There was a palpable feeling of excitement in the air as people made their way up to Alexandra Palace for Kaleidoscope festival on Saturday 25th July. For many starved revellers, this was the first occasion for well over a year that they were heading out to a festival, this was liberation.
Everyone came with the right attitude. Smiles, random chats with strangers, dancing to summer grooves: it was a reminder of what a pleasure it is to be amongst a good crowd, listening to live music. Even the weather, which threatened rain and thunder, did us a mighty favour and stayed warm and dry.
The brief for Kaleidoscope was to provide something for everyone. The little ones had their own spot, the Playground, where they were well catered for by entertainers like SamSam Bubbleman and his massive bubbles. Although maybe they should have put him at the dance arena.
The only indoor stage, which was set in a cavernous space inside Ally Pally, hosted a mix of literature (Irving Welsh) and comedy, including Reginald D Hunter. The Glory gay bar and drag hothouse in East London presented an impressive cabaret eve – congratulations to the young dancer who jumped up and landed full force in the “splits” position – I think we all winced.
Ally Pally’s pub terrace morphed into the dance area with a lineup of DJs. Greg Wilson got a great reception and played an amazing set.
However Kaleidoscope’s piece de resistance is the main stage, set on a grassy slope, with views over London. No need to stand to watch the bands, ducking and diving to avoid those pesky 6‑footers; you could just lie on a blanket for the entire festival and not miss a thing.
Mr Wilson’s Second Liners got things going in just the right spirit. The northern brass band roll out their interpretations of dance classics: they’re named after Tony Wilson so no prizes for guessing some of their set list.
More gentle good vibes were to follow with the gorgeous indie-folk sounds of The Staves. The three sisters were lacking one sibling as Emily is looking after her baby, but those lush familial harmonies are still there. They played a mix of old songs and some new numbers from their most recent album Good Woman.
The main stage lineup was a bit thin, with too much waiting time between acts, especially as the House Gospel Choir had to pull out. Ibibio Sound Machine and their funky Afrobeat numbers performed a rousing set.
A great reception greeted The Coral. They played a few tracks from their new album, the mammoth 24-track Coral Island, such as Vacancy and Lover Undiscovered which is surely up there with their finest tracks. And they also included favourites Dreaming of You, In the Morning and Pass It On, James Skelly’s vocals still sounding on top form.
Groove Armada opened with The Girls Say followed by a raft of their dance tracks from the past 25-odd years (can it really be that long?), the quiet presence of Cato and Findlay in contrast to their vocalists who provided the visual energy. Lasers and lights beamed out into the sky from the stage.
Towards the end of the set, the swooping, atmospheric opening notes of At The River floated over the Palace grounds, followed by a couple more numbers before the advent of Superstylin’. That was a bittersweet moment – it’s an iconic track but nevertheless a sign that we’ve reached the end of the set – and of the festival.
Kaleidoscope’s second appearance struck just the right note as we readjusted after lockdown although the event needs a fuller lineup. It was a fun and relaxed family festival and the setting of Alexandra Palace for a day event could not be better.
Kaleidoscope festival, 24th July 2021
Photography © Olivia Rosen. SamSam photo © Lloyd Winters