My thoughts on Bestival 2016

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What would be your response to seeing the Chuckle Brothers playing the main stage of a major music festival? Given the crowd’s rapturous response to their seasoned shambolics (complete with Barry miming on the drums), it was a mix of triumph and humored bemusement. This was my second time at Bestival which, ever eclectic, had proposed a “future” theme.  Admittedly the brothers were early on in the day, but the heart-warming nostalgia guaranteed by a set chock full of “to me, to you” and “no slacking” was almost at loggerheads with this.

Oh dear oh dear, you might think. But actually, among a sea of futuristic artwork, glossy spaced-out costumes and (perhaps most importantly) a whole host of new talent, the odd dot of reminiscence in the form of legendary performers- be they acclaimed artists or the silliest of children’s entertainers- was much needed. Heck, 2016 has been a tough year, particularly in popular culture; we need a slice of sentimentality every now and then- not just to remind us of what has been, but of what can be done.

Despite me and James getting there quite late on Friday, we were still able to find space for our tent without having to walk too far into the festival. However, if you go down with more than one after the first day… well, I crave your confidence, your optimistic outlook on the ways of music festivals. Forcing ourselves to set things up properly rather than just dash off to enjoy the music was probably the toughest part of the whole weekend, even more than packing everything up on Sunday morning in the early, hungover stages of a post festival comedown. AND it was a pop up tent.

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Bestival, Chuckle style.

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Bestival and chill.

Maybe my regular attendance of Glastonbury has warped my expectations of other festivals, but the main stage certainly seemed small. For reference, it was on par with the Park stage at the aforementioned Somerset series, and it was much smaller than the main stage at, say, Reading or Leeds. In a way though, you can argue that this puts it on more level footing with the other stages of the festival; that it is on par with the rest, rather than trying to stand out.

Delays on entering the festival meant that we missed Skepta, much to my annoyance and James’s jubilation, but Major Lazer were satisfying Friday night headliners. From the first bounce of “Pon De Floor”, we were treated to all manner of shapes and speeds; even gimmicks like Diplo zorbing across the crowd were enjoyable enough. The only big let-down was the short, acoustic version of “Cold Water,” courtesy of MO, who had played the Big Top earlier. As one of the late contenders for summer anthem, I felt this was a missed opportunity.

After enduring the rain for Chuckle Brothers,  me and James escaped Saturday’s awful weather with a few hours in the Big Top; this is Bestival’s second stage, so more musical tricks than circus treats. My highlight was Beaty Heart, one of the first band’s I’ve heard who truly consider the texture of their innovative electropop, with “Flora” prompting swathes of slow grooves across the tent. Then the rain faded away for Craig David, his comeback continuing to catapult him further into our consciousness with his lively, pure feel-good R’n’B. Another mix of past and future that you can’t explain, but it works.

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The Cure’s Bestival set: “Just Like Heaven,” you may well say.

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The People’s Front Room, Bestival’s best kept secret.

Now, some bands yearn to make their festival slot a special occasion in some way, such as celebrating an album anniversary by playing it from start to finish. Instead, The Cure embraced the best of their back catalog- nearly three hours of it in fact- and delivered a spectacular set that took in all corners of alternative, from psych to disco to indie and back again. From the impassioned jangle pop of “Friday I’m In Love” to the sludgy bass intro of “Just Like Heaven” sending up wistful cheers, the highlights were predictable, but no less enjoyable for being so.

Sunday meanwhile, in the grand festival tradition, was a bit of a blur. Me and James spent lots of it exploring the less-trodden western corners of the festival, wandering through the Ambient Forest to the top of the site to take it all in. Pick of the day had to go to Will Varley on the Magic Meadow’s Invaders of the Future stage. It was a slightly difficult set in a sense because of its close proximity to the main stage, but Varley’s folk was equally rowdy and enthusiastic, doing very well in keeping the crowd with him throughout.

