Words: Karen Hetherington
Pictures – Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Admittedly, when I first read the line up for Friday’s British Summer Time I considered The Darkness and The Pretenders to be a bizarre, eclectic choice of support bands for headliners Gun’s N’ Roses and wasn’t quite sure how they would be received. However, arriving in Hyde Park a couple of hours after gates opened , it was already surprisingly heavily packed out. Guns N’ Roses fans predictably dominated the crowd and several Slash lookalikes of all ages were spotted along with a good few others sporting Axl Rose style bandannas. The site boasted 3 stages this year which due to the volume of festival goers were quite difficult to move between so whilst I decided to claim a spot in front of the Great Oak stage just minutes before The Darkness started their set, Adrian had set his sights on ensuring her caught some of the earlier acts in the day.
According to band history, the Lovell sisters, Rebecca and Megan have named their act after their Great (repeat several times) Grandfather who was a cousin to Edgar Allen Poe.
Whilst we might expect gothic wonders with that name, their act is more of a southern blues feel and as such come on stage to Howlin’ wolf track ‘Spoonful’.
As they hit their stride early on, the focus was on their latest album ‘Blood Harmony’. We get more than a dash of lap steel guitar from Megan allowing her sister to move around a little more as well as handling the lead vocals. The fourpiece, made up of Tarka Layman on bass and cool as a cucumber Ben Satterlee on drums, definitely have a solid career ahead of them. What next remains to be seen but the early doors slot that could easily have been a miss definitely engaged the willing crowd from the off.
The DUST CODA
The act I was waiting for and one that sadly Karen missed out on was The DUST CODA. The Rainbow stage at the top end of Hyde Park played host to the band that on that very day had coined ‘Kangaroo Blues’ as their core genre rather than the tired moniker of NWOCR stalwarts. With new album ‘Loco Paradise’ now out as I write this I can confirm that the band have left behind (at some distance) the classic rock sound and have embraced something that the magical ‘3rd album’ often presents. The make or break release, the sound that sets them apart from the also rans and by god have they done it in style. The energy on stage was palpable, the desire to play it loud and drag the audience along with them for the ride ensured they couldn’t fail and they didn’t.
‘Jimmy 2 Times’ from ‘Mojo Skyline’ remains a firm favourite so for me to hear it live was a big win and again, live, it’s given a new lease of life and energy much to the delight of the sizeable crowd who’d come over from the main stage to see them. Adam Mackie’s guitar sound was flawless, twisting solos out as if his life depended on it. Scott Miller and Tony Ho helped drive the sound to the back of the park and of course, no TDC performance is complete without John Drake laying waste to every track with the most powerful of voices.
The band were on fire…. Karen missed out but got instead prime position for The DARKNESS.
Whether you’re a fan or not, The Darkness always pull off an energy fuelled set with a heavy dose of fun thrown in for good measure and this performance was no exception. Their show, which kicked off with “Growing on Me” seemed relatively short and was peppered with crowd interaction, as expected. Early on in the set ‘Ethan’, who was dressed as Slash brandished a sign near the front of the stage reading “can I have a pick please?” In riposte, singer Justin Hawkins replied “f**k off and buy your own”, he later proceeded to scatter some picks into his hat before throwing him a spare mic to sing along with at which point the unsuspecting Ethan briefly found fame on the large screen. The nine track set included ‘Love is only a Feeling’ and concluded, inevitably with their biggest hit ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’. Incidentally, I caught up with the newly famous Ethan much later at Knightsbridge Underground Station for a pic of a different nature…
JAMES & THE COLD GUN
For those of us willing to trek round the site (and it is a trek) JAMES & THE COLD GUN awaited us (but not Karen who opted to keep a spit for Chrissie Hynde on the main stage). Twice in 2 years, having played the Birdcage Stage last year when Pearl Jam were headlining, this time the band are promoted and the Rainbow Stage beckoned.
Having never seen them before, I don’t know the line up but whilst some are accused of having a revolving door of musicians, JATCG took it to the next level as people stepped in and out of guitar \ bass vocal roles. I believe the band’s bassist had fallen ill but the mix and match approach actually gave the band some added bite and edge to their music as it kept us guessing as to what they might do next.
It was a solid punk tinged performance and from the reports I’ve seen about the band’s album which has also just come out, it’s all looking rosy for JATCG and this performance would suggest those initial views are well founded.
