Review: BST Hyde Park
THIS year’s Hyde Park British Summer Time (BST) festival headliners formed – for the main part – a feast for the sentimental. Whether it be weepy Carole King fans, rekindled romances to Stevie Wonder, 30-somethings looking back at Massive Attack’s simmering bass-heavy uni days influence, or grown women recalling teenage crushes on what’s left of Take That, BST triggered all the emotions.
But in a time of political turmoil and civil unrest, a more serious tone underscored many performance – inevitable, given the motivations of many of the songwriters on the bill. From Patti Smith dedicating Pissing in a River to Julian Assange and being generally right on to Massive Attack’s bitter reflection on the state of things today, broadcasting a deluge of current propaganda, highlighting the plight of refugees and reminding us that “we are in this together”, to Stevie Wonder, with the recent shootings in America close to mind, reminding the crowd why black lives matter – because “we are the original people of the world” and everyone has some black in them – there was a heightened consciousness often lacking in a corporate city festival.
Exactly one week after the Brexit result, and the day after Gove turned Fredo to Johnson’s Michael Corleone (giving him too much credit here), the Massive Attack graphics wizards had been busy, a binary red and black digital background consuming the stunning Great Oak Stage with a distinctly 90s effect, flashing political slogans, bang up-to-date news, headlines, political party logos and images of immigrants appearing bleakly behind the Bristol massive.
Opening with Eurochild, live for the first time in 20 years, frontman 3D (Robert Del Naja) wryly observed: “We didn’t expect to be singing this 20 years later as a requiem.”
Urging the crowd not to let “bigots and racists” back into this situation, he added: “As sons of immigrants, we are both very disappointed with the situation.”
Horace Andy, appearing in a wheelchair for Angel before being dispatched back to hospital, was a vital ingredient, if only for one song, while the rare appearance of Tricky for Take It There was short and sweet.
Young Fathers appeared for a short stint mid-set and, while talented and worth attention, they broke the momentum of the headliners’ performance and, with it, the intensity that had begun to build. As one fan remarked later: “Hopefully the sun’ll go down soon so we can feel some atmosphere.”
Massive Attack concluded with favourite Safe From Harm and a single encore – 1991 hit Unfinished Sympathy, with orchestral accompaniment. The only thing missing, likely due to noise controls, was the all-consuming bass we have come to expect. A meaningful, intense, accomplished, performance.
Earlier Patti Smith exploded onstage with lungs permeated across Hyde Park, her solo vocals laden with rage and power as she interspersed her songs with rabble-rousing cries. The rock/poet goddess’s Dancing Barefoot, Because the Night and a reprise of her cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry were standout tracks.
The first Saturday was a more youthful affair, Blood Orange may have emerged from edgier roots (Test Icicles), but this set was all about smooth soul, Michael Jackson pirouettes, arms outstretched, more mid-80s Lionel Richie than anything 2016. His current R’n’B tunes could well have scored the more romantic moments in an Eddie Murphy movie 30 years ago.
Elsewhere, Tiggs da Author was stirring up a crowd with cheeky tales of forgetting his wallet on a date, smiley pre-shambles Finlay Quaye sunshine vibes and current lyrics. The young musician’s single Run has already been adopted by ITV for the Rugby World Cup trailer theme.
Back at the main stage Jamie XX hosted a mid-afternoon DJ set, the sun blazing one minute, the rain and hail pouring down the next until all the girls in their paper-thin white dresses became extremely revealing, and the men, T-shirts pasted to them, gave up hope of avoiding the deluge, throwing their arms in the air and abandoning themselves to the elements and a soggy, muddy rave.
There was an excited buzz as fans crammed before the stage for Kendrick Lamar – undoubtedly the rockstar of hip-hop, confirmed by what little we saw of him. Then came Florence and the Machine, who has undergone a transformation from when we first saw her singing violent folk songs in a white nightie, to pop sensation to festival dance queen to her current Kate Bush/Fleetwood Mac stage, her interpretive dance, in stunning floaty dresses reminiscent of Ms Bush. The cultish vibe – the barefoot dance carrying a healing theme, Flo’s messages of love, almost laying hands on her followers and the adulation in her fans eyes – was hypnotic. Flo absolutely knows how to turn a crowd (which hilariously collectively struggled to miss all her notes), whip them up and generally stir up a festival vibe from thin air, running through her back catalogue, leaping around the stage and urging messages of love at every opportunity – the most euphoric show of the week.
Carole King, at 74, skipping across the stage in killer heels, was a marvel on Sunday, a magician on the piano, stirring up so much sentimentality that there were floods of tears all around. When daughter Louise Goffin appeared for Will You Love Me Tomorrow, co-penned by King and Gerry Goffin, even Carole’s own guitarist dissolved, transfixed by black and white photos of the duo in times gone by. By the end even King was crying – a blub-fest of gigantic proportions as she rattled through 1971 album Tapestry in full, played a medley of her other many classics and later a whole selection of songs she and Goffin had written before she became famous in her own right. Her mention of her friend James Taylor, just before You’ve Got A Friend, brought further sighs and reveries, while her duet with her much younger self on (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, blasting across the huge screens was not only brave but showed that time had not diminished her.
This Friday it was Mumford & Sons’ turn to fill the park and that they did, so much so that it was a struggle to get across to see flowing-haired Kurt Vile & the Violators. We managed, and it was worthwhile – he attracted a small but great crowd of proud misfits, soaking up his twisted country vibes, many waiting for his most recent hit Pretty Pimpin’. We most admired the fan with the T-shirt “Shroedinger’s Cat is A D L E I A V D E” – “so geeky!” he proudly declared. The Mumfords’ set comprised a few too many mellow songs, leaving a dearth of atmosphere at times, Marcus’s gratuitous tween-song swearing came across like the uncool kid at school overdoing his language so he could play with the big boys. Still, the harmonies were clear, the highlight and most effective and affecting part of the set were the songs recorded with guests Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and Malawi band The Very Best.
Take That brought on a youthful Lulu for their Saturday set. Theirs was a set full of anthems, butterfly confetti, painted dancers and pyrotechnics. The fans could not have screamed louder. The festival closed on Sunday with a sunny Pharrell Williams spinning out tuuuune after tuuuune. The multi-talented producer has worked with so many artists, it is easy to forget just how many huge anthems he has had a hand in. Early on, he urged security to let fans into empty areas at the front – people have paid for tickets, he reminded them – a generous and popular cause and one that will always win fans around. Pharrell is all about the feelgood vibes and he brought it on Sunday.
Stevie Wonder closed the festival with a phenomenal four-hour set, at times one for the musos and those who want to be lost in the endless possibilities that come with extended instrumentals and a team of talented musicians. This prolonged his playback of 1976 double album Songs In The Key of Life – a welcome indulgence to some, but momentarily losing others, waiting to hear the next big song and, ultimately, his later run-through of stunning hits. We were soon reminded how vast and enduring Stevie’s repertoire is, as he generously played much longer than we could ever have asked, ending Hyde Park’s summer festival with a medley and giant multi-generational 60,000-plus mass disco to Superstition. A truly special evening.