Coming back on the ferry late that evening, drifting in and out of sleep and reveling in the foul-language nostalgia of Teesside Tintin, I reflected that Bestival does feel a bit like a holiday getaway, bowing out the summer in spectacular style. Granted, it WAS slightly smaller this year (as festival organizers openly admitted on social media afterwards), but the festival still felt like it was giving its all throughout. Although I will admit there was a particular hideaway that underlined most of the fun across the weekend: The People’s Front Room.

Fashioned as an otherworldly nineteenth century salon, this tucked-away gem offers a heap of talent across funk, jazz, and all manner of genres for that matter, to be enjoyed from one of the plush armchairs or the Persian-style carpets. Leave your wellies at the door and immerse yourself. Being so close to the artist, it offers an unparalleled level of intimacy- despite the venue doubling in size since last year’s Bestival. It’s easily my favourite find from the fields. For me, festivals are about the hidden delights you stumble into; maybe Bestival is right in pointing to the future, to see what you come across next.

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Let All The Children Boogie.

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In my mid-teens I made a short lived venture into amateur musical theatre, starting with a seventies’ jukebox musical called Disco Inferno. While I flitted between small roles as an announcer and a priest, I looked on as the lead attempted to blow our minds with a cover of “Starman.” That was my first experience of Bowie: a tribute, although admittedly by someone with a perfectly capable voice, but nothing like the real thing. After rehearsals I dug out The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars just to listen to that track, but by the end of that Thursday night I had listened to the whole thing from start to finish.

The weekend came and I was engrossed in Hunky Dory and Heroes, and was doing my best to learn “Starman” on guitar. Years later I was interning at the Liverpool music magazine Bido Lito!, and I remember scouring gig listings for new additions while Ziggy Stardust soundtracked our afternoon. Bowie had suddenly re-emerged a few weeks before at the start of 2013, banishing firmly anchored rumours of retirement, and music suddenly felt a lot more exciting. Just this weekend I was devouring Blackstar, rejoicing in the sheer versatility of its experimental jazz. And now it’s Monday, and he’s gone. Just like that.

It might seem a tad trivial for a tribute to commence with a few anecdotes, especially as I’ve only really been into Bowie for the last seven or eight years, but this morning’s news was surprisingly upsetting, considering that I never knew him in person. I guess it was even more shocking because we’re still reeling from the impact of Blackstar, and on listening to it again Bowie suddenly sounds even more fragile than I previously registered. For a record so intricately produced, it still exhibits a carefree nature, of not having to satisfy anyone but itself; a trump card for creativity, if anything.

But I wanted to share a handful of memories, like so many others are doing, because those details which have such a huge influence on our mind-set, our happiness, and our lives overall, are often taken for granted. “There’s a star man waiting in the sky,” Bowie first sang many years ago. “He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” To say he did just that doesn’t quite do him justice; really, all you have to do is listen to his music. He was the man who fell to earth, gave us a gaggle of dazzling colourful characters, and highlighted the importance of creativity and integrity. More than anything, he showed us just what we are truly capable of.

“And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people,
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people,
I never thought I’d need so many people.”

David Bowie

1947-2016

The highs and lows of Bestival 2015

With the Reverend of Bestival's Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

With the Reverend of Bestival’s Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

After years of asking, I finally said yes to my friend James’s hand in marriage in Bestival’s Church of Rubber Love. I know it might seem sudden, but we were both drunk, it was a one-time offer, and it was a giant inflatable church. In fact, we were actually there for another ceremony; not for anyone that we knew though. Like many other party-goers, we were just gatecrashing one of the numerous services that took place across the weekend. As our arms formed an arch and we toasted the newlyweds to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” I felt myself fully embracing Bestival’s summer of love theme. It’s safe to say it was a wild weekend.

It’s been twelve years since Bestival began welcoming indie and dance lovers to its site at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight, and this year was as good as any. The fact you have to get a ferry across to the site even makes it feel like a holiday of sorts! Considering Glastonbury has been my go-to festival for the last couple of years, the first thing that hit me upon arriving is how small the festival seemed to me; I was truly shocked that it didn’t take over an hour to walk from one side of the side to the other.

