Celebrating their 150th anniversary with a sonic boom, Colston Hall succeeded in bringing the 20-strong supergroup The Outlook Orchestra to Bristol’s Harbourside for a once in a lifetime concert this July, including a full hour-long set from Roots Manuva to kick off the evening.
Led by the mind behind Submotion Orchestra and Gentleman’s Dub Club, BASCA award-winning composer Tommy Evans, Outlook Orchestra has been put together to mark 10 years of Outlook Festival this September, and decades more of soundsystem music.
Representing the evolution of a music with an unbreakable core spirit, micro-sets from old and new soundsystem artists intermingled seamlessly over two glorious hours.
micro-sets from old and new soundsystem artists intermingled seamlessly over two glorious hours
The ensemble has been thoughtfully put together – accurately representing the face of soundsystem music throughout the decades. 70s and 80s scene legends Horace Andy and Dawn Penn brought us back to the golden era of soundsystem reggae, while 90s and noughties icons Congo Natty, Roots Manuva, Pharoahe Monch manoeuvered through jungle and hip hop.
And while it would be easy to become nostalgic, the biggest demographic was – rightly so – today’s standout soundsystem artists, including Loyle Carner, Killa P, Jehst, Flowdan, Foreign Beggars, Submotion Orchestra’s Ruby Wood, and GDC’s MC Jila.
The evening began with Roots Manuva taking to the Amphitheatre stage at 7pm for what was sadly an underwhelming set. Whether it was due to the rain, the chattering crowd’s anticipation for The Outlook Orchestra, or a genuinely lackluster performance from the Witness the Fitness rapper; you couldn’t help but compare it to background radio noise.
His flagship track towards the end of his set finally pricked ears and got the majority of us bouncing along to ‘one hope, one quest’. People started to bunch towards the stage for his last few tracks and ready for the main attraction.
While I might have been personally hoping for a bit more jungle, the 100-minute mix – with live mixing and effects Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor – paid duty to the whole range of soundsystem music across reggae, drum and bass, hip hop, garage, grime, dubstep and house.
every song got cheers of recognition from the crowd as the orchestra and guest vocalists worked through some of the best music of the last five decades
Although every song got cheers of recognition from the crowd as the orchestra and guest vocalists worked through some of the best music of the last five decades, the clear favourite tunes of the evening included Ruby Wood’s skin-tingling performance of Submotion’s All Yours, Cinematic Orchestra’s All Things to All Men with Roots back up on the stage, Pharoahe Monch’s Simon Says, Horace Andy’s famous cover of Ain’t No Sunshine, and Roy Davis Jr’s absolute classic Gabriel.
Other standout moments were Flowdan’s Skeng, which got knees bending and arms bouncing across the amphitheater, while reggae queen Dawn Penn created a loud chorus of No No No that must have carried well across the water.
the set neared its end with a brilliant orchestral rendition of Roni Size’s Reprazent’s Brown Paper Bag
And in what felt like a respectful homage to Bristol, the set neared its end with a brilliant orchestral rendition of Roni Size’s Reprazent’s Brown Paper Bag – probably the biggest tune to come out of our city to date.
As the crowd filed out of Lloyd’s Amphitheatre at the end of the evening, there was a general consensus that we had witnessed something truly special. For anyone who couldn’t make the Bristol show, if you can get yourself to Outlook Festival in Croatia this September to see them perform the opening concert – they’d be well worth the ticket price.
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger