I may have been a bit optimistic when I said my computer/internet were back in business, they’re still driving me absolutely bananas but I’ve been feverishly typing away and I’ll upload things as soon/often as I can. Hopefully I’ll be able to quell or at least dampen my magnetic vibes for a little while. There’s an awful lot to catch up on though, so I’m not going to waste any more time.
It seems like a ridiculously long time ago now, but on the 5th July I hopped on a train and pootled off to Hyde Park for the first day of the British Summer Time festival. My main reason for going was because Bon Jovi were headlining, but I do love Hyde Park as a venue generally although I know it’s been panned over the years for poor volume and increasingly earlier curfews due to complaints from locals. I’d like to think that if I lived locally I’d embrace the noise, all you’ve got to do is throw open your windows and listen in to a free gig after all, but it’s quite understandable when you realise that it’s not all rock n’ roll and the likes of JLS and Jennifer Lopez are also inflicted on the residents. With a cacophony like that, I’m pretty sure I’d be kicking up a fuss too!
I always manage to forget that there’s more to festivals than just the music, and sure enough when we got to Hyde Park there were a few fairground activities alongside a huge variety of different food stands serving everything from paella and pasta to the standard burgers, pies and chips. It was a glutton’s paradise, except that everything looked so tempting that I found it quite hard to decide what I fancied. It was also the first day of our British heat wave, and boy was it hot. I think it got to around 30°C (which is really bloody good for the UK), and as a nation so unused to such temperatures I did feel quite uncomfortable being in the direct sun all day long. This obviously meant that there were a lot of scantily clad people in rather ill-advised outfits at times, more topless (and often extremely sunburnt) men than you could shake a stick at (some of which had astonishingly hairy backs, it was not a great look), and a powerful waft of BO whenever the crowd waved their arms in the air. This is probably a case of TMI, but at one point I was so hot that I took my camera out of my front pocket and there was a film of moisture on the screen from where I’d sweated through the pocket lining. Rarely have I felt so disgusting and uncomfortable, but it was all definitely worth it (even if I was completely paranoid that I was going to get sunstroke. It’s a British thing, we just don’t know how to cope with nice weather!).
We camped out in front of the main stage, The Great Oak Stage, as close to the barrier as we could get. The stage was designed in honour of the Rolling Stones headlining the next night; both the stage and the screens were decorated with fake trees and shrubbery as a reminder of the last time the Stones played Hyde Park, which I think was in 1969 (definitely in the ‘60s at least). The first band we saw on the stage was Bush, and I think I probably found it way too amusing that Bush were surrounded by fake foliage (again, I blame the heat).
Now, I must admit that I only know one Bush song, The Sound of Winter (which I always mishear as ‘the sound of water’ on the radio), but they did play that song so I was happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get quite so sweaty quite so fast as Gavin Rossdale did, but then he was doing quite a lot of writhing around with his guitar and even more running around. I might have only known one Bush song, but they also played a bassy cover of Come Together which was pretty fun, at which point Gavin Rossdale set a precedent by climbing out into the crowd (I thought the security guy was going to have a heart attack!) and running about amongst the fans, climbing over barriers and meeting people. I had no idea where he actually was half the time, I think the key was to try and pinpoint the direction of the screaming and see if you could spot a crowd of people surging towards one area. I thought it was pretty good of him to do that though, because the crowds at festivals are so big that it’s quite hard to get anywhere near the band, so I appreciated the gesture of a band member trying to come to us (even if he didn’t actually make it to where I was).