World's biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

World’s biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

But as you’d expect with an event of this kind, there was more than enough to keep me and my friend James occupied over the weekend. Once into the main arena, you wander across different themed areas, such as the manic dance oriented Port and Bollywood Field, opposite the more chilled out vibes of Slow Motion. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you suddenly stumble across something different on the umpteenth visit. On the Saturday we stumbled across a cosy psychedelic salon fresh out of the 19th century called The People’s Frontroom; it was so welcoming we spent most of that night and the next in its quarters.

Considering the plethora of dance, guitar and hip hop talent that permeated the line up, the biggest crowd I saw were the masses that squeezed into the Big Top for… the Chuckle Brothers. Over a brisk ten minute set (half of which was splitting the crowd in half so that we could volley “to me” and “to you” back at each other), there was a song focused around their phrase “no slacking,” a dance number featured Paul and Barry miming on keyboards and drums, and their Tinchy Stryder collaboration from last year, featuring the man himself… or at least the music video playing over the track. Like a bubbling pot of surreal and nostalgia, I just didn’t know what to think.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Overall, the weekend went without any unusual incidents, until I was backstage on Sunday. My friend James’s sister, Sarah, was managing a few of the acts on that day, and had managed to nab us a few backstage passes, giving us some exciting side of stage views and access to the VIP bar. All very enjoyable, but it became a nightmare for me when later on, as I dashed into The People’s Frontroom out of the rain as the heavens opened, I realised I had left my jacket in the VIP bar. What then followed was half an hour of frantic negotiations and exasperated searching, as security had stepped up and I was told I had to use a different entry route, which proved a nightmare to find.

However, I eventually made my way into the VIP bar, and my frantic efforts were rewarded. As I stumbled across the seating area looking highly frustrated, two kind ladies produced my jacket from under the seat next to them. Judging from my reaction, you would think they had offered me piles of gold. My mood was beyond jubilant; it was euphoria of the most blissful kind. So blissful in fact, that I moved off at such a pace that I promptly slipped over and splashed into the thick mud just outside the Big Top. Of course I was wearing jet black skinny jeans! I still haven’t got all of the mud off.

But looking back on it, when I think about how much fun I had across the whole weekend, Bestival was definitely worth the frantic washing session on the following Monday. The fancy dress costume only adds to the sense of making it feel completely separate from normal life, and the world would be worse off if there wasn’t a place where you could wear bright floral shirts, cover yourself in peace symbols and dance away to Tame Impala, The Chemical Brothers and the Chucklevision theme tune as the summer comes to a close.

“Illinois” by Sufjan Stevens; a modern classic, ten years on

My battered yet beloved copy

My battered yet beloved copy

Front, back, inside; Illinois from every angle

Front, back, inside; Illinois from every angle

Some music enthusiasts can pull their favourite artist and album out of thin air with astonishing confidence; the epiphany of the first time listen, the fervor that swelled within their heart, what each track truly means to them. I can now count myself one of those lucky few, though the question used to make me break out in a cold sweat, until a sudden moment of clarity earlier this year… Sufjan Stevens, the multi-instrumentalist maestro who makes masterpieces of every genre he delves into. He has to be my choice, and his stunning fifth album Illinois (or “Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise” if you will) is my all-time favourite album.

I was shocked to realize that today, the album is ten years old; although this is hardly surprising for me, given I have only known the album for five of those years. A faux-goth on the cusp of my teenagers, I was not caught in the firing line of over-exuberant critics that hailed Illinois; instead, it was early 2010, several months before the release of Steven’s follow up, Age Of Adz, listening to the album’s title track that my curiosity with Sufjan Stevens began.

With nothing else from Age of Adz on offer, I ventured into Stevens’ back catalogue, and of course the first result was “Chicago”, still his most prominent song thanks to the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack and a fantastic gateway to the rest of Illinois. I was eager to get my own copy of the album, and amazingly my lucky streak continued; as your average small town, East Grinstead is not regarded as a haven for physical music, and the only option for finding CDs was scouring the pre-owned collections in the various charity shops. Yet as I casually browsed my local British Heart Foundation that week, there it was. Without a doubt, it’s still the best £2 I’ve ever spent.

