Chaos, Camaraderie and The Hokey Cokey
British Summer Time is a weird old addition to the festival calender. Only it’s not really a festival, more a succession of one day festivals. As such, you get Arcade Fire headlining on Thursday, Black Sabbath on Friday, The Libertines on Saturday, and McBusted on Sunday. Tim Minchin headlines next Thursday, Neil Young on Saturday and Tom Jones on Sunday. Bizarre. Still though, ours is not to question why. The randomness of the festival suits The Libertines. The selection of headliners seem like the haphazard, seemingly random selection of a drunken sailor and, likewise, The Libertines career has been one that has definitely been haphazard, seemingly random and certainly involved some alcohol. Now they’re back and headlining the biggest show of their career at Hyde Park and have dragged a hodgepodge collection of British musical talent along with them.
One of London’s most promising young bands opened the Barclaycard Theatre at 3.15pm. Having taken their time over the last number of years and refraining from rushing into their debut album, Wolf Alice have slowly built a cult following and developed from being slightly awkward post-grungers to a confident outfit with a little swagger too. Their set is punchy and over all too quick. Running through incendiary versions of their “Moaning Lisa Smile”, “Bros”, and “Storms”, the band seem genuinely delighted to be with there with lead singer Ellie Roswell smiling broadly and dedicating “Bros” to her Nan. Great band. Someday they may even headline British Summer Time themselves.
London-Irish folk punks The Pogues played direct support to The Libertines. The spiritual predecessors to Pete, Carl et al did not disappoint, flying through an uplifting and energetic set that included “Dirty Old Town” and “Sally MacLennane”. Their appearance did have to be halted at one stage, though, as a fan had to receive medical treatment. As usual, Shane McGowan looked a little worse for wear, with fans who were near the stage commenting that he made Pete Doherty “look like a nun”, and that he was holding on to the mic stand for dear life. He was also in prime sound bite form as he declared the band were playing songs that, “annoyed Miss Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago.” Regardless, they provided fitting support for the reformed Libs and if this is one of their final gigs, which recent reports suggest it may well be, there is worse ways to draw such an unhinged and at times productive career to a close.
At this point, the tension was palpable. Many of the 60,000 strong crowd had been drinking, amongst doing other less legal substances, since noon. Even before The Libertines made their entrance, beer was already flying through the air with alarming frequency and the situation was not helped by people’s obvious irritation at the ridiculous queues for beer and the closing of the Barclaycard Theatre which led to the cancellation of Graham Coxon’s set. All this was seemingly forgotten when, to slides of Carl Barat and Pete Doherty embracing lovingly in halcyon days projected onto the back of the stage and screens, the band took the stage. Hyde Park erupted.
The respite from chaos didn’t last long. By the second song, “Boys In The Band”, proceedings had to be halted for a full ten minutes due to an immense crush at the front. Doherty adopted an uncharacteristically sensible role by declaring, “Someone’s passed out down there. We can’t carry on unless you guys calm down.” It seems that, with his greying hair, perhaps Doherty is not as shambolic as in the past.
Eventually the band were able to continue only to be stopped almost immediately by another crush at the front. At this point, the band seemed understandably peeved but retained a good spirit as drummer Gary Powell led the crowd in a chanted version of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. After these early disturbances, the band were able, somehow, to get proceedings back on track with rousing renditions of “Can’t Stand Me Now”, “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun”, and “Up The Bracket”.
Unfortunately, the interruptions weren’t over. Only one verse of “France” was completed before it had to be halted due to a multitude of revelers climbing the relay tower. Despite this, the band did manage to finish their twenty four song set and seemed in a euphoric mood at the conclusion of the gig as they led the crowd in an off the cuff version of the “Hokey Cokey”.
Perhaps the most affecting part of the evening was Pete and Carl’s rendition of Siegfried Sassoon’s anti-war poem “Suicide in the Trenches”, which the band dedicated to the service men and women of the nation in this, the centenary of the end of World War One. In a way, the renditions of the “Hokey Cokey” and “Suicide in the Trenches” were a perfect representation of the band. Shambolic, disorganised but also thoughtful and endearing. No one who was there will forget proceedings anytime soon. Just as The Libertines legacy is safe from any kind of cultural amnesia.