Hard Rock Calling - London, Hyde Park - 13th & 14th July 2012 Print E-mail
Written by Jamie Richards   
Friday, 27 July 2012 04:00




Friday the 13th


With the ever unpredictable British summertime washing out festivals in spectacular fashion this year, even by its own soggy standards, I headed up the M4 full of optimism and, pretty certain that an outdoors gig in a royal park in the centre of London may be exempt. Wrong.


With a show cancelled here during the week because of unsafe conditions, it's obvious that even here we are not immune to the elements. Luckily, the thoughtful folks at Hard Rock Calling have shipped in what must be a million truckloads of wood chips to spare us Glastonbury-like under foot conditions, and save the day.


Approaching the most regal of the capital's parks a couple of hours after the first bands took the stage, having found sanctuary from the heavens latest down pour in a pub across the road, I am instantly greeted and amused by the unmistakable sound of current southern rock golden bores, Black Stone Cherry, and a line that has become something of standard at URHQ - "hey there have you seen the blind man in disguise, looking for his eyes." I mean, seriously people, who the hell comes up with this shit? Just don't bother clearing a space on the mantle shelf for an Ivor Novello.


I hurry past the main stage lest I hear any more, to the sanctuary of the Pepsi Max tent where I find I've just missed a band named Hawk Eyes, but 'luckily' endure the longest set up - "one two, one two" - in history, that leads to a set from Red White and Blues. Literally one minute before the band take to the stage the heavens open again, and sees the crowd inside the tent swell from around a hundred to nearer a couple of thousand within seconds. I know these boys are favourites of our local haunt the Steelhouse club, but I'm afraid their re-fried brand of '80s cheese-ball rock simply plucks at my nerve endings. I keep a sharp eye on the weather and the second it eases to a drizzle, around two songs in I believe, I head out and up the park to the Hard Rock Rising tent. In the confines of this much smaller tent I find two treats, the first being an enjoyable catch up and pint with the handsome and suitably eloquent Hywel, frontman with Aberdare's finest-Dead Shed Jokers. The second surprise is to find that the on-stage compere is none other than legendary Steven Van Zant, erstwhile star of The Sopranos and, indeed, guitar player for tomorrow's headline act.


I catch short sets from a couple of all female bands, the Launderettes sounding a little like a heavier version of indie faves the Cardigans; secondly a duo of ladies thrashing out White Stripes style - both of whom were much more favourable to my ears than the band I had escaped earlier - Red White and Snooze. With time quickly passing and a check of the running order showing that the first two bands I'm interested in today are clashing on separate stages, sadly it means Newport bad boys Skindred are hard heartedly passed on for a glimpse at punk rock pioneers and insurance salesmen, The Stooges. A fine choice indeed as it turns out, with Iggy on suitably pompous and flamboyant form, sneering and smiling wryly throughout a fantastic forty minute set. I'm no Stooges historian, but you didn't need to be as the band served up a joyous collection of favourites including 'Raw Power', 'Search and Destroy',' I Wanna Be Your Dog' and 'No Fun', Iggy and the band were irresistible.


So, on Friday the 13th in a park in London, England with a grey/black sky looming low overhead, the unmistakable intro to Soundgarden's 'Searching With My Good Eye' leers from the massive sound system with its classic line "the devil says..." heralding forth the first of many dark and heavy riffs that would see the return to our shores of anti-heroes Soundgarden. Yeah I know they played a support set at Download, but this was their gig, this was proper; amused as I was to read a review of said Download show that stated they seemed more about the musicianship than performing - well yeah kids, this is fucking Soundgarden people, the antithesis of all that vacuous rock star bull shit than engulfed us in the late '80s, their musicianship is the hrcorangeperformance! I guess what the writer meant was they don't run back and forth the stage the whole time, pointing and clapping to the crowd like Black Stone Cherry, maybe? 'Spoonman' follows closely, before a revisit to the album 'Louder than Love' in the shape of 'Gun'. Looking like they've never been away, with the exception of bassist Ben Shepherd who now takes on the appearance of a well-built and pissed off lumberjack as opposed to his original look of just being pissed off, the band thunder seamlessly and demonically through the iconic 'Jesus Christ Pose' before dishing up their 'hit single' 'Black Hole Sun'; and sure enough the rain is set upon us once again, although this time I'm not sure it's heaven sent as there's a distinctly darker feel to the evening, and the stair rod like weather is illuminated as Cornell bellows "won't you come and wash away the rain.." On stage patter is kept to a minimum, as was always the Soundgarden way; Cornell does take a second to tell us how cool it is to be in a park in the rain, and how cool we all are "after all, it's easy to go to a sunny park...anyone can go to a sunny park," he's preaching to the converted of course. Those most brutal and heavy riffs are served up relentlessly, 'Outshined', 'Hunted Down', 'Drawing Flies', such great songs that we feared we may never hear played quite this brutally again; 'Fell On Black Days', 'The Day I Tried To Live', they all come bounding at us, blunt and heavy like a musical car crusher. First album 'Ultramega OK' is visited for a rasping 'Beyond The Wheel' which sees mysterious and enigmatic guitar god Kim Thayill taking his down tuned, fuzz riff-orama to a whole new level again, breath taking and mesmerising: it's heavy music that can buy your soul in a second; and here tonight it has found many a willing seller. An impossibly doom and gloomy '4th of July' brings the set to a close, before the band re-emerge for 'Rusty Cage' and a monstrous version of 'Slaves and Bulldozers' that sees Thayill and Cornell set about their instruments in inimitable fashion to create the most perfect fuzz pitched feedback, and each leave them where they lay, to hum and screech to oblivion as the band leaves the stage...just as I remember them doing at the Bierkeller in Bristol twenty years ago. A more triumphant comeback was surely not possible.




