We this weekend relocate, relocate, relocate from Glastonbury, to Glynde – the leafy Sussex sanctum perhaps best known for its enduringly revered annual opera festival. Nonetheless, it’s less in aid of Le nozze di Figaro that we’re here congregated down toward the South Coast, and more to do with the inaugural Love Supreme – an audacious bid helmed by Jazz FM to bring the best in jazz, funk, soul and the multitudinous sub-genres thereof to an ostensibly wider British audience. And as was so flagrantly the case down on Worthy Farm just eight days ago, never previously have sunshine, cider and Chic seemed such prerequisite festival essentials.
As has so frequently been evinced over these past few summers, however, to enlist the services of disco stalwart and sole surviving member of Chic, Nile Rodgers, is to ensure the so-called ‘good times’ flow untapped. And having played to an approximated 30,000 seeking infernal solace from a certain simian brigade by the name of Arctic Monkeys just last weekend, this one’s an intimate affair by Rodgers’ standardised, if never below par performance ideals.
Though what would once have constituted these presupposed ‘good times’ is vastly different to now and since the likes of Le Freak were first scribed, technology has of course come on leaps and bounds. It’s thus that the odd iPad is dotted about the stage, though the most apparent change to have afflicted Chic is the nominal alteration. And the cheek of it! Up as Chic featuring Nile Rodgers on festival rundowns worldwide, no pretences are made this evening: Nile Rodgers is Chic, and Chic he. And as he later labels even Random Access Memories “my new record” he’s similarly under no false impressions as to his abiding eminence.
The unprofessionalism with which the stage and its myriad instruments are set, however, doesn’t exactly befit a soul doyen of his nigh on subliminal dexterity, with an enervatingly extended lull preluding his long-awaited appearance. But by the time he materialises, he’s toting a single-lens reflex camera in order that he might document all he sees for posterity’s sake. It’s a beguiling, and somehow po-mo subverting of the camera phone convention, as well as a timely reminder of the truly sobering reality that his time amongst us may soon be numbered.
But for now, they “gotta get everything hooked up right so that we can get sounding as good as possible.” And indeed each and every time I now see Chic, perfectionism appears a paramount concern: any one show could well transpire to be his last – a perturbingly applicable fear, ever since Rodgers was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive strand of prostate cancer back in January of 2011 – and as such, he seems to live and play each to its full potential. It’s quite incontestably the right attitude to which he’s subscribed and so in spite of performing on no sustenance and next to no sleep, that he and his comparatively recently assembled ensemble sound quite so absolutely flawless, having been up all night getting decidedly unlucky, only heightens the stratospheric kudos so many of us feel toward one of the categorically epochal songwriters of the 20th century.
And still we sit about, although the time breezes by with Nile attentively leading his troop through extempore salsa jams to while away the wait. I snatch a second or two to contemplate his gawky allure: the only guy capable of making dreads look decidedly acceptable, we can but hope the abiding combo of these and that black beret don’t one day become the next pseudo-comedic Marley hat. But whatever may be said, or indeed even considered of Rodgers, his most striking feature stems from the fact that not only is he a preposterously proficient guitarist, but he’s a commensurately impressive songsmith in his own right. And even if a little ragged to begin with, even from the introductory Las Vegan blare of Everybody Dance we’re right there with him. Hands are clapped, toes tap, and we’re transported from 2013 Sussex countryside to a late ’70s Lower West Side brimming with raffish promiscuity and an insatiable partiality for genius party music.
Though the auteur of this vivid impressionism is only too aware of the idolisation, and proves to be something of a poseur throughout the first three songs; no flash, as he so provocatively hefts his resplendent Strat about the place. But Rodgers appeals to the photo pit and far beyond in every respect, for the allure of Chic is this instantaneously intergenerational glee: lyrically, the themes of carefree abandon, infinite celebration and the promotion of pure euphoria are innately universal. Musically too, his scintillating fretboard workouts glimmer with a kind of inviting brilliance that even the arthritic couldn’t fail to rejoice in fully. It’s thus simplicity employed to an emphatically maximised impact, and it’s therefore acutely fitting that Chic should marry into the ethos of Sister Sledge’s Rodgers-scribbled We Are Family this evening – one of umpteen hits laid on by the one-man ’80s hit parade.
