“Tomorrow will be better than today”, proclaimed the indomitable Dele Sosimi as he paused to honour the victims of the Manchester bombing inside the stunning upstairs ballroom of Leytonstone’s Red Lion pub, the alluring setting for his Afrobeat Quintet’s riot of horns, sax and rippling funk.
The former keyboardist and musical director of Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 and Femi Kuti’s Positive Force was charm personified as he alternated between nimble, William Onyeabor-ish keyboard soloing, vibrant vocals and lusty dance moves whilst his ensemble cooked up a joyful, electrifying noise: snappy horn lines, call and response vocals and shards of frazzled, electric guitar were thrown into a pressure cooker. In his hands, music is a sanctuary from such tragedy and tracks like the slap bass-happy ‘Too Much Information’ served as a perfect way to kick off East London’s inaugural Shake The High Road festival, a feast of live acts and DJs across three venues in E11 and spanning the musical spectrum.
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Over at coffee/book shop All You Read Is Love, the young Scottish singer-songwriter Rory Turner wowed a packed, intimate crowd with his gossamer, John Martyn and Alexi Murdoch-influenced folk-pop. In an alternative universe, tunes like ‘Change Of Heart’, ‘Mind Your Business’ and ‘Running Joke’ (a song written for Nicola Sturgeon) would be trampling over Ed Sheeran’s polite warbling.
Back in the ballroom, decked out in unruly, shamanistic straw outfits were the freaky East London art-rock collective Snapped Ankles, a ‘Mighty Boosh’-like quartet whose visionary assault was complemented by a relentless pace, a swirl of muscular, deranged voodoo-krautrock-post-punk that proved intoxicating and strange. Woman’s Hour are one of a slew of modern bands who’ve ingested the brooding, intricate melancholia of The XX; despite some initial sound difficulties, Fiona Burgess’s comely, breathy vocals glimmered through the group’s spidery guitar lines and achingly sultry atmospheres.
In the basement of The Luna Lounge, London newcomer Vonica showcased his dense, thundering oscillations, a giddy electronica swamped in soul, rock, funk samples that invokes the work of Gold Panda, FourTet, Caribou and Holden. His impassioned gesticulations and frantic prodding provided a welcome contrast to the static presence of many lap-top auteurs. Compared to many on the bill, My Sad Captains are bona fide veterans, and their warm, subtly crafted guitar pop is clearly indebted to The Smiths, The Cure, The Go-Betweens. Dancing between wistful indie, sprightly vamps and driving boogie, their half-hour set reworked their sweeping melodies into a sturdier and more robust version of their recorded incarnation.
The ball room played host to the dynamic Brass Roots, a meticulously drilled collective of brass players who whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their ecstatic and raucous versions of vintage Prince material; this uplifting mining of musical history provided a fitting coda to a day of rampant eclecticism; these anthems felt irrepressible.