The All Points East festival, featuring a series of one day concerts, has been taking place in Victoria Park in Hackney since 2018. At the time it began it usurped Field Day from Victoria Park, after a ten year run. Field Day moved to Brockwell Park in Brixton in 2018 and took on more of a dance complexion than previously. It then moved to Enfield, before returning to Victoria Park in 2021 as part of the All Points East portfolio. This year, as in 2021, there were six events. This year’s headliners were: Gorillaz, Chemical Brothers/Kraftwerk (the Field Day event), Tame Impala, The National, Disclosure and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Each supported by a strong cast, spread over three large stages, as well as a number of smaller ones. BBC 6 music had a presence too, putting on DJ sets at each event.
I was away in Scotland for the first three events and limited myself to just one day, with End of the Road coming up soon. I’d not seen Nick Cave live before, and I liked the look of the undercard, with the likes of Anna Calvi, Michael Kiwanuka and Jehnny Beth performing. And then it got even better when they added The Smile – the new vehicle for Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead – to the bill. I got there with Jon G about 3.30, in time to get a Red Stripe and wander over to the North Stage, which is a large big top tent, in the style of those at all the four day festivals I go to. Jehnny Beth was starting at ten past four. Here’s what I saw during the day.
Jehnny Beth – North Stage
Jehnny Beth is the one-time singer and band leader of Savages, a full-on rock band who made two excellent albums, Silence Yourself in 2013 and Adore Life in 2016. I really liked Adore Life, especially after seeing the band’s amazing performance at End of the Road in 2016. I put it at No 3 in my albums of the year in 2016. Since 2017, they’ve taken time out, and there’s no sign of them returning yet. One day, hopefully. In the meantime, Jehnny Beth released an intriguing and powerful solo album, To Love is to Live, in 2020. That made No 10 in my best of the year. We saw her perform at the BBC 6 music festival in March 2020, just before lockdown. It was a brilliant in-your-face show, and this was what we got today too. It didn’t take Jehnny long to be surfing the crowd, as she loves to do. It was a relentless set of bounding beats and Jehnny’s declamations. If I have one criticism it is that it lacked a bit of variation. I did miss a couple of songs at the end in order to catch all of Anna Calvi’s set, but in what I did see there was no room for some of the more reflective tunes from To Love is to Live, such as French Countryside. Having said that, if she tours in the near future I shall hope to be there – she is a compelling performer.
Anna Calvi – East Stage (the main stage)
I didn’t know a lot about Anna Calvi’s music until I saw part of her set at Latitude in 2019. I was very taken by the visceral power of her guitar playing that day, and have since enjoyed her albums, particularly Hunter. They can’t quite capture the sound of that guitar onstage, although a song like Indies or Paradise gets close. There’s a real drama to her songs, and something that occasionally brings David Bowie to mind. You could say the same about Jehnny Beth – I think they have quite a lot in common. Today’s show was as dramatic as you can be on a big stage in the sunshine in mid-afternoon, Anna dressed in black suit and white shirt against a red backdrop. And that guitar rocked hard again. With the benefit of the screens I noticed that she plays a lot of slide when she is getting her guitar to screech. I find it captivating. I would like to see her play indoors sometime, when there would be a new level of atmospherics to set against those searing solos.
Bonnie Kemplay – Play Next stage
After Anna Calvi had finished on the East Stage, I had the option of rushing over to the West Stage, the other end of the arena, to catch a bit of Aldous Harding, before rushing back for the main attraction of the day for me, The Smile, on the East Stage. There was also the 90s psychedelia of Spiritualized on the North Stage. I decided to stay in the vicinity and noticed that there was a band playing on the nearby Play Next stage, a venue for new artists. There were about a hundred people scattered around the stage, very few right at the front. The crowd seemed as diffident as the band on stage, but were responding enthusiastically at the end of the songs. Centre stage was Bonnie Kemplay, on vocals and guitar. On the first few songs I heard Bonnie was playing acoustic guitar – once she sorted out her tunings, which were giving her trouble. I thought I detected a Scottish accent as she introduced the songs, which were classic sensitive singer-songwriter style. Then she picked up the electric guitar, and I definitely got a connection with the likes of Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy. All of which is great, in my book! It was a relaxing, enjoyable interlude.
I read later that Bonnie is indeed Scottish, from Edinburgh. Last year she won the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge award for new artists. That was from amongst 10,000 entries. So she clearly has a positive future in prospect. Live, the band are a bit rooted to the spot at the moment – diffident as I noted earlier. It may be lack of experience – Bonnie mentioned that she hadn’t been able to play (live, I assume) for 18 months because of a repetitive strain injury. One to watch.
The Smile – East Stage
The Smile are the latest side project of Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood, supported by Tom Skinner from jazz group Sons of Kemet on drums. They released a seriously good album this year called A Light for Attracting Attention. It’s not Radiohead, but it could be; and in the absence of anything new from that quarter, it is a very welcome development. They played three concerts earlier this year in the round, at Magazine, which I think is near the Dome in London. There’s a video recording of one of those concerts, which is well worth watching.
