A Fun Non-Frightening Festival
BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park is never going to be the edgiest of events – but it’s a fun-filled and easy feast of nostalgic hits
Review by Andrew Steel
Now in its seventh year, the BBC’s BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park has nailed its template down to pat; a myriad of middle-age friendly chart artists, a couple of rockier outliers and usually one act shipped in from the station’s folk awards for a dash of gratuitous self-promotion, all linked up by the station’s DJ roster cheerleading in the interim. As the sedate, sit-down cousin to the Big Weekend, it’s often reassuringly predictable – but on a day where Hyde Park is battered by miserable weather, nostalgic music-by-numbers is just the tonic needed.
Welsh rockers Stereophonics are just about the only act to get away in dry conditions at the top of the afternoon, courteously business-like in their deployment of their latter-day MOR-guitar anthems – but impishly playful with more firebrand oldies, like Local Boy in the Photograph and Dakota. They naturally conjure a stronger reaction than Seth Lakeman’s virtuoso fiddle-work – though spare a thought for accompanying girl-gang Wildwood Kin, who had their own mini-set cut short to one song by technical gremlins.
Fresh from a remarkable comeback, Rick Astley’s wry self-deprecations and Austin Powers-style whoops make him a cheery yang to Emeli Sande’s soulful yin, but the Scottish powerhouse singer, bereft of her iconic peroxide quiff, still delivers megawatt-sized R&B ballads designed to get hands in the air like few others. James Blunt takes the unusual route of dropping his biggest hit, the ubiquitous You’re Beautiful, very early in his set – but he overcomes any potential stagnation and lack of sonic heft by opting to dive into the crowd in a Union Jack dinghy, to the delight of rain-soaked punters, precariously sailing over a sea of cagoules before eventually capsizing.
Back in the UK after an extended, illness-enforced hiatus, country queen Shania Twain has the hits – the gurning snarl of That Don’t Impress Me Much to the horndog bounce of Man! I Feel Like a Woman – but despite the myriad of flame jets and fireworks accompanying her performance, it sounds too thin and featherweight in musical execution. In contrast, veteran new wave legends Blondie are in the best form they’ve been for two decades – Debbie Harry moving and twirling with gusto, her voice in better shape than when last seen in 2014. Afforded a longer-than-normal set, they power through new cuts like Fun and Too Much with giddy abandon; and still cram a truckload of hits in for good measure, from the thrilling Maria to the disco-tinged Heart of Glass.
Manchester man-band Take That are in the third iteration of their reunion years – scaled back to a three-piece – but their recipe of arena-oriented adult contemporary remains mostly unchanged a decade on. They smooth out any tonal dichotomy by stripping the Eurodance of their halcyon days such as Everything Changes and It Only Takes a Minute back to cabaret-style show tunes, and aim big at the heartstrings with the symphonic pop-pomp of Hold Up a Light and their piece-de-resistance power ballad Rule the World. By the time they break curfew with the stirring anthemics of Never Forget, central London is dry once more; a fittingly ironic conclusion to this most Middle England of corporate festivals.