Splendour review by EJ Scanlan
Splendour is back! A festival held at Nottingham’s Wollaton Park (aka – Wayne Manor in The Dark Knight Rises) that was three years in the making with two cancelled years due to the dreaded C word we’ve all heard enough of, and as a result, the festival ran for two days, the first time since the festival opened it’s doors back in 2008.
I have a very personal connection with this festival because it was my first. I was 13 years old when I first attended Splendour with Mercury Prize winner Dizzee Rascal headlining back in 2012, with acts such as Jake Bugg, Björn Again and Levellers playing that same year, and it was incredible, especially for someone like me. But the real highlight was when Katy B took to the stage, because that was my first real experience of what live music was, that was my first time fully experiencing the adrenaline you get through seeing an act, where you can be whoever you want to be and even if people judge, you just don’t care, you’re there, you’re in the moment and you’re free! There’s a very specific reason I mention this story, and I’ll get to that later on…
Day One of the festival had some impressive names on the list, including Craig David, Becky Hill, Belinda Carlisle and Supergrass, just to name a few, not to mention headliner, Richard Ashcroft. This was the day that 20,000 people were waiting for for a very long time, and it worked; the line-up was slick and the energy around the park was sensational. Day Two continued that impressive lineup, but with a more modern set of artists, with acts such as Example, Melanie C, special guest Tom Grennan and headliner, Anne-Marie, but with its fine selection of older acts such as The Human League, Razorlight and Ocean Colour Scene also taking the spotlight. But compared to the first day, Day Two felt empty and lacklustre in comparison. Both days were solid, but I believe the more modern pop music lineup was the festival’s problem this year. Organisers have said in a documentary made during the pandemic back in 2020 that the reason they didn’t do a two-day festival again was that “Sundays didn’t attract as many people”, and despite the numbers being evidence of this, I felt as if the lineup days were swapped, we would have had the same result, with more people attending on Richard Ashcroft’s day rather than Anne-Marie’s. I hope that the organisers do carry Splendour on as a two-day event, but tweaks need to be made to ensure it can work.
Splendour is always brilliant at one thing though… showcasing local talent I would say that they’re the best festival in the world at doing that. After his debut album got to Number 1 in October 2012, Nottingham-born Jake Bugg returned to headline Splendour the following year, with the festival very close to selling out, and ever since, they have shown the best of the Nottingham Music Scene, and based on this year… it’s the strongest it’s been in many years. They had local acts on all day over three stages, which was brilliant to witness. Local acts that particularly impressed me included DECO, Midnight Rodeo, Cucamaras and BEKA.
Adding onto what I was saying about local music, Nottingham company NUSIC set up a competition called the Future Sound of Nottingham, where nine acts got to perform at Nottingham’s iconic venue, Rock City, and the winners got to open the main stage at Splendour. I’ve been a big supporter of NUSIC for many years and this year’s choice of winners really impressed me. The first of those was ALT BLK ERA, who despite their performance being messy in places, got the crowd jumping and screaming along with them, especially with Trap Metal never being a genre that Splendour have ever had on their line-up throughout the last 15 years, and trust me, those guys will be fantastic in the future. The second of those, Betsey B, delivered a near-perfect performance and it was one of my highlights of the weekend. Both of those artists are going to do some massive things, so keep an eye out for them!
Other acts throughout the weekend that were personal highlights were Heather Small, The Vamps, The Selector, Supergrass and The Human League, however, I did believe that Example and Craig David, who performed under his TS5 act both gave particularly weak performances compared to the rest of the weekend, and I was also underwhelmed by both headliners (Richard Ashcroft and Anne-Marie) performances, as for headline slots, they didn’t give half as much energy or enthusiasm as the acts before them did, ending both days of the festival on a disappointment in my critical opinion.
There were however two acts that really did stand out for me over the weekend, and the first of those was Becky Hill. Regular TotalNtertainment readers may remember that I reviewed Hill’s set at Rock City back in October (it was also my first live review with this publication) [review here], and I’ll let you read my thoughts, but I was incredibly disappointed by her set due to the issues stated within my review. But this performance was a complete u-turn and was absolutely phenomenal. The set didn’t feel like 30 minutes, it felt so much longer yet still like it was gone in a flash, with Hill bringing out hit after hit, utilising a DJ rather than a live band and four fantastic dancers, with the set feeling properly rehearsed and slick while at the same time, everyone on stage was having a laugh and the time of their lives, and with Hill’s vocals being stronger than ever before, this was Becky Hill at her best! She got the whole crowd loving what she was doing and even got them moshing to her finale, “Remember” (as bizarre as that sounds, I got in it and it was wonderful!). It was also the first time I felt that sheer amount of adrenaline at Splendour since Katy B performed 10 years prior, it came full circle from a personal point of view. The other highlight was Vicky McClure and the Dementia Choir, a last-minute addition to the line-up, and that was one hell of a treat. McClure (born and raised in Wollaton, where the festival took place) was filming a new series of her BBC documentary “Our Dementia Choir”, which will be broadcast later this year, and this whole set was fantastic. It brought a tear to my eye, and to have Vicky McClure, Tom Grennan, Mark De-Lisser and Happy Mondays on stage altogether alongside the choi, it was a very special moment and a one I was honoured to be a part of.
Overall, Splendour was a triumph! It had a fantastic line-up which put local music right at the heart of it, a brilliant atmosphere and everything else. It’s always a pleasure to be at Splendour, and it makes me incredibly proud to be a Nottingham lad born and raised.