A whimsical anecdote might not seem like the best way to open a celebration of a modern masterpiece, but I felt my own introduction to the album was the best way to kick things off, given Sufjan Stevens’ fascination with and considerable talent at crafting stories through his songs. The second release in his Fifty States Project- and given that it has now been ten years and a third hasn’t surfaced, probably his last – Stevens uses the state as a backdrop for exploring his own personal anecdotes.

The lyrics to Chicago and Casimir Pulaski Day; one of the best double acts in music

The lyrics to Chicago and Casimir Pulaski Day; one of the best double acts in music

Sufjan Stevens alongside John Wayne... there's something incredibly creepy about this, given the context.

Sufjan Stevens alongside John Wayne… there’s something incredibly creepy about this, given the context.

Regardless of the cities (“Chicago”), superheroes (“The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”) and, ahem, its serial killers (“John Wayne Gacy Jr.”), his songs only have a location through dashes of setting; give them a name, and really you could place them anywhere. That’s not to say Illinois is tacked on as an afterthought though; Sufjans actually heavily researched the state, reading around the subject and even going on road trips to broaden his own perspective. But it’s the strength of the narrative, a double assault with the richness of the melodies, which have the most effect; you feel his words could be lifted from works of literature.

But don’t mistake this as Stevens being pompous or patronising; it’s more that Stevens attempts to create as striking a picture as possible, to make stories rather than just songs. Take “Casimir Pulaski Day”, for example, and its opening line: “Goldenrod and the 4H stone; the things I brought you, when I found out you had cancer of the bone.” Considering it’s just Stevens and a guitar that opens the track, the bleakness of that line still leaves your emotions winded. On a day of celebration for many, Stevens finds himself contemplating the loss of his teenage girlfriend, the loss of innocence… perhaps even the loss of his faith, however briefly. “We pray over your body/but nothing ever happens” reads simply, but woven into the sombre melody it is incredibly powerful in conveying Stevens’ doubt in his Lord.

All this, from just one track on the album. You could fill a dissertation on the themes that emerge throughout the album, from his encounter with Carl Sandberg on “Come On! Feel The Illinois!”, what the wasp represents in  “The Predatory Wasps of the Palisades Are Out To Get Us!” and likening himself to a serial killer on “John Wayne Gacy Jr” (a particularly prominent point that is best discussed elsewhere). You don’t find many of the messages on Illinois straightaway, but gradually with repeated listens. The record itself almost acts as a veil unto itself; it’s pleasurable as a background listen, but you have to stop and fully concentrate to understand at the signals it sends. It’s a record that’s able to think for itself, without sacrificing any emotional capacity in the process.

You might not place much importance on nationality, in terms of listening to an album, but compare my first encounter as an inquisitive Englishman in 2010 with the average American in 2005 as can be. I had none of the angst and anguish that those who were shocked by George Bush’s re-election had, nor had I the familiarity with the locales and spirit of the 11th state. Maybe the lack of context meant I had even more to wrap my head around, unravelling the essence of a far-off land that was both similar and alien at the same time… would it be surprising if that made the impact even greater?

Abraham Lincoln is coming to town

Abraham Lincoln is coming to town

Black Hawk. Sauk leader, war warrior, Sufjan Stevens subject.

Black Hawk. Sauk leader, war warrior, Sufjan Stevens subject.

It’s no understatement when I say Illinois is a truly audacious spectacle of sounds, meandering mournfully before suddenly moving into an orchestral gallop. It’s ambitious- there was so much material recorded, that Stevens had enough to release a “sequel” of sorts the following year, featuring outtakes and rearrangements, called The Avalanche–  but what’s even more impressive is that it meets its ambitions, before adding even more instruments to the fro.

