Gabrielle, ESKA & more: Liverpool SoulFest 2015

ESKA performs at Liverpool's first ever soul festival

ESKA performs at Liverpool’s first ever soul festival

At Liverpool’s first ever soul festival, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby witnesses one of the greatest performances he’s seen in quite a while.

So, Liverpool is finally celebrating the soul in its DNA in a big way.

And it is in our DNA. We may be more well known for guitar-based music on the whole, but lest we forget that The Beatles’ early albums were full of soul covers and that it was via the ports of Liverpool where a big chunk of those 45s and 7” records from labels like Stax, Atlantic and Motown made their way into the UK. It was about time this was celebrated.

So many of the great artists working in the city right now are soul artists; Katy Alex, Jalen N’Gonda, The Soul Rays, Amique, and of course our local MOBO winners Esco Williams and MiC Lowry amongst them (we really could go on, but it would take up way too much space). All of those guys played over the course of the weekend at Liverpool’s first ever soul festival, and it really showed the wealth of soul talent the city has to offer. Everyone played pretty much flawlessly and it was a pleasure to witness them all in one place.

The big draws of SoulFest were also inspired choices. As expected, Gabrielle attracted the largest crowd of the weekend by a long stretch, packing out Constellations and appearing to play longer than scheduled. Despite a small “uh-oh” moment early on with a technical problem, this was very quickly sorted and she seemed in great spirits afterwards, with the crowd in the palm of her hands.

The short set also meant that Gabrielle basically just played hit after hit, which is exactly what the crowd wanted to hear. Forgive this writer, but it’s easy to forget how many hits Gabrielle has had. It worked perfectly though, especially when compared to LIMF‘s Gil Scott-Heron tribute (loose terminology), where everybody played for far too long.

It’s a shame that numbers on the Saturday night were so much thinner at Constellations. Those who missed it probably missed one of the greatest performances we’ve witnessed in the city for a long time. Recent Mercury nominee ESKA is truly something else. A tremendously unique artist, she kept the comparatively small crowd captivated. If Gabrielle’s set was a nostalgic singalong, ESKA was utterly bewitching. Jamie xx appears to be the favourite for the Mercury. If ESKA doesn’t get it, this writer will consider it a massive blunder.

See who joined Eska in the Mercury Prize shortlist with our roundup 

Her influences range from Marvin Gaye to Captain Beefheart, and it shows in her utterly distinctive style. This is soul music for the future, and if this is where we are going, it’s where we want it to be. If you weren’t there, you should start kicking yourself immediately. NOW. Kudos to the promoters for sourcing her so long before the Mercury announcement.

Sunday night was the fifth birthday of the monthly Soul4Soul event at Parr Street’s Studio 2, featuring beautifully low-key sets from Nate Williams and Ayanna Witter-Johnson. The atmosphere in the room was perfect for these two sets, with Williams commenting at how appreciative he was to play to such an attentive crowd for a change.

Some of our readers may have caught Ayanna Witter-Johnson at Sound City, struggling to be heard above the noise coming from the other tents. She was marvellous then and she was marvellous tonight. Accompanied by her Cello (whom she has named Reuben), she gives off a bit of an Esperanza Spalding vibe, and is equally as flawless and classy. A wonderful end to the festivities.

We’d like to point out that this was also pretty much an independent venture. The festival was the brainchild of Soul Inspired Events, who are only a very small company. What they achieved this weekend is truly astonishing. There are so many new events cropping up in the city, but this is one that serves a real purpose. We imagine next year it will be even stronger.

Pictures from Essod Photography, courtesy of Liverpool SoulFest