Having never been to any British Summer Time Festival before, the day is not something that could’ve been anticipated. In other words, the festivities are quite unlike any other event I’ve been to. The recurring theme of the event is unity, and appropriately so. With people coming from all over the world and locals of all ages, shapes and sizes, the atmosphere is buzzing. People are ready to lose their shit to punk from all over the world, be it the Ukranian gypsy-punk wonder Gogol Bordello, British stalwarts The Damned or the arena filling maestros Green Day, today is for the established counterculture to turn their youthful hijinks to the luscious fields of Hyde Park.
The lineup sticks out like a sore thumb alongside the likes of Phil Collins the night before and Justin Bieber the night after. It’s a brilliant thought that Captain Sensible will have strutted all over the stage before the acts that follow the day after. For the majority of today, I’m sat some distance from the main stage as the temperature restricts my movement to an absolute minimum. Not an awful view, mind.
After the hassle of train strikes and the reduced service on the London Underground, I arrive as Stiff Little Fingers are in full swing. Unlike their contemporaries on the bill, Stiff Little Fingers seem to be playing to a certain crowd who revel in the songs they enjoyed when the group revolutionised the scene some forty years ago. The likes of “Suspect Device” and “Tin Soldiers” largely go straight over the young person’s head though this says nothing of the fact that this band deserve to be on that stage. Their contribution to the original British punk movement in the mid to late 70’s warrants them a voice today.
Rather annoyingly, a short chat with Eugene from Gogol Bordello means that the beginning of The Damned will be muffled by the walls of the tent I’m sat in thirty metres backstage. On the plus side, on the walk round to the media tent I catch five minutes of whoever played the Summer Stage at 2:30. Unfortunately, due to the lineup not listing their name and stage times being deleted I have no clue who it was. With their melodic rampage capturing the attention of bystanders, this is where the younger crowd is converged and a brilliant chemistry on stage means they are not ones to overlook… or be kept from the listed lineup!
Listening to The Damned tear through classics such as “Love Song” and “Neat Neat Neat” from the confines of the media area is an arduous exercise in restraint. By the time I’ve made my way back to The Damned, they’re opening their set closer “Smash It Up” with Captain Sensible’s introduction “When I think of Simon Cowell and everything he’s done, I just want to Smash It Up” and in they go to the rollicking riff. From what I saw at this late stage, theirs is a much broader appeal as opposed to Stiff Little Fingers’ reception. The group are iconic and show why up on stage with their stage presence, a brilliant sense of humour and not to mention a fantastic back-catalogue which they dip into generously today.
Appearing next on the Great Oak Stage is the ever bombastic, ecstatic and plain-out enthusiastic The Hives with a childlike sense of fun following them on stage. With this being the first full set I catch today, it feels a bit over-keen of them to be in the crowd in the first song. While they seem to go on to have the audience in the palms of their hands, it seems somewhat premature, though they’re not about to apologise anytime soon. From a neutral perspective, their youthful exuberance and the simply flawless frontmanship of Pelle Almqvist makes the group very distinctive today. One thing that does bug me throughout the set is the feeling that they are trying too much to be like a band from the middle of the last century. It’s always perfectly fine to wear your influences on your sleeves but more originality is what I’d like to see here. It certainly ticks all the boxes for some people but it just doesn’t click with me.
Gypsy-punk extraordinaires Gogol Bordello bound their way to centre stage next, beginning in a very inward, band-exclusive huddle. Following their first song, they break out and are hard to follow once they’re off! By this point the exhausted Eugene I spoke too earlier is gone and a new, jumped up version of himself is racing the stage, accompanied by a bottle of red wine. The group are a whirlwind of energy, rich culture and unbounded joy. While the previous bands are certainly fun, Gogol Bordello take it to eleven here. The likes of “Wonderlust King” and “My Compenjera” opens up pits of people arm in arm bellowing in a European-esque manner right back at the band. They’re clearly pouring their hearts out up on stage despite playing two shows already in the past 24 hours, truly a force of nature and an absolute pleasure to watch.