A classically trained oboist, Stevens’ knowledge of the classical form is evident in the complexity of some of the time signatures and how each instrument fits into the overall track; Stevens himself played over twenty instruments on the record. Just try and imagine what that must be like to replicate live; it’s virtually impossible to come anywhere close. Because of that, the record feels even more like a unique experience that you can only truly enjoy in one medium.

When it was released in 2005, the reviews were unanimous in their praise; many publications, as wide ranging as NME, Pitchfork and even Amazon named it as one of their albums of the year (the latter two even gave it the coveted top spot). Mentions on “best of the decade” lists later followed, and even as he released his seventh album this year, the phenomenal Carrie and Lovell, the first place for comparison was always with Illinois; because for an artist that dabbles in so many genres, it is hardly surprising that a piece that combines so many has become his signature.

At twenty one tracks and nearly 74 minutes, it certainly requires commitment, but if you give it your time and it will certainly give a lot more back. Illinois is such a rich and varied release that you can easily dip in and out of, but the full experience comes from immersing yourself from start to finish. Many critics make bold claims about certain releases, but as I do not feel I am qualified enough yet to call myself one, I have no qualms in saying this: Illinois remains a triumph for the power of music ten years on, and an album with such an astonishing level of arrangement, boldness and creativity certainly deserves to be celebrated.

Glastonbury’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness

Bags unpacked, showered up, the first proper night’s kip in a week. I’ve now been back from Glastonbury for a couple of days and I’ve just started to rise out of the inevitable post-festival blues. Ah well, only 357 days until the next one and counting.

Glastonbury; always a ten, always worth it.

Glastonbury; always a ten, always worth it.

In any case, I’ve now had enough time to evaluate my experience at this year’s incarnation of the Worthy Farm festival (and watch an unhealthy amount of performances on iPlayer, considering the weather we’re having). This was my second time at Glastonbury, after going last year and vowing to return at every chance I got. I relished each sight as I descended Pennard Hill, from the Tipis and Park area in the south to the cluster of stages in the Silver Hayes and John Peel to the north, and everything in-between. Honestly, the impact was just as powerful as when I first laid eyes on it; only this year, it felt more like a welcome home.

But during your inaugural Glastonbury experience, it’s just enough trying to take it all in and find your way around the site, let alone pin down any clear objectives for just what you want to achieve over the five days you are there. There are many who are happy to go with the flow of the festival, but I am not one of those lucky few. As soon as the full line up was announced, I was analysing every stage to decide on my plan of action for each day; in particular, I wanted to spend much more time at the smaller, more unusual stages, and fully make the most of what Glastonbury has to offer.

If this was, shall we say, a “regular” mainstream festival, say at Reading and Leeds which has eight stages, or even Bestival which has twenty one to its name, then this wouldn’t be such a difficult job. But Glastonbury has over ninety stages. It’s impossible to cover every single one. You can certainly try though; some hurtle from stage to stage, trying to sample tastes of as many acts as possible along the way. Personally, I place a great deal of emphasis on enjoying a set from start to finish and taking it all in, so the idea of adding more stress by trying to see everything is incredibly off putting.

The Palo Voladores, an ancient Mesoamerican ceremony. It's almost "too" Glastonbury.

The Palo Voladores, an ancient Mesoamerican ceremony. It’s almost “too” Glastonbury.

But can you see the problem emerging here? In trying to decide what to do, it can be nerve-wracking just trying to come to a decision. What if the act you finally choose turns out to be a pile of rubbish (enough with the comments about Kanye already!) and you end up missing one of the highlights of the festival elsewhere? Glastonbury’s greatest strength is the sheer variety of things you can do there, but this also acts as the festival’s greatest weakness for the indecisive; there is simply too much to do.

I’m not just talking about bands as well; away from the main stages, all manner of things from Buddhist meditation to Mesoamerican ceremonies and salsa classes tempt your fancy. Considering the breadth of activities available for you to try, are you wasting your ticket if you stick strictly to the main musical trail? The stress truly is real; my parents went again this year, and spent every evening the week before in anguish as they weighed up clashes, even revisiting albums to try and come to a decision.