The Kaiser Chiefs were the next band to take to the main stage. I didn’t actually know they were still going, I remember them being pretty popular when I was in my last years at secondary school, but I hadn’t really heard anything of them since. They seemed on fine form though, and I was surprised by just how many songs I recognised and remembered some words to. I’m afraid their version of Ruby has been somewhat outshone by the Wurzels in my eyes (“Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby, ooh arr ooh arr ooh arrrrrr!) but it was all good fun. Ricky Wilson clearly has a very good sense of humour and was a pretty entertaining frontman, and he followed Gavin Rossdale and raised a few heart rates by running about in the crowd and climbing on top of the sound tower (much to the horror of the health and safety officers, I’m sure). I must say he came across ever so well, and the phrase “what a nice boy!” left my mouth on more than one occasion. Ruby and I Predict a Riot were the most well received of their set (unsurprisingly), but I was surprised by both how much I enjoyed it and how much I knew. In a way I’ve always sort of looked at the Kaiser Chiefs as being a bit of a silly band, and they are a bit silly really (like most bands, I’m sure) but they also know how to have a laugh and how to take the piss out of themselves, and it’s really nice and refreshing sometimes to see a band that likes to have fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Then 7:20 rolled around and it was finally time for The Main Event, the one that had me sweating like a pig and putting myself at risk of sunstroke by standing out in the blazing sunlight for hours and hours – it was Bon Jovi time. Richie had announced a few days beforehand that he would have liked to be there but wouldn’t be as nothing was resolved, and obviously I was terribly disappointed (there may even have been a slight wobbly lip moment) and refused to give up hope until the moment they walked on stage without him, but he had also said that even though nothing had been resolved as yet, he was sure it would all be sorted at some stage and that he hopes to rejoin in September. This has made me feel a bit better about the whole situation, although he has since gone on to say that those are just his hopes and that nothing’s really happening yet, and if one more person tells me this could spell the end for Bon Jovi then I am seriously going to need to hyperventilate into a paper bag, but for the time being at least I’m feeling a little less panicky about the situation in general. I shan’t go on about it any more than I have previously, it is what it is and for the time being we just have to get on with it. The only thing I will say is that when Richie rejoins (when not if, I wouldn’t be a Bon Jovi fan if I didn’t know how to keep the faith), I will more than ecstatically hand over hundreds of pounds for a diamond circle ticket, even if it means that I have to go by myself because none of my friends can afford it. The next time all four of them are lined up on stage in a venue near me, I want to be there in the front row, even if I have to sell a kidney for the privilege.
I’d been wondering what song they were going to use as the big opener; they’d opened with Blood on Blood for quite a long time, although for the whole of this tour it’d been That’s What the Water Made Me as far as I know (always, always followed by You Give Love a Bad Name, of course). I thought they might not open with a new song at a festival though, because people go to festivals mainly to see specific bands and so it’s likely that the new stuff would be less well known at a festival than just a normal Bon Jovi gig. They didn’t open with a new song, but instead threw a bit of a curveball into the mix by coming on stage with a cover of Rockin’ All Over the World. I thought it was quite a clever idea actually, there may well have been people at the festival who’d gone to see Bush or the Kaiser Chiefs or some other band playing on the other stages, and who weren’t that familiar with Bon Jovi (it still surprises me that these kinds of people exist), but everyone knows Rockin’ All Over the World and everyone can join in, so it was a good way to get the whole crowd on side from the off.
This was followed (as predicted) with You Give Love a Bad Name, with enough hand clapping and singing along to get the crowd properly warmed up and in party mode. Usual opener That’s What the Water Made Me came next, followed by fist pumping Raise Your Hands and na-na-na classic Born to Be My Baby. The energy levels had really spiked by this point, and it looked like everyone was joining in (at least where I was). I’m sure it’s the same with every band, there’s a sort of unwritten code where the crowd have to do certain things for certain songs, and I get quite a kick out of seeing everyone doing the same thing and responding to the music in the same way. I love seeing everyone’s arms waving in unison up on the screens, and it always looks kind of funny during Raise Your Hands, but pretty cool at the same time.
