REVIEW: Gentlemen of the Road @ Victoria Park, London, 01/06/2019

The Verse’s Autumn Micketti attended the Gentlemen of the Road event at Victoria Park on 1st June 2019. 

On June 1st, I found myself strolling into London’s Victoria Park already sweating from an uncharacteristically hot English day and bubbling with excitement. Not only was I going to see Mumford & Sons, my favourite band of all time, I was attending one of the Gentlemen of the Road (GOTR) stopovers which I had been dreaming about for nearly ten years. Created by Mumford & Sons, GOTR began several years back as a way to bring their own “community of music lovers together with those communities [Mumford & Sons] encounter” (GOTR Website, 2019).

A classic stopover consists of Mumford & Sons bringing a festival to a town that may be smaller and less likely to have big musical names. The band collaborates with the business owners and integrates the local community into the festival itself while also bringing some of their own favourite artists and musicians. Mumford and Sons will be taking GOTR to Ireland in a few months, and this year GOTR collaborated with All Points East to create a line up and communal music experience that would blow everyone’s socks off.

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The festival opened with Dizzy, a Canadian band, whose indie pop anthems are other-worldly and often make the listener feel like they’re floating through space. This four-piece group is part of Communion, a promotional company and record label established in 2006, by Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons) and Kevin Jones (Bear’s Den), which began as a monthly live music night at the Notting Hill Arts Club. Dizzy has joined the likes of Ben Howard, Bear’s Den, Nick Mulvey, and Gotye, and their live show proved that they were more than up for the challenge. Although Dizzy may not have had a huge crowd, the group was enthusiastic and grateful for the folks who showed up. Their lead singer, Katie, was beaming from ear to ear for the entire set and the four of them were clearly having a blast even though, as the drummer stated, “Oh, it’s hot London.”

While Dizzy was playing their hearts out, I caught sight of Mumford & Sons’ pianist, Ben Lovett, watching the performance. I took a deep breath and made a bee-line for him, knowing that this was a chance I couldn’t miss, and I am so glad I did! Ben is such a lovely guy and it was great to see him out supporting his fellow musicians. The two of us chatted a bit about Dizzy and the lads’ upcoming tour before snapping a photo and having a quick hug. I don’t get star struck too often, but I was shaking after that interaction; it’s a very surreal feeling to meet famous people in person.

After Dizzy finished, I ventured off toward the many food trucks that lined the edge of the park. Earlier I had caught sight of a Vietnamese noodle shack and located it next to one of the tinier stages. I ordered a pulled pork noodle bowl that came with rice noodles, pickled carrots, bean sprouts, pulled pork and crispy pork rinds! I inhaled the entire thing (as I was starving) and immediately regretted it as the hidden jalapeños and massive amounts of sriracha I had dumped on made my nose run and my eyes leak. After gulping down some water I found my way to the main stage and sat in the shade while listening to the beautiful voice of Gretta Ray, a singer-songwriter from Australia, and performing one of my favourite activities – people watching.

Smiles and laughter were overflowing all around me, and even though I came to the festival alone, I didn’t experience one moment of loneliness. Of course, a lot of the credit must go to the All Points East (APE) team who have worked tirelessly to create such a fun and relaxed festival for locals and tourists alike. Spanning over ten days, APE offers two weekends of music with some of the world’s most exciting artists as well as four days of free entry and community activities known as “In the Neighbourhood”. The collaboration between APE and GOTR generated an even larger community that shared the same goal: designing a festival that was all about connecting through music – no matter what our differences may be.

I caught up with Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons after the festival and asked about the experience of working with APE. He responded, “We were very grateful that they were up for collaborating as purely as they were. They really gave us complete rein over the line up, which was cool, and obviously onsite branding. To be able to transform the space into a Gentlemen of the Road stopover was amazing.” The entire space had been changed into a GOTR festival with the lads’ signature wings logo and gentlemen silhouettes posted on flags throughout the park.

Ben was also struck by how lucky he and the rest of the band have been with the beautiful weather they’ve experienced playing at outside venues in the UK such as Olympic Park and Hyde Park. “We were just blown away weather wise, because that was our fourth big outdoor show in London, and every time it’s been the best weather of the year! And that just puts everyone in a good mood, especially in the UK because [no one] knows what to do with themselves. So, to have the sun beating down and to go out on stage during the sunset and to have that moment was great. It literally could not have gone better from our point of view; we were very happy.” The surprisingly good weather brought forth laughter and huge grins from the festival attendees, and the feeling of community amongst these happy strangers was almost tangible.

After Gretta Ray finished her set, I strolled over to the rail in front of the main stage and found several people who were representing Agora, a Facebook community created by Mumford & Sons for their fans. This group consists of over 10,000 people and is full of pure love and support, and at every Mumford concert you will see people with shirts saying “Agora is Awesome” or signs with a similar phrase printed on them. It was such a pleasure to meet these individuals in person, as I had only interacted with some of them through the magic of the internet. Shortly after I introduced myself to the group, the immensely talented, not to mention gorgeous, Tamino, took the stage and I paused my conversation to watch his performance.

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Hailing from Belgium, Tamino’s hypnotizing voice and use of traditional Egyptian and Lebanese vocals are hauntingly beautiful. Thanks to Communion, I discovered Tamino several months ago and fell in love with his unique yet somehow familiar sound. The artist was joined on stage by a keyboardist and a drummer, although he played a few songs solo throughout his set. It seemed to me that Tamino is a shy bloke, but the few smiles and words he shared with the audience were breath taking and genuine. I was only sorry that he didn’t play longer, as I could have listened to him all day.

