She was brilliant (I should probably say awesome). When you’re at the top the only way is down of course, but if this total humdinger of a pop-theatre performance is anything to go by Taylor Swift will be perching victoriously on the summit for some time yet. There’s something so gorgeously likeable and hypnotic about her sweetly homespun and asexual fulsomeness that it’s surely impossible not to be won over. Even the schmaltz videos of friends praising her were strangely welcome. It was like watching a 1950s US sitcom on acid.
She fitted the event like a glove. If festivals have a personality then British Summer Time is a 1950s drive-in movie, with soda pop, bubblegum, and a chaste and enthusiastic snogging session in the back seat of a pink Cadillac. It’s not wild, it’s not wacky, there’s no dope-smoke haze and there’s no way you’re going to get pregnant. Not unless you’re very determined and imaginative that is.
It’s fun though. It’s great fun. My 15 year old daughter and I loved it. And, notably, it was also the first time I’ve travelled to London to visit the countryside. In fact, if it wasn’t for a few rude skyscrapers rising up above the Hyde Park trees I could happily have imagined I was back home in leafy Sussex. Even the front of the stage was engulfed in trees, albeit of the giant plastic variety. It looked great.
There isn’t just the one stage mind you, there are four in all, but my feeling is that three of them are there more to stake a claim for the event being a festival than for any serious musical activity; having said that I did manage to stumble across one memorably ethereal performance by a woodland nymph on the tiny summer stage on my way to the impressively clean toilets.
There are no overnight adventures at this festival, there’s no camping, it’s very much a one day affair – this is the West End after all. And, dare I say it, it feels a little commercial, what with the blight of endless food stalls, merchandise tents and bars corralling the vast oval flat grass arena. There are few other entertainments – just a couple of fairground rides and one or two half hearted face painting, hair colouring, flower garland and temporary tattoo tents (you know the sort of thing), but the queues for them were too long to bother really.
Talking of which, I made the severely amateur mistake of not bringing any food along with me in my bag. Here’s a little friendly advice for you: don’t do this! Because if you do you’ll end up like me spending over an hour in a mile long queue waiting to buy two fun-sized burgers for a thousand pounds apiece. As well as seriously challenging my festival mood this also meant I missed the first two songs of Ellie Golding’s excellent set. Perhaps, I hear you ask, the festival needs to provide even more food stalls? God forbid. It’d be better to invite Jesus along next time, free bread and fish would have gone down a treat with the 65,000 attendees (well it would have done with me).
So, as I was saying, Ellie Golding was predictably excellent, a real talent and, well, lovely and wholesome too of course (it was a very wholesome day out – bring your kids!). And who else? Rae Morris was a very good and, er, very wholesome start to things and Vance Joy was more of the same (the highlight being the inevitable guilty pleasure mass sing-along to Riptide).
The day really kicked off though with John Newman. He was strangely mesmerising, a man who overestimates his dancing talent to such an extent that his performance is something of a marvellously entertaining private joke, almost an art form in its way. It was like watching a Conference League Ronaldo strut and preen his way through an inconsequential mid-table game at the arse end of the season. And who wouldn’t pay a fortune for that? (Newman’s white suited band should get an honourable mention incidentally).
It was Taylor Swift though who inevitably stole the show. Well along with Emma Watson and Cara Delevigne and Gwyneth Paltrow who happened to be sitting on top of a sound tower just behind us. My daughter had palpitations and neck ache, which way to look?! It was a celeb fest of gargantuan proportions. Some sort of Kardashian even came stomping onto the stage at one point too, as well as Serena Williams and various other celebs a dad isn’t allowed to recognise. It’s the law.
So there you have it. A great time was had by all. British Summer Time isn’t a classic festival, it’s festival-lite really, a smash and grab day out in Hyde Park, a been there done it kind of a thing, but hey, go along with the right head on, take some food with you, pray for sunshine, stake a claim for a place near the front (important), and you’d be hard pressed to find a better summer day out in the whole of Central London.
By Neil and Isola del Strother
Published on 29 June 2015 by NeildS