Skip to main content

Neil Young: Hyde Park, London

Neil Young brings Crazy Horse to central London for an evening of "heart-lifting, spirit-raising Native Americana".

The evening downpour has just finished when Neil - backwards baseball cap, grey sideburns, 'Earth' t-shirt - and his most trusted, longest serving confrères take the stage.

With the going soft but good underfoot, The Horse eases in gradually, and the caustic slow burn of Love and Only Love sets a keynote for what lies ahead.

With His trusty black Gibson strapped on, Young seems set to edge toward the feedback-fed cataclysm he and Frank Sampedro specialise in.

But this Crazy Horse is a wily beast, and tonight takes a turn away from the scowling meltdowns that predominated in the concrete tomb of The O2 last time they played London.

The detour is spectacular and spectral, heading off into a trancey cosmic exposé, superbly suited to the context of thousands gathered under a darkening sky at the close of a summer day in a right royal park.

The defiant AND nostalgic Goin’ Home, (the sole Horse collaboration on 2002’s Are You Passionate? album) leads to the sharp, ringing arpeggios and fuzzy warmth wrapped round the curdled cynicism of Days That Used To Be and an endearingly sloppy, piano-free Goldrush.

The supplicating gospel tones from the backing singers coax Neil to his most tender and exposed vocals, while they also underscore honeyed guitar lines on the transcendent singalong of Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

This and Heart of Gold are truly special moments and he knows it, savouring the miracle of songs written in his early 20s, now ringing with such aged wisdom after all these years.

From the vantage point of the inner circle, among a crowd of well-heeled hedge fund managers and various corporate types, there’s a certain incongruity to a searing Rockin’ In The Free World. Likewise with the eco-conscious Who’s Going To Save The World? with its repeated ‘who’s going to stand up to the oilmen?’ line performed on a stage decorated with what looks suspiciously like ‘trees’ made from petrochemical plastic.

But of course Neil and his flying Horse have a built-in escape clause: transcendence. Yes indeed, this horse can fly. The closer is a return to band’s beginning with a 21-minute monster reworking of Down By The River, wings at full stretch, the band riding the high thermal currents.

Having earlier toasted living legend Bob Dylan with a stirring Blowin’ In The Wind, there’s no doubting the force being summoned as the guitar duelling heads off out into the ether, hailing the great Jerry Garcia’s Dark Star. The Grateful Dead, in the middle of the ultimate murder ballad? Very droll.

The entire park is left suspended, bathed in the music’s intergalactic glow.

All told this was epic, beautiful, heart-lifting, spirit-raising Native Americana from the true-born warrior king who always leaves ‘em wanting more.

Come back soon, good buddy!

Late NME, Daily Mirror and Classic Rock writer Gavin Martin started writing about music in 1977 when he published his hand-written fanzine Alternative Ulster in Belfast. He moved to London in 1980 to become the NME’s Media Editor and features writer, where he interviewed the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Dury, Killing Joke, Neil Young, REM, Sting, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Madonna and a host of others. He was also published in The Times, Guardian, Independent, Loaded, GQ and Uncut, he had pieces on Michael Jackson, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra featured in The Faber Book Of Pop and Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay, and was the Daily Mirror’s regular music critic from 2001. He died in 2022.