The first thing that strikes you upon entering the surrounding area of Hyde Park is the punter's themselves and how it seems as if everyone has time travelled from a decade ago. Much of this is partly due to the nostalgic nature of not only a Libertines gig, but the support bill around Hyde Park is dotted with acts who've been off the radar or irrelevant for a pretty long time. The View, The Enemy, The Twang, and The Rifles are all playing at some point today and the majority of the crowd look like they've scrimmaged through the back of their cupboard to re-create a bygone era.
Upon entry we find enough time to catch Maximo Park, arguably another act on the bill for nostalgic reasons. But that would be an unfair one, unlike the aforementioned they've made a genuinely great album and have carved out a place for themselves as a respectable act well beyond much of the generic lad rock on the bill today. They're enigmatic frontman Paul Smith exudes the kind of confidence that ensures the main stage is no daunting prospect, they tear through a set that includes 'Apply Some Pressure' and 'Graffiti' and serves as a pleasant early afternoon set to get the ball going in London.
One thing noticeable about the venue is how difficult it is to navigate in the main area, there are purportedly several stages yet the theatre seems to be off due to a technical fault and the other areas seem hard to find and have a bottleneck crowd to contend with.
So we make tracks back to the main stage in time for Spiritualized and J.Spaceman and co deal with difficult conditions admirably. They kick off with 'Here It Comes' from their delightfully sunny if melancholic Lazer Guided Melodies album, it would perhaps be a pertinent track if it weren't so clouded over. Yet the weather was the least of the worries for this set, with the speaker system at the right hand side of the stage continuously crackling and making the quiet moments of the songs suffer.
'Hey Jane' sounded spectacular during the crescendo moments with accompanying back up gospel singers as did 'Electricity' but the sound and general lack of interest from the crowd made the whole thing seem a bit askew. Spiritualized are one of my favourite acts, but they looked frightfully out of place on this bill and unfortunately that turned out to be the case.
Strangely, as an Irishman who both loves a drink and folk music I've never got into The Pogues yet feel obliged to go see them on the main stage. Shane McGowan is a well-known addict and it's pretty upsetting to see him on the big screen his face etched with a colour unbeknownst to a person anywhere near healthy. He's inebriated and non-sensical when on chatting duties. But when that music starts something happens, I don't know what it is or if there is even a scientific explanation behind it but his voices carries the swagger, command and confidence that we are accustomed to from their heyday. He seemingly sails through opener 'Galway Races' and to my surprise there is huge swathes of Pogues fans in attendance with the main crowd getting their first real buzz of the evening.
The evenings first sing-a-long goes down a storm with the ballad like 'A Pair Of Brown Eyes' seeing arms lock people sway and choruses shouted at the top of voices. MacGowan soon leaves the stage after this and it becomes apparent that in his state of health this is all he can do is manage a few songs and then take a breather. The rest of those in attendance are virtuoso musicians who have no problem enrapturing the crowd until his return. Upon which he does so he dedicates "a few songs to upset Thatcher" and 'The Body of An American' coming along with a special dedication to Gerry Conlon who died recently.
Traditional classics such as 'Dirty Old Town' only enhanced the pub like gather around hug and dance a jig with a stranger atmosphere that was brewing until proceedings where halted all of a sudden due to an incident at the front of the crowd which seen someone needing to be taken for medical attention. The music stopped for a good 10/15 mins and it kind of soured the vibe even though 'Fiesta' upon the restart nearly brought it back.
There were incidents like this aplenty through the day and continued into The Libertines headline set.
Before that we are treated to a 20 minute montage of the band which their PR team must have worked on for a hell of a long time. We then receive an exclusive announcement of two new Libertines gigs in London in September. Eventually we get to the lads themselves coming on stage who blister into 'Vertigo' and then into 'Boys in the Band' where it seems like they are starting to hit their stride with Pete Doherty and Carl Barat trading vocals and gazing into each other's eyes. Just like the old days. Only for the music to be halted again due to crowd surges down the front which causes the song to stop with fireworks also seen to go off in that direction. The drummer eventually gives us a rendition of 'Seven Nation Army' and Pete Doherty one of 'Build Me up Buttercup' helping to diffuse the situation before they finally get to finish the track.
We start to pick up a bit of pace again and Gerry Conlon gets his second dedication of the night just before they launch into 'Time for Heroes' which again is stopped due to crowd surges. It results in a half-hearted finish to the song from both the band and the crowd itself. 'Horror Show' packs a proper punch and lifts off without a hitch. We now THANKFULLY get a flow going where they are allowed to showcase themselves with 'What Katie Did' demonstrating that they can do the slow like ballads as well as the punk-rock shtick.
Things are going well and the two main protagonists Barat and Doherty embrace before launching into 'Death on the Stairs' and from that point it's a slew of classics – 'Don't Look Back into the Sun', 'What a Waster' and 'Up the Bracket' has them in there pomp and the crowd going bonkers. A little bit too much by the time they get around to doing 'France' with people climbing on the clock tower halting proceedings again. The restart of proceedings see them cover Babyshambles 'Albion' before an intense version of 'I Get Along' ends the set proper with Doherty and Barat slumped over each other on the floor with guitars still on.
A proper encore would probably have been the order of the day, but the significant delays put an end to that and we instead get a rendition of the 'Hokey Cokey' and Carl and Pete reciting the Siegfried Sassoon poem 'Suicide in the Trenches'.
It's a day full of incident and one of those ones where you hear it praised to high heaven or chastised left, right and centre. Whatever what way you see it, it was certainly interesting.
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