This is my 5th consecutive One Love, and it's on the 5th different site – though back to where it used to be before I started going, inside the M25 near Chigwell and Ilford at Hainault Forest Country Park, Essex, a surprisingly-lovely green and countrified setting in the metropolis that (according to the programme notes) will be its home for the next 5 years at least.
I can see why One Love wanted to return here. The flat-ish site is easily accessed and with a tarmac-ed road, and with ample room it gives space for the festival to grow. A return to London seems to have gone down well too, with fuller crowds than I've seen previously.
From the country park entrance there's firstly the car parks, then the campervans. Pedestrian access is through the campsite to the main arena, and while there was a not insignificant amount of rain over the weekend (particular the Saturday) the ground stayed firm and mud-free in all points of the site. There's of course security doing its thing at the gates and around the site, though as chilled with it as any festival could hope for.
The arena is a rectangular field, with the two live stages in two of the corners, and the two soundsystem stages in the other corners. Sound-bleed is noticeable in the quieter moments but isn't really a problem or annoyance otherwise. In the centre are a number of Caribbean food outlets as well as the more-standard festival fayre, plus stalls selling Bob Marley-a and other ethnic-naks, and the bar – which started with an eye-watering price of £4.50 for a can of Red Stripe though was soon selling at a more-reasonable three cans for a tenner.
The Dubshack – with the Instrument of Jah Sound System - is particularly loud all weekend when close by, tho I'm surprised at how little it travels out to the car parks. Festival organiser Dan played a set here on Saturday (his first in public, I think), with a few technical wobbles at the start – but nice one, he's clearly someone who loves what he's putting on. Other highlights here for me included Nucleus Roots, Nick Manasseh, and Dennis Bovell with Roger Robinson.
The Saxon Sound Arena is also suitably loud. While including sets from the Saxon crew, the main event here each day over the weekend was the 'Battle of the Dubplates' involving soundsystems from around the country. I didn't follow it too closely this year to know who won, tho there was controversy in more than one heat when crews were disqualified for technical infringements (“U-Roy is a deejay” said the compere when disqualifying one), causing upset for those affected.
The live stages both had full line-ups, with the famous names on the One Love Stage and more-minor acts on the Madiba Stage. With the soundsystems always popular there were often small numbers watching the Madiba Stage – it must be gutting for those acts - but pleasingly with the better numbers this year there was always a decent attendance for the main stage.
As in other years the line-up in the programme was something different to what actually appeared on the One Love Stage, and because of dipping in and out to the soundsystems I often missed the announcement and didn't know who I watched or who might have been absent. But like previous years the acts (many who were unknown to me) were of good quality and enjoyable.
It's the bigger acts who, unfortunately, get the flack here. I love Lee 'Scratch' Perry, but know from the past his performances can be shambling, and this was the worst I'd experienced; I couldn't watch, and left. Seeing Big Youth was a first-time for me and was better, although he didn't seem to know if he was coming or going. Natty, was a bit 'meh', Brinsley Forde (ex-Aswad) was much better, and The Aces, did the late Desmond proud.
Sunday's final act of 3 x The Hard Way – a 'supergroup' of David Hinds from Steel Pulse, Dennis Bovell, and Brinsley Forde – sounds impressive on paper, but on stage it was much as I expected: seemingly unrehearsed. Done in a soundsystem style, it's always a pleasure to hear Hinds singing Steel Pulse classics, but the whole thing seemed a bit to chaotic and didn't keep my attention either. Even so, One Love should be commended for the attempt.
I love this festival and its beauty is its difference, the full embracing of black reggae culture instead of the mostly-tokenism that's the best elsewhere, which gives it a diversity of people I've not seen any other festival get close to. Hopefully a permanent home will give it the chance to properly grow as being less than full must make continuing with it a big struggle. All power to you, Dan.
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