The Pretenders launched into ‘Losing my Sense of Taste’ as the crowd around the Great Oak Stage had begun to thin out a bit. I immediately thought there was a bit of a sound issue as the vocals sounded lost and sadly this continued throughout most of their set. The band recently played a fantastic gig in my home town of Belfast and 71 year old Chrissie Hynde, a fantastic performer still has an amazing voice but from my vantage point in Hyde Park it could only be heard properly on an intermittent basis. Hits including ‘Talk of the Town’, ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ and ‘Don’t get me Wrong’ featured in their 16 track performance with penultimate track ‘I’ll Stand by You’ generating a bigger crowd in front of the stage and creating an emotive atmosphere, resulting in many fans singing and swaying along to the music. “Brass in Pocket” was notably absent from their set and they concluded with ‘Mystery Achievement’ ,generating a chilled out hiatus amongst the crowd.
The last of the bands over on the Rainbow Stage were DIRTY HONEY. Touted as the next Aerosmith by many, thanks in no small part to the persona that is Marc LaBelle up front and centre. Personally I think the look and feel of the band, especially with Marc’s voice pushes them closer to The Black Crowes, if of course Steven Tyler sang for them.
The set kicked off with ‘Can’t Find the Breaks’, playing to a heavy crowd of fans, many of whom are sporting DH t-shirts. They definitely know how to work a crowd, they’ve studied the manuals, got their act honed to the sharpest point and whilst they might be on just their debut album right now, it’s worth noting that the headliners experienced a similar level of success so who knows what’s coming next for the band from, unsurprisingly, LA.
Dirty sleaze, again a nod to the headliners, mixed in with the sprinkles of magic that the Robinson Brothers also bring to the table and we have a future headliner in the making. One to watch that’s for sure.
GUNS N’ ROSES
And so, back to the Great Oak Stage and Karen gives us here view on headliners Guns N’ Roses.
This is a band that have been on my bucket list since my late teens with Friday past presenting me with my first opportunity to see them live . Amidst an abundance of negative Glastonbury reviews telling me they were well past their heyday, I was realistically optimistic and had no expectations of a performance to parallel G N’R circa early 1990’s – but then again, you can’t believe everything you read. It goes without saying that reviews are subjective, open to difference of opinion and in many cases not written by fans of a particular band or even of rock music in general.
As the weather conditions turned drizzly, the sky threatened heavier downpours and with Axl’s days of late appearances seemingly well behind him, the LA rockers graced the stage in very timely fashion, shortly before half seven with ‘It’s So Easy’ from their 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction before quickly moving on to ‘Bad Obsession’ during which Axl stepped back and took a tumble which was so quickly corrected it could have been done on purpose and did nothing to hinder the overall performance. In fine form throughout, Axl Rose said he was having a ‘Bloody good time’ and it certainly seemed so.
The band steam-rolled through the three hour set which featured several outfit changes for Axl while Slash’s denim shirt became increasing drenched in sweat from the pure exertion of his performance. Axl had a couple of vocal breaks which showcased guitar by the brilliant Richard Fortus who, in my opinion bears a striking resemblance to a younger Ronnie Wood and gave Duff MCKagan the opportunity to front the band, for one song only with ‘T.V. Eye’.
The classic hit cover versions of Wing’s ‘Live and Let Die’ featured as did Bob Dylan’s iconic ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ albeit missing many of the “heys and yeahs” Axl added in the recording to make it sound authentically Guns n’ Roses, these only came into earshot quite late into the song and while I would dispute that Axl was struggling vocally, I would definitely say he was ‘saving’ his voice as it improved steadily and consistently as the set progressed culminating in him hitting the high notes he is famed for, and holding them. Slash pulled off a blistering performance throughout which briefly included the use of a talk box but the guitar intro of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Voodoo Chile ‘, played at the conclusion of ‘Civil War’ was just an amazing touch of class and genius.
The guitar solo by Slash preceded the bands most recognisable tune ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, an undeniable crowd pleaser which was received with rapturous applause . Up next was November Rain which provided the energetic 61 year old Axl with a bit of respite on the piano, which he played brilliantly and by the song finale Slash’s phenomenal performance had generated an energy amongst the audience which was nothing less than electric. Other set highlights included ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Nightrain’ and ‘Don’t Cry’ during which Axl excelled himself vocally.
The band finished on a high with an fantastic rendition of ‘Paradise City’ after which Slash exited the stage with a headstand and as the mass exodus of Hyde Park began I smiled to myself as I overheard a couple of festival goers say they were on a high and buzzing with nostalgia following the set, which crammed in a total of 27 tracks; pretty impressive for a band rumoured to be past their best. I confess, I was riding the same wave of nostalgia – listening to songs that were forgotten favourites, I was suddenly back in the early 90’s – a teenager still in love with the sounds of the seventies with my friends trying to turn me on to Guns N’ Roses, presenting them as the next big thing. I definitely didn’t appreciate how good they were then, but I absolutely do now and yes, vocals change, tone down, musicians slow down or change technique to enable them to keep on playing but as I say more often than not about these iconic rock bands, as long as they are turning up to play, ill be turning up to see them…till next year, rock on!