Yet maybe I am just nit picking; with a glorious balloon that swells with music, culture and celebrations, I have to be the one that looks for the needle to let out some of the air. After all, the sheer variety of things on offer isn’t just a strength of Glastonbury; it is its definitive calling card. To have it any other way would be ridiculous; in fact, what I love about the festival so much is that you CAN have it any way you want it.

Is it him you're looking for?

Is it him you’re looking for?

Call me crazy, but I was one of the few who didn’t witness Lionel Richie’s Sunday afternoon performance. I spent that particular slot with George The Poet in the Silver Hayes, and witnessed an astounding display of lyrical genius. Yes I missed one of the biggest sets of the weekend, but to linger on that minor detail would do George The Poet a great disservice; it wasn’t like I wasn’t enjoying myself elsewhere.

George The Poet was just one of numerous highlights across the weekend; Caribou, Songhoy Blues and FKA Twigs also stand out, but all in all there wasn’t a set that I didn’t enjoy to some degree. Now I’m home, the only stress that remains is whether I’ll be able to get a ticket for next year. Picture a trip to the beach in the height of summer; once you’ve swam around for a while and taken a break, you want to get back in as soon as possible, to explore the reefs and ride the waves. Ultimately, Glastonbury is a holiday unlike any other, and if it wasn’t bursting with too much to do in five days, it simply wouldn’t be the wonder that it is.

Ady Suleiman: A Tale Of Two Cities

This is an article I originally wrote for the May issue of Bido Lito!, a monthly music magazine that uncovers the most exciting sounds from Merseyside, in particular Liverpool. Ady Suleiman is Nottingham born-and-bred, but there is no denying that his time as a student in Liverpool has greatly shaped him as a musician, carving his own unique style that mixes indie, reggae and electronic influences. It’s certainly a broad range, but the result is right on the mark. Check out my piece below!

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For his twenty-first birthday, ADY SULEIMAN found himself facing not only a crowd, but an immense opportunity of inconceivable fate. He was on a stage in Sète in the south of France, staring out to the sea from a magnificent amphitheatre called Théatre de la Mer. He was performing as part of Worldwide Festival, which fuses acoustic performances with club-oriented beats to form an enticing exuberance that carefully simmers under the scorching sun. Suleiman had been asked to play by the festival’s curator and BBC 6 Music multi-genre aficionado GILLES PETERSON, who had been pestered by the plucky LIPA graduate after his show in The Shipping Forecast.

“I remember telling him my name and he had actually heard of me through one of his friends- or at least that’s what he said!” laughs Suleiman, as he remembers the fortuitous encounter. “He said to send some stuff through by email. I didn’t think he would even get back to me, but then he replied saying he loved it and asked if I wanted to play his festival, completely out of the blue! It’s a weird feeling when you meet someone you have so much respect for, only to find out they respect what you’re doing- I mean I still listen to everything his label Brownswood puts out.” It’s fair to say his performance was a resounding success; Suleiman went on to win “Breakthrough Act of the Year” at Peterson’s Worldwide Awards.

But what was it about Suleiman that made Peterson so enamoured with the twenty-something songwriter? Perhaps it’s the sincerity of his stirring melodies that harmonize dabs of soul, jazz and even hip hop? Maybe it’s the carefully subdued production that compliments the overall sound rather than overriding it? Or maybe it’s the sense of honesty that permeates Suleiman’s lyrics, drawing on his own experiences or that of his family and friends? It’s likely Peterson has seen all of this, considering the following Suleiman has built up since graduating last year. It’s been quite a transformation, as Suleiman used to hate one of his biggest influences, JIMI HENDRIX.

“My dad really encouraged me to listen to him, but the psychedelic vibe just wasn’t doing anything for me,” confesses Suleiman. “But I was on a family holiday and listening to Axis: Bold as Love, and when I got to Little Wing, everything clicked. After all the manufactured pop I was hearing on the radio, I finally understood where the music was coming from, and its sense of purpose.” From there, Suleiman was determined to explore artists whose music strove for a genuine connection with its listeners, and he immersed himself in acts that have defined their genre, from LAURYN HILL to STEVIE WONDER and RAY CHARLES, all of which have influenced him to some degree.

