Despite being a Brighton resident (or near enough) for more than 15 years, I’d never made it up to the Racecourse at the top of Elm Grove. Not for the racing, the various car boot sales, events like wedding or (vinyl) record fairs, nor even for the concerts!
Having missed the gig featuring Groove Armada, Stereo MCs and Norman Jay gig at Brighton Racecourse last September as we were away camping in the van, I was thrilled when Orbital were scheduled to play on my birthday weekend – especially as I traditionally spend my birthday week at the Glastonbury festival and 2018 was a fallow year for the farm.
My ME and Fibromyalgia-struck legs being completely out of action (for driving too, unusually), my husband drew the short straw and drove us all up the hill to the Racecourse with my mobility scooter in the boot and my three orange-y Manic Panic hairdye shades still soaking in! Parking was easy on the graveled lawn area in front of the racecourse, as was trekking across it on my scooter – but then it had been a very dry month and the ground was hard, so in that respect we were lucky.
We were met at the gate by sniffer dogs (presumably searching for bombs and drugs, rather than evidence of canine buddies peeing on my scooter tyres!). One tall, dreadlocked, heavily tattooed dog handler stood out for being possibly the most impressively undercover security guard we’d ever seen, prompting a passerby to mock-grumble that in crossing over to the legal side of the law the guard had betrayed his brethren on the alternative scene: ‘and anyway, it just [wasn’t] fair to be tricked like that’. After all, it’s not something you see every day!
Once in the venue we were met by burger vans, bars and a metal walkway across the racetrack itself, leading to the circular green area in the middle of the racecourse. There were plenty of portaloos to the left, and to the right more bars and the stage. Being on the mobility scooter and not having applied for a proper disabled access ticket for the gig (doh!), we didn’t try to get right into the crowd. And in any case progression was slow as we were stopped every couple of minutes because of bumping into friends: it seemed as though the whole of Brighton was up on the hill that night!
Thankfully, despite the substantial breeze, even at the edge of the crowd we could hear the music perfectly, and although we arrived late so missed local guys Gentleman’s Dub Club and DJ Steve Mac followed by System 7 (now there’s a blast from the past!), I really enjoyed the supporting DJ set from Faithless member Sister Bliss who played classic house tracks, catering to the older crowd perfectly (of course their own release Insomnia was particularly well received): I had a brilliant boogie in my seat the whole way through. Bring on the cheese, I say – and then some! Such brilliant, unpretentious fun.
We could see the VIP area of the gig back across the metal tracks in the usual racecourse stalls, but it being a fine night we couldn’t see any advantage to having access to the area – unless it was for seating and in the event of rain. Which, lets face it, would have had a huge impact on the night as the open, hilly location left the venue exposed to the elements.
By the time Orbital hit the stage the sun had gone down and the basket at the front of my mobility scooter had become a bin for my friends’ empty paper pint cups. The Hartnoll brothers played a brilliant set; and just as we’d all seen them many times before yet still enjoyed every moment, Orbital themselves clearly weren’t bored of their own back catalogue. Whoops all round!
Being for the most part in their forties or fifties like the Hartnolls themselves, the audience gave the band a rapturous reception upon hearing Orbital tracks from the early ‘90s. Indeed, there were a great many happy faces in the crowd, and even the occasional perplexed teenager dragged along by an enthusiastic parent stopped scowling long enough to hit the dancefloor.
Gig highlights included the joyful absence of mobile phones being held in the air distracting us all from the moment and obstructing the view (the perks of going clubbing with oldies like us), and Orbital’s encore. This was a triumphant live mix of four tunes starting with Chime (obvs) and ending with Doctor? – a classic track for all Doctor Who fans (AKA ‘Whovians’) out there. Needless to say it all went down a storm.
Having never been to Brighton Racecourse before – let alone for a gig – I had nothing to compare it to other than the other horse racecourses I’d visited (Cheltenham, Kempton Park and my favourite, the low-key Plumpton Racecourse in East Sussex). So, I couldn’t tell you what the atmosphere would’ve been like had it been raining (though it wasn’t warm due to the wind, and that didn’t seem to matter much!), or how well my scooter would’ve worked if it had been muddy up there. Suffice to say on a hot and sunny day at the end of June of this year, everyone left the venue with a smile on their face.
The free shuttle bus from the Racecourse to Brighton station was waiting as we left the venue, and the car park emptied easily and quickly. Having seen Orbital wow the crowd multiple times over the last twenty-odd years, Friday night up on the hill proved no exception. In fact, it was such a great gig that even my sober husband was buzzing on the way home behind the wheel – success!