And such a legacy would doubtless overshadow the legend, were Rodgers not such an incontrovertibly charismatic individual: he sashays as though he were partaking in some sketchy ’90s ad dance routine, frequently enquiring as to whether we’re having as good a time as we really should be, while shimmying from one side of the stage to t’other to ensure maximum connection with the masses. Though vocally, his contribution is but cursory at best: when not inadvertently swallowing airborne critters – the purported “high protein diet” – he merely seems to mouth his timeless, if at times all too predictable lyrical mantras. It’s consequently essential that the individual members of his bespoke backing band – the current incarnation of Chic, to all intents and purposes – are all more than capable of reproducing his every masterstroke with a refined fidelity and they are, quite indubitably, more than worthy from the front through to the back. But most heavily abetted by backing (read: lead) vocalists Folami and Cherie Mitchell, the leading ladies become the crutches that allow for him to perform musically acrobatic miracles with the brass fireworks to fuel the innately celebratory I Want Your Love stoking the disco inferno further.
Though that which ensures Rodgers’ lifework crosses over so cogently is the all-pervasive embracing of its multitudinous forms: from Diana Ross to David Bowie; Madonna to Fatman Scoop, whether writing songs for his contemporaries of having his own compositions sampled by said inferiors, his cultural imprint is not only ludicrously impressive, but also nigh on omnipresent. His sound may be ageless, though the idiosyncratic chinking of his Fender has, without question, distinctively soundtracked so many diverse and so too disparate childhoods that the impact of Chic is less a process of influence, and instead a genuine phenomenon devoid of time, place and such futile temporal confinement.
All of which is transparently exhibited during a shimmering midsection that would surely veer off into the realms of self-indulgent, self-referencing karaoke parody had Rodgers not had such a hefty hand in anything and everything from Ross’ emancipatory homoerotic anthem I’m Coming Out and indeed her intensely giddying Upside Down, to Sister Sledge’s He’s the Greatest Dancer – the slinky riff of which is reproduced with an almost subconscious expertise. (It’s worth recalling, even ephemerally, that Rodgers is the one and only guitarist on stage throughout.) For these are the sorts of indestructible pop gems few have been able to exhume since the late ’70s and early ’80s, and again Rodgers’ keen ear and nimble knack for gold-emboldened brilliance makes his mind out to be a beyond rare goldmine teeming with glistering nuggets so substantial they could be blindly fished out with an unstrung tennis racket. And even though both Get Lucky and Lose Yourself To Dance are, alas, drastically absent tonight, his hand in Daft Punk’s resurgence serves to remind us not only of his ability to kickstart so many multifarious music careers, but so too to continually fuel even the most contemporary at the venerable age of sixty.
Though to revert to that which he treats us to, thematically and of course musically, the undeviating transition from one Ross number to the next is smooth as Nile himself with Rodgers readily identifying the euphoric grip of first love and general infatuation once shackling secrets have at last been cast off. And although a quite comprehensive case can be put forth for his most invigorating recordings being those he quite rightly kept back for himself and Chic, the billing of Chic featuring Nile Rodgers is, admittedly, astonishingly obviously vindicated: this isn’t the straight-up Nile Rodgers show – it’s anything but – and his incessant striving to shed ample light on both band and backing singers alike once again establishes the man as a dying breed of haute entertainer; a rare beast the like of which we should cherish whilst we’re still able to do so.
And perhaps inevitably, it’s our return to Sister Sledge discography, and to an ineluctable We Are Family, that really hammers the forceful point of utter unification home. For it’s the sort of irrepressibly ebullient track that evokes homely coziness even when experienced – as I am this evening – alone. But befuddling as it might well sound, it sits tidily beside Soup For One in what is one of a ton of neat juxtapositions: if the Chic Cheer lyric of “If your friends are Chic, consider yourself unique” may not quite ring true when recited in front of such a strong, and so too insatiable brigade then the care and attention to have gone into the composing of even the live show is to be admired unsparingly en bloc.
It’s exactly as we might expect of an esteemed composer of a now disconnected era, although the performance itself is all but entirely antithetical to an historical context: whereas we now only hear what are (albeit unerringly loyal) recitals of revered compositions from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic epochs, there’s a sense of reclamation at play here; of Rodgers taking back what are, by definition, pieces of this person we love so dearly. These are his songs and to hear them interpreted as they were originally intended by a past master still very much active in a crisp present is an unparalleled pleasure.
