Glass reviews South Facing Festival 2021

FEW venues in London have a history quite as rich as the Crystal Palace Bowl. The inaugural Crystal Palace Garden Party launched a whole 50 years ago – designed at the time to rival the Glastonbury and Isle of Wight festivals that had launched a year earlier in 1970.

The years that followed saw a litany of iconic artists travel south of the Thames to perform at the Bowl – with iconic concerts including a Sex Pistols Jubilee performance, Bob Marley’s last-ever London show and a Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band bank holiday double-header. The last time it saw any action, however, was with a pair of Coldplay shows in 2005.

The newly branded South Facing Festival brought the venue out of retirement this summer – and tonight’s headliner, The Streets, is well aware of the Bowl’s history. He jokes throughout an enigmatic headline set that the stage in which he is performing was in fact built by Bob Marley all those years ago.

First to take to the stage however are The Skinner Brothers – a compelling rock and roll outfit whose presence here feels a little odd considering other acts on the bill. They prove, however, that they are a band of real potential – with a short, fiery set that will surely have gained them many new fans.

Greentea Peng. Photo credit Picture: Lorne Thomson

It’s then the turn of Greentea Peng to entertain a crowd which grew rapidly by the time she arrived on stage. The South London local released her debut album Man Made in June of last year to much acclaim, and a compelling performance proved just how well her brand of self-proclaimed “psychedelic R&B” translates to the festival circuit. With a sound that feels entirely her own, albeit with some hints of Lauryn Hill and Miss Dynamite, you feel that Aria Wells has a very big future ahead of her.

Having spent much of the pandemic baiting the government and chasing viral fame with the release of protest song 21st June (Who’s Got The Bag), it’s great to see The Streets back doing what they do best. Some artists may feel a weight of expectation performing on such a legendary stage – but Mike Skinner and his UK Garage outfit seem intent on making some history for themselves with a set that encompasses their long and fruitful career.

Mike Skinner of The Streets

Naturally, much of the material leans on Original Pirate Material – The Streets first, and best, studio album. Opening with the thrilling Turn The Page, the likes of Let’s Put Things Forward, Don’t Mug Yourself and Has It Come To This are deployed with delicious intent. There are moments that focus on newer material, too. Greentea Peng joins the stage for I Wish You Loved You as Much as You Loved Him, while Tame Impala collaboration Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better provides another standout moment.

A hit-packed encore represents The Streets’ at their prime – it’s hard to imagine three songs that better encapsulate a British night out than Weak Become Heroes, Blinded by the Lights and Fit But You Know It – and each are met with rapturous applause. The set closes with Skinner’s new calling card 21st June (Who’s Got The Bag) – a reminder how lucky we are that events like this are even possible.

There’s some work to do on-site to give South Facing the sense of escapism you get from other day festivals – there’s little to explore outside of a few food vans and a small VIP bar – but it’s great to have music back on at the palace. Here’s hoping the venture continues next summer.

by Daniel Jeakins