The Urban Festival returned to City Park on 11 July, bringing street culture style acts and music to a buzzing Bradford city centre as all ages came to listen to the music and take part in the workshops. There was also the usual mix of food at an event that ultimately felt much busier than the recent Bradford Festival, embracing a much younger culture.
I spoke to Bradford Council’s Events Organiser Vanessa Mitchell to ask how the acts had been decided upon. “What we’ve done is get a lot of young people involved in the actual planning of it, making it very much their own. We’ve had people going into schools doing workshops, spreading the word. The more people we can get involved with planning, it gives a real sense of community,” she confirmed, adding that the workshops and acts on stage had come directly from suggestions from these sessions.
I also asked Vanessa how well City Park had been used for events recently. “More and more people are wanting to come down and use the space and communities are getting involved and bringing their own ideas to fruition,” she confirmed, outlining how plans for Christmas and 2016 events were already being discussed.
The main stage showcased the bigger acts of the day, starting at 12 noon with Crimson Dawn, Bradford’s first all-Asian garage rock band. This four piece were certainly great to watch, their rock/almost punky style with clear vocals very listenable, and it’s a shame they didn’t get a bigger crowd other than the early birds arriving.
They were followed by one of my favourite acts of the day, Toucan Uke, with strong harmonies from Jack and Emily as they rattled through a succession of bright and bubbly summery songs. Why the ukulele, I asked them. “You can’t listen to it and not be happy! It generally makes everyone feel nice and smiley, and also it’s a really good instrument to encourage other people to play.”
Take Four and 7/8 were next with another excellent set that didn’t quite feel urban. Hailing from Bingley they’ve won recent awards and this showed, with tight sax, trombone and guitar creating a funky, jazzy sound continuing the summer festival feel, mixing in their own compositions with classics like Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely.
The festival continued with another of my highlights, Selah Sounds. Bringing some much needed reggae to the stage for the growing crowd and the improving weather, the combination of Eddie Charles, Cecil Zinyuku and Chris Peltier delivered the goods with songs that got the crowd moving in front of City Hall, including covers of John Legend’s All of Me, Bread’s Everything I Own and Shaggy’s Angel, a personal highlight for me. Mixing in their own material, this was a brilliant set.
With the main stage now a little behind schedule, the acts became much more urban. Earlier I’d spoken to Shaun Dean, dubbed the hottest DJ in Bradford right now. Shaun has built a strong following on the club scene, and on the day teamed up with R’n’B artist 1st Born to bring a great mix of house, dance and club music to the crowd, now more youthful. He mixed in big hits from the last few weeks alongside older songs.
The DJ-led music continued as Sean Davies took over the decks, his music much less commercial, before further collaborations and break-dancing performances on stage brought us to the early evening.
After 6pm the three big headliners came out. Local DJ, producer, remixer and songwriter TS7 brought a huge mix to the main stage with popular songs from the last couple of years. Even with the weather turning the atmosphere was still electric.
The Urban Festival main stage came to a close with a well-received set from Kane Towney and a surprisingly brief twenty-minute appearance from Tom Zanetti, before Danny Bond wrapped it up with a bassline-infused set. Zanetti had said he wanted to “Set it off!” and he certainly succeeded.
Meanwhile there was plenty of fun around the mirror pool, filled with families enjoying the water and the give-it-a-go hula-hooping.
Music on other stages included Sounds of the Suburbs featuring local children DJing, followed by indie acts continuing the theme of great music, but not particularly urban. Monique and Roman were a strong daughter-and-father double-act, Monique very much Macy Gray-style. Monique said: “I think it’s a fantastic thing, putting on this festival, a fantastic opportunity and a great thing for Bradford and the community, getting everybody together.”
Waiting For Wednesday followed with their mix of powerfully sung indie hits. With great harmonies and some strong material, the female duo were one of my highlights of the second stage. I spoke to Anna Watkins and Laura Shackleton about their sound. “It’s folky-Americana with a bit of country. A bit of everything! We’re a number of different styles flung together.”
The band look to have an exciting future. “We have an album coming out soon, When We Were Seventeen, which we’re very excited about.” With a break scheduled, plans are afoot for a strong 2016. “We’re thinking about coming back as a full band!”
Then live poetry reading from StepFaWord headed up by Mycall Isrell, featuring some very talented local urban poets and simulcast on local community station BCB 106.6FM. Followed by a series of exciting and entertaining back-to-back sessions, beginning with Sicknote, formed from members of various bands only twelve weeks ago, and great to watch. Their onstage performance, in particular from Scott Damage, came across as very accomplished. I spoke to Scott about how the band were formed. “Sicknote were actually brought together as part of a music course. We were put together specifically just to do a show for this event. We ended up getting a name and songs together, and we seem to be a full band now!
They were followed by the eccentric PJ Burns with a selection of jazzy covers, and then the mood changed once more with some really engaging and powerful rapping from freestyle poet Ashbar. This stage ended with a lengthy set from Stig of the Dub, wrapping up with a mix of ska, reggae and chill-out that kept the crowd going as a change from the more clubby feel of the main stage.
Away from the stages there was a range of eclectic activities including an interactive samba drumming workshop, lots of younger children getting tuition and inspiration in making percussion-based music, a vibe that continued with the following african drum workshop where they were taught how to make sounds from a variety of traditional African instruments.
Overall the Urban Festival was a great success, another strong showcase of what can be offered in City Park, following on from Pride, the BBC Music Day and the Bradford Festival. A a mix of national and local talent and some great weather enticed families out for adventures in the mirror pool, workshops and face painting, even if the range of acts for the teenage age-range felt less urban-focused than last year.