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However, it was AMY WINEHOUSE’S status in the mid-noughties that hit him at full force and aroused his dedication to the cause. “I was listening to a lot of her first album Frank, where she was mixing hip hop and jazz into her own style, and then how she drew on soul more for Back To Black; vocally, it was just incredible. I couldn’t believe she was doing music like that and being successful from it, truly changing the landscape of British popular music in the process. Before seeing her, I never really thought I could make music I wanted to make and be successful from it.”

Half Tanzanian on his father’s side, Suleiman grew up in the market town of Grantham outside of Nottingham, and only ventured into the city for the occasional gig. Rather than stay close to home, he chose LIPA because of the emphasis the course placed on performing. “A lot of the courses I applied for asked for Grade 5 theory at least, and I was a bit apprehensive to study music at University anyway because I thought I would be out of my depth! With the course at LIPA, I felt comfortable with what it wanted to achieve with me.”

The sheer variety of sounds that characterized the city’s music scene also caught Suleiman’s ear, particularly the more alternative bands. He became good friends with former NINETAILS frontman ED BLACK, who now performs with Suleiman’s band. Sumptuous sets at the Kazimier and Mello Mello prompted him to explore his old roots, and after contacting an old school friend he found himself on a train back home to attend a gig in Nottingham. “The line-up included NATALIE DUNCAN, LIAM BAILEY and HARLEY BLUE- local acts celebrating Nottingham’s blossoming soul and hip-hop scene, and their emphasis on utilizing vocals was similar to what I was trying achieve!”

Suleiman emphasizes the importance of using your origins to find inspiration for your music, and a set he performed at Nottingham’s Rock City remains one of his favourite live shows as a personal achievement, but his music does not feel confined to a particular location. The ominous lyrics on So Lost which are unashamedly direct with their sense of hopelessness and the despair of being hooked to medication are even more striking against the gentle bounce of funky horns and buoyant beats that transform it into a delightfully playful number.

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Ease your ears into Suleiman’s other material and you realize each track is focused on the direction it wants to take. Take State Of Mind, which questions the motivation behind religion and political alliances, or Out Of Luck, with its bleak account of drug addiction. “I wrote that about a friend from back home,” Suleiman recalls, “because I remember so vividly how everyone felt about it at the time; it truly became the talk of the town. I find it really difficult to write about things that I haven’t experienced or heard from first hand because your opinion’s probably not going to be right, so it’s difficult to put something out there and stand behind it.”

What’s interesting though is that Suleiman does not equate having a message in music with having to tell people what to do. He prefers to simply offer a commentary on his own experiences in the hope that others can relate to it. He points to garage authority MIKE SKINNER’S work as THE STREETS as a fantastic example. “He was amazing at representing a specific era of the UK, and some people who listen to it can appreciate that there is music talking directly to them. It’s nice to crank on a tune that does that- it’s not specifically telling me I need to change my life, but it shows a sense of understanding about how I’m living.”

Asides from his new EP State Of Mind out in May, Suleiman’s aim for 2015 is to refine his writing technique- lately he has been spotted in the studio with spoken word mind-boggler GEORGE THE POET- and more importantly, bring his live sound up to the same standard as his recorded material. “It’s a completely different kettle of fish for me,” admits Suleiman with a slight hesitation, “but I’ve already got a few live shows coming up so I need to work on perfecting my sound. You want both the live show and the recorded material to be at a level when they can rival each other!”

With an aim that is so specifically on target, Suleiman’s determination is highly encouraging because it all points to an understanding of longevity. As long as events around him spur on his creativity, his music will continue to have a strong narrative, and in being so specific about the details, his music only becomes more attractive to listeners, fascinated by what he has to say. If a few years at university have taken him to the south of France, we can only wonder at what direction he’ll take for the rest of 2015.

soundcloud.com/adysuleiman