Forwards Bristol 2022: Jamie XX sends crowd crazy, Khruangbin a massive highlight and spoken word from Lemn Sissay

‘Big shout-out to the lady dressed as a mushroom’

So here we are. The first Forwards Festival on Clifton Downs. Now here’s a festival I’d been looking forward to all summer and it was surprisingly the first festival I’d been to on the Downs despite living in Bristol for 20 years.

The line-up for Saturday was full of intrigue for me and I knew it was going to be a day of discovering new music and seeing some acts for the first time - I had a short list on bands I wanted to see but was more than happy to deviate and see what came up.

A festival in your home city is always special as I got to share it with friends and family. The set-up was great on the Downs with two main stages offering alternate start times to begin with so you could drift from stage to stage and catch more music with less clashes - which is always a relief.

The first act on Stage Two was the Mighty Dub Generators -  new to me but a great opening act to get those who arrived early swaying to a bit of reggae to ease us in nicely. 

Next for me was Ishmael Ensemble & Friends and the band I’ve been looking forward to seeing after hearing them on Radio 6 Music. I also didn’t realise were are from Bristol so they had been looking forward to their  ‘homecoming gig’ too!

The first thing that struck me was the lead singer Holly’s Bjork-esque vocals. It stood out so much more live and was pretty striking as it drifted around the Downs pulling in the crowds too.


Matthew Barnes with friend Stu at Forwards Festival in Bristol

With their perfect mix of jazz and chilled psychedelia they were everything I expected and more as they managed to both soothe and also rock out too which is quite a gift to have.

Next I took the short two-minute trip to the Information Stage to see Lemn Sissay’s spoken word set  “My Name is Why” taken from his best book of the same name. I first heard him being interviewed recently and was pleased to see his name pop up on the lineup!

The words I’d use to some up his set was intense, powerful and very thought provoking as he described his experiences as a child being abandoned and then raised in a care system that didn’t offer him much care. His delivery is so captivating and strong even his voice was going when talking. I will now definitely be getting his book as i want to learn more.

After such an intense set I then ran across to watch Shygirl. It seemed that in the time I was away the festival had exploded with sound and colour! Shygirl was the epitome of this.

I was unaware of her before this set. It is a good job the rest of Bristol knew all about her with seemingly everyone going to watch her. She was so energetic it was really infectious. And this was the first time I saw people really letting go and properly going for it.


This continued for Khruangbin. One of the acts I was most looking forward to. I managed to find what seemed like their biggest fans in the crowd too! They were getting involved and absolutely loving it, as was I.

Shygirl light up the stage at Forwards Festival (Credit: Giulia Spadafora)

I was really curious how a Khruangbin live show would sound and look. They were actually way more funky and danceable than I thought they would. Also blending in some pop classics from Snoop Dogg and Mariah Carey to keep things moving along nicely. 

Time (you and I)  was a massive highlight for me, it’s a perfect poppy festival happy tune.

Then it was time for Little Simz. WOW! I was left stunned at how amazing she is. It seemed like she hardly breathed during her set. Her vocal performance was immaculate. I was left in awe of her, thinking I’ve seen something very special.

Forwards Festival was a home-coming gig for Ishmael Ensemble and Friends (Credit: Giulia Spadafora)


It was a year to the day that she released  the Mercury prize nominated ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’. I would urge anyone to catch her live if they can.

Headlining and closing the night’s action was Jamie XX and the crowd were ready!! Literally everyone was dancing. Big shout out to the lady dressed as a mushroom in front of me! It was hard to dance with her energy and enthusiasm throughout the set.

When ‘Loud Places’ dropped I dropped my drink and was swept away by Jamie XX’s biggest fan also! I seem to always somehow find the people who are loving it the most.

What an evening! Loved seeing such vibrant and lively Bristol crowd! Now we go again!

Watch out for Matthew’s review of the second day of Forwards Festival tomorrow at