British Summer Time has been a regular part of London’s gig schedule since Bon Jovi headlined the first night back in 2013. It’s a music festival always held over two weekends. They generally feature a wide range of musical genres. This year I was particularly attracted to the concerts of two legendary rock legends, fortunately, playing the same weekend. Roger Waters ex-Pink Floyd was on Friday bringing his “Us and Them” to the UK for the first time, and legendary guitarist Eric Clapton featured on the Sunday of the first weekend. In between the two weekends of legendary musical line-ups Hyde Parks Open House also offers a host of weekday activities including outdoor cinema, free live music, street food, Ariel Circus, Family Theatre and much more. Unfortunately due to what seemed like one travel delay and issue after another I arrived in Hyde Park considerably later than I had originally intended. However, it seemed layout wise pretty much how I recalled it from my last visit back in 2014 for Black Sabbath. This made it easy to circumnavigate between stages and around the festival site itself.
Waters’ set and tour were making a rare outdoors appearance as his recent dates and all the subsequent ones would be in indoor arena venues. In terms of the stage production, this obviously had an impact-eg the dividing wall that had been part of the arena shows to split the audience would not logistically be possible. Focussing primarily on his former bands’ songs he also included several new songs from his recent solo album “Is This The Life We Really Want.”Despite an unusual mid-set break(surely playing more songs would have been more pleasing)the playlist still featured some twenty-one songs. Waters’ shows always seem to focus primarily on a political message and this tour was no different, highlighting social injustice around the world and the incompetency of certain world leaders. School children took to the stage during the performance of the Floyd’s hit single Another Brick In The Wall dressed in Guantanamo Bay prisoner boiler suits, with t-shirts bearing the one word – ‘RESIST The interlude largely consisted of screens around the stage projecting various political messages .
Visually things stepped up during the shows second half, as the quadrophonic sound set up in Hyde Park amazed the huge audience as it picked up every sonic nuance, echo,and effect of tracks like Money…with its clock alarms taking many of the audience back to listening to that classic Dark Side of the Moon album many years ago. Also appearing was an inflatable pig parading through the crowd, Battersea Power Station chimneys extending above the stage, and even a ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ prism created from lasers. Waters captured the essence of the set with his closing speech.“All of us here on this beautiful planet deserve equal human and civil rights. And these rights are irrespective of ethnicity or religion, so they would extend to my brothers and sisters in Palestine. That’s all I have to say.”
The show ended with a stupendous rendition of The Wall classic “Comfortably Numb” and a firework display.
The excitement for Waters was fuelled by Richard Ashcroft’s vintage performance taking place beforehand on the Great Oak Stage – featuring hits such as “Break The Night With Colour” from his 2006 album Keys To The World, and “This Is How It Feels”from2016’s These People.
The former Verve frontman, sporting an impressive mirrorball jacket, offered a timely reminder of why he remains one of Manchester’s finest musical exports, and his sun-kissed closing rendition of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” will go down as one of the opening day’s most iconic moments.
Before Ashcroft was everybody’s favourite bearded blues singer, Seasick Steve – the opening act on the Great Oak Stage. Steve delivered a crowd pleasing set with hits such as ‘Barracuda ‘68’ and ‘Summertime Boy’, even offering a glimpse into his anticipated forthcoming album.
In between swigs of wine, Steve charmed the audience, also emphatically thanking the UK for helping his career. “The people in the UK gave me this beautiful job. I’ll never forget that and I’ll always be grateful.”
After taking the Saturday as a break from music-there was a World Cup Quarter final between England and Sweden to consider after all..Eric Clapton was next, the man the icon that was the source of the legendary graffiti “Clapton is God”Quite surprising that I had never actually previously witnessed him live. As I seem to be currently in an age and time where all the musical heroes are passing away I just had to avail of the opportunity to attend and see Clapton. Casually strolling on and plugging in and immediately engaging the audience with “Its coming home” World Cup reference he opened up with “Somebodys Knocking” from his latest album of blues classics. This saw him effortlessly throw out a few of the solos that had made his reputation. This was quickly followed up with another blues standard ” ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’, complete with a harmonica solo.
Where the acoustic section of the set with Clapton seated to deliver his biggest hits ‘Layla’ and ‘Tears in Heaven’, remains a clear focus point – it is ‘Got To Get Better In A Little While’ and the Cream hit ‘Crossroads’ that the singer shows us his fighting-best vocals. In ‘Lay Down Sally’ and ‘The Core’ from 1977’s “Slowhand” – one of Clapton’s most critically successful albums – he brought out Marcy Levy (Shakespeare’s Sister) who co-wrote the songs with him. For the grand encore, Clapton brought out Carlos Santana for ‘High Time We Went’ with Paul Carrack on vocals. If I had a minor gripe it would be that when people go to see Eric Clapton its him that they actually want to see and hear performing the guitar solos. To have a young guitarist-in his band who Clapton actually allowed to take albeit well-played solos I felt he should have remained in the background rather than featuring centre stage on several of the set songs. That point aside I thoroughly enjoyed the set which mixed classic anthems with a few lesser known blues standards.
Santana made it impossible for the crowd to stand still with his rhythmic, musically sumptuous set. Carlos Santana called out, “I know it has been a long day in the sun but now is the time to go Santana bananas!”Opening with visuals of Woodstock soundtrack by ‘Soul Sacrifice’, the award-winning musician brought a flavoursome set weaving blues-rock, jazz fusion and Latin and African percussion rhythms. Much loved classics like ‘Oye Como Va’ and ‘Maria Maria’ sent the crowd wild while ‘Smooth’ still reigns as Santana’s most iconic hit, sounding every bit as delectable as the first listen 19 years ago.
Steve Winwood made his monumental return to Hyde Park for the first time in 49 years. The last time he performed here was in 1969 as part of Blind Faith – Winwood’s blues-rock band with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. Winwood’s distinct soulful vocals still rings clear and strong as ever, giving us the perfect soundtrack to a summery Sunday afternoon, a particular highlight being his signature hit ‘Higher Love’ which got the crowd on their feet and swaying along. The Great Oak Stage screen was emblazoned with record artworks from his genre-shifting discography. Winwood, performing with a full band including a saxophonist and flautist, alternated between the organ and guitar in a set filled with songs from his bands: Blind Faith (‘Can’t Find My Way Home’), Traffic (‘Pearly Queen’) and Spencer Davis Group (‘I’m A Man’).Winwood was another legendary artist that I was seeing live for the very first time-and indeed after witnessing his set I have subsequently gone and acquainted myself with the majority of his extensive musical back catalogue.
Only my second British Summertime festival after 2014, I was left with a conclusion that in terms of variety of artists, the range of activities and practical and efficient organisation that I would definitely be penciling Hyde Park into my gig going diary for next summer. Roll on 2019, I already cannot wait.
All photos © Dave Hogan