After Tamino finished his set I meandered towards the food trucks with two fellow Agorians. Thanks to a mutual love of Mumford & Sons, I connected with these lovely people… and isn’t that what music is all about? While the two of them grabbed rice bowls full of veggies and other delicious bits, I treated myself to a pint of Lagunitas IPA, a brewery that’s not too far from my hometown in the States. The three of us found our way back to the main stage to catch the last half of Jade Bird’s set.

The park was beginning to fill up at this point, and we had to push our way through the crowd in order to reach the rest of our Agora group. I was not particularly familiar with Jade Bird, as I only began listening to her after I bought my tickets for the festival, but, after seeing her live, I have officially become a fan. This 21-year-old is a powerhouse performer and her early introduction into music has clearly given her an edge as she has been touring professionally for the past three years. I was completely blown away by her passion and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her!

I stuck around the main stage when Jade Bird had finished, excitedly awaiting the arrival of The Vaccines. I had seen these lads at the Brighton Dome earlier this year and was so grateful for the chance to experience their live performance for the second time. I was also prepared for the mosh pit that would inevitably knock me off my feet and decided to embrace it.

I have never been a huge fan of rowdy crowds because I felt like it took away from the experience of listening to the music, but this time I wanted to experience a Vaccines concert in its full craziness, and I was not disappointed. The lads put on one of hell of a show and the audience was overly enthusiastic. Songs like “I Always Knew” and “If You Wanna” brought the moshing to a high level, and the laughs and constant “sorries” if someone was pushed forward into another became part of the music.

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At the beginning of the festival I had planned to see the acts that were playing at the other stages, as there were four in-total, later in the day. However, by the time The Vaccines were finished I knew that moving to the other stage would mean sacrificing the spot I had secured just feet from the railing. Although it broke my heart to miss Leon Bridges’s performance, my priorities were to be close to Mumford & Sons when they closed out the festival. I was not going to be that asshole who pushes their way to the front and takes away space from the people who have been there all day. Dizzee Rascal took to the stage after The Vaccines, and I was pushed back from my prime spot by several, obviously drunk people who had shoved their way towards the railing.

Although Dizzee isn’t really my type of music, he is an incredible performer. The crowd absolutely loved him! Dizzee is considered to be one of the pioneers of grime music, and I heard several people commenting on how interesting a combination it was to have Dizzee’s performance followed by Mumford & Sons. This is why it’s great to have a festival curated by a band you adore, because you get to learn more about their own musical tastes, and I love that their genre choices are as eclectic as my own. It’s also a way to make the community of festival goers even stronger and more diverse!

Dizzee left the stage and there was the usual shuffling in the crowd as people left to use the toilets, grab food or head home. At this point I knew that I was cemented in my spot until the festival ended, which meant I was stuck with the group of obnoxiously loud drunks that were singing/screaming every five minutes. I am all for enjoying yourself at a festival, and that looks different for every person, but it is possible to have fun at a festival and not be the jerk that ruins the show for everyone else. I am truly grateful that this was not my first-time seeing Mumford & Sons because these folks were thoroughly distracting, and I found myself struggling to fully enjoy the concert.

I don’t want this to turn into a lecture of how drunk people are the worst…but honestly, that’s how I felt at the moment, and I could tell the people near me felt similarly. I hate being that person who tells other people to be quiet but ended up doing it several times during the show. All I will say is by all means have fun at concerts while keeping in mind that you are not the only person in that audience, so be respectful. Find a buddy who can keep you in check if you’re struggling to do it yourself.

With all that said, Mumford & Sons put on an amazing performance and had the audience screaming, dancing, and clapping throughout the rest of the night. They were clearly overflowing with gratitude to be playing in their hometown to such an enthusiastic crowd. The lads brought down the house with their classic tunes like “Little Lion Man”, “The Cave” and “I Will Wait”; and brought in some of their B-sides with a mashup of “White Blank Page” and “Forever” which had the bonus of the talented Gretta Ray. The Staves joined the performance to play their newest single “Beloved”, a song about Marcus Mumford’s grandmother who had recently passed, which was heartbreakingly beautiful.

Mumford & Sons brought a full range of emotions to the audience and wrapped it all up with a Beatles cover. This band is all about community and supporting their fellow musicians, and they were joined by several artists who had performed earlier that day: The Vaccines, Dermot Kennedy, The Staves, Kevin Garrett, Jade Bird and Gretta Ray to name a few. This mash of talented artists played “With a Little Help from My Friends” with Marcus doing the signature Joe Cocker scream halfway through, which just the memory of continues to give me goose bumps.

The show was out of this world, and I left with confetti in my hair and a huge grin on my face. Although getting home was another adventure unto itself and I didn’t fall asleep until 4am, it was totally worth it. And honestly, it’s thanks to the music community that Mumford brought together that I even made it home! I was trying to get to Victoria station to catch the last train to Brighton and found myself stranded outside the tube station that had just shut down owing to the large crowd of people all with the same goal of getting home.

I ended up asking three lovely strangers, who were leaving the festival, if I could share their Uber, to which they said yes! We spent the ride chatting about the show and I am still blown away by how kind they were to this random American who approached them. It’s thanks to the communities created by Mumford & Sons, GOTR and APE that I went to a festival alone, met fantastic people and was then helped in my hour of need. To me this was more than just good music on a nice day, it was a life changing experience that I’ll never forget.

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The Verse Staff

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