A video of a car driving down a long highway was the backdrop for Lost Highway, although it wasn’t quite as effective without the big car bonnet stage decoration that they’d used in the stadiums. It’s My Life got the crowd leaping and shouting again, while a new ‘unwritten code’ developed at the front of the crowd and spread throughout the arena, resulting in a park full of arm waving for Because We Can. It worked quite well actually, the beat and the almost chanting of the chorus make it seem kind of anthemic, and most people seemed to know the words of the chorus at least. It must always be a bit tricky playing the new stuff because you’d want people to hear it and promote the album, but at the same time fewer people are likely to know it and be able to join in. Because We Can went down really well though, as did the latest eponymous single What About Now.
Then it was time to bring a bit of groove into the proceedings with We Got it Goin’ On, which I always think of as a bit of a surprise misfit on the Lost Highway album, although it’s always pretty popular live. I’d say it probably gets the most live action from that album, other than the track Lost Highway itself. The funky beats continued with the emergence of the maracas, which can mean only one thing – Keep the Faith, one of my all time favourites. I’m trying to turn it into a bit of a life motto, a sort of things-will-turn-out-right-in-the-end mantra, it’s just so positive and upbeat. Plus it’s applicable to so many different scenarios and ways of life. It doesn’t matter what you’re keeping the faith in, as long as you’re keeping it. If I was ever to have a lyrical tattoo (which I wouldn’t, because they’re naff), it would be of those three words. It’s not going to happen, but you get my general drift; it’s a song that really puts a smile on my face, and I find it reassuring. (I was once given a Valentine’s rose with the message ‘you know you’re going to live through the rain’ which was doubly reassuring, not just as a general life message but also because we were in the midst of a several-week-long downpour at the time). There was also an extended guitar/keyboard extravaganza while Jon changed out of his sweaty red top into a sweaty black top, with Phil X and David Bryan on fine bobbing-corkscrew-curls form.
Another reassuring, it’ll-be-alright-in-the-end song followed in the shape of Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night. I think I’ve only heard this song live a couple of times (out of ten Bon Jovi gigs), so I was really glad it was included as it had been quite a while since I’d heard it performed. In These Arms provided another treat in the form of David Bryan singing the second verse. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing any of the leads before, Richie would normally take a song (usually I’ll Be There for You or occasionally Lay Your Hands on Me), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen David Bryan getting a moment in the singing spotlight. Alright so he didn’t sing a whole song, but it was still nice that he had an opportunity to sing at all and show off his nice bluesy tones.
Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen from Mars was (as always) another arm-waving affair – again, the ‘unwritten code’ was put into action. I think a few too many people made the mistake of starting off too energetically though, it’s quite a long time to sustain a full-force arm wave throughout, but I bet it’s a damn good way to shake off the bingo wings. This was followed by We Weren’t Born to Follow, one of a couple hard-times-anthems from The Circle album, and the gig staple of Who Says You Can’t Go Home, the song that confused music lovers all over by appearing on the rock and country charts at the same time. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (my ironic planned funeral song) maintained a good energy to prepare everyone for the big finale that was Bad Medicine.
Now, anyone who attends Bon Jovi gigs knows that there is always a juke box section in Bad Medicine, which will be a cover of whatever Bobby happens to have up his sleeve. This wasn’t just any old gig though, this was a festival, which means all the stops were pulled. Not only did we get a burst of Pretty Woman (which seems to always fit in so well in the middle of Bad Medicine, I don’t know if it’s because they have similar beats or something but the transition’s always great), but Jon also felt it was time to throw another song into the mix. He wanted something a bit badass and ‘snarling’ to go with the black leather shirt he was wearing (which was kind of hilarious); at first he considered doing a spot of Elvis, but to my delight he waved in favour of wonderful Jim Morrison with a spot of my favourite song by The Doors, Roadhouse Blues. (Apparently the song was partly inspired by Alice Cooper. Jim asked him what he’d been doing, he said ‘I woke up this morning and got myself a beer’). But as if that wasn’t enough, he threw in a little snippet of Shout as well, showing off some pretty powerful (and surprisingly not knackered by this point) vocal chords. I wanted to include a video which had the full length version of Bad Medicine with all the jukebox songs thrown in. This isn’t the best quality video in the world and there’s a bit of dodgy singing over the top, but it’s worth it for the fact that the girl who filmed it was obviously in Golden Circle, right by the walkway, and all of a sudden Jon’s RIGHT THERE and it all gets pretty screamy and hilarious.