And in this very respect, Soup For One is a primary outlier in that its tantalising lick fleetingly leads into Modjo’s Lady (Hear Me Tonight) – the song that brought Rodgers’ original to a far wider audience in September of 2000. It’s saddening to hear, and harrowing to see him reference that rather than this, the prevailing thought of both author and art form deserving of a little more R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Although perhaps that’s just it with Rodgers – that his chameleonic musics acutely reflect his changeable nature as a human being first and foremost. He is, by definition, a creature of contradiction; the “walking parados” of which the by comparison distinctly talentless Tyler, the Creator once told: he’s bumptious in his bigging up of his songwriting craft, and yet speaks in a frequently self-deprecating tone; is naturally self-referential, although he remains remarkably deferential throughout. And he consequently has a confusingly meek outlook on contemporary performance – not least for someone to have sculpted the musical landscapes of so many contrasting decades. The summer of 2013 already sounds as though it belongs to him, and so be it. As for a bloke to “play a little guitar; write a few songs; produce a few records”, Rodgers furnishes us with an undiluted elation and as he smirks the aforesaid self-effacingly from the eye of an eddying stage invasion the like of which Iggy would doubtless approve, he appears to have done all of the above from the comfort of the backseat. But as Miles Davis once stated, “the music always sounds better when you know who’s playing it” and with the continually intensifying spotlights converged upon Rodgers, the sagacious trumpeter’s words ring with a striking posthumous crystallinity. And it’s safe in this particular knowledge that Rodgers can surely go to sleep content…
It’s from one gravely undervalued, and indeed quintessential ’70s songwriter to another, as we then call upon the considerably more local Bryan Ferry. The Roxy Music frontman is, akin to Rodgers, a legend kosher as most bludgeoned things dangling in butchers’ windows nationwide and as such, Love Supreme debatably boasts more glamorous landed pop gentry than most Glastonbury Sunday’s. Ferry brings his newfangled retrograde swing to what is, by contrast, a deplorably poor turnout for replete with black tie-dapper orchestra – his very own Bryan Ferry Orchestra which was ostensibly forged by his fair hands to compile The Jazz Age, a collection of Roxy reconsiderations done in a ’20s jazz style which was released late last year – his set crawls with a louche enticement.
There is of course oodles of the prerequisite pizzazz although perhaps most pertinently, whereas The Jazz Age comprised exclusively instrumental renditions, Ferry this evening intermingles his smoky vocals with the throwback schtick for which we so highly regarded the recording. And the ‘Orchestra have since garnered a greater appeal, due to their contribution to the music from Baz Luhrmann’s itself revisionist imagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It’s an affiliation they’re only too content to flaunt, the invigorating romp-a-pomp of Do The Strand – alas, one of only a few bereft of the desired Roxy effect – backed by the film’s strangely mechanic typeface projected onto a number of hanging LCD displays. And as much as Ferry is absent, there’s a discombobulating disconnect provoked by this opening rendition: for Do The Strand originally featured on the art-rock doyens’ sublime sophomore recording, For Your Pleasure, so to see some of the most flippantly impulsive music written of the early ’70s solemnly read from insentient sheet music could, and likely should sap all vivacity from it. But indicative of the album’s ineffable charm, its jaunty reproduction stands out a jovial triumph.
The same can be said of Don’t Stop The Dance and, disorienting as that interpretation was when first heard, even with increased familiarity it remains only faintly recognisable as rakish brass waltzes with the alluring skiffle of softly shuffling, seductively rustling rhythms. Overshadowed by past inference, there’s doubtless a sense of unfounded nostalgia for a reputedly halcyon time gone by indoctrinating all opinion, and it’s all too easy to lose yourself to these irresistible slow dances. But as chief arranger Colin Good reassures us, “Bryan Ferry will be joining us very shortly”, we’re hoisted back up into the now where lingering synths and temporarily abandoned electric bass await.
