Review: BST Hyde Park

Elton, Adele, the Stones and the Eagles – Róisín Gadelrab and Dan Carrier join the headliners' fans at this year's British Summer Time festival

Tuesday, 5th July — By Róisín Gadelrab and Dan Carrier

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Photo: Róisin Gadelrab

IT was likely a combination of the big-name headliners and the public’s desire for some culture to ease their souls in difficult times that this year’s BST (British Summer Time) concerts seem to have been having.

Although sold out in previous years, the crowds seemed to spread out more widely this time, the usual guiding paths lost under a sea of eager fans on a mission to grab a bucket of churros and a cardboard tray of drinks before they attempted to navigate back to where they thought their friends were standing.

Over three weekends (including Pearl Jam / Pixies / Stereophonics / Duran Duran / Nile Rodgers + Chic + more), instead of the traditional two, the headliners made up for lost time with Elton, Adele and the Rolling Stones doing two nights each, with a changing role of talented supports including Gabrielle, Courtney Barnett, Sam Fender and many others.

Here are our highlights:

Elton took time to address his fans personally. Photo: Róisín Gadelrab

Elton John

YOU didn’t need to know the line-up to figure out Elton John was headlining. Way before we reached Hyde Park, the whacky glasses, zany outfits and explosions of sequins and colour stepping out of black cabs and milling around Marble Arch signified he was in the vicinity.

By the time we were inside the boundaries, it was clear just how much effort his fans went to. This wasn’t just the odd superfan, but more a legion of followers who knew to turn up in their best efforts for a date with Elton, many, in his image, emulating iconic outfits from his decades in the charts.

Contrary to various photos and videos doing the rounds showing mumbled singing and the singer in a wheelchair, from the first note, Elton showed that his voice was strong and, while he may have been a little slow to get up from his piano stool, he took the time to cross the stage to wave at and address his fans personally – and for costume changes, from his white tail coat to a sparkly harlequin number, to the showstopper, a cushty spangly dressing gown for his encore, which of course included Your Song.

As he tells the crowd, this is the 233rd show of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour that has lasted several years, towards the end of a decades-long touring career. So why shouldn’t every stage feel like his personal living room and why shouldn’t he perform his encore in loungewear – he’s earned it!

This was the kind of set you’d expect from a singer with a hit-filled back catalogue – packed with the faves, plenty of nostalgia, a nod to lost friends (George Michael, to whom he dedicated Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me “I love you and I miss you”, and Aretha Franklin) and new collaborators (Elton’s remixed Cold Heart with Dua Lipa made an appearance towards the end of the set) and some out-there graphics on the Great Oak Stage.

 

Photo: Róisín Gadelrab

Elton showed he was not beyond parodying himself, making great use of the huge wrap-around screen with a stunning show – meteors flying over his head for Rocket Man, a montage of appearances and caricatures of himself from the past during I’m Still Standing, and old film clips of Marylin Monroe for Candle In The Wind. Crocodile Rock sent the crowds into a mass boogie, sealing the party feel for the night.

At the age of 75, Elton showed more strength and energy than many in the crowd – not least the poor red-faced fella who had passed out before the show even started, spending the entire set curled up on the ground resting on the lap of his companion.

And after so many thousands of shows, Elton still took the time to appreciate his fans, thanking them for dressing up for him, telling them “I can see your costumes and the effort you make”. RG

 

The Eagles

SOME bands have seeped so deeply into the fabric of the radio era that their music is almost no longer associated with them. They are the theme tunes to accompany eras, collectively owned and ubiquitous in conjuring up imagery of a feeling.

The Eagles are such a band: their success in the 1970s came to define a particular period of American culture – a post-60s, Vietnam-exhausted, Rust Belt Country style. And The Eagles took this music to a genuine mass. They were perhaps the first band that could perpetually tour and sell out arenas, their management shipping the show from city to city, a rigorous workload that helped them create in their studio music that took production levels through the roof.

This quest for absolute mastery has stood them well: 50 years of being on the road and they are understandably flawless in their execution of the 25-odd massive hits to which they treated the crowd.

The composers of two of the three biggest-selling albums in US history crash into each opening bar and are met with an immediate raising of the temperature. This is a shared experience – the crowd does not contain the lyrics pouring out of them as the band crank their way through hits including Rocky Mountain Way, Heartache Tonight, and Life’s Been Good.

Of course, the final song is the one everyone has been waiting for, but not too keen to get to as they understand it will be the last number of another generation-defining band heading towards the end of careers that have brought so many pleasures. As Hotel California plays out, it feels like the whole park is channelling the band’s late singer, Glenn Frey.

Hyde Park’s BST Festival takes a lot of infrastructure to get right, and while the set-up feels a bit basic in places, the organisers know that if you have a stage in place and sound system ready to rumble, you have to pack the bill. Supporting The Eagles – and headline acts in their own right – was Led Zep front man Robert Plant.

A Plant gig wouldn’t be a Plant gig without a re-writing of Zep classics. There is always the danger with a genuine legend that past successes are tempting to lazily re-imagine. Too often there is a tendency of the ancient rocker fighting for new ways to re-hash material, and by doing so losing all semblance of what made it a great song in the first place.

Plant loves a makeover: we have, in the past, seen the singer team up with Jimmy Page to take early Zep songs and add a Moroccan orchestra to them. It is what he does.

