Tuesday, 9 July 2013

British Summer Time Festival

In a shocking turn of events, Britain has finally experienced a summer worthy of the season. With Glastonbury distinctly not muddy and with the temperature climbing, Hyde Park has been transformed into an inner city festival arena with plenty of top name acts playing, gourmet food stands, loads of bars (though paradoxically never enough) and even some fairground rides. As I write this, the arena is still open for business until the weekend and there's plenty still to come from the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Lionel Richie and Jennifer Lopez.

Of course, as all of this musical gala is right on my doorstep, I need very little excuse to go out and check it all out, however in another shock turn, I have actually taken a slightly different route to getting in and experiencing this festival. Yes, folks: I've actually become a site volunteer to escort people around, give directions and generally be a go-to guy. After all the Olympic fever last year that I missed out on (for better or worse), I actually enjoyed the chance to see a festival from a slightly different angle. I still have another shift on Sunday to catch Lopez & Lionel, but I thought I would cover what's been going on in the park over the long, hot weekend.

Day One: Friday 5th July (Bush, The Kaiser Chiefs, Bon Jovi)
The first day on site and the anticipation from both staff and punters was pretty high. Due to having to clear the Bon Jovi fan club from blocking one of the entrances, the site opened 45 minutes later than billed and a crush where I was working at the south entrance (for VIPs and expensive ticket holders) didn't help things to get off as smoothly as expected. However, thanks to quick thinking and reactive approach, further delays were avoided as best we could. 

I had a chance to check out the Kaiser Chiefs on the main stage, though the hot weather had caught everyone by surprise and mid way through the set it was clear that the band were struggling in the heat. Either that, or they were not as good live as they have been hyped up to be, as I didn't find them as great as people have said. From what I heard, their performance seemed to be a carbon copy of radio performances, which is a real shame given that they had the opportunity to show off a bit in a live setting. Apparently Bush, a band formed in the 80s, were much better received and perhaps benefited from a bit of experience of playing outdoor summer gigs - I was still busy working throughout the afternoon to check them out.

Unfortunately, the Kaiser Chiefs seemed to have set the tone for the evening and once Bon Jovi had started up, it was clear that their set was missing something too. In this case, it was the lack of one of the band members following a backstage tiff between lead guitarist and Bon Jovi. Their performance was okay, pulling out all the usual singles and hits, but just seemed a bit deflated compared to when I had seen him in 2012 at the O2 Arena. As I was suffering after the long first day, I didn't get to see much more than about 30 minutes of the set, but fortunately the next day would be much more up my street.

Day Two: Saturday 6th July (Temper Trap, The Vaccines, The Rolling Stones)

Whilst the Bon Jovi fan club had seen to it that there was a large presence in the park on day one, the arrival of the Rolling Stones in town was going to draw a huge crowd. Being placed at the front gate did have its disadvantages (no shade, no water supply, 30+ degrees heat, boring, nothing to see), but you did get a great idea of the sort of crowd that was arriving; a mix of young and old fans together with plenty of European tourists. In total, this was 63,500 people descending on Hyde Park and was a complete sell out, including all the expensive tier 1 and hospitality seating. After 44 years and one day, the Rolling Stones were finally back at Hyde Park. 

Temper Trap were pretty good and work well as a live band; hard bluesy rock and plenty of opportunities to improvise and dance around the stage. It's a shame that The Vaccines weren't able to follow up in the same vibe and possibly were suffering in the heat in the same way as the Kaisers. For whatever reason, The Vaccines just didn't sound any different to any other indie rock band and in retrospect was a strange choice on the lineup - a bit light and weedy - whereas the nearby Bandstand stage had a great Belgian three piece band Trigger Finger who were more than capable of bringing the rock and RATM-style overdriven guitars to the fore. 

It's tough to say anything more than what has already been said about the Rolling Stones, only that they are as good if not better than they were the last time around in Hyde Park. Keeping the same set list as the recent Glastonbury concert and with plenty of flair, dancing and excellent guitar playing, the Stones delivered a spine-tingly great collection of hits, most of which had everyone singing along as well. In particular, renditions of Paint It Black (that opening guitar riff), Sympathy For The Devil, Jumping Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Woman were highlights for me and of course, the obligatory Can't Always Get What You Want (complete with choir) and Satisfaction as curtain calls did not fail to disappoint. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket for this coming Saturday's show and try and see these guys live.

Day Three: Sunday 7th July (Paul Young, The Saturdays, JLS)

Before I go any further, I have to declare two things. The first is that after three days in the park, standing up in the hot sun for hours at a time, I had to drop out of the evening early and so missed the performance by JLS. Considering that they have already split and they are only finishing up the tour by contractual obligation, it's a shame to think that I will probably never see them live. Hang on a minute...

The second thing to declare is that I am a massive Paul Young fan, thanks to being played copious amounts of No Parlez on cassette whilst being driven around in the back of my mum's car as a kid. Really, thanks Mum - the combination of pop sounds, electronic beats and soulful white singer is a winning combination and there's plenty to like.

Live, Paul Young is a slightly different prospect. His band is tight and very capable: the keyboard player sits between three Nord keyboards for all the different synth and organ sounds, the lead guitarist is a devil for complex solos, whilst the bassist can do all the licks and bass slaps that we expect of him. Even the female drummer triples as extra percussion and backing vocals, which helps as Paul himself has aged and his vocal range has changed considerably. He's certainly looking 20 years older, but he's still able to get people moving.

Even better, I was able to get to work in the pit for the day. This is clearly my favourite place to work in a festival as there is plenty of crowd interaction, you get to see everything going on throughout the day and as it was hot, there was plenty of water going around for everyone 

Formerly synth-pop tracks were rendered in a slightly more rocky style, venturing to Oklahoma country and western for his cover of Love For The Common People, but are no less enjoyable. Kicking off with the Depeche Mode cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart, the short 45 minute set went through most of the big singles, with funky versions of Come Back And Stay and I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down and a repeat of his Nelson Mandela tribute from Live Aid in particular being great to watch. Equally, I think both he and the crowd enjoyed the fact that one of the volunteers knew all the words and was interacting with everyone from the pit. 

Ending on Every Time You Go Away, the extending ending was interrupted by the announcement that Andy Murray had won Wimbledon and I have a great memory of being at the front of the crowd singing along to the end of the track in happy bliss at the news. It's unfortunate that his slot was only 45 minutes, as I am sure he could have gone on for a lot longer, but he is well worth checking out for a future gig.

As for the Saturdays, they made the pretense of singing live and with a band that played live, but if the sound coming out of the speakers was anything to go by, it was just heavily compressed backing tracks and backing vocals whilst they danced on stage. Like so many other manufactured pop bands they are very much all style and no substance and while I did know this, I hadn't expected just how right I was. Sadly, like JLS, they attract a rabid legion of young girls with plenty of disposable income (read: Mummy and Daddy's money) so integrity is perhaps a bit of a foreign word for them.

So after a busy weekend, I have the following to conclude: festivals are difficult to organise properly and they are much better in the bright sunshine - as long as there is plenty of water close by. What I had the chance to watch was pretty good, if not always to my tastes, and I feel privileged to have seen Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones and Paul Young all in one weekend and for free. Roll on the weekend!