tribute to Ed Sheeran, if he had been around in the thirties and black” they announced at one point with their tongue firmly in cheek, before launching into another of their great upbeat, country-tinged rock tunes designed to get you up dancing, and drinking, which was possible thanks to the selection of drinks put on by the aforementioned Dime Bar tent (mentioned in one of their best and bounciest songs) and the nearby Flamingo-themed Prosecco tent, based out a van entirely coated in AstroTurf.
The damp first day wrapped up with the best act of a strong line-up, in the seven-piece Leeds-based band Sifaka, who blended soul, rock and African blues on stage. Mixing up brass, keys, bass and many more instruments, many rotated round in a frenzy, this was a vibrant and bouncy end with the lead singer showing off an incredible voice on songs such as ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and ‘Sun Down on Cape Town’, and they battled through the weather to get people up and dancing. Looking like they were having a ball on stage certainly meant the energy passed to the small, but keen, crowd. They are due to perform later in the summer at Bingley Music Live, so they are definitely one to see.
Saturday by contrast was the perfect Festival day – bright sunshine meaning the City Park was packed with people of all ages, with families enjoying all the craft and musical activities in the temporary garden; creating and launching paper airplanes at Fused Imagination’s insanely popular and inventive catapult station; or just enjoying the water and jets of the permanent mirror pool.
Scattered throughout the day were all sorts of performances and street theatre artists. The Cake Ladies, who had been emblazoned on all the publicity, walked around on their tall stilts; Mind the Gap’s ‘Mirror Mirror’ robot enthralled the kids, whilst also piping up with snippets of introductory songs like ‘Hello’ by Adele and Lionel Richie; and my personal favourite, ‘Meet the Funnels’ by Artemis Productions whose characterisation, quirky dancing and interaction with the crowds whilst dressed as three smoking, horn-sounding ship funnels, was always fun to watch, at one point engaging in a water pistol fight with one of the younger audience members. The walk-around performers throughout the festival were always great to see, from the giant elephants of both days to the larger-than-life puddle ducks of Sunday, who danced and pretended to pick-pocket with their bills, all of them bringing out huge smiles on the faces of the children at the Festival who, alongside the adults, appeared in selfie after selfie!
Also buzzing around the space were Sense-o-matic, whose steam-punk themed activities based around our five senses kept those taking part interested in science with little bottles of scent and ear-trumpets, whilst there were a range of aquatic-themed pieces, from HMS Punafore ,whose dancing mate and singing captain entertained with snatches of songs like ‘Beyond the Sea’ and ‘Moon River’ and the Sailors Hornpipe, and had a dedicated knot of people following them wherever they went; to Acrojou’s ‘All at Sea’ whose personal raincloud poured down on him as he rowed back and forth across the mirror pool in a full suit, the downbeat theme to his performance art at odds with the smiles of the children gathered around him.
There was also later in the festival a bright yellow pedalo entertaining the festival goers and a lifeboat including water gun and lobsters, alongside the story-telling escape drama of ‘The Crow House’ and a welcome return for the Cecil Green Arts and their giant puppets. Fans of performance theatre could also enjoy a battle of superhero proportions from the 2Faced Dance Company and the emotional War, a love story told through dance, whilst Cardboard Joe was there in his pop-up animation tent. Laughter yoga, however, seemed less popular, snuck away on the Pavilion roof.
Everything, as in previous years, was captured by local artist Lou Sumray, who could be seen buzzing around the space all weekend sketching performers and stage artists, her artwork displayed around the site alongside works done by visitors to the festival for the first time, their delightful efforts showcased alongside hers on the various walls and barriers.
For those keen to take a break from the entertainment, the area was also packed out with lots of side-attractions, from a huge double-decker butty bus and food stalls selling home-fired pizzas, curries and burgers, to stalls selling soaps, photo-frames, jewellery, mugs, wax candles and sweets. For those wanting to wander a bit further there were also fairground rides in Norfolk Gardens and the edge of the city centre, as well as a piano from the Bradford Music Club in the main foyer of Bradford Interchange for members of the public to practice tinkling on the ivories, and many there showed off their proficiency to the delight of passing travellers.
