There are chairs everywhere, blankets covering the grass and even picnic hampers. BBC’s Festival In A Day definitely attracts a slightly more mature, refined audience. Hey, I guess we’re not at Download any more.
Still, there’s no lack of enthusiasm for Bryan Adams as the veteran Canadian leads off his surprisingly brief set with new song You Belong To Me. But much of what he does comes from the Reckless album, which kickstarted the Canadian’s career in the mainstream a little over 30 years ago. And the crowd are clearly delighted to hear Summer Of ‘69, Run To You and Heaven, singing along joyously. And It’s Only Love is lit up by a blistering solo from Adams’ longtime guitarist Keith Scott, who’s playing throughout is the fulcrum of the sound.
Oddly, Adams has chosen a black theme for the imagery, with the stage set bedecked in the shade; even the large screens at each side of the stage carry the performance in black and white. It’s slightly surreal, but holds the attention. The video for current single Brand New Day is projected on a screen at the back and, yes, it’s in monochrome. This song itself, as well as the opening track of the day, offer real hope Adams’ new album, Get Up!, is a return to the slightly tougher pop rock phase of Reckless.
But Adams and his musos really are a club band, in the best possible sense. The man himself isn’t the sort of larger than life entertainer you need to be to electrify such a vast crowd. It’s all about the music for him, and this continues to work brilliantly.
Now Rod Stewart… well, this is a showman. From the moment he steps into the gloriously celtic Every Beat Of My Heart, the man has the charisma of a true superstar, but one with a self-deprecating, common touch. He turns Hyde Park into an intimate club by involving everyone. Yet, Stewart breaks one of the cardinal rules of doing this sort of gig. Usually, an artists will do a ‘greatest hits’ set to ensure maximum rapport with the gathered thousands. But tonight, one of rock’s mots famed vocalists eschews the principle by delving deep into his career for more obscure material, some of which he hasn’t sung live for literally decades.
This means a trip back to The Faces for You Can Make Me Dance, Gasoline Alley and Ooh La La. He goes back even further for Python Lee Jackson’s In A Broken Dream and blues classic Rollin’ And Tumblin’, which he admits not to have done onstage since the days with Long John Baldry in Steampacket during the mid-60s! But, the absence of the instantly recognisable big numbers actually makes this a really special, one-off gig, and everyone gets in the spirit of this slightly unusual trip into the realms of off-kilter nostalgia. Stewart even has a sly dig at the Beeb after The Killing Of Georgie (Parts 1 And 11), pointing out the homosexual lyrical content that led to it being banned by the BBC in 1976. And yet, here he is now, doing a show for the same organisation. How times change, eh?
After a truly memorable carouse through his famed cover of Hendrix’s Angel from 1972, Stewart leaves the stage, allowing his three female backing singers to lead the band through a triumphantly soulful rendition of Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman. Sadly, this gets a lukewarm reaction, which only goes to prove the power of star of the show. But it’s clearly been put into the set to allow Sir Rodney to change into a tartan suit, as he returns to lead the ensemble through the remaining few numbers.
The final song is I Was Only Joking, during which he’s joined by old pal, guitarist Jim Cregan. He might have been dressed liked a confused grandfather asked to come along to the best rock’n’roll party in town, but Cregan plays beautifully, his guitar chiming with an emotion that rolls back the decades. But when he and Stewart both sink to their knees for the song’s conclusion, it does lead to a moment of bathos, as the singer has to help Cregan back to his feet, even though the latter is a year younger than the former!
With expectations high for what might follow in the encore, there’s… nothing. A disembodied voice tells everyone it’s finished, ending hopes of Maggie May with Ronnie Wood, which has been rumoured throughout the day. A strict curfew means there’s no chance of this happening.
With Please, the one new song aired here, suggesting upcoming album Another Country could be one to savour, the future looks spritely for the still sprite looking master. This is a unique set he may never repeat, and a strong reminder of why his combination of vaudeville, cabaret, rock’n’roll, soul and sheer effrontery is peerless.