Saturday saw the first day of the Festival proper and those attending got to witness every season in the day. With neither sun nor rain ever far away from dominating City Park there was plenty of entertainment on hand to keep things moving, all held together by the enthusiastic compere on stage.
The temporary garden had a busy schedule, hosting spoken word poets and DJs under the Words In The City banner. Many could have spent the whole day there taking in some of the incredible wordsmiths who had come from across the country to take part. I had chance to see two, including Rachael whose off-the-cuff recently written poem was raw but well put together, throwing some Harry Potter and Friends references into a truthful and gritty piece.
Alongside the poets there were stalls scattered around the site, with lots of activities for the younger end of the audience, from drum workshops to craft activities, a Roald Dahl-themed Big Friendly Summer Road organised by the library including a quiz, revolting rhymes, decorating and more, including a free book-giveaway, to square-chapatti-making where messages were added to specially-made but non-edible chapattis. With other tents including music, a spice-art workshop that smelt lovely, stencil painting for a giant map of Bradford and much more, there was plenty for kids to get involved with.
The event stretched out with a taster session for young writers in the city library and more Words In The City over in Waterstones, alongside the fairground which had arrived the previous night. Naturally much of the entertainment on offer was either focussed on the main stage or around the Mirror Pool with that day’s assortment of weird and wacky street theatre offerings. Looking at the main stage first, and Jay Kumar and DanceAsia kicked off with something uplifting and cultural before one of the best acts of the whole event really got the crowd going.
“We’ve never played in front of a Nando’s before!” declared the blue-suited Hope And Social before bursting into a rendition of the famous one-hit-wonder by the Fast Food Rockers and a few more off-the-cuff chats at the expense of band members, before delivering one of the catchiest and funkiest sets of the weekend with a huge stage presence, throbbing bass and a very tight set-up, their high energy infectious and their dry wit well delivered, the main question being why such an uptempo and crowd-engaging act were on so early. They closed with numerous encore numbers including a great version of Call Me Al and some more montages, which got the crowds staying and cheering along.
Jay Kadn followed, performing Bollywood-styled songs to a backing track which, though not as crowd-pleasing as the last set, got many up and dancing and was a little fresher. Rob Heron And The Tea Pad Orchestra were a country five-piece hailing from Newcastle as impressive as the high-waist trousers of the lead singer, whose catchy sounds got the sun out. With songs that covered flat tonic water, drinking coffee and the leftovers from Sunday dinners, they were up-tempo, very summery and great easy listening, a catchy number called Cats And Chickens being a particular highlight for me.
The penultimate act of the day was the ska and reggae band Chainska Brassika. Their lengthy set of bouncy upbeat ska and reggae numbers got the crowd going and was the big crowd-pleaser of the day. The sun did at least come out for some of their set, even if not for the inappropriately-titled Sunshine. Audience members young and old got up for this band and the heavens managed to remain closed until after their set. The rain sadly had an impact on the audience for closing band Paprika, one of the very few acts to be called back to the festival. With two accordions and a catalogue of Balkan songs they managed to pull back a considerable number who gathered to dance in circles in front of the stage, the bad weather and the free ponchos being handed out not dampening the mood of a high-energy closer.
Complimenting all these acts were the various street theatre performances, and there was plenty to get involved with, whether meeting a giant rat and entering a challenge room shaped like a block of cheese, or seeing your painted work being fired out of an air-cannon towards a giant spinning umbrella. There were plenty of performances, from Mr. and Mr. Burn by Ramshacklicious, with a Tim Vine-a-like performer finding his performance descending into farce and fire, the Bradford Playhouse’s Escape From The Invisible Zoo whose zookeeper and ringmaster lit up the faces of the children, with their secret animals and never emptying bath-tub, Where Is Wendy?, a hilarious duo decked in black and white stripes, huge glasses and red wigs, who collared people and gave them similar wigs to play random games of intentionally ridiculous hide-and-seek, and The Mirror Men, whose reverse black and white stylings captivated people.
Other highlights of the street theatre on Saturday included Wet Picnic’s The Lift, whose TARDIS-like lift unit was packed full of props whilst the trio of actors roped in members of the public to take part in their fantasy story, their rotation of roles, physical expressions and crazy accents making this a spectacle to see, not to mention the witty script and use of puns. Elsewhere roaming the spaces was a giant inflatable elephant, a parade of props, puppets and bike-based creatures from Cecil Green Arts, thankfully back after January’s fire at Drummond Mill destroyed their prop stores, two men driving around on miniature dodgems, and Lou Sumray once more capturing all the action with her free-form charcoal drawings, displayed on hoardings on City Hall’s scaffolding.
Keen explorers of the area could also catch the New York Brass Band playing various songs from the ages, including hits from Daft Punk, the Eurythmics and the Human League, with repeated calls for encores.