The set today was mostly from the album, although there was a new song, possibly called Bending Hectic, which still sounded like a work in progress. Like Anna Calvi, the impact was lessened a bit by performing in broad daylight, but it was an intriguing, if slightly self-indulgent performance. Johnny and Thom both played guitar, bass and keys at various stages, with Johnny mostly head down as usual, face covered by the floppy fringe. At one point he went Jimmy Page and got the violin bow out to conjure unusual sounds out of his (bass) guitar. The set ended strongly with the funky bounce of The Smoke – could easily be a track from The King of Limbs – and the clatter of You Will Never Work in Television Again. But the highlight for me was Free in the Knowledge, which has anthem potential, in the manner of Karma Police. The last thing the band would want are all these Radiohead comparisons, I’m sure; but they are inescapable. Thom did make one reference to the music not being what some of the crowd may have come for, but the set was very well-received. After all, Radiohead fans are used to change – it is a fundamental part of the band’s appeal; and The Smile feels like the next step in their evolution.
Michael Kiwanuka – West Stage/ Sleaford Mods – North Stage
I’ve got a lot of time for Michael Kiwanuka, without being bowled over by his music. I think it’s because it takes me back to a combination of the soul music and the blues rock of the early 70s. Think Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder colliding with Free and Bad Company. These are all very good things in my estimation, some of my favourite music of all time. So shouldn’t I love Michael Kiwanuka’s music, as many people do? I do like the odd song, but whenever I listen to a full album, I find myself getting a bit… bored. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to see him live for a while, having missed him at various festivals in the past. And I really liked the show he did with Jules Holland during lockdown – along with his talent and musical grounding he seemed like a very nice person.
So I went along to a very busy West Stage after The Smile, and prepared to discover the Michael Kiwanuka I’d been missing. Except I didn’t. It was very slick, the backing singers were soulful, the set looked great, he played some tasteful guitar… and after three or four songs I got a bit bored. I thought to myself, why don’t I go and check out Sleaford Mods? You know what you are going to get with those lads. So I popped into the North Stage tent and enjoyed the primitive beats and Jason Williamson’s rants for a bit. The crowd were loving it – those beats can be very catchy. Andrew Fearn, the laptop man with the can of lager, has taken to dancing around after he has pressed the right keys. Anger and jollity at the same time. I missed Mork and Mindy, which I like a lot, but enjoyed tapping a toe for 15 minutes or so. Then it was time to get a drink and find a good spot to watch Nick Cave.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – East Stage
All Points East’s scheduling is unusual in that all the other stages finish before the headline act comes on. There’s plenty of space and good screens and sound system, so the lack of alternatives wasn’t a problem. I stood quite a way back to the side, but had an excellent view, even if Nick Cave and the band were specks on the stage. Nick Cave is an artist who I admire without ever having really got into his music in a big way. I’m not quite sure why; but seeing what I’ve been missing was the main reason for coming to All Points East today. I had a good listen to Spotify’s This Is Nick Cave playlist the other day, concluded that I was familiar with quite a lot of his best-known songs, and that after about an hour and a half I started to lose interest. There are only so many grand, doomy ballads that I can take.
And so it was with the concert tonight. It was long for a festival show – two and a quarter hours. A real feast for Nick Cave fans, a trawl through many of his greatest hits, with a few surprises along the way. I enjoyed it a lot, particularly the songs which took me into Tom Waits territory, like Jubilee Street and Red Right Hand. And what was not to like about a rendition of The Mercy Seat? Nick paraded around the stage, looking like a man who’s just taken his tie off as the party hits the early hours, a little ruffled but still stylish. He was in good humour – a nice counterpoint to the content of the songs! – and communed enthusiastically with the fans in the front rows (who’d paid extra for the privilege). The band were very slick, the backing singers adding heft to the choruses. Long-time partner Warren Ellis was resplendent with long grey beard, and emitted some strange howls from time to time. I was impressed, but also found myself thinking about the time, and the attraction of beating the crowds on the way back to Mile End tube. Is this the onset of old age? I don’t think so – that’s already happened! I had taken a look at Setlist FM and seen that they had played the same set around Europe this summer, so decided to go just after that hour and a half mark, my Nick Cave tolerance limit. That coincided with The Mercy Seat, followed by The Ship Song, two anthems to finish things off nicely. I’m sure the rest was excellent, but I ended on a high, and managed to get home in time to watch a recording of Match of the Day 2. A very nice way to end the day, with West Ham winning for the first time this season!
Impressive line-up for a single day out, and plenty of variety in there too. My own tastes would have drawn me to The Smile, Kiwanuka, Jehnny Beth and Nick Cave, though you managed to see a couple more of your own favourites too. A very good programme.
You’re quite right about The Smile – Yorke and Greenwood have done so much for contemporary music, and in so many ways, that they have every right to try new avenues (and be a little self-indulgent in the process).
I’m thinking not only about their constantly-evolving musical direction, but all the other things that they’ve done – collaborations, film scores, brilliant video commissions, new payment models…….they’ve always been such great innovators. But I really must get into that album you mention – I’m very late to the party here.
I hear what you say about Cave, though I’m wondering whather this set was especially doom-driven? His brilliant band can be amazingly energising, virtuosic, and even joyous, but this turn sounded quite a bit grimmer than that.
The poor sod lost his second son only in May, and I’m wondering whether this is partly steering the mood of his music? Having said that, he is, of course, pretty morbid most of the time – good times or bad……
Thanks Jon. Just to clarify, I find listening to a lot of Nick cave in one go a bit much given their generally gloomy quality, but the show on the night was energetic and good humoured. But an hour and a half was still enough for me. As you know, I (indeed we) can take three to four hours of Bruce anytime, but I think he is an exception.
Red Stripe? What is a Red Stripe, precioussss?
But seriously, this is such a good line-up, John!
Red Stripe – just in case you don’t know – is a Jamaican lager also very popular in London. You’re right – it was a very good line up. All the All Points East festivals are. Must offer some good rates!