Leander Road Street Party, Brixton – 4th July 2015
Forget Glastonbury. Forget Isle of Wight. Forget Reading. This year it’s an unassuming street party in South London that steals the hearts and minds of some music loving, slightly inebriated bystanders. It may not have the decades of history or extravagant sound systems – a barking dog does briefly threaten to derail the set at one stage – but down in Brixton there is one street that partiers harder than all the rest. Kicking off proceedings are Leander Road’s very own Fever Family, a seven piece funk-soul outfit who have spent the last year whipping up delirious adulation in venues around the capital with a combination of bombastic tunes and wildly unrestrained dance routines.
On a prime July afternoon the Hawaiian shirt-clad entourage bring a tropical flavour, both musically and sartorially, to a setting that today boasts Caribbean-style sunshine, liberal amounts of pulled pork and casually discarded cans of Red Stripe. With residents and party goers bringing the meat and booze, The Family serve up chunky bass riffs, psychedelic guitar licks and howling vocals, with sax, keyboards and explosively choreographed dance moves thrown in for good measure.
Under the pounding intensity of some conspicuously un-British weather, charismatic frontman James Edwards struts, yelps and screams his way through a tireless performance that sees him throw out belting vocals and powerful shapes in equal measure. Perpetually dancing saxophonist Bex Arthur lays down some sultry, groove-heavy wailing while Brodie King’s voice soars gloriously above the din of dirty funk like some modern day Motown diva.
With a rhythm section as tight as they are propulsive, the band throw themselves into this collection of tunes with reckless abandon, starting with the sharp, up-tempo soul of Release Me that sets the tone for what is to come. “We got da fever!” bellow Edwards and King, as they charge into the titular line of an old classic (or at least it is by their standards) – and its clear that the audience aren’t far behind them; Get Down sees the ensemble grind the way to the floor and back while Sly Paws features an outing of the band’s latest set of unique moves that the swaggering frontman jumps into the crowd to demonstrate.
An incendiary cover of Arthur Brown’s Fire cranks the temperature higher still as the band tear through this trippy chart-topping smash from 1968, prompting older members of the ever swelling viewership to cut loose as though they were winding the clock back to their formative teenage years. Other renditions of timeless favourites include In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, mercifully cut down from Iron Butterfly’s 17 minute original, and Down In Mexico by The Coasters, with artfully reworked lyrics amending the story telling references from the central American republic to Leander Road and its environs.
Having started their burgeoning musical journey in the same spot some 12 months previously, this feels like a triumphant homecoming for the band, conjuring up a party atmosphere that is never more on display than when Edwards launches himself into the crowd from atop the stage; a piece of musical pageantry becoming increasingly commonplace for a band who like to mix it with the audience as often as they cavort around above them.
An impromptu instrumental encore sees the trio depart for a surprise adventure into the midst of the crowd, a soul tunnel of borrowed limbs quickly emerging through which band and audience alike dance their way ever further down the street. When The Family eventually depart following this riotous finale that wouldn’t have been out of place had it meandered its way carnival-style all the way back down Brixton Hill – which looked a distinct possibility at one stage, had the bouncy castle and petting zoo not formed an impenetrable barrier – the reception is rapturous.
Bidding a fond farewell, they slink back into the fracas of the street party, ready to enjoy the New Orleans-esque brass collective Brasstermind. A stunned crowd is left steamy and feverish, and it’s not just the 30+ degree heat. With performances like this, the fever will no doubt be going epidemic before too long.
Words: Henry Wickham