Well this festival sounds promising! One of my favourite bands, the mighty Alabama 3 are playing at Paradise Gardens, a free London weekend family festival with lots of entertainment for all ages. Up till this year, Paradise Gardens Festival has taken place at leafy Victoria Park in East London. This year, the festival is the opener for a new creative art and adventure space going by the name of London Pleasure Gardens.

This new park is in Newham, next to Pontoon Dock DLR station. We skip the Saturday and arrive for Sunday afternoon, looking forward to a retro moment with eighties teen band Musical Youth, plus sets from Ska Cubano and Alabama 3.

Paradise Gardens Festival, London Pleasure Gardens

London Pleasure Gardens takes its name from the small pleasure gardens that existed during Victorian times, but there’s nothing about this modern space that recalls those Dickensian times. Views are certainly impressive. The new park meanders along the Thames, board-walk style, interspersed with artworks and installations. A dome hosts swing-dance classes, there’s a funfair, children’s activities and a huge tent for music. Here is London captured in a pre-Olympic moment, with all the evidence of its massive investment and confidence. Planes from City Airport take off only minutes away, the DLR zigzags along an elevated track, and the cable cars add a new element to a backdrop replete with iconic London imagery – the O2 Arena, Canary Wharf. Across the river is brash ExCel and the derelict Millenium Mill, impressive in its decay, with one wall now serving as the canvas for a powerful 42m-high mural promoting free speech, by Shepard Fairey.

Musical Youth are greeted with huge affection by all the older people in the audience, although sadly there are now only two members of the original Brummie line-up. They play a collection of reggae numbers including ‘I Shot the Sherriff’, and eventually sing the number everyone had been holding out for, ‘Pass the Dutchie‘. Ska Cubano know how to work the crowd and treat us to a lively summer set of their Cuban ska fusion, which has everyone entertained from adults down to the toddlers.

Alabama 3 have a deserved reputation of being a great live act, and this set is no exception. The musicians arrive on stage in familiar style, looking as if they have just strolled out of a midwestern bar, having drunk, smoked, brawled, gambled and womanised the afternoon away. Larry Love’s voice is its usual growl. ‘Hello… I’m Johnny Cash‘ gets everyone going, and by the time they get to ‘Hypo Full of Love‘, with the band doing their sexy choreographed down-low side-step, we are all singing the refrain, ‘shoot me up’, like a vast gospel choir. They don’t play my favourite, ‘Too Sick to Pray‘, but no matter, we’ve been treated to an uplifting, free gig from A3 and I’m more than happy.

On a cautious note, this new park was only developed recently and is still a work in progress. There is almost no greenery, grass, flowers or trees, so as yet the ‘garden’ aspect is yet to happen. The hard surface, parts of it with loose stone wasn’t easy for those with buggies. The breeze created huge gusts of swirling dust, which the organisers did apologise for. I would advise anyone with contact lenses to think about wearing glasses as the grit was painful. And with no grass to sit on, you had to look for seating areas. Hopefully with time, this space will bloom, not only to provide a symbolic flowering of a former wasteland, but also to create a better backdrop to the artworks and do justice to the all work that has been done.

Cable cars against the skyline at London Pleasure Gardens

UPDATE: London Pleasure Gardens no longer exist. Shortly after this festival, a two-day dance event BLOC was a fiasco with poor management, overcrowding and queues. Not longer after this, the London Pleasure Gardens went into administration.

Paradise Gardens Festival, London Pleasure Gardens

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