A clash of talent timeless and new in the idyllic Moseley Park, celebrating 10 years of Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival
Kristian Birch-Hurst
18:50 19th July 2019

Moseley Village sits at Birmingham’s not-so-sleepy suburbia, a place famous for its trendy bars, independent store-fronts and strong music culture. Local venues like the Hare & Hounds, Dark Horse and Bull’s Head have long supported a colourful range of artists and events, covering everything from Metal to Jazz, Samba to Electronic Dance and beyond. What better place then to host one of the coolest, neatly programmed small festivals in the UK - Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul.

Now celebrating its 10th Anniversary, the 3 day event is a verified jewel of the West Midlands, one that has been slowly gathering fans and punters from across the region and the country over. One of its most commendable features comes through its intelligent line-ups, selecting an enviable crop of performers both innovative-new and legendary.

Another is the backdrop; nestled behind the shops and town houses, hidden away from the bustling village high street, is Moseley Park. An idyllic stretch of greenery that curves around a wildlife-abundant central lake, its beauty emphasised by rolling bouts of sunshine. A setting that’s always in view when watching acts at any of the three stages.

With the giveaway in the name, the weekend delivered its promised payload of jazz, soul, and funk in all its new, old and hybrid forms. But the festival is far from restricted to these specific genres with acts venturing into elements of disco, ska, post-rock, ambient and more. Odd Soul - firm favourites on the local scene - are quick to embrace this flexibility with an intriguing blend emotive soul, liquid bass lines and flickers of post-rock aesthetic. It’s early on the Friday but people are already up and jiving.

The side of main stage where they’re performing changes day by day. Accommodating different styles as the Concrete Schoolyard, Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club, and Jazzlines Stage respectively. Testament to the festival’s support of local brands, promoters and outside curation.

Igniting the crowd further still the Renegade Brass Band occupy the main stage with a boisterous 12-piece arrangement. Their raw, high-energy mix of hip-hop, brass and beats shifting the tempo up a notch. A buzz that would persist until the end of the day and beyond to the many afterparties.

While weather was inconsistent and drab at times, the feel-good festivities within the park remained unshaken. Invigorated by jovial (and much-loved) host Craig Charles, Saturday brought funk and soul with a fresh wave of enthusiasm. A hot favourite of the man himself, introduced as “an artist with a perfect soul album and an incredible story to tell”, J.P Bimeni & the Blackbelts were quick to capture hearts and minds. Forced to flee his home country and begin again in wake of a coup, lyrics feel deeply personal with charismatic stage presence and virtuosic musicianship to boot.

Polymath and frequent Gil Scott-Heron collaborator Brian Jackson also did not disappoint. With rare sunbeams making their way through the cracked skyline above, every bass lick, synth chord and drum fill feels precise and ethereal. An impressive performance from a man who clearly shares the utmost adoration for his audience.

Leading from this, The Brand New Heavies close out with contagious vigour; spanning all manner of upbeat music from house beats to soulful grooves with bangers like 'You Are the Universe' causing serious dancefloor eruptions. Locked in from dusk to the event’s close, it’s a hugely satisfying end to a consistently lively day.

As well as the main arena performances, there’s plenty more to get stuck into. And while the festival is certainly family friendly it attracts all manner of folk young, old and in-between. Embracing local customs, nearby businesses and independents are granted space within the festival grounds: bespoke burger joint OPM, curry fusionists Sabai Sabai and authentic home-made recipes from the Caribbean food stand all add to the cultural spirit of Mostly Jazz. Even as a Birmingham outsider the friendly, intimate setup lets you feel right at home. Moseley Park is never overfilled despite its popularity - a conscious decision perhaps not to impede what’s truly a relaxed, hazy atmosphere.

Dance classes and Yoga sessions are also available on-site while the Off-Piste presents the perfect little spot for any much-needed respite. While this area lacks the size and scope of the principle stages, DJ sets here should not be missed. Danielle Moore of Disco-House favourites Crazy P, Ninja Tune’s DJ Food, and indie/alternative club promoter and This Is Tmrw founder Matt Beck all playing themed guest slots across the weekend.

Moving into the final day, huge nods were granted to the rising contemporary UK jazz scene. Fusing dense soundscapes with mystical riffs and delicate sax work, Ismael Ensemble gifted the Sunday troopers to tender, midday melancholy. While mellow throughout, their roots in dance music become apparent at the 4/4 conclusion of the deep sounding “Latwing”.

Sadly, struck by illness, Khruangbin are unable to perform much to the crowd’s distress. However, quick to remedy the situation Mostly Jazz secures extended performances from Delta Autumn and headliner Burt Bacharach.

The former have built up a sizeable fanbase in and outside of Birmingham, their progressive sound strangely familiar yet utterly extraterrestrial. Nuanced 70s psychedelia meets glitched out electronica, all circulated in a faint jazz structure of willed errors and tight improvisation. It’s an unusual segue into the final performance of the night, yet the blunt juxtaposition works.

Burt does what he was always anticipated to do: shut down the weekend’s events with sheer style and class, marching through hit after hit in his extensive 7 decade long back catalogue. It’s a show that nobody wants to end as the Monday morning anxiety goes completely out the window.

For a festival so small in scale it’s astounding to see such star studded line ups. How is this possible? Mostly Jazz, it seems, has crafted immense support from not only its punters, store owners, and staff but also the artists they book. On several occasions performers spoke of their fondness for the festival and the atmosphere it creates. Now you could put this down to the usual script but it just feels more than that - everything is loving, thoughtful and you simply must add this jazzy, funky, soulful little gem to your festival hit list.