Wednesday night's offering from the week-long Oxford City Festival provided an eclectic mix of musical entertainment. The line-up was well curated, taking us on a journey right through from reggae to rock, with each act given the time to present themselves and whet our appetite without going on too long. The standard was equally high; it didn't feel like we were waiting for the main act but rather being offered a full line-up of stand-alone groups and artists complementing each other.
The night started with Ras Brother John and his spoken word/reggae hybrid. The backing tracks, which he told us he recorded himself using the facilities at Sobell House, were well mixed. They were suitably toe-tapping to provide a good background for his lyrics, which are political and envigorating, with his message of Rastafarian solidarity and support shining through his deadpan vocals. I met Ras Brother John in the pub once and could not forget his engaging chat about his history and that of his family. He is an Oxford character and a talented musician and his contribution to the evening was important.
Next in the line-up was Freemantle, a local band consisting of four young people. Their sound is a sort of sun-soaked West Coast rock which has been battered by a storm of British grunge. Think The Thrills meets Bush with occasional reminiscences of Elbow. Special mention has to go to their basslines, which are solid; they have interest and don't hide behind the rest of the song. Obviously great basslines owe a large part of their greatness to a great bassist, in this case Hannah in her great dinosaur dress. The vocals are mellow and difficult to make out and it was difficult to tell whether this was intentional. It was a shame because I would have liked to hear the lyrics (I can hear you saying 'alright, Granny' and I concede this may betray my ignorance surrounding this genre).
The Outside followed next, another young band with a not dissimilar sound to Freemantle but bringing a more indie vibe. They have echoes of the Arctic Monkeys - music which lends itself to dance. This band is one to watch, I would say. Their music is well balanced and the vocals are distinctive. They are young but they have really great potential as songwriters and musicians.
Easter Island Statues headlined with a set which jumped between bluesy and Green Day-esque rock. It was clear that their sound has been shaped by a set of influences coming from a slightly different generation, meaning that their music sat just apart in terms of genre from that of The Outside and Freemantle. Their songs really did vary quite a lot; from crunchy rock chords with intense vocals to blues songs complete with mandolin and close harmonies. A nice end to the night.
Oxford City Festival must be praised for a well-crafted evening of music upstairs in the Wheatsheaf making an excellent showcase of the city's homegrown musical talent.