Then it was time for the encores, and the joy just kept on coming for me. Dry County was up first, for those who don’t know it’s the Bon Jovi equivalent of Stairway to Heaven or November Rain, their rip-roaring guitar epic coming in at close to ten minutes. There was a lot of love for Phil X during the guitar solo, and throughout the night in general. I saw a lot of Phil X signs held up near the front of the crowd, and it was pretty obvious from the amount of pointing and grinning at them that he appreciated it. I feel a bit bad for Phil X in a way, it’s not his fault that he’s there instead of Richie and he really is doing a good job filling in, so it was nice to see a bit of crowd appreciation for him (as much as I miss Richie).
Wanted Dead or Alive was the next song, and Jon requested that people film it and then send it to them because they were making fan based videos from the tour and they wanted the Wanted Dead or Alive footage to be filmed at Hyde Park. I really like the idea of making fan based videos, but I think it did have an impact on the volume of the crowd singing the first verse. Normally it’s belted out and everyone joins in, but I think it was a bit quieter because so many more people were filming it than normal and (if they’re anything like me) they didn’t want to hear themselves singing loudly and out of tune over the top. I didn’t film it, partly because I knew everyone else would be able to do a better job of it than me (I’m not a technical person), but mainly because I wanted to join in with the gig choir, which is always my absolute favourite bit of any live concert.
This was followed by Love’s the Only Rule from The Circle album, which was a really nice surprise because I’ve never heard it played live before, and it’s one of those songs that I just wouldn’t expect to hear for reasons I can’t really explain. It was a real treat though, and there were enough ooohs to really milk the crowd and up their volume a bit. A stomping version of Have a Nice Day followed, and then it was time for Livin’ on a Prayer, which is always massive and energetic and exciting because it’s the one song that I could guarantee absolutely everyone who was there knew (unless they’d been living in a cave in the Antarctic for the past thirty years). It started off acoustic before kicking into the full blown version which meant there was even more opportunity for crowd milking, and of course the crowd loved it. I don’t think anyone could hear that opening talk box without feeling in the mood for a party, and it’s always a highlight.
The encore got an even better response than I could have hoped for with the crowd literally screaming for more, and you could tell the band were chuffed to bits. They came back on and had a little group huddle to discuss which other songs to do, and I saw Jon mouth the word that I’d been hoping for and the one we’d all been chanting – Always. I just love hearing Always live, they don’t include it in the sets nearly as much as I’d like, so when I do hear it I always get a bit emotional. I don’t really know why because I don’t find the song emotional when I hear it generally, and it’s a karaoke favourite of mine after all, but I get a bit of a lump in my throat when I hear so many thousands of people singing the chorus. It’s hard to explain the atmosphere unless you’re there, but it really is pretty special. I managed to hold it together enough to sing along, but there was definitely a woman near us with tears running down her face, so at least I’m not the only one who gets a bit choked by it! This isn’t the best quality video in the world, but hearing that amazing gig choir singing a ballad so earnestly is almost enough to set me off again! (I’m not a complete wet lettuce, I swear!)
But the treats just kept coming, because they followed up this classic ballad with the absolutely beautiful These Days. I absolutely adore this song, I think the lyrics in it are wonderful and the whole message and lilt of it give me goosebumps (I’m going to stop gushing soon, I swear!). ‘Saw a vagabond king wear a Styrofoam crown’ is one of my all time favourite lyrics of any song ever, I just really love the image of it and the whole idea behind it. I very rarely get to hear this song played live, so to hear it straight after that amazing version of Always made me so very gleeful, I honestly couldn’t have been happier with the choice of songs.