Saturday the 14th


Modest ticket sales for the Friday had given me false hope for the Saturday, we arrive at 2.45 PM to catch Tom Morello on the main stage in his alter-ego guise as The Nightwatchman, and already there are as many punters as last night - not a good sign. Morello serves up a pleasant forty minutes of acoustic protest songs, he's a man with a point for sure but he puts it across in an entertaining style-plus he says "mother fucker" at least as much as Dee Snider. I like him.


Next up, and thank heaven for a dry sky and a good Army surplus rain coat to lie out on, is a band that I don't see but hear only too well, called Lady Antebellum. Nashville country hams with pop hooks and radio polish aplenty, all that was missing was Radio Two's Ken Bruce introducing the songs, I'd have moved to another stage if I had even a sprinkling of hope that I'd find something of interest. With the sun now actually starting to make an appearance, the crowd swell threatening to engulf my prostrate body, and the impending appearance of country rock legend John Fogerty, I drag myself to my feet. Surprise again, here on the stage to introduce the man is none other than Mr Springsteen himself, bringing about a huge cheer from the ever growing assembly. Before you can say 'brown hair dye' Fogerty kicks into a veritable treasure chest of a back catalogue, 'Hey Tonight', 'Lookin Out My Back Door', 'Lodi', 'Born on the Bayou' - it's quite an incredible set-list. It continues like a relentless hit factory 'Down on the Corner' and 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain' set the path into a cover of Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman' and I was probably the only person in the park who muttered that I wished I could've seen Van Halen here singing it here instead - but that wasn't necessarily a criticism of him. He finishes the set of in fine style with Bruce back by his side for a run through 'Rockin All Over The World' which, to my amusement, seems to confuse everyone as to why these two icons of Americana are playing a Status Quo song; really people, really?


Now to the main event: I'll make it clear that I was not always a Bruce Springsteen fan, I'm a bit of a late comer in fact. The reason mostly being that when he first became known to me was during his radio bashing days of the mid-eighties, the yuppie pleasing bombast of his 'Born in the USA' period, and back then I was a mere heavy metalling teenager with a penchant for Saxon and AC/DC, and about to be engulfed by the ferocity and excitement of the Metallica led thrash invasion. To me he sucked big time. Over the years though I've warmed to his music, not that album you understand, but there's a lot more to the man than obnoxious, big production radio hits. His appetite and enthusiasm are unquestionable, and tonight he serves up a relentless threehrclogo and a quarter hours, during which the closest he comes to leaving the stage is when he rounds the drum kit to put his face in a bowl of water before coming straight back to us.


Opening the set in typically 'bare' fashion, he simply walks onto the stage and takes a harmonica from his pocket and introduces "a love letter that I wrote the very first time I came to London in 1974" which is obviously the mighty anthem 'Thunder Road' and performs it solo apart from the accompaniment of a pianist. In front of 80,000 that's a ballsy start, even for the man they call the Boss. 'Badlands' kicks off the party proper, and the park is now not just rocking but positively bursting at the seams, with decent foot space at a premium. New album 'Wrecking Ball' is well represented tonight, and Tom Morello makes the first of many appearances on 'Death to my Hometown'. He's a personable performer is Springsteen, committed to his craft to the point that he insists on interaction with his audience, he takes a sign from a punter at the front requesting an obscure song 'Take 'Em As They Come' and duly plays it, and he pulls a youngster from the crowd to help him with the chorus on 'Waiting on a Sunny Day'. Unfortunately for me, I seem to be surrounded by the 'Born in the USA' crew, who are more interested in making twenty minute trips to the bar and the bogs alternately and taking pictures of each other and their new 'friends for life'.


Springsteen continues in fine fashion, even though it's becoming increasingly obvious that the sound is way too quiet for this size venue. Where Soundgarden deafened 20,000 assembled stage front last night Springsteen is blowing in the wind to 80,000 spread way to the back of this place...and it's un-cool really. I stick with it though, and a fine version of 'Because the Night' makes it worth it, followed by a rock 'n' rolled up, extended version of 'Johnny 99'. Morello returns and stays for some time, finally being let loose with a signature solo on 'Land of Hope and Dreams'. After the briefest of breaks, as I mentioned earlier, Springsteen leads his troops back out for more, and before long the hit factory that the 'one gig a year' segments of the massive crowd have been waiting for duly comes their way: 'Born in the USA', 'Born to Run', 'Glory Days' and 'Dancing in the Dark' complete with dark haired Courtney Cox stand in, selected from the crowd for a dance with the man himself. The parties around me erupt into bouts of drunken shout-along 'singing' that almost drown out the band, and surely leave them dreaming of those halcyon days of filofaxes and their first Beamer - they are in rapture; and then they send someone for more pints.


A grand finale is coming though, and just when they thought it was all over a certain Mr McCartney enters stage left, Sir Paul I believe we call him now, and accompanies the band on a run through of old Beatles classics 'Saw Her Standing There' and 'Twist and Shout'. So, whatever your stand point that's a pretty impressive ending; although it wasn't quite finished - literally, because amid all the excitement, Springsteen and Macca over ran the strict curfew that accompanies the license for Hyde Park concerts, and at 10.40pm sharp the sound disappeared - silence! Seriously, Bruce Springsteen and Sir Paul Maccartney on a stage in a park in London, just finishing off the last few bars of a couple of Beatles songs in front of 80,00 paying punters, and some faceless employee of the organisers just pulled the plug on them, simple as that. No "thank you, goodnight," no "see ya next time thanks for coming" - just silence.


I made a sharp dash for the exit through the assembled mong, sorry I mean throng, who were by now trying to get drunken chants of "turn-it-up" going....for pity sake, these part time giggers, don't they understand that rules, are indeed rules? I'm sure someone took down a memo.