Words by Bethany Roberts
Craig Charles and the mighty Soultrain gang rolled into legendary Bristol venue Motion on the Bank Holiday weekend to host their inaugural Fantasy Weekender event – and what a fantastic day it was.
The Fantasy Funk Band kicked off the Main Room at midday with a bang, and was followed by the delightfully sultry Harleighblu, who demonstrated her beautiful and effortless vocal acrobatics with taste and control, as she fused colourful soul with powerful blues. Unfortunately as this was so early in the afternoon, the crowd was relatively sparse, but those who did see her were utterly charmed – she is certainly one to watch, and her forthcoming debut album (due in October on Tru Thoughts Records) promises to be something special.
Exploring what Craig and his gang had set up, we discovered Room 2 where the first of several DJs was playing a slamming set of vintage funk, and although this room also suffered during the quietness of the earliest hours, the atmosphere of the small crowd there was friendly and receptive.
Omar was up next, bringing his unique brand of unpredictable and intelligent dark funk to an enthusiastic and ever-increasing audience. Despite some major technical issues – which sadly lasted throughout the whole event – they played a tight set and maintained the infectious energy of their music even when they were forced to take long breaks between songs.
Wandering outside between sets, we discovered a little stage which hosted a number of acoustic solo acts. One standout performer was poet Billy B, who can’t have been older than nineteen but who humbly spoke such simple and wise honesty in each short poem that the audience hung onto his every word. The following act, however, were the polar opposite: Fizzy Fingers, a bizarre troupe of dancers and party people clad in multicoloured unitards and incredible headdresses, purveyors of such silly, nonsensical fun that soon everyone in the vicinity was up dancing alongside them.
Heading back in, we stopped briefly to dance in one of the tunnels that was blasting some classic reggae, and squeezed our way to the front of the Main Room crowd for a gig that was definitely the highlight of our day. Babyhead, a Bristol based eight-piece ska collective dressed in lurid orange and red suits, played tight, hip hop-infused ska that was so irrepressibly entertaining that the whole crowd, young and old, were skanking and jumping like lunatics. Thundercat then took the stage by storm with his phenomenal bass playing and intricate, explosive jazz; it wasn’t exactly party music, but the clever time changes and slow burning crescendos blew the audience away as every peak and climax of his set was reached. This was contrasted brilliantly afterwards by the outstanding Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra, whose exceedingly British dub sound proved hugely popular in the now-packed Main Room.
It was great to see the man himself Mr. Charles milling around outside and on the dancefloor with all of us lowly ticket-holders, and he was more than happy to chat. When we asked him about his vision for the festival, he told us that he had simply wanted all of his current wishlist funk and soul performers to play at the same event. “I was thrilled and surprised when they all said yes”, he laughed. “Bristol is a great city, it reminds me of Liverpool, old slave cites and all that. And Motion is a great venue, we’ve played nights here before. Next year we want to have the Fantasy Funk Band in as the house group and get some even bigger names to share the stage with.” How did he think the event had gone? “Awful”, he joked. “Nah, it’s been great fun.” After further discussion of Red Dwarf, holidays in the Welsh mountains and why BBC6 Music is the best thing that’s ever happened to British radio, he headed inside to prepare for his own 2am set, which, was, of course, brilliant. He’s a madman at the decks, reacting visibly to every lyric, hook and drop with his unusually expressive face. It was without a doubt the most joyful and engaging DJ set I’ve ever seen, and a perfect way to end a very long and talent-filled day.
Never before have we spent thirteen solid hours dancing to funk and soul at Motion, but we’re quietly crossing our fingers that this event will happen next year so we can do it all over again.