But they still weren’t done! After more bows and wavings and goodnights, Jon remained on stage to lead us into Blood and Blood, a song all about brotherhood, and by the end of the song I really did feel like the crowd and I were all part of one big gang and that we were united by the gig (like I said, I was feeling a bit emotional). And then the band really did leave, the guy in front of me told the couple next to him to eff off, and the illusion shattered.
In terms of the set list, I was actually really pleased. I thought there were a few too many ballads in Cardiff, and they were a bit clumped together. I thought this set list was just right for a festival though. There were lots of upbeat, high energy songs that everyone could get behind and boogie too, and songs that I haven’t often (if ever) heard live. There was no Runaway again (which I did think was surprising) and no I’ll Be There for You which is rarely left from the setlist, but Love’s the Only Rule fulfilled the same kind of audience participation function with all the oohs and singalongs, plus I’ve never heard it played live before. It’s a pretty rare choice, and I was pleased it was included. It may have been a diplomatic move as well, as anyone who’s seen Bon Jovi live before tends to associate performances of I’ll Be There for You with Richie.
I was really pleased with the length of the set too, I was a bit disappointed in Cardiff when the set finished earlier than expected and only had one encore compared to two played in most other UK venues, so I was a bit concerned that they’d finish early again. They played the full three hour set as advertised though, starting at 7:20 and finishing bang on curfew at 10:15, so I was relieved and thrilled in equal measure. (I’d also like to take a minute to digress by pointing out that The Rolling Stones’ headlining set the next day only lasted for an hour and forty five minutes. People paid daft amounts for the tickets and it sold out super quickly, but I was surprised that their set was as short as it was. They obviously don’t have the stamina of these Jersey young ‘uns. I bet it was amazing though, I’d definitely have gone if weekend tickets were on offer).
The encores made me super happy, and I really appreciated the choice of songs. I do think it’s time the set list was given a bit of an overhaul in general though. It’s got to the point over the years where I know You Give Love a Bad Name will be played second; Born to be My Baby will follow on from Raise Your Hands, both of which will be played early in the set; and Bad Medicine (complete with jukebox) will be the last song in the main set. I’m not saying these songs shouldn’t be included or anything like that, they’re always really popular and I couldn’t really imagine a Bon Jovi set without them. It’d be good to see the song order shaken up though, it hasn’t really changed that much in the last couple of years (other than the introduction of new songs), and I think it’s becoming a bit too settled into a routine. I’d like to hear Raise Your Hands without knowing which song will come next, it just adds that little bit of extra excitement and suspense, and I am a big fan of surprises.
Generally, the crowd reaction was pretty good (when they weren’t effin’ and blindin’ at each other, more of that later). I’d occasionally have liked them to make a bit more noise, but I do think spending the whole day in the heat probably had an effect. Normally I’m buzzing after a gig, but I came away feeling absolutely exhausted and ready for bed. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open on the train! There was also a hell of a lot of fainting too, so many people dropped around us that I was pretty amazed that I managed to stay on my feet till the end. The crowd and the stewards were really good at getting people out of the crush quickly and safely though, and everyone seemed willing to help people over the barrier. The crowd didn’t seem as loud compared to when I saw the Jovi in Hyde Park a few years ago for Hard Rock Calling, but then I think there were more people there anyway. I think around 65,000 people turned up for Hard Rock Calling; I don’t know how many were at BST but it did feel smaller. (Plus Hard Rock Calling was one of, if not the, best gig I’ve ever been to, so the crowd response may well have grown to unbeatable levels in my memory anyway). I know there have been complaints from gig-goers about the volume of bands at Hyde Park over the years. I don’t know if it’s because of residents’ complaints that the volume is less than other outdoor gigs or comparable festivals, or even if that really is the case, but I must admit that I noticed that the amps could have been cranked up a bit more, and maybe that would have pushed the crowd a bit more too.
