Stormzy at All Points East
“To God be the glory… to God be the glory. Ten times.” Thus was the pronouncement Stormzy delivered under a torrential mid-summer downpour, that he appeared to conjure by choosing to include Rainfall on his setlist. He was headlining – and offering closing prayers – for This Is What We Mean, a full day’s line-up and collaborative project curated for All Points East, and named after last year’s UK number-one record. Stormzy had evidently worked to expand the festival beyond the styles in which he himself is comfortable. Artists, including WSTRN and Ms Banks, huge names in their own genres, were not invited as support acts in the usual sense, but instead contributed towards an evening’s performance centred firmly in the strength of the collective over the individual. Expansive, focused and deeply spiritual, Stormzy’s many guises took stage in choral harmony.
He opened his set with the first couple of tracks from his latest album, Fire + Water and This Is What I Mean, reintroducing himself as a potent lyricist and introducing the choir of vocal performers who were about to amplify the energy of the evening beyond what any one artist could manage on their own. It’s not what he’s known for – though perhaps soon will be – but Stormzy’s own singing voice made complete sense alongside his vocalists, especially when harmonising with Debbie, a younger soul artist with an angelic voice deserving her own dedicated magazine column, on the track she co-wrote, Firebabe. Their resonant presence together, on this track and on Please, quietened the crowd with its stillness.
Between songs, Stormzy spoke with gratitude, hand on his heart, “You lot have changed my life. You lot have changed my family’s lives,” then switched up the vibe mid-set to remind us that before his multiple talents were known, before his multiple businesses were founded, his roots were in grime. Delivering Shut Up, Wiley Flow, Vossi Bop and the feature he lent to fellow world-class talent Dave on Clash, Stormzy’s voice could barely be heard over the crowd. Everybody was singing together – that was the whole point.
As he clarifies on My Presidents are Black, another standout from the recent album: “If you make a point, I’ll reinforce it / If you take a stand, then we endorse it.” All Points East is a music festival, it’s a commercial enterprise – the idea is to make a profit, yes, but Stormzy’s takeover offers an example of how we might welcome some warmth, some sincerity, or even some concrete transformative action into all of that – if we dare – at least until the time comes when we can stop paying attention to the numbers.
Photos: Khali Ackford (Stormzy)/Oksana Dotsenko (support acts)
Watch the video for the single Firebabe here: