Festival Review: Tess Fest 2019

Words by Tristan Phipps. Images by Jade Vowels (@jadekmedia).

On Sunday 18th August, independent bar 31K played host to the second edition of Tess Fest – the creation of Nottingham resident Tess Janikova. 31K may be famed for its sumptuous selection of beers and cocktails, but on this Sunday afternoon it served a tasty line-up of local singers and musicians, all well-known on Nottingham’s ever expanding and improving open mic scene.

Starting off proceedings, the young Shaman Erginer took to the compact stage to woo the audience with haunting renditions of In The Air Tonight and Rag’n’Bone Man’s Tell ‘em Like It Is, both songs displaying Shaman’s creative talents perfectly. Whilst the latter is a light-hearted bluesy track, the young artist shaped it into his own sinister, cold creation with ease and swagger to start the day of in captivating fashion. Likewise, the former song was far from the anthem Phil Collins intended, instead morphed into a cool and controlled, snarling rendition featuring an original rap from the young singer-songwriter. Finally, a grabbing medley of the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower was performed, with friend Danny along for the ride in what felt like an impromptu collaboration. Speaking to Shaman after his set, he was open about this lack of planning: “I never plan my sets” he laughed – something Danny wished wasn’t the case, who admitted that he had no intention of performing that day.

“[Creating the festival] was a way of accepting and maybe even coping with my own mental health and my own history. This felt like the best way.” Tess Janikova

With Shaman, there is a sense of recklessness amongst the raw talent. His diverse tastes (from Ezra Collective to Hendrix) is strongly reflected in his creative output. But his friends were quick to say it – he does need to plan. If he planned his sets more, he’d be unstoppable; this was the take-home message from friend and collaborator Danny. Shaman himself was happy to tell us his perspective on his sets, and the birth of his Stones/Hendrix medley. “It started at open mics. I’d only have a verse, chorus, verse, which was pretty short. So, I’d play it, but if I didn’t have Danny with me to rap another verse, I’d be stuck! I’d be stressing out thinking ‘What else is in that same key?’ and think: All Along The Watchtower”. Organic – yes, chaotic – also yes. But with this young lad, the talent is there, and I look forward to seeing his development over the next few months.

Following Shaman, 31K was treated to a smattering of artists covering audience favourites. Despite playing a comparatively short set, David Langley made the most of his time with rousing covers of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and Ain’t Nobody – both tightly delivered with the fire and courage one would expect from only the most natural of entertainers. Also there to keep the mood high was the bubbly Adam Zareba, who did a fine job of making sure the audience had working vocal chords by carrying on the sing-along party, with renditions of tracks by The Killers, Amy Winehouse, Smash Mouth, and the theme from Friends all creating an aura in the room full of joy and companionship – perfect for an event such as Tess Fest.

'The day oozed feelings of warmth and friendship, and the spirit of Hockley was perfectly captured with the live talent on offer.'

Perhaps the most striking performance of the day came from Jaque Seviour, known for his role fronting Nottingham four-piece Kaleidø. Unlike many of his predecessors, Jaque began with his own music – music that certainly packed a punch. Joining him on opening track Silent Warrior was fellow Kaleidø member Davide, with his Cajon, and Shaman, on lead guitar. While Davide’s skill on the Cajon would have threatened to drown out softer singers, Jaque stood tall and delivered a bold, mature performance. Shaman appeared immersed in his own playing, and once again took the opportunity to show off his skill on the instrument. Although a young man with a courageous persona, tracks such as Submarine demonstrated his accomplished songwriting ability brilliantly. To close his set, Jaque joyfully belted out Bill Withers favourite Lovely Day, much to the delight of the room. His cheerful optimism made for a fantastic show whilst enabling him to command the room with ease. His talent was there for the world to see and he was a joy to watch. If anything, his light-hearted disposition was perfect for the upbeat feeling that Tess Fest had created up to this point, and Tess herself was delighted with the atmosphere.

Although having an understandably busy day, I was able to chat to Tess for a few moments about the past, present, and future of Tess Fest. Although only in its second year, Tess Fest has doubled in size in both the number of sets and the number of punters. However, things were not as rosy as they seemed, as Tess explained: “Last year we raised about £450, which was incredible for us given just over 30 people turned up to see three sets, but the money got stolen. It really pushed me to make this one bigger.” In what could only have been a heart-breaking moment, I have the upmost admiration for Tess for making this year’s Tess Fest into the success that it was.

'Close your eyes and imagine you're running a music festival...' Organiser Tess Janikova at the festival

The charities supported this year were Safeline, a support charity for rape and sexual assault victims, and Mind, the mental health organisation. Both charities were clearly close to Tess’ heart, and I felt that the process of creating a festival to raise money for these charities could have been quite cathartic for her. “It was a way of accepting and maybe even coping with my own mental health and my own history. This felt like the best way.” With the disappointment the year before and the underlying conflict with mental health, Tess Fest still felt like a celebration. Tess deserves all the credit she receives for creating such a fun, friendly, small yet solid festival.

'If [Good Hustles] keep delivering live shows as dynamic and mature as they did at Tess Fest 2019, then there will be huge things on the horizon for its members.'

Headlining the event were Nottingham four-piece Good Hustles. Although playing in one of Hockley’s more intimate performance spaces, the band treated it as if they were closing a European tour at Rock City. Their crusading sound brought everyone to the floor, and within seconds of opening their set it was clear to see why these four lads have the glimmering reputation of being one of Nottingham’s hottest prospects. Having spoken to the band prior to their set, I was expecting a varied display fuelled by their diverse inspirations. However, as a result of their natural song writing process, where every member has an equal say in what the band plays, these inspirations were blended effortlessly.

Know It All not only displayed an uplifting chorus and well written, cohesive, verses, but was the perfect way to show off their organic approach to songwriting. “We often start with stuff we’ve already written, and twenty minutes or an hour later we’ll have an entire song!”, singer Morton Piercewright professed. “We have a WhatsApp group, and we’ll all send in snippets of songs, and then maybe Will [guitarist Will Bewley] might reply and add something, and then Peters [drummer Will Peters] will say, ‘It’ll be sick if there were drums over here’, and that’s how it works! It’s like we build with Lego blocks!”.

They make songwriting sound easy – a reflection of how close they are to one another. Final track Make a Move payed homage to mental health and instigated a shout-out to their good friend Tess for raising money for mental health charity Mind. Good Hustles is a family unit, and this is visible from the moment you witness them together. Their passion and talents are enhanced by their good intent; even if they were playing arenas, I feel they would still be there to play for friends like Tess in one way or another. No other band would have ended the day in the same way, and with singing, dancing and confetti cannons, the band’s camaraderie had infected the audience through and through. Their stage presence and an accomplished song writing ability mirrors those of bands years ahead of them. If they keep delivering live shows as dynamic and mature as they did at Tess Fest 2019, then there will be huge things on the horizon for its members.

All in all, it was a fantastic day of live music, celebration and camaraderie, with the perfect line-up and venue for such an event. Naturally, there’s plans to expand into a multi venue festival in years to come, with Tess Fest set to spread its roots from 31K deeper into Hockley. The day oozed feelings of warmth and friendship, and the spirit of Hockley was perfectly captured with the live talent on offer. Personally, I look forward to next year’s Tess Fest, and so should you.