There was a really weird atmosphere where we were though, I don’t know if everyone was feeling grouchy from spending the whole day in the heat, but it all started to get a bit fractious. I saw a couple of girls chasing each other around to slap/throw drinks on each other and probably pull their hair or something, and it was kind of funny except for the fact that they were in Golden circle, and why would you pay that much money for a good ticket and then risk getting thrown out for fighting? We were front and centre in general admission (the brass section, according to Ricky Wilson), and there were a lot of arguments going on around us as well – so and so’s singing too loudly, so and so’s not singing at all and why is he even here if he doesn’t know the words, so and so’s jostling me too much, so and so’s forcing me off the barrier etc. Stewards were getting called over to mediate all over the place, and then other people started getting involved and there seemed to be a lot of verbal fracas and steward intervention going on right over my head a lot of the time, which was really distracting (and often view-blocking) when you just want to watch the show and have a good time. In terms of audience participation, our area was pretty good. Everyone was singing along (apart from the guy who didn’t know the words apparently), and clapping and waving their arms in the air (and jostling one couple a bit too much for their liking it seems). The thing is, when you’re in such as a big crowd as that, there’s always going to be jostling and crowd movement, and you’re never going to end up in the same place as you started. You’ve a slightly better chance if you’re stood at the barrier, but that doesn’t mean you’re in an impenetrable bubble and protected from all human contact. Frankly, I thought some of the attitudes were pretty darned silly. Everyone was joining in well, they just couldn’t seem to get on with each other at the same time, and I must admit it did spoil things for me a bit. It was just really weird.
But despite that, I will always love going to gigs in Hyde Park, because it always feels special somehow (even when I’m surrounded by people baying for each other’s blood). I always get the impression the band find it quite special too. It’s an iconic venue with a big history. Seeing Bon Jovi at Hard Rock Calling in 2011 was quite possibly the best Bon Jovi gig (or just best gig, full stop) that I’ve been to, and I’ve been to an awful lot of Bon Jovi gigs. According to Jon, they were the band who really brought back the idea of bands playing in Hyde Park (at least the residents know who to blame!) during their Bounce tour, around ten years ago, when they played to 93,000(!!!) fans. 93,000! Bearing in mind that that’s not even a festival, that’s just a Bon Jovi gig! It’s a pretty astonishing number and I really, really wish I’d been there, but I was just a nipper then and yet to discover my love for the boys and their tunes. Jon said the main reason they wanted to play Hyde Park was because The Rolling Stones had done it, and they wanted to be like The Stones and play the same sorts of venues. That’s why Jon said it was so great for them to play the British Summer Time festival on the Friday night, because they felt like they were opening for the Stones on the Saturday. It’s a sweet idea and I like the whole story, but I think it was a pretty damn good opener for the festival, regardless of who the following acts were (and there certainly was a strange mixture of acts lined up over the two weeks, that’s for sure!)
Bush: Machinehead, The Sound of Winter, Everything Zen, Swallowed, This House is On Fire, Little Things, Come Together, Glycerine, Comedown.
Kaiser Chiefs: Never Miss a Beat, Everything is Average Nowadays, Na Na Na Na Naa, Little Shocks, Everyday I Love You Less and Less, Coming Home, Modern Way, Heat Lies Down, Ruby, Misery Company, I Predict a Riot, The Angry Mob, Oh My God.
Bon Jovi: Rockin’ All Over the World, You Give Love a Bad Name, That’s What the Water Made Me, Raise Your Hands, Born to Be My Baby, Lost Highway, It’s My Life, Because We Can, What About Now, We Got it Goin’ On, Keep the Faith, Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night, In These Arms, Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen From Mars, We Weren’t Born to Follow, Who Says You Can’t Go Home, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Bad Medicine (with Pretty Woman, Roadhouse Blues and a snippet of Shout).
Encore 1: Dry County, Wanted Dead or Alive, Love’s the Only Rule, Have a Nice Day, Livin’ On a Prayer.
Encore 2: Always, These Days, Blood on Blood.