Saturday was also about more great music. Away from the main stage the Firm Band Baja, with their portable dhol set-up, entertained the crowds whilst under the shadow of the City Hall we were treated to a varied and exciting line-up, starting with the three-piece Afrindo Strings who opened up with a relaxing mix of sitar, kora and tabla. Overcoming a few sound issues earlier on, they went on to attract a busy crowd with their traditional and gentle set, a crowd that stayed topped up through the rest of the day.
Ling Peng and friends continued the more relaxing feel to the music with her Chinese violin, whilst the Analog Bombs ramped up the tempo thanks to their catalogue of energetic songs such as ‘Lola’, headed up by their spirited lead singer and a band that included a keyboardist in an army-grade hard hat resembling comedian Andy Hamilton if he went to war.
Barbarella’s Bang Bang, a mixture of gypsy, folk and theatrical pop, brought huge energy to the stage, their enthusiastic stage performance getting the crowd going. Mixing in their original songs with tracks like Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’, this highlight of the Saturday line-up got the crowd singing, clapping and dancing along, the lead singer hitting the high notes.
The final two acts of the second day of the festival were the Signatures Northern Soul, who kept the energy flowing, and closer ‘The Ska Vengers’ who were excellent, their merging of ska with their Indian heritage working really well, and got everyone up and dancing. Perhaps a little too political for the atmosphere in-between songs, they were nevertheless hugely entertaining and brought a crescendo of energy to the Saturday, the vocal duelling between the two leads sounding great.
Many of the street performers from the Saturday continued on until the final day, which was almost as glorious as the second aside from a few moments later on when the heaven’s opened. But that didn’t stop more families descending on the City Park to take part in workshops including traditional African drumming, Mexican Art, Steampunk hat making, Sand Sculpture or learning the guitar or drums, alongside contributing to activities such as the World Peace Tree, Love Bradford Wall, Wur Bradford collage, or the creation station.
Those looking for fresh performances got them in the shape of the impressive ‘Urban Astronaut’ from Highly Sprung, a dark tale of humanity surviving in a post global-warming Earth though a lot of this probably went over the audience’s heads as they enjoyed the astronaut who did just that, launching into the air on the special travelling flying machine, the astronaut seemingly flying above the huge tower of the City Hall.
Elsewhere the Kitsch & Sync Bedraggled mermaids entertained the crowds with their aquatic language, kissing fish and lobster crown, which allowed them to praise locals as their new kind or queen, whilst the more active among the crowd could watch Jay Kumar and his DanceAsia dancers perform before having a go for themselves at ‘changing the lightbulb’ with the range of Bollywood dancing. For those less keen on moving and more interested in listening, the Brass Funkeys with their range of songs from ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ to ‘Seven Nation Army’ patrolled the space. Fans of something a little more operatic could also watch one of three performances of ‘Ice Cream: The Opera’, a Romeo and Juliet-type story of the rivalry between two ice-cream vans, told through opera. A great watch and well delivered, it was more ‘Magnum vs Calippo’ than ‘Montagues vs Capulet’ if you will.
Taking to the stage on the Sunday were more brilliant acts, from the foot-tapping ‘Stompin’ Dave and his Bluegrass Band’ that opened up that mixed fast-paced solos with some fancy footwork, through the more relaxed Abdoulaye Samb whose stunning instrumentals offered some pleasing diversity to the line-up. ‘Bollywood Rhythms’, which followed, brought the crowds as they worked their way through some Bollywood anthems throughout the ages, many numbers getting big whoops from the crowd.
The penultimate act, the Cable Street Collective, mixed up ska, indie, pop and swing and were another highlight of the festival, their final ‘Call Me Al’-sampling number a strong end, whilst closing act ‘Mr Tea and the Minions’, with a lead singer looking like a real-life Snapchat filter, treated everyone to a raucous final 75-minutes, the swing and ska from the Bristol-based band lighting up the stage, with samples of ‘Inspector Gadget’, the theme from Tetris, Chic’s ‘Good Times’ and a second appearance from ‘Rapper’s Delight’ at the Festival nicely woven in, the band having a ball on stage and passing the energy onto the crowd. Personal highlights included their up-tempo hit ‘Funky Pumpkins’, packed with fast-paced violin.
The Bradford Festival 2017 was another incredible three days of music, food, events and activities that packed a lot into around twenty hours. Thanks to some mostly great weather and the buzzing line-up, it was great to see thousands of Bradfordians enjoying the line-up throughout the City Park and there will be lots of people eagerly awaiting 2018 for another fun-packed weekend.