After the last two bands playing the main stage, there feels like a silent need for a heavier band, and whilst Rancid are by no means a challenging band to listen to, they turn up looking and feeling the part and simply tear the place a new one. It helps that there feels like a lot less pressure on them, being the second from the top, they are super tight and totally on form coming off the back of a decent new album. “Ghost Of A Chance” fits in seamlessly and is a highlight in the middle of the set which seems to dip a tad in comparison to the beginning and the end. Tim and Lars work the stage brilliantly while Branden and Matt keep the rhythm section tight, seeming as if they could do it in their sleep. Whilst they’re not a young band, the confidence in their stride makes Stiff Little Fingers and The Damned feel every one of their years.
And now it’s time for the band that the large majority are here for. When it comes to punk, I usually go to heavier stuff like Code Orange, Napalm Death or Nails and when it comes to pop punk, I’m more inclined to Sum 41 and Bowling For Soup. However, listening through Green Day‘s back-catalogue in preparation for today, I’m reminded why they are topping the bill today and why they stand head and shoulders above those other pop punk bands. While I feel they perfected their craft on American Idiot with their punk-opera “Jesus Of Suburbia”, there is little across their discography that isn’t worth a mention. Coming off the back of the less-than-warmly-received Revolution Radio it will be interesting to see where they go with their setlist tonight, though what’s of more interest to me today is whether Green Day are still of relevance in 2017.
The crowd warms up their pipes with Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and it is just stunning. The whole intro was filmed by the band and reposted by Queen a few days later. The footage can be found here (I strongly recommend it!). This goes into The Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” showing off their influences to an approving crowd. By this point the audience is ready to rage, the band come on to “Know Your Enemy” and I genuinely cannot tell whether it’s good or not as the crowd is absolutely deafening. After this they went straight into two tracks off the new album which is championed by the younger audience; everyone joins in on “Holiday” though. An early appearance from “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” is perhaps my highlight of the set bringing tears to people’s eyes when dedicated “to all the weirdos and the freaks”. When a few songs from their 90’s albums are brought out it shows just how much the band have progressed and matured, I mean who saw the band who named an album Dookie headlining Hyde Park?
Similar to Rancid, the Green Day set certainly peaks at the beginning and the end but when you’ve got minor hits like “Minority”, “Longview” and “When I come Around” that you can litter the set with, you’re laughing! The band up their game to no end when kids of around 15 years old are invited up to sing and play guitar on “Know Your Enemy”, “Longview” and Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge”. With the kids coming up, ecstatic to be rubbing shoulders with their favourite band, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong looks like he’s in his world grinning uncontrollably right back at their younger guests. This makes them feel like an absolutely vital band and it strikes me as incredible that so many younger fans are still latching onto this band with Revolution Radio as their first Green Day album.
Their first encore, “American Idiot”, is dedicated to Donald Trump and gets an absolute roar of approval. Going into “Jesus Of Suburbia” matches their strong suit and they leave it ominously on the last line: “Running away from pain when you’ve been victimized, tales from another broken home”. It feels like everyone of the 60,000 plus in attendance are united in this unspoken pain. The ringing of Billie’s voice is so raw and so honest, it’s chilling and sobering.
Their second encore of “Ordinary World”, “21 Guns” and “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” is heart wrenchingly beautiful and rounds off a day of rebellious anthems to something so human and so vulnerable. This is what puts Green Day atop this bill. This is why people return to these records time and time again. With digs at “mischievous politicians”, a Beatles and Rolling Stones medley of covers and harmonica and saxophone solos, the level of absurdity and childishness is not compromised by them telling it how it is with a staggering level of maturity.
After choosing to miss the last train home because the set was that good, I’m reflecting on the show on the lengthy walk back, realising they could’ve still done “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “Horseshoes And Handgrenandes” and “She’s A Rebel” though it was still excellent in uniting young and old unlike any other band on the bill. To sum it up as briefly as possible, it was consistently good and occasionally brilliant with the likes of “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, “Jesus Of Suburbia” and “21 Guns”, not to mention me feeling like an 8 year old singing all the same songs in my dad’s car! This is a truly insightful band with a child-like sense of ridiculousness, hooks for days and a chilling understanding of the human condition. Bravo!