Here, the barnstormer rock’n’roll is given a fresh layer and proves it can be done if you have the right material and the voice to show the new version simply isn’t about stripping away the high or long notes.

He was joined by Alison Krauss – the pair are currently touring together – and their focus on classic blues and the Americana music that inspired Plant as a kid in Wolverhampton in the 1960s was apparent. DC

Photo: Róisín Gadelrab

Adele

ON the day of London’s Pride Parade, which started at Hyde Park Corner, Adele’s Saturday set seemed the event of choice for loved up couples of all combinations and fans of all ages and backgrounds – one RMT sign floated noticeably above the sea of people.

The singer made a point of marking Pride, borrowing a flag from an unsuspecting couple who were rewarded with “a lot” of drink tokens. “Where are Jack and Dean?”, she asked, insisting that they be brought over the barriers and given “the best seats in the house”.

Anyone who has seen Adele live knows she loves a bit of banter in between songs and she was full of stories and asides on Saturday – “trust me, I am a pro at passing out drunk” – addressing the crowd like they were best mates in a bar, heartfelt, genuine, foul-mouthed and funny, but also giving the impression she may be testing out material for her delayed Vegas shows, the reaction to which she has admitted had left her devastated for months after she decided to postpone because they weren’t ready.

Opening with Hello, Adele led the 60,000-strong chorus, who knew every word, through over two hours of emotional ballads and slightly faster songs – Rolling in the Deep among the more upbeat, bringing ticker tape fluttering across the dancing park.

Dressed in an off-shoulder black sequinned Louis Vuitton gown and diamanté hoop earrings, Adele was focused more on the performance, powerful vocals and her crowd than costume changes – the draped Pride flag around her shoulders towards the end being the only noticeable outfit alteration.

Either the set-list and graphics were designed to adapt on the fly or it was a fortuitous coincidence but, as the threatening skies finally gave way to a burst of rain, Adele broke into Set Fire To The Rain, a powerful moment where the elements collided, the heavens opened and clouds of fire flared from the stage sending trails of smoke rings across the sky. Claiming credit for the downpour ceasing shortly after – “hey, we set fire to the rain” – she quipped: “Did you know that was written about trying to light a cigarette in the rain?”

Someone Like You brought the loudest singalong, and a river of tears from the woman standing next to us and no doubt, countless others close by. The cheeky chat continued – when she threw her sunglasses into the crowd because the sun wasn’t coming out, she told us: “I think they’re Bottega, they’re quite posh.”

Adele’s singing voice was faultless, and her moving lyrics hit home with enviable clarity. She doesn’t claim to be a dancer but she made good use of the platform into the crowd, stopping to address individual fans, pulling deliberately awkward poses to oblige those taking selfies and hosting her own singalong set accompanied by a grand piano for Easy On Me, Make You Feel My Love and more.

While her chat as charming and familiar as expected, unfortunately, at times, the spoken interludes were a little quiet and chants of “turn it up” came from the crowd behind. This was never a problem when she was singing. Her Bond anthem Skyfall was thrilling, and closing number Love Is A Game to fireworks, while an orchestra of silhouettes played behind her was a fitting finale.

Adele was preceded by an all-female line-up, which she insisted upon after noticing the headliners were mainly men, paying particular tribute to Gabrielle, who is one of the first artists she remembers hearing and loving as a child. RG

 

 


Photo: Róisín Gadelrab

The Rolling Stones

“WELCOME to the American Express British Summer Time superspreader covid event,” Mick Jagger announces wryly as he skips along the platform into the middle of the crowd. He should know, having recently had to cancel two European shows on this, their Sixty tour, after testing positive for Covid.

Opening with a montage tribute to recently deceased drummer Charlie Watts (they overlooked the fact that it was also the anniversary of original guitarist Brian Jones’ death), the Rolling Stones began with Get Off My Cloud, an immediate jump-start to the international multi-generational crowd.

One Argentinian fan, alone and holding his country’s flag bearing the Stones’ trademark tongue symbol, had a meeting of minds with a bearded old rocker, who stopped to bump fists, exchange mutual appreciation of the band, say “rock’n’roll man” and move on – a touching moment, of which there were many amongst those sharing their mutual love for the long-establish band: Parents and children experiencing the set together, older couples in masks braving the masses, younger musos, and in amongst the crowd was Alan Yentob, taking in the atmosphere and stopping to film You Can’t Always Get What You Want on his phone.

There was plenty for everyone in their 19-song set, slowing down for Angie, a welcome cover of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, turning up the energy as Jagger threw his trademark shapes aided by his still slinky hips at 78 for Honky Tonk Woman, Start Me Up and more – he must have covered 100 times more ground than Adele and Elton’s preceding collective four nights.

Cult hit Paint It Black was striking set against the monochrome backdrop, while Gimme Shelter, always a highlight, showed its continuing relevance as screened images of war ended with the Ukraine flag and applause in solidarity across the park.

Jagger joked about watching Adele the night previously: “She’s a really amazing singer but I have more sparkly dresses than she has”, and he went all out to prove his bling credentials as he went through countless spangly shirt changes.


Photo: Róisín Gadelrab

Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards each took their moments in the spotlight, coming out to the edges of the stage to play to the crowds, and the night closed with the unbeatable encores Sympathy for the Devil and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – a formidable set that stands comfortably alongside, and quite possibly ahead of – any headliner from the past 60 years. RG

 

https://www.bst-hydepark.com/

 

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