Ferry glides into sight as though sailing atop a plume of dry ice to take his pew stage-centre, crooning impeccably through a rejuvenated Reason Or Rhyme. The show immediately picks up – assuming both reason and rhyme, if you will – as his arrival heralds a flurry of rampant applause. Backed as has so often been his wont by a bevy of sequinned ladies, there’s an authentically debonair vim to him the like of which Leonardo DiCaprio could never perfect and as such, the performance is immediately preferable. But most importantly, his turn serves to contextualise his yearning to release a recording of such inherently retrospective tonality as The Jazz Age: he really is a patent aficionado for it, clicking fingers and recurrently cracking yolky smiles, and the project is thus found to be an inspired idea after all. And indeed for all the misgivings surrounding his initial absence, so too the show is transmogrified into what seems, at least superficially, a pretty well considered piece. It doesn’t take much to entertain the notion that Ferry could by now have grown nauseous even of contemplating having to administer Love Is The Drug again, though to so thoroughly reconsider and render it a sultry beauty that indubitably got that swing is the stuff of first-rate imagination. Injected with a retrograde sense of being, it’s so syncopated that it’s not entirely conducive to the singalong stuff of conventional headliner material, but still – what it does do is to ensure the seamless integration of his regular touring cast.
They breeze through an oddly oneiric take on John Lennon’s Jealous Guy; blast through an intimidating version of JJ Cale’s I Got The Same Old Blues, with Ferry thanking Rodgers. “Every one a hit!” he guffaws, and he could so easily have been upstaged by those scintillating Chic shockwaves of before. But it’s a fleeting thought, that of potential inferiority, as the brassy blare of the ‘Orchestra meets with a crunchy rock’n’roll bombast courtesy of the band. All of which succinctly epitomises all that Roxy Music once stood for – the complete penchant for histrionic saxophone solo; the prevailing thirst for sordid cover version; the overarching feel of highbrow suavity. And the fulcrum of it all, quite naturally, is Ferry.
He’s positively imperious this evening – the best I’ve yet seen him. And away from the covers, Re-Make/Re-Model is re-made/re-modelled as a thunderous rumble of a thing which shakes the valley to the tips of its vertiginous apices, whilst an unprecedentedly explosive Chain Reaction goes on and on, although could do so indefinitely and we’d remain eternally grateful for it. All of which appears to point toward the impression that Ferry should’ve been perfecting these sorts of interpretative performances long ago, for he’s a sackful of hits himself. He catches a breather as the ‘Orchestra gloriously smooth over a supreme, Reinhardt-inspired Slave To Love, before returning to rifle through another mixed bag of musical conversions: comparable to the sensational midsection of Chic before him, with Ferry’s effort conversely comes distance and consequent detachment. The drab Dylanesque Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, during which Ferry passes his lips over his harmonica as though he were pleasuring one of the myriad girls to have adorned the many artworks of the Roxy Music discography, proves grim in spite of the appositely supernal qualities intrinsic to it while a pedestrian rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up takes the term dad-rock to a whole other level of relevance.
But in dubiousness and in health, when it comes to flamboyant gesturing nobody does it better than Bryan and this is indeed still true. For Ferry is the consummate frontman and arguably always will be – primed to tempt even through the testing times, although almost unfeasibly well-equipped to enthral when it comes to stupefying with stonking hits smashing as those of Rodgers & co. And, led by the adroit and prodigal Ollie Thompson on guitar, Let’s Stick Together sees what so implausibly becomes the show of the evening really come into its own. Ferry is here the harmonica-blowing, air bass-toting drunken uncle you thirsted for throughout adolescence, and this glint-encrusted gem – the sort these occasions were made for – would doubtless be the snazziest of notes on which to depart, were there not time for one more rework as a rapturously brash thrash through Sam & Dave’s Hold On I’m Coming brings down the proverbial velveteen curtain with comparable dollops of both poise and aplomb. “Reach out to me for satisfaction” Ferry squeals and, considerably more gratifying than the Rolling Stones were some seven days previously, Bryan and his genre cross-dressing, inextinguishably chic back catalogue are as though reborn.
Whether or not Love Supreme itself will be reborn this time next year of course remains to be seen, though there are promising emblems of progress to punctuate the day. If the congregation is still of a predominantly white, middle class persuasion then given the broad gamut of music on offer the greater variegation among the general demographic immediately differentiates the festival from so many of its competitors. Similarly, with regard to the music itself, Love Supreme really is an idiosyncratic prospect that should be esteemed in times of such repressive financial austerity. Its cogs could certainly have been oiled a little more liberally – for such a minuscule site, getting in transpires to be a total schlep; there’s no such thing as an info point; and bar waits instantly prove excruciating – but for a first outing, there’s much of Love Supreme to admire and its heartening attendance vehemently attests to this. Though in their endeavouring to combine two artists of equivalent calibre to Ferry and Rodgers for the Saturday festivities next time around, I wish them luck. For ensuring it grows stronger through the years may yet prove tricky in the wake of such a fibrous first effort…