One Love Festival returned for its 9th official year over the weekend - under pressure, and facing criticism from the past few years of various unfortunate incidents, from Sir John Holt collapsing on stage in 2014, to no-show headline acts in 2015, the question on everybody’s mind is can they hold on, or will the tide just be too high?
Written by Harry Boyd.
In previous years, the festival, who take their name from the legend Bob Marley and his original concert in 1978, ‘One Love’, have had scores of reggae's biggest artists grace their stage, such as Sir John Holt, David Rodigan and The Skatalites but, in the current climate, have opted for a mixture of fresh talent, emerging acts and some bigger acts. The approach is that 2016 is a different year, bringing a different line-up and a different location, whilst keeping its staple message, which is One Love.
One Love kicked of the Friday in style, with some of the headline acts really showing their worth, such as Lee “Scratch” Perry, who was the first to open, followed by Macka B, who kept the mood running high with a sound performance. The rest of the One Love stage (main) on Friday had some really good performances, and some more mediocre ones, as you'd expect with a festival that casts such a wide net in amongst niche genres. The dubshack was pretty much the same as the previous years, which was great, considering the dubshack always managed to draw more of an audience than the main stage itself. Some of the highlights from the dubshack on the Friday were Direct Impact and I.R.I.E, who mixed some new songs, as well as the much loved classics of the 1900’s. The Saxon Sound Arena was the busiest tent at points, and other times it feeling rather lonely. However, Sunday was by far its best day, with the One Love’s famous ‘Battle of the Dubplates’ taking place.
The Madiba Stage, which is cut from the same cloth as the BBC’s introducing stage if you like, giving light to new and smaller artists, was consistent, having the odd diamond but generally nothing to remember, with the performances being to a handful of people. When Saturday came around, the morning seemed to be quieter - probably the manic hangover from the night before. However, I think most of the audience found a spring in their step after a few hours of a morning food binge and a cup of tea, judging by the dancing and singing with Big Youth giving a solid set.
Later on, Kabaka Pyramid came onto the stage, with special guest Randy Valentine, doing a mighty job of tugging at the heartstrings of many women in the audience. After a few other mainstage names, and IKONG another well-received act, to everyone's misery, the heavens opened up, and the rain started to pour, meaning most of the crowd found their way once again to the dubshack, probably more for the shelter than anything else. However, this gave everyone a chance to hear the promoter for One Love himself, Dan Wiltshire, who used to play his reggae collection back in the first few One Love festival years. What a pleasure.
The rain stayed strong and heavy until Sunday morning; people woke up to a damp, white morning, but the wet mud didn’t seem to stop the festival goers from enjoying their last day of pure reggae. Everyone stomped into their wellies, ate breakfast, and went off to get a glimpse of the much-hyped, and much anticipated combination of David Hinds (Steel Pulse), Brinsley Forde (ASWAD), and Dennis Bovell (Matumbi). The group, who go by ‘3 The Hard Way’, did not disappoint the crowd, giving one of the best performances of the weekend. The mainstage continued to impress on the last day with Desmond Dekker's Band The Aces, Brinsley Forde making another showing, and The Reggae Choir all giving exceptional performances to end the mainstage on a high. You then had the performance everyone was waiting for on Sunday, One Love’s famous (starting in 2013), ‘Battle of the Dubplates. Each year, this never fails to be one of everyone’s highlights, and this year proved to be no different, with the Great Love Express really turning up, and taking 1st place, respectively stealing the trophy from the 2x former champion, Fatman International Sound. A great victory, to end a great battle.
All in all, despite the recent issues they've had, it was a beautiful weekend. As a reggae fan in the UK, how often can you have access to so much crude, beautiful reggae at its core. And since they have got a permanent home in Essex, will this be the return of One Love? We hope so, but they have rivers to cross.