XS Noize was invited to City Beerfest 2018, held in Guildhall Yard, London. Whilst for many, beer is an essential festival ingredient; music is an essential ingredient for all. It was pleasing to XS Noize that all the profits from City Beerfest went towards the City Music Foundation, an internship where musicians are mentored by industry professionals, attend professional development workshops and given support with the music business management.
City Beerfest (now in its sixth year), ran from midday till late in the evening, offering five different musical acts. As the sun shone down on Guildhall Yard, the Gorodi/Braysher Quartet, specialising in playing contrafacts (original melodies composed over the structure and harmony of familiar jazz standards) opened the set. Rosie Turton, London trombonist and composer followed with her band, making connections between the sounds of jazz, hip-hop and Indian Classical music. After a significant break, when the stage was left barren, the Chelsea Carmichael Quintet returned life to the inactive stage, paying tribute to Charles Mingus. Despite her youth, having only recently graduated from Trinity Conservatoire’s Jazz department, Chelsea Carmichael, having played alongside international artists such as Terence Blanchard, Courtney Pine, and Etienne Charles, has an envious and impressive musical CV.
From 5 pm onwards, with the Lord Mayor’s arrival and city workers pouring out in their droves, the Guildhall Yard was buzzing. Festival-goers were like kids in a sweet shop as they looked upon with awe at the extensive choice of beers. Accompanied with a guide (similar to a retro I-SPY book) and complementary half-pint City Beerfest glass, festival goers walked around as if off on a hiking adventure in search of the mobile brewer which had their beer of choice, ticking off each half-pint they consumed in their I-SPY guide. With over fifty choices of beer (including lagers and a cider), there was much exploration to do. XS Noize was invited to sample some (not all 51 beers!). Heverlee beer and Old Hooky were impressive, but the one that rocked out the most was Motorhead’s Road Crew, “an American session pale ale packed with citrus and blackcurrant flavours”. To accompany the beers, there was a range of exotic foods, including, but not limited to, wild boar burgers, German bratwurst and Souvlaki.
As the crowds were pouring in, elated with beer and food, Baltika, a London-based Balkan music octet took to the stage to perform Bulgarian and Hungarian folk tunes. The festival was played out by Italian pianist Maria Chiara Argiro (who has recently released her latest album, 'The Fall Dance') and the Alex Hitchcock Group. Maria Chiara Argiro, with award-winning saxophonist Alex Hitchcock, performed music written especially for City Beerfest along with music by Hermeto Pascoal and Wayne Maria Schneider.
The absence of portaloo toilets made for great comedy. Revellers would flock en masse to the adjacent Guildhall Art Gallery, with glasses not permitted in the building (not even half-pint), revellers would strategically place their glasses in the security holding area in a memorable place (hoping that their glass would not be taken accidentally by someone else) before heading to the luxurious indoor loos no glamping provider could possibly match. The deftness of the five musical acts cannot be faulted and City Beerfest should deservingly take credit for staging a festival where profits go directly to the City Music Foundation. Nonetheless, a large elephant was present and didn’t leave the Guildhall Yard, the lack of connection between musicians and the audience.
This could have been helped by having a presenter to introduce the acts and explain what the festival was about, explain more about the City Music Foundation and who the bands were, what they had done and what they would do as well as keep crowds entertained and engaged in between acts. For much of the festival, there was a significant physical vacuum of space between the musicians and the audience whose attention was diverted by the beer and food stands. Whilst City Beerfest through the City Music Foundation turned out outstanding live musicians and composers; they failed to draw in the crowds (or at least allowed them to be distracted by other things) enabling them to fully appreciate and receive the benefits of the exceptional free live music offered.